Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Work Appraisal (Part 1)

It is the time of the annual inquisition. The hooded magistrates wait, seated at the great table of judgement. The bailiffs stand outside, heavily armed. Sir Wolff enters, beweaponed with nothing but the invisible sacramentals.

Sir Wolff, what were your duties this year?

To serve the public trust, protect the innocent, and uphold the law. To be courageous in the face of enmity, valorous in the face of jeopardy, honourable in the face of venality, determined in the face of obstinacy. To follow the faithful from beginning to end, to Jerusalem and to Antioch and to the uttermost boundaries of the face of this world. To be a shield to the defenceless, a shelter for the oppressed, a rock for the troubled, and the shadow of a mighty rock within a burning land.

Quite. And what were your duties this year as defined by the Magistratum?

To do as I am told. To serve the rule of the Order and the leadership of the Magistratum. To act in a manner consistent with professed standards of excellence as described by the rule and the leadership. To not bring opprobrium upon any member of the Magistratum, nor allow any information which might do so to be expressed in a public place.

That's better. Although the word is 'professional'. And have you fulfilled your duties?


No, not your duties, but your duties!




Grand Inquisitor scribbles: "Is aware of the scope of his duties."

Sir Wolff, have you been a faithful servant to the Magistratum?

Insofar as the Magistratum exists to serve the rule and founding vision of the Order, I have borne true faith and allegiance to everything that this Order might require in the execution of duty and the preservation of its heritage.

Answer the question.

I have been both faithful and a servant to the Magistratum.

That will have to do. Are you happy?

It is my joy to maintain the faith of my ancestors and the honour of the Order.

Grand Inquisitor scribbles: "Is extremely happy in his work."

Are you satisfied with the support the Magistratum has given you this year?

Yes. I am satisfied that the support given to me by the Magistratum is the most support that the Magistratum might give.

Very good.

Grand Inquisitor scribbles: "Is greatly satisfied with Magistratum support."

Do you have any problems with the Order or your colleagues?

I am in the habit of solving my own problems and there are none I have not solved that I have tried to solve.

Grand Inquisitor scribbles: "Is a good problem solver and has no problems at all."

Do you have anything else to say?

Nothing but what I will say in the last days.

Grand Inquisitor scribbles: "The best is yet to be."

You may leave. Summon the next candidate.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007


I realise that I inadvertently launched a mini-Whois challenge, according to a couple of anonymous voices. I tagged five people in this post, of which three have already responded. Some of the more junior observers were wondering who these people are.

Well, search the blogosphere for responses to the memetic tagging and you will find them. You would thus have some findings to call your own...


Note: Actually, I'm happy that those who have responded acknowledged their tags. It shows that they more-or-less accept those tags as identifiers.

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Deja Vu

Someone I know pretty well once said, "Deja vu is French for tha syme auld shaiyt in some Northern English dialects." Not being from that part of the world, I find myself inadequate in offering a suitable translation. But what really rocks my boat, rocks my cradle, rocks my tenuous hold on my bad temper, is that so much of what I'm supposed to do nowadays could have been avoided, ameliorated or accelerated if some people had the foresight to adopt certain practices earlier.

I mean, if you were running a multi-million-dollar customer service company, you would surely create a department to keep track of all your clients' details and ensure that this department was able to deliver any data product required on any aspect of the customer base. You would create a training department to ensure that your customer service officers were able to deliver the products that you offer your clients in a stable and relevant form. And you would make sure to deliver the things you said you would deliver, instead of using bait-and-switch tactics.

Thank goodness this is only a simulation game. Wow, those software engineers are pretty ingenious at creating simulations of faceless bureaucracies, aren't they. Aren't they? Hey, why isn't anyone providing me with some service support here? Anyone?

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Whois 000

I don't know who the numerate respondent was, who first identified our very own dear lunate as the subject of Whois 010, but it was a good guess. The more reasoned approaches were pretty clever too. Orff's infamous (or at least, well-known) beginning and ending song in the Carmina Burana cycle is of course O Fortuna. The first lines of that song can be translated, "O Fortune, like the moon – always in a state of change, increasing and decreasing..."

Some of the description is, of course, based on empirical observation of the subject. But the association with the usual flavour of Colgate toothpaste was deliberate (I've seen 'cool mint', 'spearmint' and 'peppermint' – note that they are all different). The last part was pretty (un)obvious, but you should think about the phrase 'LAN game', reverse the elements, and look at this for the smoking gun. Heh.


I am going to hold off on the Whois challenges for now. I have literally got 100s of them churning away, but I have to suppress such ideas because I have been writing testimonials, and if those are written in cryptic allusions, I don't think anyone will thank me. However, I have to say something in follow-up to a recent comment by the subject of Whois 007.

You are right about the scarifying ability of the network formed by alumni of the College of Wyverns. The friends you make may turn out to be related in the oddest ways to other people who might be significant. And the relatives too. Here is just one of many examples. Please note that is not a Whois challenge (although you might want to treat it that way).


Person 'A' has two siblings.

His male sibling ended up marrying someone whose rather immediate relative was the brother of the aged Merlion himself. 'A' thus ended up marrying into the bedrock of the Island. His female sibling ended up marrying someone whose equivalent relative was Champion of the Realm. This Champion (now retired) was classmate to my maternal ancestor and cousin to my paternal ancestor. The Champion's former boss was the Very Intelligent Man, whose unfortunate biography of late has revealed all these connections. Person 'A' got married too. His wife teaches at the College of Wyverns. Ho ho. Everyone mentioned here is connected somehow.

However, 'A' has relatives from the Gryphon Seat, and this happens to many of us, families divided by allegiance to different mythical monsters. The Merlion and his brothers are that way. So too, my ancestors and relatives (though, thankfully not, my parents). Thus does the network spread and the myriad fruiting bodies deposit their miniature spores all over the world. It is very sporean.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Word of the Day: Kir

A very short while ago, I had the occasion to play the word KIR during a Scrabulous event (as I call them these days). I dredged the thing out of my murkiest past, that foggy period of my youth which spawned knowledge of absinthe and other peculiar tinctures. All of them were as the balm of Gilead to me on occasion, but I no longer need them, having found the true faith (which can be found here and in the list of posts here).

Nevertheless, kir bubbled to the surface of my mind when I needed it. What is kir? It is a lovely aperitif which is best characterised as a half-and-half of crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) and white wine. The trick is to choose the right white to go with the heavy but ethereally fragrant blackcurrant aroma. I have tasted the horrible fruit of the union between a Canadian ice wine of perfect pedigree and an equally useful crème de cassis – as it the case in some miscegenation between otherwise-beautiful parents, the offspring was a disaster.

And never, never, never ever confuse kir with kirsch. I have some fondness for the latter, but it is a cherry liqueur and tastes utterly different. It would be a terrible shock to expect one and be given the other...

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Memetic Breadth

My friend the Projectilist recently commented that a top-class education results in three main things:
  1. Networking
  2. Public service
  3. Memetic breadth
It might be a simplistic view, superficially speaking, but on close inspection of many top high schools, these are indeed the three 'gifts of the Magi' which lesser schools do not provide.

The reasons are clear. Top schools are often the home of top-class alumni with networks of their own and a higher likelihood of their offspring entering the school and renewing or maintaining old ties. The professionals, politicians and administrators of a nation tend to be drawn from these same schools, so public service (and eventually, the ideas that drive the nation) will also be a marker as to the reputation of a school. Finally, in an environment where people are expected to be different and do things differently, memetic proliferation becomes the rule rather than the exception.

And true to form, I have been hit by one such meme, from the Dancer. I am supposed to describe five material desires (with some chance of actually being fulfilled) and then tag five people. So here goes...

1. I want a library. Six rooms with aged teak shelves, indirect lighting, and 24-hour climate control, at least 4 km of shelf space (and at least 15" deep) and enough floor space to have writing desks and workstations in each room. The walls are panelled with oak, engraved with cryptic little details from 'The Secret History'. Glass panes are made from bulletproof, UV-filtering material, faceted in the traditional English style.

2. Speaking of which, my existing notebook – the PowerBook G4 known as 'Nemo' – has now entered its fourth year of sterling service. I would love to have an upgrade, one of those eight thousand dollar machines, but with a one-piece titanium shell randomly electro-oxidised to a subtly iridescent gleam. Hopefully, this one will have key markings which don't succumb to the remorseless creeping acidity of my fingers.

3. I already have a complete Jack Vance – a lovely integrated edition. What I would like is a complete James Branch Cabell as well, also in an integrated edition. Most people don't know about Cabell; Michael Swanwick (see item 2) has something to say here.

4. I want a blue-light laser pointer. Unfortunately, such items are banned in Singapore. A fun runner-up in this slot would be a bunch of Acrobots instead... In fact, ThinkGeek.Com is one of the most amazing sites for making me think of stuff I would love to have.

5. I want a lifetime's supply of aromatic high-cacao dark chocolate. I'll settle for smaller quantities, though. Although I am certain that Godiva doesn't make the best ever chocolates, they do make very good assortments. Here is one place to begin with if you intend to indulge me.

And now to tag a few people:
  • AnonymousNoises
  • KenT
  • Wolfberry
  • Lavender's Blue
  • La Femme Blanche
There you are. You know who you are even if other people don't. Enjoy!

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Friday, October 26, 2007


Recently, I made the acquaintance of one with a highly musical cognomen. That one hypothesized a situation which led me to think of an old Isaac Asimov ditty that you can find somewhere (hopefully) deeply buried inside here.

It also revived an old thought of mine: if I had to live with me, I would hate it. I wonder why, though. I started by looking at my weaknesses. Egotism is something I've been accused of often, and if it were the entire problem, it would explain why I wouldn't be able to live with myself in a literal sense. The opposite could technically be true; if I were self-loathing enough, I wouldn't be able to do it either. But I'm not.

Wrath is another failing of mine. Thankfully it is much reduced these days. I suppose the idea of getting into serious arguments with myself has a terrible lustre to it, but not one that remains attractive except as the plot of some murder mystery novel.

That still leaves space for a few variants. In at least one, it's a female variant of me. I shudder. I wouldn't wish that fate on myself, although one of my dearest old friends once wished I had a female version (yes, shudder, shudder) stashed away somewhere. In other variants, the clone grows up different. Could a constructive relationship emerge?

I suspect that if there were two or more of me, it would be horrifying for many people. I think that I'm a one-off, that (as another old friend says) God broke the mould when He made me (and the reasons for that are ambiguous to humans). But He does make us all different, so that doesn't say much. Can you imagine three of me? Twelve of me? 256 of me?

What would it be like?


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Whois 010

Punning will be my downfall someday. Already, it is used as a benchmark to determine whether something could or could not have been said by me. It leads to all kinds of awkward difficulties, both when it is indeed I who have done something and when it is not me at all. Well, this time, Mark x-ed the spot. Aha! Gotcha! And I am not going to say anything else about puns in any language or across languages. I leave that to my sister the linguist. But here's another, in which you just need to know where to look...


In the corners you might miss the inconspicuous as it buries its head in some arcane tome. But the inconspicuous is just as likely to miss you. It is a matter of fortune. If one of you startles the other, chaos and vast amusement normally ensue, in a curious dance somewhat reminiscent of something by Orff. You will see the inconspicuous produce a conspicuous smile. It is almost like something from a Colgate advertisement, in flavour if not in form. The whole package is compact, and there are muscles you never thought to look for, lulled by the sensibility of appearance and the general illusion of utter sanity. But how many other people laugh backwards past their teeth? And how many would think of playing a LAN game in reverse order?

Who is this?

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Road Not Taken

I have a cloister here. The honey-coloured wood panelling frames me in a distant cradle of light and shadow, like the petals of some enormous blossom. I am cradled to sleep in it sometimes, I hear the diffused echoes of the distant possibilities thunder faintly through my cloister walls. On rare cold nights, I know she knows, and she knows it too – that we are all human and think of what might have been and what might not.

And so, innocent of deliberate intent or malignancy, I remember the other one. It is on the edge of the penumbra, the interface between daydream and nightdream, that I see her barely unforgotten face, white and grey against the velvet backdrop of sleep.

She was a dancer. I told her she was like a gazelle. Some people are always uncomfortable with long limbs, and yet show nothing to be uncomfortable about. We shared few meals, few moments, and our distances were greater than our proximities. And one fine evening, we suddenly realised that we had stepped completely through the minefield of our overlapping fires and into the safe zone.

We are friends, and that is all; even though I sometimes wonder as I reach into the darkness with the last of my thoughts, I know I will not grasp anything but that. It is awkward for the young to think of affection without desire; it is impossible for one to exist without some form of the other. But it is entirely possible for two people one day to have the first without the second.

I know this to be true.

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Whois 009

Well, that last round was pretty entertaining, I think. But it was also quite tiring for many of us. The next Whois challenge will be a lot more sedate, or at least appear to be...


This cat sits in the middle of the storm, quiet and decisive. Occasionally, the creature moves, plays with a small ball of something hard, bats at it with a curved hook of the paw, returns to a state of rest. Newton would rethink his laws of motion if he saw the effortless change of state. The good-looking animal is a reticent orchestrator of action, forever scouting ahead in the urban landscape, restless and restful at once. This cat sat in the mat, and perhaps upon it, and continues to do so. It is amazingly humble for one who might be proud. But it's not that sort of beast; it is a child of fortune, maker of plays and expert at balancing – one who rules despite being far too nice for it.

Who is this?

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Wine Alert: Firestick 2005 Cabernet Merlot

I didn't know what to expect when I saw the white lightning in a purple sky. Singing in the purple rain, perhaps. But I was pleasantly surprised at this deep purple painkiller solvent.

The light currant/berry Cabernet flavour is much enriched in dark and mysterious ways by the Merlot mystique. As the wine warms in your mouth, you will taste something a lot like chocolate; it becomes a bit like drinking dark-chocolate-coated raisins dissolved in alcohol – a kind of tincture of comfort-food.

The wine can't be left out too long; these flavours seem volatile and rapidly degenerate to a sour cheap Cabernet if allowed to stand at room temperature. This was discovered by tragic accident.

Oh yes, I've been experimenting with screw-capped wines, and I must say that the Wolf Blass 2006 ones are pretty good too.

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Word of the Day: Microtome

This is one of those elegant Hellenic neologisms. It comes from Greek mikro- meaning 'small' and -tomein meaning 'to slice or divide'. It's the same root as in 'atom', which means 'an indivisible thing'.

A microtome, then is a thing that slices fine. In biology, it's a device that makes thin slices of a sample so that they can be used in microscopy (heh, another one of those Greek words) or other peculiar biological analar processes.

But I like using the word 'microtome' to mean 'book reviews'; that is, 'small tomes' – books reduced to manageable size for people with no time to read or who want a summary so they can decide on what to read. And here again, I refer you to, which is where I keep the monthly reading list.

It doesn't show everything I read, but it does provide some of the highlights. And more so soon, I suspect, as I settle in to being a flatbound invalid for a while.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Word of the Day: Comminute

An interesting word, this; one I had never given much thought to until my accident. It has nothing to do with commuting or communism, much as the superficial resemblance might hint.

Rather, its roots lie in the Latin com-, a prefix implying change of state towards something else, and minus which means 'less' (hence, minute meaning 'small'). Comminution is the process of making things smaller by pounding (pulverisation, from Latin pulvis = 'powder'); to comminute is to break something up into fragments.

A 'comminuted fracture' is one in which a bone has broken up into more than two pieces. The best case scenario for this is, of course, three pieces. Haha.



Yes, the Avenging Angel of the Archdiocese, twice referred to as Trivandrum in this blog, was the subject of the last challenge.

Unfortunately, sometime during the thrashing handed out to Aston Villa by the Red Man last night, I fractured my right small toe into a couple of separate little pieces. Ouch. Grounded, moody and not very inclined to sit at a computer, reduce my circulation, and lose the toe altogether.

That toe seems like a metaphor for working life.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

How Not To Write An Interesting Essay

Kaj Sand-Jensen is a professor of aquatic biology who has identified ten characteristics that make a paper dull and uninteresting. Here is a link to his original text.

In short, here are his ten points:
  1. Avoid focus
  2. Avoid originality and personality
  3. Make it really long
  4. Remove any potential implications of the work
  5. Leave out illustrations, especially good ones
  6. Omit necessary steps of reasoning
  7. Use as many acronyms, abbreviations and technical terms as possible
  8. Don't be amusing or creative in language
  9. Focus only on statistics
  10. Support every statement with a reference (or more than one)

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Friday, October 19, 2007

What Do You Think?

Since we began investigating the Iridescent Battaglia of the Dom Perignon in 1998, the one clear thing that has stood out, has stood the test, and has been understood is that it requires the utmost valour of the self to be expressed incisively and with felicity of more thought.

In other words, it rewards those who think well and express exactly what they think. It does not reward the lazy or the slothful, the dishonest or mendacious. These receive their just reward because such attitudes lead to behaviours which form products of dubious value. It is as She said.

What I think about education in this respect is twofold:

1) The thinking mechanism must be engaged. What does the material say? What can you rationally infer from it, within the rules of its discipline? Have you discussed this with other thinking people? Does the combination of your reasoning and your dialogue lead to a rigorous construct that withstands counterargument, is precise in its terms and accurate in its objectives?

2) The product must be worked on. There's no such thing as an essay or presentation which cannot be improved – it's only the degree to which it can be improved over the initial conception, proposal or draft. If you think that the final product springs full-blown to glory as if it is Athena from the head of Zeus, you are sadly mistaken. Draft and polish, re-draft and re-polish, to the limit of your time.

There is a third that walks besides these. It is always a bonus for the student to have accumulated a storehouse of diverse sources, wonders and fragments. It is necessary for breadth (although not for acuity) to read as much as possible while asking and answering two main questions about what is read: "How does this text affect the world and how I view it?" and "How does this affect me and my relationship with the world?" The two questions are similar but the second one speaks more of engagement.

By reading, I do not mean the dilettante's approach to texts, which is skimming and googling. That would be akin to calling a boardsurfer a naval diver. Because narratives are predominantly linear in design (think 'stream', 'flow', 'plot' etc) as an artifact of the inescapable constraint that we live in (apparently) linear time, it is actually more effective to read a text from beginning to end than to hop around like a kangaroo on amphetamines. Those texts which cannot be handled this way (unfortunately, perhaps?) contribute much less (in practice, rather than in theory) to the world of ideas.

(That is not to say we cannot gain from lateral readings or tangential readings or texts which are not structured sequentially. I love many of these, and they serve to enrich the corpus and add bells and whistles to the canon. But it can't all be spices, bells and whistles. I would prefer to take bell, book and candle to those who think so.)

A student once described a teacher who, when questioned, replied almost invariably, "What do you think?" That student was of the opinion that this teacher wasn't really teaching – or was hedging, squirrelling, or weaselling from a position of ignorance. My personal opinion is that it was good enough for Socrates, and it is a valuable approach to education. In my experience, students know a lot more than they care to admit to; some know more than they think they know; and all can contribute a lot more when they are actually forced to think, painful step by painful step.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Men At Work

I think that Men At Work was probably the greatest southern-hemisphere band of all time. It wasn't just the fact that they operating during my teenage years, but the fact that among all other bands, they managed to combine a sort of odd Caribbean sound with Australian toughness and very chill-out friendly melodies. That, and the fact that besides the standard drums, bass, guitar and keyboard(s), they also had very good sax, harmonica, and flute.

The only way to really absorb the manic aura of the group is to have a look at some YouTube video clips, these days. Like this one.

There's a practical application, by the way. I studied a lot while listening to them. And it worked, kind of...

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Whois 008

It's been a long time. I've realised that sometimes the answers are too obvious because the people are too obvious. I mean, there are people who would be your first guess not because of the clues but because they're the sort of people you would guess at random. So I resorted to obfuscation, occultation and obliquity in my quest for the ideal frame-up; but time and chance happened to them all. I am going to try a new tack. If you can solve any one of these riddles, it will point you straight at the subject of this Whois challenge. Or at least, give you a very good clue.


On seven hills this city stands,
Archdiocese over two lands;
Holy and eternal city,
But not Rome and more's the pity.

The eyebrows are a giveaway,
The shadowed eyes that see not day;
One walks the night by internet
And sells one's stuff for free I bet.

The wild Tibetan yak appears,
To the Skinner it now endears;
This is the offspring of that pair,
The one of convoluted air.

Look out for the Chinese scholars,
Those with sense but fewer dollars;
Cohabitation saves the day
At the impromptu loading bay.


Yes, I'm aware that this is all very peculiar, and that it's somewhat less than 500 characters in length. I'm in that kind of mood though. Heh. Oh yes, before you make a guess, make sure that all four stanzas are fulfilled! Oddly enough, the clues in the first and third verses have already been referred to somewhere else in this blog.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Who Can It Be Now?

I was having a meal with the Japanese currency speculator today. La divina principessa was waxing lyrical about the life up in the aerie, and Hyperion joined in soon after. It was, however, a somewhat tragic libretto that unfolded first in her redoubtable harmonics, and then in his gravelly baritone.

As I chatted with them, I suddenly became conscious of an overwhelming sense of detachment, as if my umbilical to the world of everyday events was detaching slowly and stealthily. People I had known for more than a decade were falling away, fading from the picture, like those retouched October Parade photographs in the former Soviet Union – almost as if they no longer existed even though they were still walking around the workplace. I could only thank the Highest that I no longer feel like Trotsky in Mexico these days.

Yeats's famous lines are of course in the air. They have been for years now, as we transit the post-millennial epoch. But I still get that frisson of sinister premonition when I read those opening lines:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

It is possibly worse than that. We see the heads rolling in the winter of our discontent, in the galling revolution against the right order of things. We see the southward migration of birds, and all the auguries spell troubling times ahead. And we are afflicted with a dull and nagging paranoia: who is the third who walks always beside you? It is indeed Eliot's fear in a handful of dust. Why do these tiny things concern us? Because they strike at the root of our reasons for existing the way we do, the way we hope the world should be – a world and not a waste land; a world enough, and time.

As it is, I sit here in the calming amber light of my reading room and try very hard not to think of that portentous jazz riff, the one that first inspired this evening's post, the one in Men At Work's Who Can It Be Now?

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007


I've always thought of myself as a New York City kind of person. A latent Manhattanite, if you like. And I know I can live in London and I don't mind retiring to Melbourne or Edinburgh or Cambridge. But then she-of-the-eyes did this memetic thing and I had to do it too for fun and the results are...

What City Should You Live In?
You should live in Paris. The City of Lights will appeal to your appreciation of beauty and romance.
You are a lover and a poet by nature, and Paris's sensitive charms will be a perfect match for yours.
Find Your Character @

I guess this means primus intra Paris. Yes, well that was a bad pun, I know. But it reflects (badly) my state of mind.

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Allusion & Encryption

It hasn't escaped the perspicacious among you that there is a frequent use of coded messages in this blog. This is important; you might say, it is 'key'. You cannot always tweak the beard of the rich and powerful unless you make it not worth their while to crack the code. After all, what you say is what you say; what it means is open to interpretation.

In the past, principalities and powers, thrones and dominations, the hierarchy of the Silver City – all these and more – have reacted and overreacted to messages perceived as originating from this locus. At the same time, people like those named (or cryptonymously mentioned) in places like this have worried that I have conveniently (for me) or inconveniently (for others) a profusion of secret identities. This is very amusing. At last count, I was thought to have almost 40 different pseudonyms! And that was on the Internet alone...

So what I'm going to do in this post is to propose a kind of mini-Whois challenge. I've mentioned a few people by codenames in my blog. Does everyone know who they are? Here are the rules:
  1. Draw up a list of codenames in this blog. This list must have at least five names on it.
  2. Identify the people these codenames belong to, unequivocally and accurately. Mark them as such on the list.
  3. The one with the highest percentage of correct answers wins. The number of correct answers will be used to break ties.
Ah, that's too easy, you say? Well, here's a challenge: email the list to my gmail account, the one beginning with 'a'. You know which one, don't you? You don't? Heh, that's why it's a challenge...

Winner gets bragging rights. And I have also decided that part of my library is up for grabs.

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Monday, October 15, 2007


Hmmm, the latest Whois challenge was perhaps a tad too cryptic. While Bach made a good analysis (a very well-reasoned attempt!), he was defeated in detail. The Dancer has a habit of getting the tough ones right, though.

Somebody has a birthday which is inextricably intertwined with the nationalism of his (yes, his) home country. That someone also shares a blog; for what cause he and his (larger, slouchier) associate stand together, we do not explicitly know. Debating, angst, and the confessions of a particular saint – these are the marks of a particularly named person. Oh yes, divination by watching flights of birds is called augury. Heh.

At this point, I am going to hang onto the next Whois challange because I have real work to do. I do enjoy watching people think in detail, but you have to prepare to get it wrong sometimes before you get it right. Thanks very much for playing, and it won't be long before the next one is up.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Beastie Boys

Interesting discussion can be found here. Updates will follow updates.

Actually, one of the most entertaining sites on related matters is this one. The field of cryptozoology has always entertained. I have spent many wonderful afternoons wondering about the relationship between d-block transition elements and the kind of dragon breath produced by different kinds of dragons. What is it with dragons and gold, silver, copper, or iron? You don't know? Well, neither do I.

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Whois 007

It's funny what you remember and when you remember it. There was an odd-shaped classroom tucked away in the corner of the level. There would always be people who climbed out of the window. There was always someone who would be sweating in the air-conditioning, and the marks of a football on the white walls. And even if it turned out to be ten years later, twenty years later, thirty years later, these things would still not really have changed.

The last Whois challenge drew fewer responses and yet more hits than any other. Was it that obvious? I suppose it was. Everyone seems to remember that first line of Danny Boy, "... the pipes, the pipes are callin'..." Yes, it's a very bad pun, almost arbitrary. The other guy, as some people will know him, was identified by a 'toitle' and manically highlighted by a dancer. But what of this person?


One might get the impression that this paleface speaks with forked tongue, judging from an illustrious career in circumlocutory extravagance. From a distance one might think that the long-term partnership formed with a significant other would make them look like a mad scientist and Frankenstein's monster – but neither is mad, neither is a monster, and both have chosen not to be scientists. Instead they stand together for some unidentified cause. In the end the habit of confession marks this person, for it is inextricably inclined with nationalist tendencies and the moment of parturition. The creature is undoubtedly intelligent, but why the angst, why the terrible moments of emotionality? Why the criminalisation and incriminations? These things portend the future in a flock of birds...

Who is this?

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Saturday, October 13, 2007


I have been lured into yet another meme by accident. I am sure neither Dancer nor Neurotrope intended it, but that's the nature of the Internet for you... and here I am.

Click to view my Personality Profile page

It's interesting. Most of you know what an INTJ or INTP (my current label) is; many of you know about my journey around the constellation. There's even the Freudian interpretation, the advanced Global Personality test, and the (unfortunately a contemporary issue again – see post) DISC profile. Why all the self-analysis? I think it's as Aristotle said: "The life not under examination is not a human life."

One of the problems I have with most of these instruments is that they assume a sort of zero-sum game. I don't know how to answer many of those questions which go, "Are you M or N?" when I am both or neither. It leaves me with many middle-of-the-road halfhearted scores and a few extreme ones. The extremists therefore win by default as the rest cancel out.

I wonder how the subject of Whois 006 would do. Heh.

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Friday, October 12, 2007


ah, the salmon are spawning;
look, the shadow of their birth
is on the wall, its threads are
all that soothing hue, they are

here, woven craftily in,
partitioning the story;
they are, they rankle, salmon
loss, frustration now distilled

and this the holy office
reaps, the salmon harvest, dreams
pink walls high strung, constraining
in glorious confinement

the bell, it rings; the salmon
course, their time has come, rushing
to unknown ends, a streaming
glory of discarded youth

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Whois 006

Today we sat in a half-dark room, large and airy and cool. We thought of who we would remember, of the people that we would keep in mind for the next thirty years before the sunset. And it was a whole barrel-of-monkeys kind of fun. I was looking at the subjects of my last few challenges, and I was thinking to myself, "The people I remember and the people I put on this ballot and the people in my Whois challenges are all not quite the same people... how odd!"

Well, as someone with great perspicacity remarked, the last few lines do indeed give away the identity of the subject. What was I thinking of? Well, the problem is that I'm an acoustic thinker, and I really do hear this song when I see that person. She is a lot like a near-adult version of that particular animal too - a noble creature indeed!


What is the nature of humanity? What lies beyond the historical underpinnings of the world we live in? What questions must we grasp the import of, and wrestle to the earth? Sigh. This particular creature is adept at asking and tentatively answering such questions. With a superficially benign appearance (the mistaken impression of most, because of a lack of obvious malignancy) our friend is known to produce insights designed to shock and amaze, all in the most deadpan of voices and the tiniest twitches of a decorated lip. Virtually transparent, which is to say really opaque, this compact and seductively stealthy individual cruises arbitrarily through the ecosystem of the intellectual arena like an orca amongst dolphins. Sometimes one thinks of the old 1910 hit song, Danny Boy.

Who is this?

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Lessing Is More

In a response to breaking news, I am almost deliriously happy that Doris Lessing has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. She is the oldest recipient of this award ever.

Her powerfully resonating novels struck painfully at humanity and its failings, laying out a damning indictment of human life while holding out hope for the future. Her Canopus in Argos series highlighted the human race through the eyes of fictional aliens, underlining deep truths about how humans mislead each other and the consequences of such behaviour.

On a personal note, I read Shikasta, the first book in that series, in the first few weeks of my national service experience; the series kept me going through three relationships and my specialist training. I am deeply indebted to Ms Lessing for being as great an influence in my perceptions of humanity as C S Lewis was with The Screwtape Letters.

And she likes cats too!

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Whois 005

In the last episode, many people were torn between deciding that the description was insulting and deciding that it was endearing. Some people taught it was a fair description of... the wrong person. And all I can say is that the French view of life is indeed the right one. And I think she's a wonderful person to have around.

Today's episode is unlikely to be as unlikely. Heh.


On first acquaintance, you might just imagine her as a Mary Poppins type of schoolteacher. She might even seem shy to you. But behind that demure façade is a... well, demure sort of person with a very powerful brain. They say that keeping track of moving spherical objects while remaining resolutely planted in position helps. She has iron discipline and long limbs; another look and you might think of her as a policewoman, the long arm of the law. On your third look, you might decide that she could just as well be on the other side. She’s a consummate actress, in other words, who can be naughty while remaining perfectly decent. You'd have to decide between guns and roses. For some reason, every time I look at her, I think of being born free. That’s the way to go!

Who is this?

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

In Memoriam

Today is a rather special anniversary. My great ancestor died thirteen years ago this day. We do not forget him. He always had room in his heart for causes, of which one was the College of Wyverns. He made it a point to donate a classroom or something equivalent to every one of the College's campuses.

A funny thought came to me. He would have been vastly entertained by the god-daughter, and she by him. I can just imagine the two of them. They sound very much alike in some ways. Both of them also share this ability to remind me that I have a conscience. Unfortunately, that kind of meeting can only take place in my mind now.

And you know something else? He would have been a hundred years old this month.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Whois 004

Sometimes in the midst of all the devastation you forget the people who were nice to you and who you were nice to, and yet at the most absurd times, all is remembered and forgiven. And perhaps you could have been, perhaps you were, friends after all. Once in a while, I get that feeling with these people who have suffered, striven, succeeded with me.

You see, the secret is that I know you in at least one way. I know your names, that magical essence of being; I knew you before I saw you, in most cases. Somehow, I ended up being guardian of the files, the rows, the columns of your existence in the College of Wyverns.

And here is the next Whois challenge. Did you know I knew? And what did I know?


At first glance, this slender lady is wary, tentative, wry; at second glance, you find that most of the time she's just having you on. Thinks deep thoughts but would prefer not to, just in case she ends up thinking like that son of a Tibetan yak. She's not quite Elektra: Assassin but she occasionally has dreams along those lines. Often found with another interesting person of totally different appearance, but it's hard to tell which one is the lead and which one is the sidekick. Then again, if she could give you a sidekick, she might. Vulnerable to misfortune (and Harry Potter) but a lot tougher than you think, she also seems to be linked to Manchester City. And maybe Stalin. Has been called a foxy mama in a slinky dress; will try not to invite such comparisons in future. Perhaps.

Who is this?


Note: It always seems dangerous to do this kind of thing. If the person concerned feels this should be edited somewhat, do let me know via email. You know where to find me. Despite the fact that I don't tag your blog. Heh.

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Before the next Whois challenge is up, I must call the attention of all wannabe vampires to this work of art. They are HIS journals. Oh my. The last time I felt this exercised was when I bought a copy of The Dracula Tapes by that excellent raconteur Fred Saberhagen.

Those who, on the other hand, prefer a different class of humanized monster, should look at Paul Magrs's most entertaining Never The Bride. I hear there is already a sequel up. And meanwhile, I am reading the third of William Mark Simmons's most over-the-top werewolf novels, Habeas Corpses. Joy...

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Monday, October 08, 2007


I found myself lunching with two old friends. It happens with increasing frequency, as if the forces of chaos which surround us are beginning to squeeze us together. It is almost as if the universe is telling us to stay together because a three-fold cord is not easily broken.

Speaking of which... we've had three challenges so far, and all three have been answered admirably well. Yes, yes, yes. It was also rather funny to watch the victim of the second challenge come in with an accurate answer for the third. Almost like revenge. Heh.

Today's challenge will be a little different for now. Can anyone say what these three characters – 001, 002 and 003 – have in common? Most persuasive (i.e. unambiguous and verifiable) answer wins. And oh yes, for now I will have to say that the young incarnation of J S Bach has been most assiduous in hunting down every secret reference. Haha, yet another secret reference to chew on!

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Whois 003

Someone asked why I haven't done a Whois challenge whose subject is female. Well, in our unique circumstances, I figured a 1:6 ratio might be appropriate. Then again, it might be because I don't know enough of the ladies. I mean, this is so bad that if I were to say, "Her eyes are not green," everyone would know who I meant.

But here is #3!


Clearly gifted while denying it most directly, he is a shaggy beast who can be picked out in any line-up. A somewhat patriarchal demeanour may someday emerge from this man with lyrical and violent tendencies. This sharp, proud and agile mind is also good at trash-talking, nonsense, argument, and anything verbal (or is that oral?), while affecting a nonchalant, understated and underachieving demeanour in class. A leggy fellow, he is now often seen heading for the house of God where he apparently worships full-time. Perhaps his naughty-boy demerit point days are done. I doubt it though; headstrong intelligence in denial is rare and will make an impression. Until then, he will continue to make music, laugh, dream and imagine a world where guys can be themselves.

Who is this?

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Whois Explosion

There was a period last night in which this humble blog got 120 hits in 3 hours. Urgh. What have I done?

It's interesting to see that the guys got it right this time. As A E Housman wrote, "And malt does more than Milton can / To justify God's ways to man." Not to mention that you all know where to find this particular Milton. You're a tough audience to be doing this for. I will have to maintain this kind of standard...

The next Whois challenge will be up in the morning – well, the morning in NYC anyway.

Good day!



One should always sit down for a proper breakfast before going on to more serious and taxing endeavours.

This morning's breakfast was exceptionally fine. There were
  • slices of a French saucisse avec noisettes from a secret location in the underbelly of ancient Gaul
  • a peppercorned Brie from New Zealand just turned darker yellow after cold aging
  • grapes from the Asian Pacific, just on the brink of raisinhood
  • kaya of the faintly ochre, not quite green, variety with a bit of pandan flavour but not too much
  • toast done sunward but not suntanned
  • apple juice, Fuji-sweet and Chardonnay-yellow
  • South American druglord coffee
  • Japanese dark chocolate with whole almonds
Yes, this is the life.

And in other news at the Rugby World Cup, Jonny Wilkinson kicked England to victory against a good but obnoxious Wallabies squad. I'm not sure how I feel about an English team acting like a bad 1980s Ireland set-up, or about a Southern hemisphere team acting like a Monty Python set-up. But at least one of them got eliminated and I can look forward to the romantic half of the draw now.

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Whois 002

In my capacious database is a file array containing statements about everybody I know. Some of these statements are untested or unproven. Some are distressingly or wonderfully true; some are false but interesting, and treated as common knowledge. This all calls into question the meaning of the word 'knowledge', but that is quite another topic for quite another day.

The first Whois, 41 points and all, is a fairly well-known individual. The girls know him best, it seems.

And here is the second Whois challenge...


This gentleman reminds me of some sort of ninja ferret, except that his musical ability and raw creativity far exceed that of most ninjas, ferrets or ninja ferrets. I've heard him blowing his own trumpet a fair amount, but apart from this, he is a decent individual who is great to have as a friend. Especially when you think you have just invented 'emo' and are about to slit your wrists. Then he comes along and you realise it could be worse; you could be fixated on doom-struck elf-lords out of Tolkien. Amidst his slightly curly hair, you might look for pointy ears in vain. I keep thinking of asking him to watch his back, but he normally does anyway... Intense, passionate and aesthetic, he would be a Pinot Noir if he were a wine. The poet says that beer is better than him, though.

Who is this?

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The Whois Challenge

Yesterday I posted the first Whois challenge. The rules of a Whois challenge are simple: you define a person you know in 150 words or less, and in 800 or fewer characters including spaces. This is because the average word is about five letters long but you probably need a higher average length to make things sound better. Your definition is parametric in nature; it's not meant to be explicitly definitive, but to allow people a good chance to guess what should be a reasonably unambiguous answer to the question, "Who is this?"

The format is simple: you have one paragraph. It should be aesthetically written to disguise the person it describes while making it clear that this person is unique. After that one paragraph, which must meet the rules requirements, you add the words, "Who is this?" sit back and wait for responses. If the responses are all the same, then you've probably given away too much...

The first one I posted was pretty easy to many who have read it. However, there is another aspect to the Whois challenge. It's also a way of describing a person in a way which people have seldom or never seen before. You're giving free (hopefully, free, positive and unembarrassing) publicity to someone you know.

I'll post the second Whois challenge soon. We'll see how many got the first one right, and why.

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Whois 001

At some point in my life I did warn the audience of my urge to write pen-sketches of the many people I had come to know. I realised that I knew many of them well enough for a description to reveal too much. So I will confine myself to the cryptic and the vague. If you recognize yourself here, don't give yourself away... and if you're someone else, give it a guess.


He's tall, has always been a little lean, and dark – not the midnight coffee-grounds kind, but the hot chocolate kind, with a slightly darker streak. A man of many talents, too – I am confident that he has never been a Spetsnaz assassin, but he has been many other things: sportsman of the elliptical, leader of the incurable, drinker of the unimaginable, scholar of the interminable, accompaniment to the ineffable. Mixed ancestry leads him to believe in the inherent elitism of the island races, but not as much as you would think, and perhaps not of the race you think. He seems to have spent part of his life trying hard not to be like his sister, who is another pretty unique and alarming character from a nearby tower.

Who is this?

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Thursday, October 04, 2007


I'm not good at doing plaintive. I'm not a very plaintive person, which would make me a plaintiff. In fact, if you had asked me a few decades ago what a plaint was, I would have thought it was some sort of colourless paint, totally not outstanding in any way. Or perhaps, the past tense of plain, some sort of ex-plain.

Today was just hot and oppressive. Everything was very past-tense. Sort of hypotensive. Or full of pretense, which the Brits would call pretence, thus proving how little they know about tension. Wait, I'm a British citizen (or is that a subject?) That would make me a ruled Britannian.

Which brings me back to urgh. It's probably the stuff that makes milk into yoghurt. Without urgh, yoghurt would just be yot. Which means a teeny-tiny speck of almost-nothing, in Hebrew.

You know it is a hot oppressive day when your ear-wax dries up and falls out in embarrassing little amber flakes. Yet another one of the urgh things about today.




Yes, there's something to this primal scream therapy after all. I'm good again. I think. Lukyanenko calls it remoralization. Ho ho ho.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Cold Logic

Well, at some point one has to give up on concepts like 'holism' and fall back on nostalgia, which always seems like a good idea. Hence my dredging up of this song, which always reminds me of one of my students. Heh. Bonus points if anyone guesses whom. Not so many points if that person guesses it...

This is the Supertramp hit from Breakfast in America (c. 1979, I think): The Logical Song.


The Logical Song

When I was young
It seemed that life was so wonderful,
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical...
And all the birds in the trees
Well they'd be singing so happily,
Oh joyfully, oh playfully watching me.
But then they sent me away
To teach me how to be sensible
Logical, oh responsible, practical –
And they showed me a world
Where I could be so dependable,
Oh clinical, intellectu-al, cynical...

There are times when all the world's asleep,
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man.
Won't you please, please tell me what we've learned
I know it sounds absurd
But please tell me who I am...

Now watch what you say
Or they'll be calling you a radical
A liberal, oh fanatical, criminal
Oh won't you sign up your name
We'd like to feel you're acceptable,
Respectable, oh presentable, a vegetable!

At night when all the world's asleep,
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man.
Won't you please, please tell me what we've learned
I know it sounds absurd
But please tell me who I am, who I am , who I am...

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Can Holistic Education Exist? (Part 3)

In my last disquisition on this topic, my conclusion was that perhaps, if you were running a Christian mission school, you would have to look at the Christian doctrine regarding the chief end of man; i.e. what kind of holism man was supposedly created for.

This is probably a rather contentious situation when it comes to the details. I am pretty certain that while Judaeo-Christian institutions have many points of agreement, the points of difference exercise them more. And so, I'm just going to float an hypothetical Christian school's educational credo (yeah, the usual philosophy, vision, mission sequence) and see what people say (if anything).

Please note that what follows is a kind of description of the ethical underpinnings of such an hypothetical community. At some point I suppose I will address the UN Declaration of Human Rights, but not here. And this is certainly not a strategic plan or a detailed workplan. It is only a preamble, if you like, for such things.

Here goes. And I do sincerely hope that readers will comment on how this can be improved, given the premises on which it has been constructed.


We believe in one God, eternal and almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth. We believe that He created the world and its people and cares for them. We believe that the best foundation for a fruitful and satisfying life in human society is having a right relationship with Him. This relationship is exemplified and justified by the life, atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It demands a lifestyle and a value system which is consonant with that demonstrated and elucidated by the Word of God.

In line with our beliefs and values, we see our students as young people who can be developed by inculcating a desire to seek out what is true, right and beautiful, primarily in a Christian sense; and by providing them with an education aimed at this, so that they may serve society well in the latter part of their lives. Our vision therefore is that every one of them will come to show excellence in learning, in leading, and in living.

This vision is empowered by a school philosophy which maintains that it is desirable and possible to develop and implement a programme of education which will meet the needs and interests of every student. Every one of these young people has a God-given potential which can be fulfilled — and everyone who enters the school can manifest success and high achievement in different areas through hard work and a positive attitude.

Our mission must therefore be to...
  1. create conditions where all students can exercise their initiative and responsibility to attain excellence;
  2. establish an environment where students can hope to develop their potential into concrete achievements, irrespective of their backgrounds and abilities;
  3. foster a safe, caring and orderly community for spiritual, intellectual, social, emotional and physical growth;
  4. prepare young people to meet the challenge of rapid change in society, in a way that is pleasing to God.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Giving Up

It is that time of year when you must give up. The need to remain green gives way to the desire to bear fruit – even though you know the fruit will be other, and not you. You surrender to the hot and sapping sun, the flow of the warm river and the chuckle of the gulls; for it is autumn, and all you want to do is weep for the loss of your substance.

Yet it isn't the first dead summer of your life, nor the first fall. There will be winter after this, and you have survived many winters. Your historical mind, the mind that is an alchemist's, the mind perceiving, the mind half-convinced by experiment – all these minds conspire to tell you that you will survive. And perhaps you will, perhaps it is indeed the most likely alternative. But for now, it is the sharp cliff edge between the height and the plain, the salt water and the sea strand.

Do you feel like giving up?

Before you do, think about what exactly it is that you're giving up. Here's a poem from my idealistic educator days.


The Places of Compassion

Don't look for me
in the quiet places of social graces, I am too sore,
too hurt to linger there.

Don't look for me
in the midst of pinwheeling crowds, turning under the winds
of trends and status; for I am stationary in the midst
of such revolutions.

Look for me mirrored
from the desperate eyes of addicts, the freezing eyes
of homeless, and the starving eyes of children who don't know
what hunger they feel when they fall.

That's where you'll find me,
with gentle hands cupping the face of realities,
my movements belly deep, my laughter non-existent.

That's where you'll find me,
standing strong and spread under my crown of sky with
the last velvet of the hunted scraped against my shins.

That's where you'll find me,
in the most unlikely place, with the commonest and closest
of things.

Ruth Solomon>

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Monday, October 01, 2007


This is a useful link for some people. Heh-heh.

Give your loved ones more face time before you forget what they look like or vice versa. Don't lose face over it. And hit the books, my friends! Hit them real hard. Hit them till they hurt. Hit them in the goolies! (Err, sorry about that, got carried away.)


One Of A Kind

I was at St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle once, atoning quietly for my sins. The sunlight streamed in on the ancient flags and the modern tourists. In one sweep, you saw the valour and the grime, the tawdry and the excellent, the British humour and the English comedy. I have always loved chapel services. They bring out solemnity and grace, together with moments of (un)intended irony, just as one imagines daily life by the Sea of Galilee might have done in Jesus' time.

Recently, a friend of mine posted this poem by Stephen Spender. It was running through my mind in all its poignant majesty during chapel service this morning. Here you go.

I think continually of those who were truly great
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul's history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns,
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit, clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.

What is precious, is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasures in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog, the flowering of the Spirit.

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields,
See how these names are feted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life,
Who wore at their hearts the fire's centre.
Born of the sun, they travelled a short while toward the sun
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.

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1984 – Vintage Angst

The year was 1984 and I was a teenager. Those who know me now might find it odd, but it was a year for emotions running high. However, it was just a short while ago, in some ways. The music of that era is still playable, still memorable, and it recalls those distant years well.

One of the songs I will never forget from that annus horribilis was Meatloaf's Total Eclipse of the Heart, sung by Bonnie Tyler. It contains the memorable lines (among others):

Once upon a time I was falling in love
But now I'm only falling apart;
There's nothing I can do –
A total eclipse of the heart.
Once upon a time there was light in my life,
But now there's only love in the dark;
Nothing I can say -
A total eclipse of the heart.

Even while I was suffering through what seemed like titanic agony, I had to appreciate the wordplay. Thank God those years are past, I say; but I also thank God that I had those years at all.


This song is dedicated to specific persons who might find it somewhat... applicable.

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