Wednesday, February 28, 2007


I am beginning to think that labelling or tagging is one of those fun practices which is just no good for me. My master in this regard is Gaiman, who tags with definitive accuracy and cataloguing inutility. A quick look at the tags I've used in the last hundred posts or so reveals a list of 230 different labels.

Now you know why I don't display the subject list at the side of my blog. There wouldn't be space for anything else.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Quizzical: Extremely Small

Yes, I succumbed to the lure of the quizzical. it never ceases to amaze me how silly I feel doing these things, while falling headlong into some orgy of self-revelation triggered by somebody else. I laugh at myself. And I ponder what has been revealed with some measure of odd... anxiety? No... it can't be that, surely.

What kind of subatomic particle are you?

Tachyon — Extremely rare and extremely frenetic, many people believe that you aren't real. You really are, though — and you move through tasks at incredible speed.

Take this quiz?

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Monday, February 26, 2007


Some months ago, I discovered an ancient folder with about 200 poems in it. A lot of them dated back to university days; some dated back to an even earlier time. The poem titled Hawking was first drafted on 3 October 1989. It then lay fallow for about 17 years 4 months until I resurrected it two days ago, with a full set of edits. I felt nostalgic: this poem recalled for me a better time. And then I realised that some of the young people I know were born that year, and for some unaccountable reason, I felt happy.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Bookbinding (2007/2)

I've finally completed my review of four of Alfred Duggan's fine novels, just reissued by Phoenix and available at all fine bookstores. I'm thinking of migrating all the book reviews in this blog to that one.

Then again, does anyone still read book reviews? I wonder, sometimes.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007



An electron has four quantum numbers,
A human being made of dust has five:

Friendships - number and degree, deception;
Hardships - in sense of quality and weight;
The will - to live, or die, or vegetate;
Strangeness - of the inner mind's perception;
Magnetism - attractive kinds of state.

These are the things which keep our songs alive,
Distill the stuff of dreams from our slumbers,
Make sense of both pre- and post-conception.


Given that electrons exist
Here is a little human list:

Humans can be bond-paired
Humans can be non-bonding
Humans can be so very scared
When other humans are responding

Humans can be lone-paired
Humans can be radical in bent
Humans can be startlingly shared
By what seems a human accident


I realise I am a singularity
I look out of a window which cannot be:

And I see at once with blinding clarity
Electrons are fortunately not like me.

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Friday, February 23, 2007


It's a bit like being outstanding. When you're out standing, you're over-exposed and vulnerable. When you're under standing, you must check to see what you're standing under. And as my father always says, when someone uses 'therefore', you should ask yourself what it is there for. Simple bits of wisdom.

And this is why strategic planning doesn't work so well at times. It's probably because people aren't thinking about what a strategic plan is. A year isn't long enough for a strategy to work out. A simple exercise to think about: What are the possible reasons why not having mid-year exams in Year 3 translates to better grades at the end of Year 4? A tough exercise to think about: What are the possible reasons why mid-year exams return despite the aforementioned good consequences? Further reading for the second question can be found here.

Now you know why I get to do history, economics, literature and natural sciences. I'm crazy. Haha.


Edit: my students of political science, business and other sociological disciplines could take a look at this blog for some interesting and useful posts.

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Random Thoughts

Sometimes your brain just spills over. They aren't even stubs. Maybe shrubs.

Why is she 1/12 now? Is she inching her way to some sort of apotheosis? Or is she just bigger than when she was 1/15, and of that, a flyhalf to boot? Ah, who am I to complain (explain?) - I used to be a hooker myself.

Why do some people have such expressive lower lips? It isn't as if they need them. Sometimes God hands out His bonuses in such a quirky way. Or is the plural of bonus actually boni? Viruses -> viri, then. But vir means 'man'. Argh.

Nobody remembers that old TV series, That's Entertainment. But someone seems to have reinvented it. Oh ho ho. I enjoyed myself. And someone, when I learnt it was accidental, it tasted even more delicious.

What is the difference between suaku and ulu? Wait a minute, I actually know this. Wow, I will pass this test with flying colours! Errm. It isn't a test. It's only a survey. I am so disappointed.

I no longer make much fun of the boys. I have made fun of so many of them for so many years. And that includes myself.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Greek For 'World' Is Κόσμος

I am setting my home page to this for a while, after resisting it for a long time. It reminds me of the most beautiful readable language that exists. This language is Greek to me.

Lexically, the Greek language is one of the most important to an English-speaker. It's probably true that most of the academic disciplines we see in the school curriculum have Greek names - biology, physics, geography, history, music, economics, technology, mathematics, philosophy. I have some limited competency in Greek - my friend the classicist is the man you want when asking for more.

But limited or not, I intend to make use of my competence in weird and wonderful ways. Εν αρχη ην ο Λογος, indeed.


Edit: Then again, after finding this, I might change my home page again. There aren't many things more satirical and yet comforting than this.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Just before midnight, someone I appreciate very much told me that I was once a 'rather intimidating individual'. That person no longer feels that way in such a negative sense. This occasioned a moment of reflection. Why, and how?

The word 'intimidating' means 'inspiring of fear', from the Latin timeo - to fear. It literally means 'to put fear into'. It isn't quite flattering, although further inquiry absolves me from being a source of true phobia. The Good Book says that perfect love drives out fear; this would seem to imply that fear is an unhealthy emotion between people who are supposed to have an agapean relationship - whether in one direction or both. The same verse links fear to punishment; this implies that if I were intimidating, it would be because of my capacity as someone in authority.

In this last capacity, I confess I believe that the ability to inspire fear is an important gift. From our enlightened and rational post-modern vantage, we view fear as an unnecessary impediment to civilisation, a shadowplay of ancient superstitions and primordial fantasies into which we regress under stress. But I believe that fear is no impediment; our overweaning sense of self is a far greater burden. The same people who tell us that the universe dwarfs us into obscurity will also tell us that we should have a large sense of the grandeur of humanity. The two are compatible only as a last-ditch defence against atheistic insignificance. For the odd thing is that it is a sense of the fear of God which actually tells us how valuable we are.

Fearing the impersonal universe is nothing. Fearing a person is to understand something about the nature of self and of intelligence and of society. Fearing a personal God is to understand how mighty the things of the spirit are, and how great we are in our smallness, that we can apprehend the Almighty at all. In a purely physical universe, scale is scale, size is truth. In a metaphysical universe, scale is irrelevant and being is all.

Which leads me back to the person who once felt intimidated, and no longer does. It is a mature relationship of minds and hearts which takes away the element of fear. Moses spoke to God as a man speaks with his friend - and he risked much in that relationship, but feared nothing in it. It is my dearest wish that I might be able to intimidate when necessary, but that it will never become gratuitous to me, and never an obstacle to genuine friendship.

To you who inspired these thoughts, my thanks. I know that you have mentioned my 'force of personality', and others have complained about other elements of my nature. It was never my desire to inspire overmuch fear, but to guide with a firm hand; this time of reflection will help me do that.

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How can one ever compile a bibliography of one's life?

That was the problem facing me for years. I agonized over the issue of which books had exerted a formative influence on my life, and realised that there were at least a few kinds, which I've listed below.
  • the politically correct and (no doubt) salutory influences

  • the not-so-savoury and yet (you would have to say, unfortunately) influential

  • the one-shot wonders who made their (trivial) mark and faded away

  • the reference books which stayed, continuing to exert their diffuse illumination

Failing to resolve the question of which had exerted the most influence, I surrendered at last to the blandishments of LibraryThing. The mass-import function has sucked up in pretty short order (I was asleep while it trawled the sea, hooking up the ISBNs) about 1500 of my 7500 books. I shall get round to the rest in due time.

For now, rest assured that all books influence my life - some take up an hour and then go away, others keep coming back, and some stay for keeps. Yet there is a clear hierarchy: THE Book (ta Biblion) comes first, and the rest trail behind like junior acolytes and assorted hangers-on.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Lux Ab Nihilo

I was just reading Mike Carey's fantastic adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, when it came to me what an apt juxtaposition it is, that levitas and lux should be so similar in English.

For this is the reason that laughter is invincible. In the face of crime, poverty, tyranny, and bad judgement, we must in the end come back to the beginning of things. For God made light of the anarchy of nothingness, and that light of creation is the spark of the Eternal City and the benediction of the Divine.

Humour is a signature of the power of God. It is the wry mockery of human pretense (yes, even of what you are reading right now) that is also found in the last verse of the Book of Jonah, where He laughs sympathetically at Jonah's confusion by throwing in a message on animal rights. It is found when Sarah laughs and He replies.

As it was in the beginning, so it will be at the end. And the unbearable lightness of being will be replaced by the unutterable light of Being.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007


I think there has been too much nonsense written about faith, evidence, truth and knowledge. Perhaps the first thing about faith is that it is certainty which eludes reason. If there is a deductive process leading to B from A, then B is not a matter of faith (excepting the matter of belief in A, which might very well be a matter of faith). If there is evidence leading one to conclude that C is a likely scenario accounting for all the evidence, then this is a matter of reason as well. Only if there is a complete absence of conclusive evidence, all evidence being the sort that is supportive rather than directive (i.e. the evidence is consistent with the scenario, but does not necessitate it), can there be space for faith.

True faith is a stark, cold position. It is a redoubt set in a ring of high stone walls against a black and starless sky. Faith does not lend itself to questioning, and faith may entertain reason but is not susceptible to it. Faith has often been called an emotion, but it isn't even that - emotion has physiological effects and antecedents, but faith is too subtle for those. Faith is not a matter of the crude sensory perception of the body, or even the finer differential perception that the body derives from those senses.

Faith is thus not reliable in the evidential sense or the deductive sense; it is not reliable in terms of instinct, emotion or perception - if it were, it would be undermined by anything which could defeat these guardians of the mind. Why should faith be of any use to us then?

Faith is of use when no evidence or reasoning, no perception or emotion, can give us an answer. In a darkness where all human powers are cloaked and baffled, it is the one thing that might give us a chance of sight at all. For faith, as the Good Book says, is the assured certainty of things that are hoped for, and the substantive reality of things which are not perceived. It is justified true belief (as some have said about knowledge) which contains its own justification, certifies its own truth, and leads to raw and unembellished belief.

And it does not sit well with everyone, for there will always (of necessity as well as nature) be those who must see as through a glass darkly. It does not always sit well with me; it has a terrible bedside manner and an uncompromising personality. But I have learnt that it is the only thing, besides hope and love, that can be relied upon in dark times.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Year Of The Flaming Swine

Oh yes, it certainly is. A quick look at the Chinese Lunar Calendar will tell you that from 17 Feb 2007 onwards, the Dog gives way to the Pig. Not much of an improvement, some might say - but the pig is apparently a more cultured animal, and one that is particularly easy-going, happy and honest.

(Note: Though I'm not one for supernatural explanations of individual human conduct when couched in such errrm... agricultural terms, I suppose that if one can believe in the supernatural at all, one ought to spare a second thought for the myriad other kinds of supernatural structure that one's fellow humans might believe in.)

That said, the same almanac structure tells me that I am a Fire Goat! I shall present the traits attributed to such a creature and those who know me can tell me if they are appropriate or not. The element of Fire is related to the cardinal South, the season of Summer, the planet Mars, the colour Red, the circulatory system & heart; Fire persons are supposed to be dynamic, energetic, passionate, enterprising, adventurous, restless, competitive leaders, who are strong and single-minded. Not all these traits seem compatible with the goat-character though, which is said to be domestic, cultured, sympathetic, artistic, and hankering after love and attention.

One almanac says this:

Deep inside the Fire Goat banked furnaces are slumbering. The addition of Fire does nothing to ruffle the placid Goat, at least on the surface. You maintain a shy, retiring exterior, but inside you’re a time-bomb ticking. You use your disarming tactics to take your opponents off their guard, and then move in for the kill. You have a capacious selection of weaponry to bring into play — brains, brawn, patience, luck, skill and a private fury that can be absolutely deadly if released. Take care how, where and when you fly off the handle, unless you prefer waking up in jail every morning.

I suppose I must be somewhere in between; certainly, I hope not to be of the lawless goatiness just described. Personally, I think that to make a system this complex simply creates so many possible combinations that you can't tell how accurate the system is - if at all.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Days Of Our Lives

We're all days, and this is a truth from the beginning. As the temperament of a day goes, so too are there people to go with it; the Bard himself has remarked, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? / Thou art more lovely and more temperate." (Sonnet 18)

Cultures from all over the world have their counting-rhymes for the days and seasons; it is that tradition which has given us that infamous blight and self-fulfilling prophecy of the day of the week which is said to control the destiny of a child. (For the record, I was born on Vendredi, or Freya's Day.)

There is something which calls to us from the nature of a day - its fresh and dewy beginning is like a baby's innocence, while its parched and richly darkening end is like the complicated diversity of our various and separate drawings-down of blinds. In the noonday of one's life, one might think of Apollo and Mithras, of the Sun in Splendour, or of le Roi Soleil.

In the North of the world, where the days are often far longer or far too short, people are at their sunniest and gloomiest - bright fair people with grim sagas; it reminds me of what the Good Book says - "As your days, so shall your strength be." (This last speaks to my heart in particular because my late grandfather's last words were an exact quotation of verse 27 of that passage.)

The days of our lives are threescore and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore, all their strength is suffering - so says Moses from the elegiaic height of his disappointment, as he contemplates the failing of his sixscore years with no hope in this life of entering the Promised Land. His advice is probably sound; all we can do in the end is to number our days aright, and do our best with what we have.

On a lighter note though, here is a song from that odd and entertaining group, the Bee Gees...

Ooh you’re a holiday, such a holiday
Ooh you’re a holiday, such a holiday

It’s something I think's worthwhile
If the puppet makes you smile
If not then you’re throwing stones
Throwing stones, throwing stones

Ooh it’s a funny game
Don’t believe that it’s all the same
Can’t think what I’ve just said
Put the soft pillow on my head

Millions of eyes can see
Yet why am I so blind
When the someone else is me
It’s unkind, it’s unkind

de de de de de de de de de de de de de
de de de de de de de de de de de de de

Yet millions of eyes can see
Yet why am I so blind
When the someone else is me
It’s unkind, it’s unkind

Ooh you’re a holiday, ev’ry day, such a holiday
Now it’s my turn to say, and I say you’re a holiday
It’s something I think's worthwhile
If the puppet makes you smile
If now then you’re throwing stones
Throwing stones , throwing stones

de de de de de de de de de de de de de de


Yes, indeed. And just in case he feels left out, I shall dedicate this post to my one student whose name sounds suspiciously like the day on which we have chapel services in school. You (now) know who you are; be at peace with your nature, OK?

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

History Stole My Date

It's the day after Valentine's Day. And I, as often happens at this time of year, am drawn to remember two very specific Valentine's Days.


1977. I am a curious and energetic little ten-year-old kid. I am running around outside school, a little steamed from playing football in dangerous places. Then... I bump into my grandfather, who is coming out of Bible House on Armenian Street. He has an odd expression on his face, and a big bright smile.

"Hi, Grandpop!"

"Hi, young man. Your mum's doing well in hospital. Guess whether it's a boy or a girl?"

At ten, one tends to guess 'boy' just to spite the other sex. I was wrong. And that is the story of how Valentine's Day first became important to me - it was my sister's birthday.


1986. I am a curiously energetic infantry recruit. I am stuck in camp. I am hoping like mad to get out of camp to spend some time with the girl who is at that time the love of my life. I don't know it yet, but it is going to be a very long time before I have another happy Valentine's day again. A very very very long time, indeed.

I spend the next two years writing poetry for money. Most of it is for fellow servicemen trying to impress their girlfriends. I have become mercenary about love and other human affections and affectations. I'm good. I can charge $2 a line. It gives me a kind of... perverse joy. At about $10 per verse, or more.


And in between, there are agonizing and embarrassing ones, and those that are sweet and quiet, and those that are tiring and exuberant. At this point in my life, all of them are fond memories, and I thank all those who made such memories possible and indelible. God bless you all, wherever you are.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Book

This is Monday's post. Sometimes you press 'Save As Draft' instead of 'Publish' when you are very tired. But that's nothing compared to what happens here. Take heart, all ye who are oppressed by new operating systems. Do not let them bind you.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Long Walk

On a clear hot day, you can see forever. You can walk along the corridors of the teeming hive, watching industry vie with the apathy of fatigue, watching the clash of intellect against intellect in the arena of the pit. Iron sharpens iron, as one man sharpens another, weapons in the hands of warriors. Salt in open wounds, salt for spoiled meat, salt, salt, saltiness. Salubrious and salaried, all mingling in the cauldron of sweat. The perspirate meet the aspirate, the desperate meet the vituperate. And from the ash a fire is woken, the cockatrice is born, the phoenix arises.

Lead is transmuted to gold, quicksilver is the unalloyed spirit, and the antimony withers on the chalcogen alembic. It is like that, it is all like that, no paean to the pagan coould capture this rippling suppleness of the fine and private place. This is a school, of discipline, of emotion, of intellect, of fish. The salmon leap, the sailor swears, the mermaid giggles and the old man rolls his trousers up as he looks out to the sea. The sea gurns, like the crystal watchglass of Atlantis.

Through the glass, we see the praetors, the lictors, the young proconsuls and the younger magistrates of a newer age. None carry sticks, let alone axes. None will wield a sickle for the harvest, or a hammer at the forge. And yet there is a bemused keenness in their gaze as they try so hard to influence their peers, to make them believe that they do not care and yet have great care for things that matter and do not. Byzantium's nightingale, and the doom of Rome.

Yet there is light, as from a tall hill, an old but mighty beacon. It is a pharos without the pharisees, it is a colossus in old gold now tinted with a coppery glaze. And it stands tall, like a giant beset by - no, not pygmies - but industrious and determined sappers. Will anything survive in this mighty pile of the works of man beneath the gaze of God?

The mind sizzles, the fuse burns down, the gelignite sweats its sweat of instability. Somewhere is a stable where four horses whicker to be ridden out, and four riders arm. Somewhere, justice waits to fall like a thunderbolt, an eagle stoops to conquer.

Yet behind the eyes, a reservoir of calm remains; God is in His heaven, eternity is in a grain of sand, terror stays in its pinch of dust. The lenses are unsullied. The windows of the soul are clear. And we will all give glory to the Highest in the end.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007


While I was digging around, I found an old bloglet. It's where I intended to put all my book reviews. But I had a bad 2006, as everyone knows, and I actually forgot about it. Sigh.

I hope to update Bookbinding at least once a week. At least, I ought to be able to finish a book a week, or I don't think I can claim much of a life. But bookbinding is an art, and time must be taken over it - time and no small amount of care and effort.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Azrael Passing

I fell asleep at my desk, tired by what has seemed to be weeks of brain-strain. I dreamt that I woke, and a little figure about 10 cm tall stood next to the air-conditioner remote. It had the wings of a bird of prey, with a wingspan of about 20 cm. It also looked vaguely masculine, in the cold way that some guns have. It had too many limbs though, and I had the fleeting impression that it had too many eyes, although in fact it had none.

The little figure seemed to be forcing me to remember words from this poem. And it said, You have always wanted this power, and you have not known it. Now know. And the field that is ripe for harvest shall be aflame. This seemed, inexplicably and counter-intuitively, to chill me to the bone. I started, and awoke.

The frightening thing is that I am not entirely sure it was a dream.


Edit: ah, this was only my 300th post here... tempus fugit.

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Data Management

Of course, I like this link very much. The man I refer to as 'IP Hosting' was kind enough to spread the joy around. But that said, I have to say that way back in 1996, when I first addressed the national convention of school principals, there were few who were not afraid of the coming 'doom'.

It was in 1997 that I told a senior officer that the Macintosh platform was here to stay. His reply was that Apple was a dying company, and that its products were not worth investing in because the company would go broke and nobody would be able to maintain or repair the computers. At that point in history, I suppose it looked possible, if you were listening to everyone else and not doing your own research.

This was a decade ago. Since then, I've been taking a look at schools all around the region. And the odd thing is that very few of them have any independent and coherent IT policy at all. What there is seems mostly to be of the 'if it is good enough for the Government, it is good enough for us' variety. This is what happens if schools see themselves as wholly-owned subsidiaries of some corporation.

But if schools are supposedly different, independent, creative and able to forge ahead in niche areas of their own, why the lacklustre IT situation? I'm not saying that the situation is bad; I'm saying that it literally lacks lustre. The national state of IT is nurturing an IT-capable generation who are running so much faster than many educational institutions that they are getting bored in school. It isn't as if we could not have seen this coming - it has happened in that great megalith and IT 'paragon', the good ol' USA.

We cannot keep playing catch-up to the big boys, and then say that it is a good strategy to piggy-back off them. This is true, but there has to be some innovation at the conceptual and non-physical level so that we can make use of the technological expertise we are supposedly piggybacking on. This allows us to leapfrog ahead in a few areas, so that a forward outpost can be established in the conceptual future that will support our newer generations. (Yes, I am now suddenly and painfully aware that this paragraph sounds like the blurb from some episode of The Muppet Show.)

I know why this is happening. People read little of history and hence do not see how human blind-spot tendencies exist and may be overcome. People read little of speculative literature and hence do not have the mental flexibility to exploit other people's blind spots. But practical experience tells us that the situations in which such knowledge is useful do not commonly appear, and the adoption curve is normally too steep for progress anyway.

Oh well, back I go to my machine from the 'ought to be dead by now' company, where I will continue to indulge in 'you ought to be dead for this by now' activities which actually contribute to the world of thought and the magic of humanity.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007


Tonight I watched the second episode of the new TV series, Heroes. It's about ordinary people suddenly manifesting extraordinary talents; hang-ups and problems thereof; the problems of selfhood, personality, awareness, and adaptation.

I also found drawn to two poems. The first is by Robert Frost - it is his famous one about the road not taken:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


That poem was published in 1916, ninety years and three generations ago. It has somehow become immortal, for we will always have to make decisions about roads and choices between them. And yet, there are older and sadder poems about roads too. Here is one which has proven less immortal, but which has a message just as poignant. It is Kipling's 1910 poem (yes, it is older than Frost's by six years), The Way Through The Woods:

They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse's feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods.
But there is no road through the woods.


And of course, it is the blind travelling on a road now lost that is the saddest thing here. I haven't yet decided which poem I love more. Perhaps it will be just as difficult for you, my readers.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007


For many years, whenever people used the phrase internal assessment, I would think of my brother-in-law the specialist in internal medicine. It was then a short step from internal assessment to haruspimancy. As they say, the quality of life depends on the liver.

This haphazard and peculiar divinatory practice was, of course, designed to produce useable knowledge. The main problems of knowledge are obvious - how it is obtained; how it is justified; of what use it is, what applications it has; what intrinsic properties, propensities and biases it contains and presumes upon; how it is sufficient for certain purposes and not for others; how well does it support other knowledge; what forms it takes and how resilient those forms are - and so on.

The trick in any argument involving knowledge is to narrow an issue down to which problem of knowledge best describes it, and what can be done to resolve the issue on that basis. For this, the proponent has to bring to bear an established set of analytical tools, with the results displayed to best effect. Begin with the difficulties of the issue, and why the problem chosen is a problem at all. Then examine the ways in which the problem can be resolved, and propose a method of resolution. If the argument can be sustained with each point justified, logically linked (i.e. with consistency and inevitability) and relevant to the case, then the argument is strong; if the argument shows insight, originality, precision and brevity, so much the better.

Yet, all arguments have logical consequents. If these are then summarised and dealt with in a way that is clear, rational, and easily understood when complete, the argument is likely to be successful on the appreciative (as opposed to purely cognitive) level of assessment. Regardless, if the argument remains hypothetical, it is unlikely to have utility value.

For an argument to develop utility value, it must be shown to be directly applicable to a contemporary and important issue. This applicability must be demonstrated to be direct as opposed to tangential, specific as opposed to general, and provide a good level of resolution. Most important, it must make abstract principles relevant to concrete reality in a way that leaves little scope for opponents to complain about vagueness and exceptions of various kinds.

Throughout, the proponent of the knowledge-based argument should remain calm, controlled, clear, coherent and consistent. At no point should circular or specious arguments be employed - be on guard against such! If you can pass this test of communication, then the argument is complete, the innards intact, and the assessment of such innards auspicious.


And at the end of all that, I must say that this was not such an argument, nor was meant to be.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Crown Imperial

Sometimes for a solace and a coign of vantage, I sit here enmeshed in the mastery of the Bard. Shakespeare, the first humanist of the literate arts, wrote plays to stir the minds and hearts of all who would follow after. Here, for example, is a section from my reading tonight, from Henry V, Act IV, Scene I.


We must bear all. O hard condition,
Twin-born with greatness, subject to the breath
Of every fool, whose sense no more can feel
But his own wringing! What infinite heart's-ease
Must kings neglect, that private men enjoy!
And what have kings, that privates have not too,
Save ceremony, save general ceremony?

And what art thou, thou idol Ceremony?
What kind of god art thou, that suffer'st more
Of mortal griefs than do thy worshippers?
What are thy rents? What are thy comings in?
O Ceremony, show me but thy worth!

What is thy soul of adoration?
Art thou aught else but place, degree, and form,
Creating awe and fear in other men?
Wherein thou art less happy being fear'd
Than they in fearing.

What drink'st thou oft, instead of homage sweet,
But poison'd flattery? O, be sick, great greatness,
And bid thy Ceremony give thee cure!
Think'st thou the fiery fever will go out
With titles blown from adulation?
Will it give place to flexure and low bending?

Canst thou, when thou command'st the beggar's knee,
Command the health of it? No, thou proud dream,
That play'st so subtly with a king's repose;
I am a king that find thee, and I know
'Tis not the balm, the sceptre, and the ball,
The sword, the mace, the crown imperial,
The intertissued robe of gold and pearl,
The farced title running 'fore the King,
The throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp
That beats upon the high shore of this world,
No, not all these, thrice-gorgeous Ceremony,--
Not all these, laid in bed majestical,
Can sleep so soundly as the wretched slave...


And here I am, reassured in my contentment. Uneasy is the head that wears a crown, indeed!

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Mind And Undermind

Following a trail from the sayings of Sam, I paid a visit to one of those websites which are the bane of dogma in this world (and perhaps any other world).

These were my results. I think it's all a matter of perspective though. And the odd thing is what happens when you imagine God creating a being who can think like this about Him. It bothers the mind, and perhaps, in a nod to Freud, the undermind.

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It came to me over dinner tonight that there are, in particular, three kinds of people one finds in warzones which one ought to think of shooting. (A warzone is an area of lawlessness mixed with autocratic defeatism disguised as authority. You see them in places like Iraq and Lebanon.)

The three types are, in order of moral reprehensibility:

1. The Scavenger. This is a looter, a ghoul, a despoiler of what isn't locked up, tied down, chained together or possessed by an armed and alert owner. The scavenger is someone who realises that the environment is chaotic and makes use of the situation to hide just out of the corner of the authorities' collective eye, using his quasi-invisibility to find and appropriate that which belongs (or used to belong) to others. No respecter of property, he might make the ideal Marxist, except that even the Marxists would shoot him for taking that which he does not deserve.

2. The Profiteer. This is the misanthrope who enhances his position at the expense of the suffering of his fellow-men. Perhaps 'misanthrope' is the wrong word though, since he loves his fellow-men as a source of ready revenue. He hoards and calculates and helps others only when he can levy a tax which can bring significant gain. If there are people working under him, it isn't benign supervision they're getting, but a bootheel across the neck or a lash across their toiling backs. Some people would call him a Fascist. The Fascists might disagree - violently.

3. The Warmonger. This one is the chaosbringer, the stormcrow, the instigator of bloodletting. Unlike the other two, who benefit from the economics and sociology of the warzone, the warmonger is bent on increasing the size and intensity of the madness. Sometimes, this is deliberate; some warmongers are also profiteers - especially those of the military-industrial complex. Some are researchers looking to make their name by describing and formalising the nature of chaos. Some are politicians. All are Capitalists, some without realising it.


Sometimes, warzones appear too close to home.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Diseases Of Our Age

January's jaundice has given way
To February's fevers just today
As if through barometers darkly see
A long march stretching ahead barrenly

And should April's cruelty not suffice
To drive home hard our human sacrifice
We come at last through our dismay to June
To take a gasping breath, and not too soon.


Tagore's writing distills in me some odd secretion of wonder. I cannot read him all at once. So I reflect on his illumination as if a cave-bound Platonist. Here he is again.

This is my prayer to You, O God
- strike, strike at the root of poverty in my heart.
Give me the strength to bear lightly my joys and sorrows.
Give me the strength to make my love fruitful in service.
Give me the strength never to disown the poor nor bend my knees before insolent might.
Give me the strength to raise my mind high above daily trifles.
Give me the strength to surrender my will to Your love.

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Friday, February 02, 2007


Too often I have seen the structures of knowledge fail for lack of contemplation. I watch the teeming masses of termite science students building Babel through unjudging hypothesis or the prejudice that results from having an hypothesis.

How can one require an hypothesis before one knows anything? To even form an hypothesis is to say what one wishes a thing to be or not be. The formation of a traditional scientific hypothesis requires that one divides the world, whether one ought to or not, into two worlds - one in which the hypothesis is rejected and one in which it meanders on for lack of disproof.

How can one build a house of data-bricks lacking plan or framework? And yet, one needs to know the 'houseness' of things - either by apprehension of some Platonic archetype (or architect?) or by reference to desired function (a house must shelter, first of all - and after that, it shelters people) - before a house can be planned or built.

And that is why the core of all things is the Logos. Not logic, that tiny lackey of the tunnel-visioned; not the word, that halting or intemperate rebel of the tongue; but structure, as if from the mind of God - meaning in its infinite but succinct and beautiful perfection of variety. It is in the Logos that we live and move and have our being; all else must join the queue of lesser priorities and peripheral angels.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Grey Areas

There is a world where no more angels go
Where armoured hearts beat out the passing years
Confident in nothing, bold in dismay;
Here are the ashes of our yesterday,
Here are the echos of our fallen tears,
Here is the valley of eternal snow.

And yet one scents the iron in the frost,
One hears the distant horn of Roland lost;
And though the sun has swept its circle out
These many ages clouded here in doubt

There are still kings beneath the silted dross.
A tarnished helm, a chapel in the moss -
Now here and there, the light of dawn returns;
And in the ashen hearth, a fire burns.

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