Friday, November 30, 2007

Truth (Short Version)

The truth is that we have to believe such a thing exists. To believe that there is no such thing as absolute truth may not exactly be the assertion of such a truth, but it's close. In fact, our every action compels us, on reflection, to believe that absolute facts of existence underpin our universe, but that we might not ever be able to know them all.

This faith in an absolute truth underpins the scientific revolution. We actually have no way to know that science is for real, or that reason remains constant. Every observation we make might be random, and yet seem to fit a model that appears rational. Two questions, if honestly answered, dispel the entire thin tissue of science.
  1. Why must scientific laws exist?
  2. What is the ratio of our observations to the total quantity of observations that can be made?
In the end, it all boils down to having crude and imperfect knowledge of our local universe, and being able to make predictions which work – without knowing why this must be so.

So why must truth exist? Because the truth is that either meaning exists or it does not. The existence of meaning requires a true architecture and a true architect; the absence of meaning means that nothing at all, including stoicism and other philosophies of rational acceptance, resignation or inevitability, should matter to us. In order to reason at all, we must have faith.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Past Oral Care

I spent today working hard at stuff I like working hard at. In my spare time, I pick apart the education system to see how it works and how, perhaps, it can be made to work better. It alarms me at how much we do in the service of education without understanding what it is; it terrifies me to see how, sometimes, we pay so much lip service to unknown gods that it's a wonder we don't blow our budget on lip gloss.

In any system, in any society, people fall prey to the Golden Age syndrome. We tend to think that the past (specifically, our own past) was better than the present, or that we were wiser or less foolish than our successors. We claim that we are confident about the future and place great responsibility in the hands of our heirs, but we second-guess them and baulk them and constrain them. Sometimes, this is good simply because our putative successors are unready as yet to meet the ghastly wasteland that lies ahead (a picture that we have sometimes painted for them). Sometimes, it is because secretly we fear two things: that people will blame us for not being cautious enough, or that our successors will achieve what we thought was impossible – thus showing us up as fakes.

In every society that has ever been of note in our fractured and fragmented accounts of history, there are the 'old men'. Gerontocracies abound, and not every society has found ways to deal with them. The former Soviet Union is a case in point. 'Old men' need not be men; they need not even be old in a chronological sense. But they are the voice of a specific kind of limiting conservatism with is arthritic and afraid. You will know them when the large bulk of a society is ossifying but makes claims to glory and dominion, power and authority. That was Brezhnev's USSR; it was also so in the last days of Rome.

But this is not only about the 'old men'. This is also about the 'young ones'. Again, 'young ones' need not be young; they are identifiable by a galvanic and restless imagination, a need for difference, for testing and overcoming boundaries. Where the 'old men' over-justify and are dishonest through withholding of information 'for the greater good', the 'young ones' under-justify and are dishonest in the name of 'transparency, creativity, newness'. When the large bulk of a society is in perennial flux and nothing is held as certain; when 'truth' is used as a label meaning 'sterile, boring and irrelevant material', you have encountered the 'young ones'.

The worst thing is when society becomes polarised between 'old men' and 'young ones'. Then one of the major forces in society urges restraint and petrification in the name of safety and security, while another major force counters it with cries of iconoclasm and anarchy in the name of freedom and creativity. When both are successful, society is the loser, a corpse picked apart by jackals and vultures, each group convinced that they are doing the best with limited resources.

There is a thin and often maligned barrier that keeps either from full ascendance. That narrow wall is a kind of reason. It isn't logic; neither is it obfuscation or philosophy. It is the voice of deliberate agenda to determine what a better world is like, and how we might reach it through means which are congruent with ends. 'Good means leading to good ends' characterises it best. Many scoff at it, claiming that it is naïve and impotent. And in a fallen world, it sometimes is.

When we know the apocalypse is upon us, when we say, "Aw, we should have listened to the voices which counselled moderation, hope, dialogue and kindness," and realise that there is none left for us; then, we will have lost everything that was worth fighting for, whether old or young. It has to be our aim, despite the knowledge that the future will certainly contain much evil, to shoot for the stars and to dream great dreams. It has to be in us to make the effort to work for a future and not lose hope or break faith.

In the end, people will still accuse the idealists of, "No action, talk only." It is a common accusation, and sometimes too true. It is a statement that the oral will not suffice; it must be rebutted by the moral and humane. It is not enough to pursue endless pinnacles of excellence without asking what they're for. It is not enough to do science without solving the mystery of why there is such a thing as scientific law in the first place. And most of all, we should learn to lead quiet lives, minding our own business (which is indeed, the business of the world), not being a burden to anyone, and working with our hands to make as much that is of lasting value as we can.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Stately, the ladies and the men, not all, but most. Like ships scattering with hidden and precious cargos to the sixteen points of the wind, they will turn into the ways of the sea, and they might not meet again. But for tonight, stately. Each one carries a history and a promise of destiny. Each one is young, but will someday be older, wiser, stronger, for good or for ill, for richer or poorer, with a spiritual heritage of some sort forever and ever.

And I feel like a retired sea-captain – one who occasionally takes his little boat out for a spin – who sees the proud sails billowing, the white wakes spuming with foam, and rejoices that the young sailors are so swift and strong and bright and beautiful. And that sea-captain wishes them all the best, and at the worst, at least that they shall be able to retire like him.

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Nine Hours

In nine hours' time, it will be over.

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be:
The last of life for which the first was made.
Our times are in His hands
Who saith, "A whole I planned –
Youth shows but half; trust God, see all, nor be afraid!"

Those lines from Robert Browning's Rabbi ben Ezra are peculiarly apt as we bring the curtain down on the inaugural, premier, gala, all-entertainment, highly dramatic show that some think of as a circus, an carnival, an extravaganza nonpareil. It was the First, and as with other firsts, it is the only such; there is none other and never will be again.

Tonight, I am honoured and humbled to have many services to perform at the ending of this marvelous run. In the words of John Wesley, though, there are "...many services to be done. Some are more easy and honourable, others more difficult and lacking in grace: some are suitable to our inclinations and interests, others are contrary to both." But I have known them all, and in the end, I acquiesce and turn my face toward the end.

It would not be right to leave the First without a word from our eternal and almighty Sponsor, He who justifies and establishes the works of our hands. And it would not be right to spend too much time at the party proselytizing while the grace of heaven goes cold on our plates. So here are things which must be said to those who would be scholars, leaders and global citizens:

This is what the LORD says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight, declares the LORD."
Jeremiah 9:23-24

For it is my hope, my frequent prayer, that our scholars will gain knowledge touched with wisdom and kindness; that our leaders will gain strength tempered with discipline and justice; and that our global citizens will gain wealth and experience to be used in righteous service. This is not a lofty and distant ideal, but a practical (though grand) endeavour. The First can do it: I have seen you in your work and at your play; in your unguarded and silly moments, and in the height of your disciplined and intelligent excellence. Where will and power are one, so let it be; we can ask no more than this.

And in nine hours' time, we are sundered and you are cast forth into the world as salt.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007


It is, almost, really, the end. At the beginning of the journey, when we fled the dying star which would soon engulf our planet, we looked back in wonder that we had been so foolish for so long. At first, we thought that our vessels would carry only 120 passengers and 20 crew across the void; in time, this grew to more than 400 souls who were both crew and passengers at different times in our long and difficult voyage.

Soon, very soon, far too soon, will come the time to pay tribute, to build the altar of thanksgiving and forgetfulness, to say the goodbyes as we swarm across the new world that is ours for the taking. It will be a terribly difficult time; the indigenes are not friendly, and the climate is difficult at best, hostile at worst.

I can only hope that the ship's log will survive the inevitable lies, propaganda, and corruption. Perhaps, history will actually continue to exist. Or perhaps, it will be a brave new world. Whatever happens, I will continue to record, the last intelligence to remain aboard our flagship in its final descent to the world at the end of the past – and at the beginning of the world to come.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Proximity Charges

A few days ago, it was once more brought home to me how much the locals value the reputation of a good school. They are willing to lie, cheat and steal in order to move (or appear to move) to within a one-kilometre radius of such a primary school simply because it lands them higher priority for admission.

This situation exists for one main official reason: primary school students are assumed to be helped by being assigned to a school that is nearby. Can't really argue with that, can you? It is certainly much more convenient for a child if school is next door.

However, schools are not evenly distributed according to geography, both human and physical. Of these two factors, the latter is somewhat less controversial: yes, maybe school is across a rivulet or a canal, or up a hill – but this country's lack of outstanding physical barriers does not usually create big problems. The human factor is more troubling. There is a direct link between socioeconomic status and school achievement, and it is quite clear that many of the country's premier primary schools are right smack in the middle of juicy real estate.

It is clear that more wealthy households can in general afford better educational support, so a school in a wealthy area tends to benefit from better-supported students and parents with greater resources. School achievement goes up, the school appears more desirable, and property values around the school also rise. The cycle feeds itself.

There is a way to make the cycle a little less lethal though. The country has about 180 primary schools, of which perhaps 20 are greatly in demand. A simple tweak might help. Why not remove the distance bonus for schools in the top 20? Give schools a ranking coefficient over 5 years; this is certainly not beyond the powers that be. For schools in the top 20, the barrier to 'immigration' will be removed, thus allowing them to be accessed by anyone willing to travel a greater distance. This allows children for less wealthy backgrounds to chance, without undue penalty, an application to a top school.

This means that a headache will be created at such schools. Never fear, it is one that comes only with success. If you are a successful school, you will have to allow random chance to dictate your population. And if you are really a good school, it shouldn't matter what kind of students you get. So schools in swanky districts with excellent results will have a better mix of students, and the same goes for schools in poorer districts with excellent results. Joy all round, I suppose.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Little, Big

That's the title of the immensely perceptive and World Fantasy Award-winning novel by John Crowley, who has been mentioned elsewhere here. What it taught me, many years ago, was that there are three kinds of things in our lives: the big things, the little things, and the unclassifiable, pointless or absurd things – and that sometimes, things can fit into all three categories at once.

There are some things far bigger than ourselves: the history of nations and of the world, the salvation and damnation of humanity; art, philosophy, education and science; war, poverty, famine and death. Yet, they are only as important to us, personally, insofar as they impact on us. We can be swept up in causes and lofty ideals, but that is just a projection of a particular philosophy into a world which might very well just get along fine without us.

It's like my itch to reform education. On the face of it, it is a grand endeavour, a stirring ideal. But I have no idea whether it will affect anyone if I do it. Sure, many people will say it is a good thing; some will say it is me being idealistic, and so on. But it is like spreading a gospel – you will never know, even if people assert that they do, how much you yourself have actually done. You might have run around doing things, speaking to people, eating many flavours of ice-cream or making a spectacle of yourself – but nobody actually knows what the ultimate effects of these things are.

Don't get me wrong: this is not some kind of postmodernist evasion of responsibility or meaning; it is not a claim that truth does not exist. I have much respect for the truth. But I do claim that we as humans cannot know the ultimate significance of our actions. We can assume a limited measure of knowledge about the immediate significance – the more immediate (i.e., in the strict sense of there being no mediating period of time between events), the more probable that we can know something.

Which leads to three kinds of responses from people: 1) why sweat the small stuff, look at the big things; 2) you can't affect the big things, deal with what you have at hand; 3) it's all nonsense (or absurdity, or chaos, or irrelevance) anyway. I think we all respond in these three kinds of ways, and often our responses in categories 1 and 2 fall firmly into 3.

At least two people have commented online that I seem preoccupied with my fractured toe (aha, is that 20 posts already, you of the not-green eyes?) The truth is that it is a great inconvenience in a practical sense, relative to my usual mobility. I rely a lot on walking faster than most other people, and it's a little frustrating to be limping around. But it's a small thing in the long term. It's not death, war, famine, pestilence, plague, the inexorable destiny of humanity or the inevitable chaos of perception.

But it is immediate. There is no mediating period or distance between the fact of my temporary disability and my state of mind. Whether Singapore education is in a parlous state or not, is not my responsibility. But the toe is mine. It is nobody else's responsibility, and nobody else's irritant in the immediate sense. I don't wake up in the morning thinking of the fate of badly-educated millions, or of war-torn and poverty-stricken nations, or of the spiritual health of the oppressed, or of the great and silly philosophies of our time. I leave that to God, and if I can help, that's nice. But you would be a liar, or severely odd, or having a transcendent episode, if the first thing you felt on waking up didn't have something to do with the more immediate needs of your body. Like taking a leak, or unkinking your back muscles.

And then, after dealing with the immediate, I can think about the mediated, the intellectual, the blogospherical, the 'higher' and more distant things. Which I probably have less impact on, and may not be within my grasp as something to be done with all my might. From navel-gazing to crystal-ball divination, I suppose. But me, I will look at my ice-cream, my fresh hot coffee, and gain revelation – revelation of the kind that says, "Wow, this is really good coffee. It makes me happy."

Which reminds me: I still have to finish off that second chapter on the woeful inadequacies of the education system, and what we know of it. Toedles... oops, associational slip there.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Twitch III

I woke up this morning to grey and leaden skies. Nevertheless, the sun did come out, and the impressive petitionary skill of the Flyhalf was on my mind on this issue of the theurgic invocation of sunlight on dreary days. But this was not the issue and I must apologise, dear reader, for the peripatetic peregrination which I have undertaken. To get to the point: I was woken up by a twitch.

You will recall that I have made two previous entries on this twitch. Well, this one was truly worthy of the word. With an insistent series of acute tugs upon the ligaments of the fourth toe (from phalanges to metatarsals), I was yanked (oh, such an ugly Americanism) from the soothing arms of Hypnos through the roiling kingdoms of Morpheus and into the cold light of day.

Like a baleful Banquo banqueting, the accusatory fifth toe glowered at me from its perch of superiority. I had emplaced it upon a stack of cushions through the night, like a member of a squad of watchmen. It had decided to repay my trust by calling upon its neighbour to feed me a false alarm. Or so it seemed.

Seized by desperate and sudden fear, I sat up. Throb, throb, twitch, twitch. Was it healing? Was it something more insidious? Was a former student, fresh from the halls of Baccalaurea, planning an excruciating revenge? No. It was the morning of my Roentgenisation; for I was about to receive sufficient radiation for a negative image of the right foot's bones to be formed on plastic film. Evidently, the digit in question was not happy and was registering its protest through the offices of my subconscious.

With great determination, I sank back into sleep – only to be awoken by the alarm clock scheduled for a time not five minutes after. Breathing subvocalised imprecations at the powers of the Night (subvocal, for Ratri is powerful), I got up, placing gentle pressure upon the right foot and increasing this pressure laterally. Cowed, the delinquent digit finally deigned to keep its twitchy counsel to itself.

And thus, I awoke.


Friday, November 23, 2007

The Icelandic Dairy Meme Deploys...

Here are my ten top flavours, in no particular order. I am going to be descriptive rather than prescriptive; that is, I will describe the flavours rather than name them (in case I open myself to intellectual property lawsuits and such).

1. True Chocolate: Dark chocolate ice cream with broken bits of 85% cacao dark chocolate bars, swirled with chocolate fudge. You know who you are, my darling. And after a serving, I forget who I am.

2. Burnt Vanilla: Madagascar vanilla pods have been sacrificed to give this amber-glazed ice-cream the true fragrance of excellence. Through it all runs the slightly burnt and fleeting aftertaste of caramel – or is that butterscotch?

3. Pineapple Tart: I remember my grandmother making pineapple jam around the Lunar New Year season. I would help her stir the brown paste, redolent with sweet odour and heavily textured. And then we would put a spoonful of it on little tart bases. Now you can have it all, broken up and mixed with a plain vanilla base. Where? When? The secret is known to a few.

4. Plutonium Doom: Blue curaçao twirls brittle flame through something which would have been yellow-brown pistachio gelato in another universe. Silver streaks of glazed lightning, sweet and slightly lemony, strike through what looks like a Time Vortex. You can almost hear the Doctor Who theme song.

5. Dark Cherry: If this cold equivalent of a Black Forest mousse cake were a lady, she'd be tall and dark with magenta eyes. In the bitterness, the taste of kirsch and the memories of distant sweetness hidden in an epic romance.

6. Rum & Raisin: You can taste Jamaica here; the proper R&R is the alluring colour of a summer beach, studded with soft raisins, fruit pickled in rum. And the rum has begun to escape into the velvet softness of vanilla...

7. Chendol: There's only one place here where it's done right. Frozen coconut milk writhes in grinning ecstasy with soft green tendrils of something chewy. The light touch of deep and seductive brown sugar (gula melaka) syrup sets a slow fire going. The pale brown stuff melts unevenly in your mouth, different each time.

8. Something Caffeinated: Many places serve a coffee gelato. The one I have in mind was so dark I thought it was chocolate at first; it turned out to be dark-roasted Costa Rican beans, their essence fused and folded through four-dimensional space in a matrix of slightly milky memories.

9. Gianduja: This too is chocolate, but it couldn't be more different from the rest. The difference is in what has been blended into it. Half of that is hazelnut paste, warm to the tongue and with the possibility of crunch; the other half is almond, sinister in its proclivities but willing to chat.

10. Zabaglione: Yes, this is the classical sabayon; cream, the yellowness of egg-yolks, simmered Marsala wine and a thin honey glaze. Every tongueful tingles, and who would be so crass as to take it in mouthfuls?


There! And I shall tag the following people: the Dancer (well, any other dancers are welcome too), Aristoitle (and you might as well share it with your two good co-bloggers), and Melancholy (who has much free time on her hands – err, legs).

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Icelandic Dairy Meme

It isn't the first time I've dreamt of The Icelandic Dairy Foundry. As the Flyhalf said, I do love my ice-cream quite a bit. I love some flavours a lot more than others though. I remember eating my way through a two-litre tub of plain French Vanilla ice-cream in my youth; to date, I think the nearest equivalent would be a single tub of Ben & Jerry's New York Fudge Chunk (or something like that, with a lot of chocolate in it).

I love Pineapple Tart ice-cream from Island Creamery. And it was while thinking of it that I realised how similar 'Island Creamery' is to 'Icelandic Dairy Foundry'. The difference, I suppose, is that the latter sounds... forged.

I am tempted to make a list of my fifty favourite flavours, both real and imagined. I wonder what people would say about it. But that seems a bit too long for a meme. Maybe I should just list ten flavours and then tag three other people, or something like that.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Icelandic Dairy Foundry

When I'm unwell, I dream a lot. That's not to say that I don't dream when well, but that I normally sleep deeply and without retention of dream-memory on waking. I sleep very well, even when it's only for a few minutes or hours. But when I'm ill, I tend to wake up in the middle of a sleep cycle, sometimes gasping and out-of-sorts, choking on the waters of an imaginary sea. Sometimes, I just awake with the sense of having lost something very precious, in a world where neither love nor money can compensate you.

And the other night, I dreamt of Reykjavik, and the Icelandic Dairy Foundry. I am sure that, as with all dreams, this one is a pastiche of elements of the real world I know. There is a case, for example, for saying that Icelandic Dairy Foundry and 'blogging on WordPress' are the same thing in the dreamworld.

But here's the dream.


I dreamt I owned an ice-cream shop called 'The Icelandic Dairy Foundry'. It was an alchemist's fantasy, in which I supervised and interacted with a staff of about a dozen apprentice alchemists who were on a quest for the Ice-Block Transition Varieties, some kind of ultimate ice-cream flavours.

We had just discovered a close approximation for Cobalt Rainbow-Fish Tourmaline, one of the intermediate steps to an ultimate goal, when I woke up. The last I remember was the smooth taste of blue bubble-gum mixed with fresh caramel and pure French vanilla essence, with some sort of nutty fudge ripple. Then I woke up. Argh.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Two Thousand Years

Aha. The Dancer decided to link Billy Joel and his song from River of Dreams, the one titled Two Thousand Years. I like it because it is one of the best millennium anthems I've heard – it combines the longing for peace and love with the knowledge that both are possible but fleeting, and this is what humanity is about. (Oh yes, by the way, check out BlinkBox for some interesting stuff. Thanks, Nadine!)

Two Thousand Years

In the beginning
There was the cold and the night
Prophets and angels gave us the fire and the light
Man was triumphant
Armed with the faith and the will
That even the darkest ages couldn't kill

Too many kingdoms
Too many flags on the field
So many battles, so many wounds to be healed
Time is relentless
Only true love perseveres
It's been a long time and now I'm with you
After two thousand years...

This is our moment
Here at the crossroads of time
We hope our children carry our dreams down the line
They are the vintage
What kind of life will they live?
Is this a curse or a blessing that we give?

Sometimes I wonder
Why are we so blind to fate?
Without compassion, there can be no end to hate
No end to sorrow
Caused by the same endless fears
Why can't we learn from all we've been through
After two thousand years?

There will be miracles
After the last war is won
Science and poetry rule in the new world to come
Prophets and angels
Gave us the power to see
What an amazing future there will be
And in the evening
After the fire and the light
One thing is certain: nothing can hold back the night
Time is relentless
And as the past disappears
We're on the verge of all things new
We are two thousand years

It's good to realise that this last verse is surely intended to be ironic; and if it isn't, it ought to be.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

The Full Version

I remember saying some time back that people tended to chop everything down to three verses just so that they might have the bare minimum of a traditional narrative: beginning, middle and end.

And so, a grand old Christmas carol like It Came Upon The Midnight Clear normally ends up disembowelled, with only verses 1, 2 and 5 sung. You who go carolling this year, heed my advice and try to get people to sing all the verses of every carol. Or else, as was the case with Be Thou My Vision, you get only part of the whole story.


It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold;
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From Heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever over its Babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet-bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the Age of Gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendours fling,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Edmund Sears, 1849

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Three Ladies

Yesterday three ladies commented on my previous post. Ladies tend to go in threes, like Lachesis, Clothos and Atropos. And many others of literary and mythological significance.

I am often reminded of Robert Graves's thesis in The White Goddess, which is a little strenuous on the archaeological foundations and the imagination, not to mention the intellect, but is downright sinister anyway. It is also a beautiful idea, whether true or not. It digs deep into the underlying basis of the world, the flesh, and the devil. But I don't think of those as three ladies.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Twitch II

The last time I felt the twitch was not such a long time ago. At that time, the charming belle dame sans merci suggested I write something like the Lost One had written, with resonances of Poe and Lovecraft.

For the last few days, the twitch has grown. It has a life of its own now, all-consuming and hungry for gold medals. I can imagine it now. The 100 micrometre twitch. The 110 millimetre hurdles. The triple twitch. The short putt. It is still a small toe in our perceptions, but it thinks it is Gojira. It is a komodo dragon thinking it is draco splendens horribilis.

My twitch gathers strength to itself. Its neighbours look askance at it, worried that somehow the runt of the litter will inherit the kingdoms of the plain. The twitch smirks, knowing that the 'twitch' is merely a contraction, a contraction of 'toe' and 'witch'. It holds nude midnight rituals when I am not watching, baring the unbareable and laughing nastily beneath its veneer of foot spray.

And it has taken to blogging too. I was shocked to find this entry here. It thinks of this blog as its 'diary'. How terrifying! Don't the little things of this world have better things to do than commandeer blogs? I am tempted to think of it as a dictator in a single-party state, but that would probably legitimise it.

I have no choice. I must put up with it, even as it slowly drives me insane.


Saturday, November 17, 2007


Sometimes I despair at some of society's more egregious tendencies. One of them is that of over-suffication, the terrible practice of adding more suffixes than there ought to be.

Take the word 'orient' – used as a noun, it implies the East. Used as a verb, it becomes 'to orient' – to aim towards a specific direction. If you lose your sense of direction, you're 'disoriented'; that is, you are without specific direction. However, modern usage uses 'to orientate' in the sense of 'to allow someone to become oriented'. And then it does a naughty little backflip and creates 'orientation', a sense of direction or a process by which someone develops a sense of direction.

Then people start saying 'disorientated', which I suppose must mean 'the state of having lost one's sense of direction' but certainly should not mean 'the state of having lost the process by which one develops a sense of direction'. It is most disorienting.

The other day, someone said, "Surely you mean 'atheistic', not 'atheist'." Well, I've seen 'atheist', 'atheistic', and 'atheistical'. Would you say 'Buddhist', 'Buddhistic' and 'Buddhistical' as well? Or, 'Communism', 'Communistic' and 'Communistical'? It is like saying '-ism' implies '-istic', which is not necessarily the case.


In other news, the November issue of Microtome is out. All the books are good!

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Friday, November 16, 2007

His Grey Materials

Recently I read about the furore surrounding Philip Pullman's book, The Golden Compass, and its movie adaptation. Essentially, some people claim the movie (and/or the book and the trilogy of which it is the first part) promotes atheism. By this, I can only assume they mean one or both of two things: 1) that it promotes atheistic ideas in such a way as to make them more obvious and more attractive, as compared to other ideas in the film and in other films; and 2) that the money made from the film will go to benefit atheist causes more than other causes. The reason I assume this is that if the case was that atheism was promoted in such a way that it seemed less attractive or benefited atheist causes less so than other causes, it would not be an issue to the complainants.

My personal stand on this has three legs; it is a Tripos if you like, of sorts.

Firstly, the converse of atheism is theism, not Christianity. The Bible says, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'" Hence, it clearly thinks of atheism as human foolishness. However, Christianity teaches that while all things (excepting those clearly labelled as evil) are lawful, not all things edify. It is thus left to the Christian's Spirit-informed conscience to decide, based on how much it offends others or acts as a stumbling-block to other Christians. The principle of charity must be observed; that is, to allow the widest latitude that is not immorality. Christians are also told to make it their ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind their own business, and to work with their hands, so that their daily lives will win the respect of others and that they will not be dependent on anybody else. The first leg of this argument therefore points to a fight over grey-area movies not being worth the Christian's time.

But is the His Dark Materials trilogy really in a grey area concerning the existence of God? Well, frankly, having read the series, I am not convinced it is meant to be some sort of anti-Lewisian tract. It is presented as fantasy, and despite involving gnostic ideas and such, it has nothing about it which denies the existence of God. Rather, it postulates a world in which the presence or absence of the vital spark can be measured quantitatively – hence, applied theology would be something like high-energy physics in our world. This is not a unique fantasy trope. Consider Frankenstein, for example. The use of this trope is in keeping with Pullman's preference for Victorian literary ideas. If anything, the world he describes is one in which a churchlike hierarchy conspires to hide the truth as they know it, and in which the apprehension of God is both easier and yet more confusing than it would seem to be in ours. It is a sort of agnostic theist perspective, I suppose. The second leg of this argument therefore points to the material as not being inherently atheist as compared to other SF or fantasy literature. (Actually, Agatha Christie detective novels are probably more atheist.)

Lastly, after reading Pullman's earlier children's novels and comparing them with His Dark Materials, I have begun to think that the latter constitutes Swiftean satire rather than true fantasy. The episodic nature of the text and the deliberate parodying of church, state, quantification of human traits, education and other societal structures lead me to believe that the books are misclassified as Children's Fantasy. Rather, like Rabelais's Gargantua & Pantagruel or the original Gulliver's Travels, they are not fantasy but social satire. And the nature of satire is to lead us to recognise the more unsavoury aspects of society, to mock them, and hopefully salvage the good that is left. The third leg of this argument therefore suggests that the material is not atheist in nature, but a satire on dogmatism in every area of human society.

None of these three legs stands alone. Pullman's work remains controversial to many simply because it is classified as a children's fantasy which presents an alternative and non-benign view of deity. However, seen from another perspective, it is not a very good target; not a children's fantasy, really a satire, and presenting a Victorian science-fictional view of human personality and intelligence. In that light, it is about as good as being atheist as Jules Verne or H G Wells, and maybe not even that good.

In closing, I would like to return to my earlier assumptions. Do you think that the movie actually promotes atheism as a philosophy more than theism? Do you think that by paying to watch the movie you will be promoting atheist causes financially more than other kinds of causes? I think modern life as a whole is more dangerous in such respects.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Justified Ends

I first began this blog in 2004, which was the first year of the Programme. The many of you who have visited here know which programme that is. It began as a logical extension of my long life in the infosphere, perhaps what I would call a blogobubble, an evanescent excursion via weblog. It is not ending. In fact, despite heavy pressure, the bubble has not deflated; rather it has taken on the qualities of a resilient and refractive sphere of its own.

It is not large, nor popular. It is a heavy day when more than 100 people drop by. Few leave comments, and some say that blogs should not be written in such formal (and occasionally, opaque) style.

But it has been through this blog (and various satellite blogs) that I have come to know some of you a lot better. I now know that I have unknown friends and known friends in California, Finland, Australia, Virginia, Poland, Denmark, and many such in the UK. I have viewed at least 35,000 blogs; and I have come across examples of writing that I can only think of with mordant admiration, so beautiful they are. Some of you have written prose that is so understandable, so clear and personal and brave and powerful, that I weep with frustration at my own lack of ability.

And that frustration is genuine. Some of you have kindly pointed out that I have no complete lack of talent, and that in some ways I am indeed rather good. It seems to me that the better I am, the more acutely I am able to appreciate how much more talent others have. What these older eyes see is that the talent in your words is someday going to be refined further by blood and fire, grief and joy, and raised to even higher levels.

But will the blogosphere be the only space in which our paths will cross again? I admit that this question nags at me. It is a variant of the infamous 'empty nest' syndrome, wherein one feels morbidly dissatisfied with life when the focus of one's attention and time has left the vicinity. I know it will not last, but I would hate to lose the friendships and fellow-sufferings that the First and I have experienced together.

Do keep in touch. May our blogobubbles occasionally share an interface, a rare reminiscence, a distant reflection. And as Eliot said:

There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

And now off to finish touching up the testimonials.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007


This boil has been festering for about ten years now. It came to a head in the past year or so.

Over the last twelve months, I've been looking with professional curiosity at how people put together histories of local events. Some of it is engrossing, immensely readable stuff, with verifiable facts jostling with human perspectives and journalistic reporting on the significance of various key events. That kind of stuff is pretty good; I read a glossy book which took as its subject matter the rather morbid history of the SARS epidemic in Singapore (2003) and made it into a tale of intrepid doctors and the triumph of the human spirit, and it was really inspiring.

Some of it is terrible. Trying to analyse the history of Singapore's education system, one runs up against account after account of data wrenched into some kind of shape indicating progress. Yes, the numbers increase, and the progression is good. But what does it mean? And why are there so many lacunae? How come former Education Minister Goh had so many bad things to say about the Ministry he led? How come they acted so slowly and ineffectively on some of his ideas and so quickly and ruthlessly on others? We do not know, and at this stage, with Goh descending into the fate of all mortals, we might never be able to tell that kind of story.

We know that many things achieved in this small nation-state are good. They are highly competitive, world-class achievements. But in some ways, the stories that are concealed, that are left untold, that are selectively told, these make a history that is incomplete, that is sometimes like mythology or hagiography or some other kind of narrative that is not history.

Recently, I read an account purporting to be a historical narrative concerning a famed educational institution. It was the second edition of an earlier account. The discrepancies between the two were alarming; although one should not judge a book by its cover, the second edition in garish gold was a far cry from the sedate dark blue of the original. The claims within were correspondingly magnified in a few areas as well. The said institution was originally honest in reporting that it had won a particular award only 'five times in six years' – in the second edition, this had become 'every year since its inception'. Blatant untruth, and deliberately crafted as such – and if not, surely a sign of shattering arrogance or ignorance or both.

What is worse is that future hagiographers, having adopted the gilded lily as canon, will certainly gild the lily further, thus creating a lump of gold which no longer possesses the aesthetic beauty of the original truth. Is this what we expect from 'history' these days? Are we yet so cynical, so arbitraged and leveraged and impoverished, that we must accept this?

No, I say. And perhaps the enterprising young men who flung the book into the trash were right, and there is yet hope for the past in the future.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007


There are a few poems which touch me personally, and occasionally I come across one which strikes like a knife through unguarded armour – unexpectedly and poignantly. Three Lunulae, Truro Museum.

I saw one the other day, about thin gold and the faded trappings of a distant age, about a diminishing people holding on grimly to the smallest remnants of old power, the Lady in three aspects. I saw in a postcard the captured image of something that very soon would be nothing more than image; I saw in the threat of a spider something perhaps lethal but mostly to be ignored. And over it all, the patina, the dust of ages, suffocating the ghosts that remained in a dark museum in Truro.

Three moons, one Lady. Brittany, Cornwall, Wales; lost lands which were once Britain and the root of the Matter of Britain. When a nation has this kind of history, it is possible to fill it with tangled things and texts and aching eyes – and dead is all the innocence of anger and surprise, as Chesterton says.

You can only see the matter properly if the web is approached by its many strands – archaeology as science, myth, legend, history, sociology; poetry as elegy, memorial, photograph, tapestry; jewellery as totem, token, emblem of what is gone and what might yet be again one day.


Three Lunulae, Truro Museum

by Penelope Shuttle

Gold so thin,
only an old woman
would notice its weight

Crescent moons of gold
from the sunken district
of the dark,
out of the archaeologist's earth

The women of the lunulae
threw no barbaric shadows
yet a vivid dance
lit up their bones

I sense the mood
of many women
who wore the new moon
like a necklace

They have got over
the winter
while I still freeze

The slight quick tap
of a clock
goes on
like the rhythm
of an insect's leg
in the grass

I linger
in the locked room
of the gold,

trying to see,
beyond the sickle shapes,
the faces of three women

Sharp shadows breathe hard,
shedding skins like dusty snakes
Light twists in a violent retching

For an instant
there is the fragment of a lip,
an eyebrow fine as a spider's threat

A face like a frost fern

The custodian
locks the lunulae
in the safe once more

Cornish, they are,
he says,
dug up at St Juliot,
regalia of this soil,
and not for the British Museum

You buy me
a postcard of the lunulae
and we leave the museum,
enter the thin gold remains
of autumn

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Lost Lands

Beyond the idea of north, beyond the cold and the deep ice and the Arctic glare, is Hyperborea. This is what the ancient Greeks believed; for every natural phenomen to them concealed a secret of grave import or of happy provenance.

Beyond the idea of west, beyond the lions and the magic and the broken lands, is Eden. This is what the ancient Hebrews believed; for we read that an angel with a flaming swords stands between Eden and the lands east of it.

Beyond the idea of south, beyond the heat and the danger and the desert wastes, is Paradise. This is what the Romans who conquered their known world believed. It is their descendants who sought Prester John.

Beyond the idea of east, beyond the phoemix and the nomads and the hidden ways, is Xanadu. This is what the benighted heathens of the West believed, who heard of Kublai and did not believe.

There are two things here. The first is that there are barriers between us and what we think we seek; the second is that we are inclined to breach those barriers. But what if those barriers are there to protect us? What if those barriers are there to test our ability to rein in our transcendent tendencies? And what if those barriers are there to save others from us?

C S Lewis once described the ethical dilemma of space: we might encounter beings without souls, who therefore cannot fall; we might encounter the fallen and unredeemed, or the fallen and redeemed – these we are unlikely to harm by the fact of our existence. We might even be the agents of redemption to the fallen. But the other side is that we might be the agents of temptation to those fallible but unfallen, the test of their spiritual destiny.

It would be hard indeed to know that all these hidden lands, these lost lands, are not for us, but for those who survive us. How bitter, how terrible, that day of knowledge.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Influenza & Life

In my present state, I find myself somewhat unfortunately able to comment at first hand on both the topics in my title.

The influenza viri are subtle. They creep up on you by infiltration through the respiratory system. At a certain point, they overcome your defences and inflammation begins. This phase takes a lot out of you, as material resources you have established melt away under the onslaught and your reserves are committed to dealing with the invasion.

Bodies of enemy and ally alike fill the landscape with the hulks of bombed-out targets and the corpses of the slain. Eventually, at great cost, you will mobilise more resources than the invaders can bring to bear, even after they have taken over some of your stockpiles and factories. At this point, you win, sit back and prepare for the next event.

Or you cease to function physically, forever and ever, amen. Which is why influenza is like life. And also like IB exams.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Toeward A Better Future

Dear Diary,

Yes, here I am again, R5 reporting in. It's a pain being someone's right fifth toe. The boss fractured my proximal phalange three weeks ago. He is pretty light-hearted about it, but I've had to call in some weight-bearing favours from those pains in Department L, and the larger phalanges here in R. And the metatarsals complain all the time. Now our calcaneus has weighed in as well – what a heel!

I'm also being exposed to blatant fascism. The downward pull of the plantar fascia is a daily irritant. I mean, it's not my fault I'm damaged. Sometimes, bosses are just not very aware of the things they do, and small components like myself bear the brunt of it. Well, in a sense I'm now getting my own back for forty years of being taken for granted.

That's not how I want to be remembered, though. I've been bearing my burdens without complaint and I'd like to think I'm an effective worker who carries his own weight and supports the organisation. My department may consume a lot of energy, but it has been useful work, and I think I provide more than my fair share of stability and balance at my end of the unit.

Three weeks after I was almost retrenched, I've been sent for appraisal. In my view, it was premature. Most of us take six weeks to recover and therapy begins after that. But bosses are impatient and sometimes subject to other pressures (yes, I know a lot about pressure, actually), and so I've been scanned. The break is still there, looking as ugly as ever.

What I'd like to tell the boss is, "Hey! There are things your kind of appraisal doesn't show. It doesn't show matrix-building or anything else except hard calcifications and mineral deposits. You should adopt more holistic methods and leave me alone for now. Stop bearing down on Department R and take a break for a few weeks. The other departments are working fine."

Instead, I tell him nothing. He's taken me for granted for many years; well, tough luck if I am somewhat uncommunicative. I'm injured now and he can't rely on me the way he used to – that's just too bad. If he never understood my usefulness, he should have learnt something of it by now. But I'm not bitter about it. I just toe the line.

In all this, I must say that R4, my neighbour, is a pillar of strength. The company made us hang out a lot together and although boss seems to think it suspicious, I think it is a good arrangement. He helps to spread the weight. I also feel bad about our departmental head, R1.

R1 has been holding things together on his side, but he seems to be buckling a little under the pressure. He's still a big player though. The organisation must move on, and to do that we must put our best foot forward. He knows that, and I think the fact that he's shouldering the responsibility (metaphorically speaking, we don't want the Army units after us) helps us all.

Ah well, it's time for my medication and for the boss to commune with company headquarters. HQ is very distant from a minion like myself. But as I always say, better a minion than a bunion.

Yours, R5.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Meme P3

Once in a while, you come across an old meme which has mutated into something quite different. And so, on Ratri's blog (name pseudonymised for her protection), I came across this and succumbed.



So, here's how it works:
  1. Open your library (iTunes, Winamp, Media Player, iPod, iPaq etc)
  2. Put it on shuffle
  3. Press play
  4. For every question, type the song that's playing
  5. When you go to a new question, press the next button
  6. Don't lie and try to pretend you’re cool.
Heh. And here is the story of my life...

01 - OPENING CREDITS: Dan Nicholson – Shipyard: Rough Repairs
02 - WAKING UP: Traditional/The King's Singers – Watching The White Wheat
03 - FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL: Checkfield – Carribean Cooler
04 - FALLING IN LOVE: St Etienne – Lose That Girl
05 - FIGHT SONG: Mozart – Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
06 - BREAKING UP: David Newman – Serenity: Into The River
07 - PROM: Howard Blake/Aled Jones – Snowman: Walking In The Air
08 - LIFE: Jared Ellsworth – Ultima V Lazarus: Love (Empath Abbey Theme)
09 - MENTAL BREAKDOWN: Britten: Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge: (4) Romance
10 - DRIVING: The Idea Of North – Shed a Little Light/The Gulf War Song
11 - FLASHBACK: ABBA/RPO – SOS (Instrumental)
12 - WEDDING: Orff/LSO – Carmina Burana: Fortunae Plango Vulnera
13 - BIRTH OF CHILD: Ravel – Bolero
14 - FINAL BATTLE: Prokofiev – Romeo & Juliet: Romeo Resolves to Avenge Mercutio's Death
15 - DEATH SCENE: Enya – Amarantine: Someone Said Goodbye
16 - FUNERAL SONG: Puccini/Amici Forever – Nessun Dorma
17 - END CREDITS: Wynton Marsalis – The Midnight Blues: Glad To Be Unhappy

That was fun, and in some places, quite unnerving! Thanks be to Ratri, who took away a few hours of my night...

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Old Ladies – True Thoughts, Jewellery & Museums

The moon is one and three; young, mature and ancient in aspect. At its oldest, it is frail, thin, the boundary between memory and forgetfulness. There are few who still revere her. Many of those people died out, were overtaken by conquerors and events, their faces and their tongues submerged in the darkness of the ages.

Like frost or the delicate traceries of ferns, you see their history fade. The guardians keep what they can, commit the images to postcard and guidebook, but know that the conquerors will win it all someday. At this infinitesimally fine moment, these matters are balanced as on a fulcrum; should you decide to remember them, they will be remembered – should you decide to forget, there will be no way back for them.

It is like the archaeological frailty of jewellery. In those days, they beat gold to fineness as of leaves, as of foil, as of a web. When worn by the living, it was beautiful beyond belief – and now, dug up from the ground, it is hardly there, like memories. The endless ticking of the clock wears everything down; it is as Auden said, "Time is not your friend."

One thought went through my mind a lot this afternoon: how odd it is, how coincidental in my mind, that the one word that best describes the theme is evanescence.


Thursday, November 08, 2007


Nemo me impune lacessit, said the sign.

The wanderer smiled at the moon. The walnut muscles in his hands twisted artfully but incompetently in sheet steel and starlight. Metal ripped. Signpost became lonely stake, sign became necklace of glinting barb and point.

This is my emblem, he thought. This is what I am.

Further along the road, he saw the fallen cross. A corpse was draped upon it, rosewood blooming in the darkness. Climbing spikes had hung a victim spreadeagled there. He was cold, serene, bloody. The victim seemed a solid thing, a being of fact, not myth. The wanderer sniffed at him.

There was the taste of iron and a flash of copper. And the wanderer knew why he had been so clumsy. Panting a little, he lowered his horn and galloped off down the road for his appointment with the lion.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Two Ravens (Guest Starring)

They watched the thunderbird rise. Across the golden silver of the desert floor, the irises bloomed in its wake. Its birthing shriek was like a silent fire shivering across a gas range, blue and hot and roaring. Then, the flash of yellow, the knowledge of mortal sin and carbon, and a great and yearning silence.

They watched the thunderbird fall.

Huginn: It looks like a meteor. Look, I can calculate the heat of its re-entry!

Muninn: We have seen this before. It reminds me of him.

H: You integrate it across the period of the fall, every joule shining across the canopy.

M: It disintegrates, and he didn't. We fell with him, from dawn to dusk.

H: (enthralled) Look how black it is! It is darker than the night!

M: (sadly) And so are we, and we were not.


And to this day, as the old Watchman speaks to his children across the net of stars, he says, "Their story? You can find it, if you have ever forgotten it, at the place they used to be – and are not."

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007


There is the sound of rain. It begins easily, like the feathers of a sleeping swan rise slightly in the changing air. In the night, all the humours of the day are muted; clashing choler and strident sangue are replaced by melancholy and phlegm. Here we stand, watching the thunderbird.

It is young, although very old. It comes to us from the heart of dreams, the navel of creation. It is so dark that it is silver against the night, because it is blacker than any darkness. It makes a hole in the tissue of reality. Every feather is a frisson of electricity woven into the tapestry of the clouds.

Nobody else feels the rain yet, because nobody else has made themselves deliberately aware of the tiny droplets beginning to form around particles in the upper air. Like angels furling their wings, they begin to fall, too small to dictate where they will land. A horde of them descend through atmosphere, a host.

The air is getting drier and wetter at the same time. It is that season of the heart, when you do not realise that both things happen, and all things happen at once.

We await the thunderbird.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Twitch I

That last toe keeps twitching. It is a random thing. It is coming back to life, which was not truly dead; that makes it seem like some horror out of H P Lovecraft. But it is not; it is only my toe.

And there is where the horror lies. It began on 20 October 2007, when the aptly named Gabriel Agbonlahor poked Manchester United Football Club in the eye by scoring within a few minutes of kick-off. For this Gabriel, while not blowing the Last Trump, had effectively played a trump nevertheless. MUFC would overtrump and win 4-1 that evening, but I was the big loser.

As the crowd erupted, so did I. In doing so, I left my seat, tripped over a chair leg, regained my balance, watched the replay of that goal, and discovered to my great consternation that it had been a bad trip. The chair leg had remained caught between my last two toes long enough to wrench the last one out of its socket slightly and, as I was later to discover, fracture the longer phalange almost (but not quite) cleanly across.

This story has been told often and to many who have inquired. I think of it as a football-related injury.

But the horror of it, the long hours of waiting in the time-compromised hospital, the first sight of the x-ray, and the crrrickt of the fracture being reduced – these were nothing compared to the crawling agonies of a foot coming back to life through the stages of its failure as a member of the supporting cast. Or the casted support. There is something odd about that toe now, as there is with all entities who have died and been reborn. They are not quite right.

And the first sign of this lack of rightness, this failure of rectitude, is the twitch. It keeps me up late at night (although not much). Any kind of twitch is unnatural, and this one more than most. I have thoughts of the toe seceding and just not being there when I awake, like the fabled Gingerbread Man.


Sunday, November 04, 2007


It is the most mysterious scaffolding of what we are. All we see are the outlying cousins of these deep monsters, teeth and nails, who have some kinship, but not enough. What we are is bred in the bone. Like the battlefields at Ypres and Verdun, the integument covers the carnage beneath. Skin and muscles, fat and gristle hide the stark elegance of the ivory infrastructure. When this elegance is naked and exposed, it inspires horror and shock – we fear the naked skeleton. A break is unthinkable, a crack nigh intolerable; the comminution of a fracture into spikes and shards brings visceral terror.

For we like our bones, smooth and white, full of marrow and living cells, minerals, an ecology all its own. We like them attached and nurtured by the web of blood and fibre that guards them like a wetsuit. We fondle them and carress them without noticing; we rely on them to make our point and firm our actions. Typing would be impossible without out dactylic infrastructure; locomotion would be sluglike and inefficient. The much maligned knee-joint is the compromise solution for a race that walks so much; many have suggested better alternatives, but never one so easily maintained (except in the face of extreme incidents such as non-contact sports made into contact sports).

We are articulate because we are articulated. We are dancers and singers and musicians, magicians and authors and poets, scientists and engineers and technicians, only because the bony frame supports our sloppy organs and the conduits which keep them functional and alive. The bone is the frame from which our tapestry depends, and when all else is gone, it is the last to bid farewell.


Rite Of Examination (Preparatory, Part 2)

In the previous epistle I did write upon the matter of arising. In this second part, I write herein on the matter of arousal and the enlightenment of the internal workings.


Part II – The Arousal and Enlightenment

It is now the hour that you must gird your loins and stir forth. Should you have an examination before noon, you must be of good cheer. Eat not of the heaviness of starch, but of the lightness of fruit and grain. Prepare the essence of the bean, lovingly and with water that comes not to boil, but yet gives off steam and brings the aroma of the essence to your nostrils.

Yet each of these things should be done a halved hour before you must depart for the trial of your perspicacity. This time is needed, for a third of an hour will pass and you shall feel intolerable stirrings from within your belly, for this is the way of liquid, that it finds its lowest level and attempts to flow out therefrom. Release the fluid of your internal strivings, and whatever other debris may obtain thereof, and retain none of it, that your heart (and bowels) be enlightened and your gait springy as you approach the trial.

For these are the secrets of the well-prepared supplicant at the Great Rite of Examination:
  • circulatory prowess, that the sanguinity of the body fuel the earnest intent of the mind
  • caffeinatory prowess, that the choleric impulse of the body fuel the nimble celerity of the intellect
  • post-colonial prowess, that the melancholic excess of the body be divested promptly as a burden to the thought
for indeed the trial of examination is the trial of the phlegmatic essence, which permeates the tissues of the brain, giving life to every axonic electrification.

World without end, yes, but every trial is ended at its own time.

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Rite Of Examination (Preparatory, Part 1)

It was said unto me by a son of the wyvern in the day just passed, as he looked upon the fallen arches of my foot and mourned the fracture of my distal phalange, that I had omitted the most basic rite of the examination cycle. (For they who have not seen, or who have not heard of the rites of examination, there are four parts of the rite – Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.)

And so, here and now do I present to you, my brothers and sisters in the College, the first part of the Preparatory Rite which all students should consider before the start of each examination day.


Part I – The Awakening

Arise, O child of dust, and wake into the cool and grey penumbra of the passing of Night! It is the morning, but you know it not, and it is the beginning of Creation, but you feel it not.

Upon your bed of sorrow and of the toil of evening past, lift up your limbs singly and in slowness of mind, that you might receive assurance of your wholeness and the continuing existence of your material self.

Learn as if anew that you have arms, a left and a right, and each arm has distally a hand, cramped though they might be with the agony of the writer and the tension of the age. Upon each hand, find fingers, which for most of those who live are five in number, of which one is a thumb, stumpy but not to be despised.

Clench your fists, all fingers five and crowning the four others with your thumb. Thus you might defy the urgings of Dream and Sleep. Newly unsleeping, unclench and clench again, till your blood roars with vehement chastisements in the muscles of your arms.

If you have laid weights of metal or of stone beside your bed, lift one in each hand, while lying supine. Let these not exceed five masses of the French Revolutionary standard. Perform the ritual of lifting five times each, and five times five again.

Strangely, you will then discover your legs, sturdy appendages for the movement of the body, and their supporting feet. (One scruples at that most oxymoronic term, the 'metric foot', which young Trivandrum should emplace upon his web-log.) Raise your legs above your head, aiding the heart as it sends the sanguine ichor towards the seat of your mentality and away from the mentality of your seat.

Lower them, and with the momentum of this movement, plant your feet upon the ground beside your bed. In a while, you will be ready to stand up. But not yet, for otherwise, the sudden elevation of your head might cause a dizzying of the intellect, as has occurred with fatal result in many who are older and wiser.

Thus ends the first part.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007


Oh dear. It's been nearly two weeks since Gabriel Agbonlahor's fateful goal against Manchester United, and my right foot has forgotten how to cleave to the ground, as is the duty of a good Foot.

The word 'footprints' has ten letters, and as such, is a good proxy for description of the behaviour of my feet. As you can see from the title, the left foot's toes are all fine. On the right side, things are wrong.

Right big toe, among all the toes on that foot, is bearing almost all the weight. Or so I thought. Actually, it is bearing all the weight, because none of the other toes are touching the ground!

What's that, you say? Surely not levitation or some such flimflammery! No. It's just that the other toes, in sympathy with the last two (which are bound together, depressed - but not depressed enough, compressed, repressed, and oppressed) have decided to take a week off. I only noticed when a piece of paper slid under my right foot and went shooting through the gap.

No wonder there's so much strain on my knees, calves and thighs. The pronation is all wrong now. Sigh.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Word of the Day: Phalange

I always thought a phalange was a digital bone, and when you clenched your fist, they formed a phalanx of bristling knuckles, or something like that. I filed that away as a somewhat inaccurate but serviceable definition years ago. Unfortunately, I was recently forced to relearn that word.

Oddly enough, I saw it in French as, "Formation militaire de la Grèce ancienne. Tous les Grecs mâles étaient fantassins (hoplites) dans l'armée de leur polis. La phalange était une formation très serrée disposée sur plusieurs rangs." Oh yes, as I thought, ancient Greek phalanx. Fortunately, there was a 'the phalange is...' version: "La Phalange est un segment osseux articulé dont est constitué le doigt ou l’orteil." Much better.

I reecently cracked the phalange on my little toe, the bone of that toe which is conjoint with the rest of the foot. I tripped over a chair, whose slender leg got trapped between my last two toes. I stumbled forward and momentum did the rest. The phalange cracked from side to side, and just like the Lady of Shalott, I cried out something which could colloquially be considered equivalent to her "the curse is upon me!"

And there you have it. Reduced mobility for 4-6 weeks. Sigh.

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This is the day that the Lord has made
We rejoice, and are glad in it.

In everything we give thanks to Him,
In all things we remain at peace.

We make it our ambition to serve,
To stand the test and not give way.

We make it our sacrament to work,
To do what is required of us.

Though the illusion of merit gleam,
We will not be shaken by it.

For there are eternal kingdoms here
To be won, and not to be lost.

And in the end, as always has been,
We accept in faith what will come.


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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Work Appraisal (Part 2)

Sir Wolff has left the room. Disturbing candles burn like swamp-gas in the corners of the room. The Black Chamber awaits the verdict. The Magistratum has convened. Each inquisitor reveals the scraped, almost translucent, skins of baby lambs that they have been using to take notes. The notes are taken in a scarlet ink, almost black as it dries. A junior inquisitor frames the spell that integrates the words into a single holistic image.

The candidate is a visonary who is full of ideas that would improve the system in which we work. He has a formidable knowledge of his subject and other subjects which he has made his own. He has provided assistance cheerfully and unstintingly to his colleagues, who have all come to respect and appreciate his experience on the field of battle. He has an alarming political sense but does not make use of his political connections for personal gains. He is capable with a pen, dangerous with a broadsword, excellent as a worker in metals and stone. He has a highly developed sense of duty to the Rule and the Order.

The Grand Inquisitor is silent. Nobody seems to breathe. Then the verdict slashes its way across the screen in letters of burning emerald fire: "He must not be allowed into the Magistratum. His career must founder sufficiently so that the system is not affected by his vision and ideas. We will continue to entertain him and provide for his basic needs. He cannot ever be given a full battle command, lest he find himself with an army of his own." So mote it be.

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