Saturday, March 31, 2007

An Unusual Journeying (Part 2)

In this second part, I'm going to talk about what is perhaps an abnormal psychology. Mine.

The fear of death is an interesting phenomenon. The Romans used to say timor mortis conturbat me, and it remains a popular motif to the present day. A student of mind once did a research project on anthropomorphic personifications of Death, he with the hood and the scythe. Perhaps the only modern author to move significantly away from that macabre image is Neil Gaiman, whose Death is a wide-eyed young lady Goth with an ankh and a pleasant bedside manner.

Truth be told, I had no such conceptions of death. To me, it was a boundary, the line between life and afterlife. I still believe it's a line that everyone will cross it at least once; nobody has ever been exempt, although some have returned and some have passed on without a clear demarcation that we can contemplate.

In that sense, I echo the implicit philosophy of Gene Wolfe's eponymous hero, Severian, from The Shadow of the Torturer. His executioner's blade is the carnifex named Terminus Est. This name has often been mistranslated as '(This) Is The End', but a more subtle translation relies on the actual meaning of terminus: 'boundary'. A terminus is therefore a bound. It is a point or line or plane between one place and another. And to me, death has always been that. It has no concrete existence except as a consequence of what is on either side of it, much as a point, line, plane or other boundary marker of zero thickness.

What are the consequences of this? Well, it makes me more patient, more forgiving, slower to anger than I normally am. I am prone especially to wrath and impatience, but as the Good Book says, it is because we love each other that we know we have passed from death to life. Death and life are asymmetrical opposites, much as yes and no - negation is much more powerful than the other, but affirmation has more possibilities.

It also seems to have instilled in me a rather ironic sense of humour. I live in a culture surrounded by trophy-hunters, all looking for trophies such as wealth, examination performance, property, and professional certification. It amuses me, sometimes to the point of arousing ire in others. Ah well. You can't win them all.

In my next post I suppose I'll be speaking more of the material consequences as opposed to the psychological consequences. And I continue to thank God for the highly unusual gift of equanimity in the face of death.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

An Unusual Journeying (Part 1)

I was born with a payload of odd genetic traits. I'm sure many of you have them too, but perhaps not all at once. I have an odd form of colour-blindness, some missing enzymes, odd bands around my arms, functional ambidexterity, a brain which is resolutely neither left-biased nor right-biased, and some other stuff. I used to think, when I was a child, that I wasn't entirely human.

Now I am older, I marvel at the range of humanity and people we call human (and who look human each day) and realise how human I really am. But one of my genetic traits had an unforeseen and deeply empowering result in my life, and I will discuss this later.

An aside first: the Latin word peregrinor is an interesting verb meaning 'to be different, to be unusual, to be strange or foreign, to wander, to voyage, to journey in foreign lands'. Try to understand that its sense is somewhat akin to the Greek xenos, as in 'xenophobia'. It is the word from which we get the name of the peregrine falcon - i.e. a falcon which appears to be always wandering or travelling.

When I was about five years old, I contracted a nasty illness because of one of my genetic traits. I began to haemorrhage everywhere. My quick-thinking grandfather ensured I was rushed to hospital, whereupon I was hooked up and treated to a complete blood transfusion. I felt no fear. I had been having these nosebleeds ever since my return to Singapore from the land of my birth. I bled easily, scarred easily, had learnt to endure the daily inconvenience and the finger-pointing of my peers.

It crossed my five-year-old mind that I might die. I resolved then, at that very young age, that dying was OK. It was quite peaceful in the hospital, with the regular and muffled sounds, the enforced visiting hours and meals, the solitude and quiet. And the next stage, as far as I knew, was death. So be it.

My mother and grandmother thought I was being excessively morbid. When I recovered, they always got upset when I spoke of it. The menfolk were more mysterious. They had a secret. I'm not sure know if it was the one I now know they have.

You know, when you have decided that dying is OK, life holds no terrors for you. You don't become more reckless; who wants to die in some crazy and violent incident which leaves you in a semi-dead state or an extended condition of pain and suffering? But you become more composed. And very little that people can do to you will change that. Inducements, threats and blandishments are irrelevant, since you or the other person might well be gone before they can take effect.

And you don't go crying to God in fear of death and the afterlife; if you go to God, it is in conversation during the still silences of the night, during the sliced moments of the day, never with human fright, but with rational fear.

The attitude that people perceive you have will also be unusual. Many people will not know why you are like that, why you will speak in the darkness, or do the peculiar, or endure the insane, or attempt the impossible. Not that I do all these things, but that's just my opinion. In my next post, I'll be more specific about the outcomes of journeying in this state of mind.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007


The word translated 'fellowship' in the New Testament is the Greek word koinonia. It can also mean community, commonality, or commonwealth. The funny thing is that this word, around which many things have been built, is not mentioned once in the Gospels. Jesus did things with his friends and colleagues; he did not have anything as abstract as koinonia with them.

That's the thing: Jesus was master and friend, but never a fellow as in, "Hail, fellow! Well-met!" I'm sure he was good company - too good, said the Pharisees. But he was a one-off. Unique. For what fellowship can light have with darkness?

I guess what subsequently boggles my mind is that he went all over the country with his friends. He slept, ate, drank, and had late-evening suppers with them. He visited their in-laws and their outlaws. He attended wedding dinners. Well, there you go. Amazing person, as a person goes. I'm not being flippant here. I am in awe of the whole idea, that light can indeed fellowship with darkness, and best of all, not 'take back the land from the darkness' but 'bring the light into the darkness'.

And that is why in the end, the dark will not understand nor withstand the light – because there is nothing which darkness can define; rather, light defines darkness by absence.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007


The world is fractured. It is made of too many fractions, too many pieces, too many interactions; they diverge in a way the Victorian world presaged but never envisaged, they multiply in a way the Centralised State could never deal with. Seven kinds of theories arise, dealing with things of this broken world. The theories look superficially similar, but are worlds apart - literally.

These are the seven Cs, the seven riders of our post-modern non-apocalypse: the theories of chaos, catastrophe, crisis, contagion, choice, criticality and complexity.

Together, they ensure that we will never ever be able to comprehend the universe around us. As I've told many of my students, to varying degrees and kinds of response, "We can apprehend much of it; we can comprehend almost nothing about it." There are no theories of comprehension which have not been broken in this modern age. And the ironic thing about it is that we did it to ourselves; for every theory and model which unifies fact and hypothesis and imagination, there is a a counter-theory coupled with a need to falsify. Karl Popper started it: the only good scientific theories are those to which a certain 'No' can be found, thus falsifying them.

And so we have banished all models which cannot be falsified. What does that leave us with? Our seven Cs have done away with an eighth C – certainty. Post-modernists think this is good. But you cannot define even 'good' with the new system of the world. In fact, no definition is secure; no definition or model or structure or logos will stand against the tide of anarchy.

For if in the beginning was no Logos, then there continues to be none, and mankind has no meaning save the pitiful scraps it gathers for itself – the unified theories which everyone seeks but which everyone at the same time denies by their pattern of thought.

There is only one remedy for a broken world. The proof is simple: if there were more than one, we could never know how many more – in that sense, all other numbers are the same in promoting uncertainty. If there were less than one, there would be none. One is a very special number. The answer is: One.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007


I think the greatest conundrum facing the modern Christian lies in this one word. Too often, we are bombarded by alternative meanings of the word 'leadership' that have nothing to do with any Christian model - meanings from the world of commerce, business, trade and economics; meanings from the world of politics, governance, administration and management; meanings from sociology, anthropology, psychology and zoology.

Let's cut to the chase. What is a Christian leader? There are many words translated thusly in the New Testament - words which would come across most directly as 'hegemon' (ruler), 'overseer', 'governor' or 'archon' (primus inter pares). None of these are used of Jesus, the 'author and finisher of our faith'.

There is no doubt that there are many appointed by God or by men to fulfil these roles, but there is equal certainty that the Messiah promised in Isaiah sometimes produced different images in the minds of men - images which some of us still retain falsely. In a few verses like Isaiah 55:4, the Messiah is seen as a leader and commander of his people. But even this is eclipsed by the many more verses which show him as a willing sacrifice, a scapegoat for the sins of his people.

So what is leadership? Leadership is a lesser role than that of servant. To be a servant is to serve without leadership in any sense but that your example makes others want to serve as well. To be a servant in such a way as to minister to others, to give of your self, to suffer and to take on burdens beyond the bearing of others, to forgive wrongs, to defy despair - these are the great things of the servant that a leader will never be able to touch.

But the church has need of leaders too, the people appointed as the outriders and guardians of the flock, to do the mundane chores of administration, seecurity, governance, finance and such like. It is telling that the gifts of the spirit separate leadership (governance) from apostleship, preaching, teaching and even encouragement. It is only the world that demands a leader should have all these things as well. No; a leader is a sergeant-at-arms, the political boss whose job it is to ensure turnout on the final day of voting, the person who runs the commissary and the refectory. He is no prophet, no preacher, no teacher - and conversely, a person with such a greater gift must consider seriously if he should be a administrator at all, unless that is his gift.

Administrative skill isn't everything. In a world of hierarchies and worldly powers, of thrones and dominations, of rulers (does anyone remember how God treated the Israelites who wanted a king?) and those who would lord it over others, it might seem to be a great thing; indeed, in some countries, the Administrative Service is the senior instrumentality of state.

But this is not the most excellent way. And so I must regretfully say that the idea of 'servant leadership' is (or has been transformed by human venality into) a bad modern idea which builds its ragged nest upon the true kingship of the greatest servant of all.

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Monday, March 26, 2007


I am totally dispensable. I have frequently admitted it. Especially when told that I am; I am positively effusive about my dispensability. This is greeted in some quarters with consternation and admonitions to be more ambitious.

Actually, I know I am unique. In one sense, I am not dispensable - nobody can exactly replace the sum and product of what I am, what I was made to be, what I do, which hole in reality I fill. However, all my many tasks, duties and responsibilities can be given to others who will do better in each area. I remember when I made my first great dispersion of powers. At least six different people took up my various tasks, and I still was not done.

I was curious. I experimented. I disbursed and devolved, resolved never to take my own authority seriously again unless accompanied with true responsibility and power and the blessings of the Spirit. And I found nothing but freedom in the exercise. It was a surprise to me, even though the theory had always pointed the way; even though the theology said nothing but that.

And I learned something else. Sometimes, it isn't the 'killer application' which wins; it isn't always the ability to do individual things excellently which is the gift. It was my ability to link all the tiny things together in a way useful to other people which, in some arcane way, was the 'killer application'. The odd and sideways percipience, the peculiar trajectory, the weird web of seemingly disparate pieces of different disciplines - these were my forte. And since they weren't tangible and measurable, they were dispensable.

If we thought like that of the Holy Spirit, it would be dispensable too. Thank God we don't.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Faith, Hope, Love & Anchors

I've always had this uneasy relationship with I Corinthians 13:13. It is of course that famous verse which says, "And now these three remain (or abide): faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."

Why 'uneasy'? What could be more beautiful than a line like this; what cause for uneasiness could there possibly be?

I guess that over the years, like many of the people of my generation, I developed a tolerant dislike of ranking. And yet here, in this verse buried in the words of Paul the apostle of Christ, is an obvious example of ranking. And ranking of virtues, no less! How could one possibly rank virtues? By what criteria? And to what end? I have not yet entered the familiar physical realm of uncertainties, errors, precision and accuracy. Indeed, we are still in the metaphysical realm.

Of course, the argument for 'the most excellent way' has just been made, in the verses preceding this. By this point, the reader has been invited to consider the consequences of doing things without love. But a cursory inspection of chapters 12 and 13 shows little to do with the consequences of doing things without faith or hope - thus leading one to consider the possibility of some sort of 'straw man' argument.

But the whole book of Romans deals with the issue of faith and faithlessness; faith is the beginning of the argument, the root of our belief in eternal things. And the consequence of faithlessness is ignorance, as Paul colourfully describes from chapter 1 of that epistle onwards; it manifests in eagerness to exchange the certain knowledge and glory of God for odd and inferior things. Indeed, Paul leaves no space for even philosophical doubt - rather, to him faithlessness is inexcusable. Belief in God is not a kind of knowledge gained by reason, but a self-evident reality that needs none. It is all very frustrating to the scientist, and meaningless folly to the likes of Bertrand Russell.

And worse to the logical positivists, faith is 'the surety of things hoped for; the certainty of things unseen'. It is all a vexation of spirit to the philosophers of the age.

What then of hope? Does the Bible ascribe greater horrors to hopelessness than to faithlessness? Oh yes, without hope we are the most pitiful of men, says Paul. Whether Paul wrote the epistle to the Hebrews or not is debateable, but that epistle shows hope as the anchor of the soul, without which we would surely drift and be lost in despair.

More scholarly people than I have searched and researched for the ultimate verity behind faith and hope. But I think that the reason why love surpasses them both (although all three abide) is that love is the one virtue that must continue to act. It cannot exist without acting. Faith will not listen to reason, and is shown as implicit in the things one does; hope is an enduring state of mind which seems optimistic and complicit with faith. Love, completely differently, requires that one does something for someone else, and is shown by its absence in the greatest deeds that one might otherwise do.

Perhaps, considering the metaphor of hope as an anchor that keeps the soul steady, faith must be the idea that something at the bottom of it all holds the anchor steady; love, however, must be shown in the things one does as if assuming the anchor will hold. Love is the capacity to take people on board, to give them one's full service and to do your best by them - without listening to the million niggling prejudices one inevitably has. Love is something we sometimes find greatest in paradox as well as in power - love defeats all things and yet is vulnerable to all; love is perfect in weakness and inflicts vulnerability upon the heart - but it gives invulnerability to the soul.

In the end, faith, hope and love; these three things abide. But the greatest of these is love.

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tonight's rain infiltrated wings
of hydrogen-bonded commandos
descended in the darkness of things

the wind was ever their ally, just
sent them through narrow casements howling
a barrage of oxidative lust

they attacked across our window-panes
wreaked hell on roof tiles and bathroom floors
made incursions into the storm-drains

we slept through it all and into sun
day, the morning nuclear miracle
evaporated each and every one

in the morning the landscape appeared
fresh, the molecular infantry
mauled by massive firepower, cleared

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Free Markets And Perfect Markets

A free market ought to be a perfect market, according to conventional economics; that is, it should be one in which all trading information, resource availability, buyer and seller characteristics, and suchlike are perfectly known - and in which every changing fact is immediately disseminated and understood by all elements within the system.

Often, I wonder what it would be like to live in such a hellish environment. There would be little advantage to brainpower or innovation simply because everything would be known perfectly with no delay and hence everyone would respond exactly in order to maximise their own benefit. Only two things would be in doubt, and perhaps not even those two: the nature of 'benefit' and the nature of 'maximise'.

It was while playing with such idle thoughts that I realised why I had dropped economics. I thought of it as a self-defeating subject - either it reflects the real world by prediction, with the real world failing to comply simply because it is real, or it is an empirical striving after the wind. Worse, I thought of it as a dangerously amoral subject, summarisable as: 1) all humans are greedy; 2) all humans are rational; 3) it is rational to be greedy; 4) exceptions are explained by deferred greed.

But Messrs Levitt and Dubner rekindled my love of economics as a sociological science, somewhat akin to the interesting observations of human philosophers (i.e. those who agreed that 'the proper study of mankind is man'), and I awoke.

What if, my naughty mind said to me, all students were to provide evidence-based commentary for all their teachers. Then perhaps a market system could be set up in which teachers could be ranked by students better than they could be ranked by their superiors! Heh heh... happy goldfish bowl, everyone.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Turning Points

I think the most important thing any girl ever said to me was this, "You know, you're a pretty immature sort of person." It happened when I was fourteen; like most young people of that age, I'd started experimenting with alcohol and extreme eating habits, and I thought I'd never die.

It was a comment that I would ordinarily have brushed off. It wasn't that the young lady in question meant a lot to me, it wasn't that she was being bitingly cruel without meaning it. She meant it, all right. At that point (well, I'd like to think angels were watching with bated breath, but they probably weren't), something happened. I actually listened.

And encouraged, that young lady went on to tell me a few home truths.

It's a tremendously sobering experience, let me tell you, to hear a slim and innocent-looking girl tell you all the bad things about you she's learnt from two dates and a church camp.

I must regretfully say, however, that I learnt only half a lesson. That half was: to never allow myself to be rightfully accused of those things again. As I grew up, I learnt that there were other bad things you could be accused of.

You keep learning, and you keep halving the problem. But it never ends. And once in a while, some idiot (oops) will provoke you beyond your newly-learnt limit and you become recidivist again. Sigh. It is especially tough when people you find it hard to respect tell you that they don't respect you.

The instinctive response is: "So what? I don't respect you or your opinions, why should I bother to listen?"

The problem with that is of course that they might be right.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Forty Years

"Forty years on, when afar and asunder, parted are those who are singing today..." is the first line of the reunion anthem of the old Harrow School, that bastion of classical English education.

Today I heard a colleague reflect on the fate of the 40-year old eagle. Aristotle's 'History of Animals' says that the eagle will smash off its overgrown beak against granite rocks when the beak is too heavy to allow it to fly well; the South African 1st Eagle Scouts' website has the same story, expanded for a modern audience. The story appears totally apocryphal, but might be related to some eagles' very real habit of tapping their beak against rocks to remove undigested food remains (bones, feathers, hair) stuck in the craw.

The story continues that the eagle does this to permit it a new lease of life. Lighter and less encumbered, it now has thirty more years to live. Se non é vero, é molto ben' trovato, I say, echoing the old Italian adage. It has shed its beak, feathers, and even talons - it can then grow them back and be as a young eagle again.

I suppose that despite the silliness of the whole story, my own reflections are cheerful on this point. Yes, indeed I have jettisoned my talons and beak and feathers; yes, indeed have I begun the growth of a new armamentarium. But I also think about Benjamin Franklin's protest regarding the use of the Bald Eagle as a national icon - and I reproduce them below for you:

"For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

"With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country . . .

"I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on."

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007


At equinox the dark and light fall into balance. I sleep the sleep of life, which nobody perturbs. Pain and deceit, silliness and mortal fury, they are all shadows of little consequence now. The Spirit moves upon the face of the waters, the Wyvern cares nothing for its temporary nests of stone. In the end, that we were true to our calling is all there is. Much has been lost, and there is yet much to lose.

But for those who pray, hope and work, the best is yet to be. We shall not forsake one another; the true children know their siblings.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Interesting Convo...

Besides the fact that Neil Gaiman's new movie Stardust is out on a particularly auspicious day, I have had a very good day today. On this equinoctial day, the Butterfly hit eighteen in the shade and the Godfather to his everlasting regret missed the moment. He has been forgiven but will have to stump out for a Bentley by the twenty-first (birthday, not day of March) - this something that he contemplates in silence and possibly vows of poverty.


Then again, listening to favourite group Mannheim Steamroller, I ignored the Godfather for a while when I came across a very appropriate (considering I was on MSN) track. Here it is.


Convoy - by C W McCall

[on the CB]
Uh, breaker one-nine. This here's the Rubber Duck
You gotta copy on me Pig-Pen, c'mon?
Uh, yeah 10-4 Pig-Pen, fer sure, fer sure
By golly it's clean clear to Flag-town, c'mon?
Aw yeah, that's a big 10-4 there Pig-Pen, yeah
we definitely got the front door good buddy,
Mercy sakes alive, looks like we got us a convoy.

Was the dark of the moon on the sixth of June
In a Kenworth pullin' logs
Cabover Pete with a reefer on
An' a Jimmy haulin' hogs

We's headin' fer bear on I-one-oh
'Bout a mile out a' Shaky-town
I sez Pig-Pen, this here's th' Rubber Duck
An' I'm about to put the hammer on down

Cause we got a little ol' convoy, rockin' through the night
Yeah, we got a little ol' convoy, ain't she a beautiful sight?
Come on an' join our convoy, ain't nothin' gonna git in our way
We gonna roll this truckin' convoy 'cross the U.S.A.
Convoy, convoy…

Uh, breaker Pig-Pen, this here's th' Duck
an' a-you wanna back off with them hogs?
10-4, 'bout five mile or so, 10 roger
Them hogs is gittin' in-tense up here.

By the time we got into Tulsa town
We had eighty-five trucks in all
But they's a road-block up on the clover-leaf
An' them bears was wall to wall

Yeah, them smokies as thick as bugs on a bumper
They even had a bear in the air
I sez, callin' all trucks, this here's the Duck
We about to go a-huntin' some bear

Cause we got a great big convoy, rockin' through the night
Yeah, we got a great big convoy, ain't she a beautiful sight?
Come on an' join our convoy, ain't nothin' gonna get in our way
We gonna roll this truckin' convoy 'cross the U.S.A.
Convoy, convoy…

Uh, you wanna gimme a 10-9 on that Pig-Pen?
Uh, nega-tory Pig-Pen, yer still too close
Yeah, them hogs is startin' to close up my sinuses
Mercy sakes you better back off another ten

Well we rolled up Interstate forty-four
Like a rocket sled on rails
We tore up all our swindle sheets
And left 'em settin' on the scales

By the time we hit that Chi-town
Them bears was a-gittin' smart
They'd brought up some reinforcements
From the Illinois National Guard

There was armored cars and tanks and jeeps
An' rigs of every size
Them chicken coops was full o' bears
And choppers filled the skies

Well we shot the line and we went for broke
With a thousand screamin' trucks
And eleven long-haired Friends o' Jesus
In a chartreuse micro-bus

Uh, Rubber Duck to Sod Buster
Come on there, yeah, 10-4 Sod Buster
Listen, you wanna put that micro-bus in
behind that suicide jockey?
Yeah, he's haulin' dynamite and he
needs all the help he can git

Well we laid a strip for the Jersey shore
And prepared to cross the line
I could see the bridge was lined with bears
But I didn't have a doggone dime

I sez Pig-Pen, this here's the Rubber Duck
We just ain't-a gonna pay no toll
So we crashed the gate doin' ninety-eight
I sez let them truckers roll, 10-4

Cause we got a mighty convoy, rockin' through the night
Yeah, we got a mighty convoy, ain't she a beautiful sight?
Come on an' join our convoy, ain't nothin' gonna git in our way
We gonna roll this truckin' convoy 'cross the U.S.A.
Convoy, convoy…

Uh, 10-4 Pig-Pen, what's yer 20? …Omaha?
Well they ought know what to do
with them hogs out there fer sure
Well, mercy sakes, good buddy, we gonna back on outta here
so keep the bugs off your glass
and the bears off your… tail
and we'll catch you on the flip-flop
This here's the Rubber Duck on the side…
we gone...


Heh. We ain't gonna pay no toll! Great stuff.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Order Of Service

Sometimes, I am called upon to order the service of the brothers and sisters. It is an ancient tradition, much loved of old, but perhaps in this day given less than its due.

The only thing on my mind now is: what should we do to re-establish the presence of the Holy?

He speaks in the still, small voice - and it does not return to Him void. Why then the noise and clamour of the world?

What is the order of service?



These are the broken hours after light
Where the Dreaming never quite goes
Between the loud clock and darker night
In the places nobody knows.

Each one is as short as a nightmare
Or longer than all of a life;
The line between darkness and dawn there
Is sharper than any sharp knife.

Each chime of the clock in the hallway
Is an addendum to grief;
The words you exchanged throughout the day
Sneak up from behind like a thief.

The mating of cats round the garden,
Each screech is a spike in your ear;
The blanket of sleep will not harden
As the hours of night disappear.

You doze in discomfort for ages,
Till daylight makes light of your woes;
You wonder why nothing assuages
The itch that you feel in your nose.

Some time before six you find slumber,
The itch now subsides and is gone;
But one more increases the number
Of times that insomnia has won.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Statistical Note

It's interesting to see what happened to my reader demographics in Week 10 of this year. Deadline fatigue, it appears, just before the local school break in Week 11.

But more to the point, I just want to reiterate the sobering argument I made in TOK class the other day.


Let's assume I'm older than most of my readers. Let's say I am 20 years old now. Hypothetically speaking, and all other things being equal (and even if not!) I have a 100% chance of reaching the age of 20 (since I am already 20 in this example). My juniors who are 18 actually have (for certain) a <100% chance of reaching 20, on average.

This means that I may actually have a longer total life expectancy than any of my juniors, simply by virtue of having lived longer already. The main problem of course is that I may have a lower chance of surviving the next year than they; my short-term odds are a little weaker, especially after factoring in the diseases that are part of the accumulation of life. Remember that in the long term, oxygen is a poison and life is wearisome to those who can only think about the physical world.

Now extend the argument. Suppose I am actually 40 now. I have now cleared 22 more years than an 18-year-old. Each of those 22 years, for an 18-year-old, carries a finite probability of dissolution (i.e., chance of dying). For me, each of those 22 years now carries no chance of death, since I have negotiated them safely (i.e., am still alive).


What an interesting line of argument! And what further interesting lines of discussion this opens up...

For example, would you expect me to be more of a risk-taker or less of a risk-taker? And what else comes with being older? Does it mean wiser, less foolish, more romantic, more pragmatic, what? What do you think?

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Some boys never change. They still get drunk, make jokes about who can't take his liquor, say naughty things about the ladies that they would never do while sober and in public. It is the dark side of childhood, and sometimes, for those who feel the gnawing spiritous need, it carries over into adulthood.

And some do. They grow up and try very hard to be gentlemen. Not that it always works, and sometimes the trying is painful to see. This too is a grievous misfortune.

Many tread the fine line in between. They get drunk and regret it; they are gentlemen without a cause; or they are not sure what they are, except that the old days were better than these.

Most will rationalise everything away. One thing outweighs another, one crime is small when buried beneath the rest of humanity's load. And who is to judge in the end? Certainly, not I.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

To-Do List

Eeeergh. This is horrible. You dig around in old papers wondering what on earth you kept them for, and then lo! and behold! you encounter a list. And what a list it is. It is a list of all the things you wanted to do when you were 15 years old, had just turned 15, and were wondering what you should do before Father Time got his filthy hooks into you – i.e. by the time you became old at 30.


1. Become a teacher: will need a major discipline (Lit? Chem?) and work on core skills (computer assembly, programming and protocols; psychology and communication) - forget the other subjects unless Mrs T complains again - can I do Law first, or must I have teaching subject to do education?

2. Life skills: learn to cook, at least good if not tasty; learn to repair clothes; keep on with the carpentry and woodwork - is it worthwhile learning to renovate a house, or just a garden enough (note: cultivate brother) - and how to survive in foreign cities without being foreigner?

3. Get some money: don't count on family fortune (not so big anyway), estimate seed size; if teacher, how survive - unique means premium - what about UN job, and what power can you have without money?

4. Self-fulfilment: get some proper writing done, publish SF/fantasy bits - maybe poetry - learn some Greek, Latin and Hebrew for bible study - also see (1) above - figure out gifts and how to deal with bad parts (arrogant idiot, angry and stubborn ass).

5. Get married: target for 10 years' time; start database, decide what parameters - need objective monitoring else things go wrong - start a new list?


Well, we were all younger once. I am, once again, humbled by what I wrote and what I actually achieved. As God wills, so does He dispose. And all we can do is wonder at the things we are allowed to do.

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Friday, March 16, 2007


It isn't really a badge of honour or of glory to have had an unscathed childhood. Childhood is a time for building the foundations for learning and growth; if you don't learn the basics at that time, it is not impossible to build - but it is very much more difficult.

This excellent article explores some ramifications of the kind of praise we give the people we remark upon. It helps to explain why I prefer to say, "X has shown himself to be intelligent and determined," rather than, "X is intelligent and has done well." The former is descriptive of what X has done and can continue to do; the latter is more descriptive of what X is, immutably and for a moment in time. It is a subtle distinction, but a valuable one.

So if my students feel that the term reports look unduly harsh or scathing, I hope they take it in the right spirit. I'm not here to give undeserved laurels; I'm here to try to see how they can be even better than they already are. After all, I am scathing to many people, who hopefully all deserve it - and I am not unscathed myself, nor want to be.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Mind Over Matter

1989 was a very productive year for me. I was well on my way to an undistinguished first year in university, reading Chemistry, Computer Science and Mathematics. It was all very relaxing. And on 3 Aug 1989 I finally took up the challenge of a friend of mine: "Write a poem entitled Mind over Matter."

We were all bored then. These were the days of green-phosphor visual display units, and of playing all-text games, or games in which the sprites were animated keyboard characters. Our other form of entertainment was exploring the nascent internet and playing pranks - including the sending of funny poems to (and sometimes, the receiving of not-so-funny penalties from) the programmers and administrators at the Computer Centre.

Here was my effort (I have even included the header, should anyone want verification). Yes, it is a very bad pun. I'm still not sorry. And Sally, wherever you are, this one's for you!


RECS:1308 A0 VM/SP RELEASE 5.0 CMS PUT 8804+

There was a man who wove carpets:

Carpets of every shade and hue,
With a weave that was fine,
Showing shading and line,
And artwork too good to be true.

There was a carpet weaving man:

Carpets soft to the yearning touch,
Woven great in degree,
Woven when he was free -
They didn't cost really that much.

Carpets wove a man who was there.

Carpets were his life and his time;
You could look at your fate
If you dared contemplate
The silk as he wove it sublime.

Wove carpets a man who was there?

Carpets wove his life at the end:
Hand and eye did not fail,
But I tell a true tale -
And they drove him right round the bend.

A man who was carpets there wove -

Carpets himself three times or more
Each day. The buyers stare
As he dyes himself there
And wish he'd get up from the floor.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007


I suppose nobody nowadays can read that title and not think of violin music and that haunting theme song from the movie of Mario Puzo's book.

But this little post is written as I reflect on my role as a godfather - not entirely in the orthodox sense of the word, but in a few extended senses.

My first attempt at being a godfather was when my best friend of many years proudly announced to three of us that we would all be godfathers to his infant son. I remember one beautiful wintry morning in North London, some years later, when the young fellow looked up from play in the garden, armed with a staff, and saw his long-absent (and somewhat derelict in duty) godfather. "Godfather," he exclaimed, eyes big and round, "Is that really you?"

We never had much time together, and now he is grown and no longer communicates with me. I feel some loss, a certain disquieting sense that I could have done more for him. But he and his family have moved over four continents, and I have lost track of him. It is all very sad. I could make the excuse that not being a Roman Catholic myself, I never really was a godfather - since one of the duties of a godfather is to sponsor a child for baptism (confirmation?) and to provide an alternative source of spiritual advice within the range permitted.

Since then, I have developed, in some sense, another kind of role. A godfather is really something like a psychopomp, with the obvious difference being that his role is to conduct a soul from one state to another (hopefully better) state which isn't the afterlife. A godfather is a mentor, an agent of socialisation; he is a support and guide through troubled places, times, and circumstances; he is a kind of hierophant. It is this last role which I have been reflecting on.

The word hierophant is Greek for 'he who reveals the sacred', or 'he who sheds light on the mysteries'. In the educational context which frames me and currently structures my existence in a secular sense, this is what I am. In the mundane, in the world that is bound by time and pressure, by numbers and powers, I reveal what I can of meaning and the higher realities. I am no angelic messenger or demiurge; I am not an unearthly spirit. I am just a man of odd talents in peculiar combination - as is every other man. It is just that sometimes, my combination seems to help others understand this particular world of knowledge.

And this is where I stand and bow to all those I serve. I have a blessing and some granted gifts which allow me to serve as a teacher, and where possible, a godfather. The prayer I make for myself and that I trust others will pray for me is: that I will be true to my calling and lead none astray.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Little Things

He is God of the little things as well as of the great, and frequently he uses the lesser things of the world to shame the greater. This is one of the most terrifying creeds of Christianity - it makes allowances for the unexpected, the unfortunate, the dispossessed and the disenfranchised. The superiority of the superior is always in doubt. And no little thing passes away, is destroyed, or lacks value; no little child is powerless or diminished before the mighty; no small effort will be insufficient or useless.

There is no work too humble for those who toil at the foundations of the world. The least of tasks and the most menial of occupations are the things which ennoble us all.

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Monday, March 12, 2007


I love Latin. Quotidian means 'daily': as in panem nostrum quotidianum - 'our daily bread'.

But I thought of the word when my mind, half-asleep, decided to transform 'quote of the day' into 'daily quote' and hence into 'quotidian quote' - or 'quotidiom' or something odd like that.

That done, here is the quote of the day: "I prefer a more natural height."

"What?" you roar in disgust. "That's a quote of the day??"

Well, context is all. It seemed extremely funny when it happened. It was an appalling (and hopefully unintended) quip on the part of our Guest-of-Honour at today's conference. Sigh. I have to think about this. Knowing him, it was intended. Alumni do tend to make jokes like this about and at each other, and we don't take harm or offence from such jokes, because that's the way we've grown up. It takes a man to laugh at himself (and a few others to join him).

It puts me in mind of many other such jokes perpetrated (in deed, indeed) and delivered (from the pulpit or rostrum) by alumni against non-alumni. Like the one about "Why is a taxi-driver like the CEO of an educational institution?" You know it already? Good. I shan't elaborate, then.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007


I was reflecting on the use of proper presentation materials. Or perhaps, on the proper use of presentation materials. My conclusion is that there is a fundamental disconnect between what educational establishments say about instructional media and what they do about instructional media.

On one hand, it is a strongly held and justified position that hands-on direct manipulation is the best way to learn something (art and craft, design and technology, science) while graphic manipulation is the best way to conceptualise something or convey a concept. On the other, the fact that computers are facile at image manipulation and video delivery makes most educational administrators want to see things on screens - at least to justify the vast expenditure in IT that is based on the presumption that computers actually help people learn better than other modes of delivery.

For me, it has to be about deliberate intent to deliver good and useful content. The intelligent human chooses a medium and thinks about how best to use it. The human mind is attuned from birth (and perhaps before that) to pay attention to the human voice and its proper use. This is why face-to-face communication is still much desired. It is also true that the human voice has a power all its own, in rhetoric and declamation, in debate and incitement, in poetry and drama. As my friend Sue the Blue once said when discussing her lecture delivery (notorious for its skill, power and ability to pick up Best Lecturer awards), "No power, no point."

I also hang out a lot with my friends Dean the Bean and Dean-not-Dean. They are strong advocates for the proper use of the graphic image. Bad use of visuals leaves them in agony. No, wrong: leaves them in agony. I have learnt much about using graphic media through them.

But the person I find most inspiration in is this person. His seminal works on the presentation of information are a must-read for anyone dealing with honest and compelling delivery. Ranging from astronomy to cartography, from digital semiotics to instruction manuals, from networks to zoology, his beautiful books are excellent guides to the rational intelligence behind good content. And this is his guide to making points with power.

That's not to forget this tour-de-force of media presentation. It is (debatably, rightly so) the most-viewed post on Guy Kawasaki's blog, How To Change The World. It's a very educational blog. Its points are powerful too. As in the post next to that one.

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Once in a while, I am totally surprised by the generosity of strangers.

Look here.

The original is here. If you want more poems (argh, there seems to be a little archive of stuff building up), they're here.

Edit: Oops. Had to modify the search link. Done.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007


The word 'parallel' is Greek in origin, from 'para-', which means 'beside and distinct'; and 'allo-' which means 'in like manner or positional relationship'. A parallel, then, is something that is not the same as, but virtually equivalent to, that to which it is parallel. Greek prepositions are many and varied, but combining two in one word always leads to interesting vocabulary.

Here are snippets from a parallel universe, upon a summit one might vaguely have thought of as somewhat Olympian.


"There is," said the elder statesman (now retired), "an institution that prides itself on putting up eagles in every courtyard, that puts its principles on display and violates them with impunity, that sets up a condition in which rule of law maintains order, but in which the law is an instrument constructed and administered by those intent on maintaining power and control.

"For where we speak of conflict, the word which our first speaker omitted must also be mentioned - and that word is power. It is a sad fact of our non-ideal world that many institutions perpetuate the power of those who no longer possess the right to power, the will to power, or the fact of power. These are old powers, no longer relevant to the modern world. What they have left is positional power, entrenched by decree, and they hang on to it ruthlessly.

"I am not speaking of the Roman Empire, although this might have applied equally to them."


"It is a small entity," said the minister, "With the good fortune not to have any resources of note, except the will, mind and ability to sweat. I say 'good fortune', because human nature is such that if it had any resources to exploit, those in power would have wanted to attain positions of power to dip their hands into its cookie jar, or to rule and subjugate it.

"But it is a realistic entity. It functions on three principles: 1) that the world is not an ideal place (although it is a place for idealists); 2) that it can be of help to many and thus cement a place for itself; 3) that it can achieve far more than its resources seem to allow, by ingenuity, wit, patience, determination, and good humour.

"It cannot lead the world or drive global culture or revolution. But it can survive, thrive, and act as a model that others can see and be inspired by."


Parallels are funny things. Sometimes, we see as through a glass darkly; sometimes, as face to face. (This is called optical dichroism.) Sometimes, we see with blinding sight, that happiness is not an affliction and sobriety not always a virtue. And sometimes, we are enlightened in all humility, and we reflect that the world is indeed a better place for people who can laugh at themselves.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Annunciation & Pronunciation

The purpose of announcements (or annunciations) is to provide information for the edification of all, in tones that command attention, with unambiguous pronunciation; and with audibility, clarity and steadiness of voice. This purpose is subverted by people who lack any of these capabilities. This purpose is enhanced by people who are mighty in these areas.

As far as this is concerned, I remember with particular fondness my former principal, my former English and Literature teacher, and one or two others mighty in word and deed. Their announcements were pure, commanding, unsullied by ambiguity and inaccuracy. I have tried to imitate this. It is not easy at all. In particularly depressing moments, I try to imagine what Gabriel must have sounded like when pronouncing the Ave Maria. Sigh.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Making Fun

I've realised that I am really not a corporate animal in a particular sense.

Some corporate entities require that you work extremely well in ways which are comprehensible to the body corporate - it is a lot like asking that each component of a clock be aware of the other components and that the clock as a whole understands each part. The escapement must comprehend the hands, the hands must comprehend the casing, and so on. This is odd because these parts are non-sentient to begin with.

Some corporate entities require less understanding because a comprehensive code of governance persists - the military has a rigid but flexible framework of this kind; units need not understand each other so well as long as they understand the principles and the code. Some orchestras are like that too.

Some corporate entites are really corporate; i.e., they behave like bodies, in which the brain need not understand the other organs as long as the other organs deliver timely and useful product to the best of their function. The brain is of course the only organ that can understand the workings of the others, but it need not intrude (and often finds it better not to intervene consciously). I don't mind being part of this kind of corporate entity.

But in such a body, whether as part of a clock, an orchestra, a choir, or a flesh-and-blood construct, there are often odd pieces. They are non-essential but allow the body a greater range of function. They are analogous to a glockenspiel in an orchestra or a differential gear which allows a timepiece to keep track mechanically of the phases of the moon, or like a licorice jelly bean in a fruit assortment.

I think I am like this. I am a perfectly dispensable part of my organisation. It is true that I have many uses, but I tend to force the other parts to accommodate me in a way that some parts do not like. And I am subject to my own sense of what constitutes proper obedience to proper authority. It leads me sometimes to throw spanners at random into the situations where the machinery seems to have locked up already; it leads me at other times to say things which provoke or edify with discomfort.

But amidst all this, there is the idea that God made us all with a sense of humour. It is not within man's grasp to defeat or define that sense; it is a divine gift of great power. God gave us the ability and the right to laugh, although He Himself might call us to account for it. I am a laugher. I cannot help but realise that man's strivings are sometimes case studies for the God-given triumph of the foolish over the wise, the weak over the strong.

And I am so very foolish; it is an apprehension that is before me at all times - I am a fool before God, I am a fool beside God. I am weak, and I know that this gives me strength. I confess my failings, my faults, all the time. It keeps me honest. It shows me that I can be better. And best of all, I have the ideal target for laughter - myself. He who cannot laugh at himself takes himself too seriously.

In closing, here is a quote which I never forget. Dorothy Dunnett is the author of many beautiful and perplexing novels (my favourite of which is probably King Hereafter). In her novel Caprice & Rondo, she records the following as part of a conversation between a hierophant and a swashbuckler.

"God is my Master," the Patriarch
[of Constantinople] said. "It makes for simplicity. I commend it. For that is your trouble, isn't it?"

This perhaps is the root of the problem. Simplicity is oft confused with folly, or more confusingly, with complexity. I am a simple man, of whom the Patriarch might conceivably have approved. Or perhaps not. Sigh.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007


One of the many influences on how I see my place in this world is this:

Each man will be like a shelter from the wind
and a refuge from the storm,
like streams of water in the desert
and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.

It is found in the book of the prophet Isaiah, and it is a chastising reminder of how men ought to be. The context is that of the Sinai desert - a wide wilderness of sand and salt in the northeast of the Sinai peninsula. The wind lashes out across the flat land, stinging unprotected flesh; when it howls, whole caravans may be swallowed up. By day, the sun is blazing hot; by night, it is cold and dry. Without a shelter, without a refuge, without water or shade, the traveller perishes.

The least a man can do is to be a sanctuary. Even in the awkwardness of silence or in the weakness of disability, a man can shield others from wrath and pain. We were made to take the big hits, so that others might continue doing good. For if women are the more capable and the more useful at the business of daily life, should we not be their cannon-fodder and their defence so that they can do the things we cannot do?

What a thought. If one is not great at being a shelter and a refuge, one must at least be a source of provision and providence. Tonight I cooked, and I was happy. I washed and scrubbed and dried, and I was content. And I wish I could do more.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Dreams Of Small Things

I slept, and I dreamt. In those dreams I stood entranced, a prisoner on a high tower. I was fettered around the ankles with chains of silk and glass, with chains of air and fire and the beautiful hair of unknown women. And a great voice which silenced the multitude beneath said to me, "Write what you will. It changes nothing, but it does not return to me void."

Then I saw, as if through a glass of great clarity, the truth of the crowd beneath. They fought and duelled, drank and ate, conspired and collaborated, negotiated and socialised, and accomplished the works of their hands. They built what to them was great and mighty and sure to bring swift death to others, or glory to themselves. They strove mightily to assail each other's ramparts and defences and, when balked, swore equally mighty oaths and returned to their mills of cruel technology.

One might slay another, another might essay calumny upon a third. The sequences and alliances shifted; the entanglements swelled and shrank. And to each of these, it mattered nothing that a greater work was upon them and over them and around them. Indeed, their happiness was with the work of their hands alone, established or not, made beautiful or not by the perfecting touch of the hidden voice.

All this I wrote, and it seemed to me that I had a plate as of horn and ivory, framed in metal, and as I moved my hands across it, words of black fire streamed across its face. And the voice said, "How have you written it?"

I replied, "With black fire that is not quenched, on a plate of horn and ivory framed with metal that does not rust."

Then, behold, I saw the crowd look towards me, as if from a valley far below, as if they were ants. And some of these ants were larger, or more wrathful than the others, and they made towers and weapons of war to assail me. I was afraid, for I was myself an ant. But the voice said, "As you have written, so it is; for this is a gift, and a covenant. Woe shall surely be upon you and your house for the misuse of your gift; but blessing and power will be upon your house for the gift returned as service to me."

And lo, I was a grasshopper, not much larger than the ant, but more dangerous; not much larger, but dependent upon the ants for sustenance. "You shall hunger," said the voice, "And you shall grieve in dark times. When you have learnt from the ant, you shall be wise. Go now, and serve."


I must stop washing down my coffee mug with apple/blackcurrant juice and drinking the washings.

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Monday, March 05, 2007


Hey. It's March now. Somewhere under the turnings of the earth is vigour, sparking into life. You think we have no seasons here? Let me tell you about two seasons, the season we are leaving and the season ahead.

The first of the seasons is Muddle. Muddle begins just after Christmas; it starts the moment you realise that you are confused about what to do before school starts and after the holiday season has begun to die. And it muddles on, bringing newness and chaos, newts and toadstools, rain and the promise of rain and tantalizing summery days which are just spots of light in grey and messy schedules. Muddle is the period in which the mind is engaged in work, but the heart is unwilling, and the soul is angry at the difference - but the spirit is resigned and somehow we negotiate Muddle, and the term ends, somewhere around the Ides of March.

And that brings us to Distal. Distal is the season of being further-into-the-year-than-you-want-to-be. It is in Distal that one thinks of approaching deserts and distant mirages and a sense that one is being worked to death despite it being only the middle of the year. April's Fools offer scant respite; April and all her Fools do not compensate for a long March, although sometimes they just May. And then comes June. Distal is the period in whcih the mind has taken a break, the heart has stirred to life, the soul feels ill at ease because the engine-brake is now working against the flow - and the spirit soars at the thought of a long break. Which it will never get.

Ah, life. In all my forty years, I have enjoyed it. Some people think it is sinful or immature to enjoy it this much. But I have only one thing to say: "I am young, still."

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Education Board

Someday, all my students will graduate. But they will still have been my students, and here is where I must reveal a dreadful secret. One of the aims of education is that it must subvert. Let me elaborate.

All students (whether they know it or not) enter with a specific mindset, a worldview, a frame of reference or of references. It follows then that education, which seeks to add, change, adjust and reframe, must do these things to an established state of being. This, if not involving outright coercion, must involve either conspiracy or subversion. We might call it collaborative or interactive, but this does not change the fact that the teacher wields the power of a privileged position because of societal norms - kratos, if you like.

The problem then is whether you can persuade without overuse of kratos - whether you can carry out the modification process without resorting to positional authority. And here is where there are two rather uncomfortable options, at least as intermediate states: bia - the use of force, brutality, coercion, oppression; and dünamis - the use of personal power, spiritual force, and the power of personality. These aren't necessarily modes we adopt, but they are languages of power and modes of effective operation for many people in many disciplines and vocations.

In fact, the option which makes least use of any of these uncomfortable alternatives is that of subversion - the careful planting of subtext, supertext and context. It is all about nurturing the seeds until the individual matures, and it would be an awful, cowardly, treacherous thing to do - if not for the attitude in which it must be done. For that attitude, as Paul says, is 'a better way'. You can ask students be partners in what is an exercise, really, of love.

This isn't sentimental or narcissistic; this is a respectful grace to be tendered to all because we were loved first. If you believe there is a God, and His nature is to enlighten, to illuminate, and to improve upon - you must love in a way that does these things (or at the very least, attempts to do these things) for others. That is what the core of education is all about.

One of the things I pray for is that my students will realise that they are the board of education, that they have the power to determine how they should and are educated; just as in politics, where the electorate gets the politicians they deserve, so too do students get the teachers they deserve. It is sad, but true. That too is what education entails.

It is this last hurdle that is often the wall of failure. If this board of education fails, those who are bored of education fail. O God, grant that we who are in this world of learning will find enlightenment, store and make light in ourselves, and reflect light into dark corners, all the days of our lives. Amen.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Prenostalgic Warning

Warnings are pointless when it comes to experiential learning. It is true that the burnt child dreads the fire; but it is the burnt child with the clever support group that learns to tame the flame. And that is why I have come to believe that while I cannot always deliver warnings effectively, I can help by acting as support and shelter for anyone who needs it.

It took me by surprise, though, that I do feel a few regrets about the way I spent my earlier youth. But Simon and Garfunkel say it better here, and just for convenience, I reproduce their bittersweet and yet jaunty lyrics below.


A Hazy Shade Of Winter

Time, time, time, see what's become of me
While I looked around
For my possibilities;
I was so hard to please.
But look around, leaves are brown,
And the sky is a hazy shade of winter.

Hear the Salvation Army band
Down by the riverside;
It's bound to be a better ride
Than what you've got planned.
Carry your cup in your hand
And look around, leaves are brown now,
And the sky is a hazy shade of winter.

Hang on to your hopes, my friend:
That's an easy thing to say,
But if your hopes should pass away
Simply pretend
That you can build them again...
Look around, the grass is high,
The fields are ripe, its the springtime of my life...

Ahhh, seasons change with the scenery,
Weaving time in a tapestry.
Won't you stop and remember me
At any convenient time?
Funny how my memory slips
While looking over manuscripts
Of unpublished rhyme,
Drinking my vodka and lime...

But look around, leaves are brown now,
And the sky is a hazy shade of winter

Look around, leaves are brown...
There's a patch of snow on the ground...

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Writing Lesson

I first read this essay when I was growing up and being berated by my father about my use of the English Langauge. Dad would correct my linguistic structure and pronunciation; Mum would correct grammar and punctuation. I was semi-colonised from a young age.

Everyone should have such influences, just as everyone should have a Jewish grandmother. Hmm. There's a thought.

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I'm still looking through my archives. I've always been a bit of a packrat, an inherited trait — my mother is a teacher of English and Literature; Dad teaches History (indeed, he has even taught a certain Elvish historian before). I visited Dad at his office on Monday; as always, it was amazing to see the range of his current reading. He conspiratorially and with a glint in his eye confided to me that he had another roomful of books stashed away in a corner room. My estimate is that he must have around 12,000 books.

My parents have always been precious to me, and in these autumnal years, even more so. I feel more fortunate each day to have them. Although on occasion quirky, their advice has always been sound. They have always been supportive: sometimes tacitly, sometimes overtly, sometimes subversively. And they have never ever made me feel like the child of a lesser god.

But, back to my digging around. Here's a poem written on 10 May 1985. I cannot remember what I was doing that day.



Let us take a rod, light and extensible;
Place it between the masses, and watch it stretch.

Kill for us the cattle on a thousand hills;
Count and label, care not what it is we make.

Trace the light fantastic and insensible;
Mark the needle tracks of every human sketch.

Suspend a man: on him hang a thousand ills;
At this turning moment does his body break?

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Crossing The Bar

The phrase 'crossing the bar' has many different resonances for people. In financially-obsessed parts of the world, it often refers to making the grade for a higher salary division. Of course, this isn't the same as being 'called to the bar' - what happens to a lawyer when he becomes a barrister. (Which, in turn, is not the same as serving at a coffee bar as a barista.)

But here's a bar chart which might be interesting to you. I first spotted it on my IP Hosting blog.
This Is My Life, Rated
Take the Rate My Life Quiz

I shall leave you here with a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson - who on occasion produced totally cinematic poetry with the power to provoke intense reflection.

Crossing the Bar

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have cross’d the bar.


Note: For those of you who like literary challenges, try these questions.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007


I think I felt sad today. It was a grey day, rain falling carelessly and ceaselessly with no particular pattern except that of general chaotic precipitation. But I was happy with the rain - if you summon thunderbirds to your canyon, expect flash floods, as the old medicine man said.

The sadness came from thinking about a compatriot of mine, an elder statesman who has served longer in politics than anyone still active in the country (except one other). This statesman has been for many years one of the few voices of political opposition here.

He was a school swimmer, a leader, an active and involved participant in the affairs of his school. He went to New Zealand for his first degree, and then began a life of dedicated public service. He started off in the school system. After twelve years of teaching science, the former civil servant turned to law and politics. Mild in demeanour, scholarly in appearance, he nevertheless turned out to have a depth of character that saw him lose an election once, and then never again.

Now, he has served six terms in the nation's parliament so far, defeating fresh, seasoned or freshly seasoned candidates of the party in power. That party has enjoyed, and continues to enjoy, a supermajority unthinkable of in a typical democracy. But this man has survived and, now in his sixties, he is as much a gentleman as ever. None of this was mentioned in the brief introduction he was given as he spoke to us today.

Today he spoke of three lessons from the parable of the Good Samaritan. He said that the first lesson was that one should render service all the time because that was our duty. The second lesson was that one should always be compassionate to others. And the third was that even if you had to expend your own resources in service, with no hope of reward, you should do so. Seldom have speakers from the pulpit been this succinct. There were no frills or clever rhetorical tricks in this very short speech, the shortest in living memory at our St David's Day services. On this cold day, my heart felt strangely and mightily warmed.

My friends in these times, who stand on distant heights, I leave you with one last image. Think of this: a short distance from the Chapel of the Living Waters, a plaque is displayed, listing the names of the many political leaders whose intellectual roots are buried here - but the name of this gentleman is not on it. For the good Samaritan was not a Jew.

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St David's Day (2007)

It comes as a surprise to me that I've never made a St David's Day post. The first day of March has always been of great significance to my family; we have in many years booked a table at some expensive restaurant just to celebrate this day.

But who was Saint David? This short article should serve to introduce you to one of the most pleasant and encouraging saints of all our ancient traditions. If nothing else, these words which Rhigyfarch attribute to him make uncommon sense:

"Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us."

And to those words, kindly and wise, I shall append the words of an anonymous voice, coming from last St David's Day:


the desert never had left him
its sand lay between his toes
he swore at the bright seraphim
with the name nobody knows

rebuked, they ascended quickly
his bleached hair waved in the wind
their faces looked somewhat sickly
as if 'twas they who had sinned

he smiled as he came from the sand
they had kept him from his goal
but the name he hid in his hand
clearly protected his soul

I am not sure about the prophetic power of poetry, but I am sure that God speaks through many voices, and some are quite unexpected.

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