Monday, February 28, 2011

Humanism, Transhumanism and Posthumanism

Humanity is an organic mass mess mass of 'thinking' machines, each one different from each other one and made so by genetic reproduction and other 'genetic' algorithms. This mass appears to have thoughts about itself; it thinks that it has norms, that it has ideals, and that it can have standard types as well as ideal types. It always thinks it can improve on itself.

The problem is that it has insufficient data to actually come to conclusions about what its norms (other than statistical ones, and these too are its own inventions) ought to be; it can have no legitimate idea as to its ideals, based solely on its own perception of self; and it can have no legitimate idea as to how to improve, not having enough data as to where it can improve towards. This mass, however, has elements which will disagree with such a diagnosis, even though it is obviously true.

Once upon a time, an element of this mass said to me (another element of this mass), "Well, it has to be true that making optimal use of energy would be an improvement." I'm not so sure. What is optimal use? Every such idea, ideal, improvement, boundary, definition, norm (etc, etc) is defined by this imperfect mass. As one element named Russell said some time ago, mathematics — which a fair number of elements think is the best (query: best?) mode of thought (query: thought?) — is built on the flimsiest of foundations. So he decided to be a logician, but his project failed too.

Humanism is a work in progress, then. But progress towards what? And if it is a work in progress, what can be said about trans- and post-humanism, which some elements of the human mass also talk about? They are imaginary work in imaginary progress.

Some human elements point out that evolution occurs, and we have strong evidence for it. Of course it does, and of course we do. But there is nothing to show 'fitness' except the promise that we are putatively 'better adapted' to a changing world. In truth, we are adapted, but we do not know if it is better, or will be so, because the genetic algorithms are future-blind. We are reactive, and hence we should have no claim to trans-anything or post-anything.

In fact, the only think we can know is that we are all headed towards thermodynamic 'heat death', and hence it seems good to try to stave it off. Hence the fixation(s) on information, energy, efficiency and effectiveness. But for what? Nobody seems to know. Some, however, have odd ideas about destiny and optimisation. Those too will pass.

In the end is the singularity, as at the beginning, some others say. The point really is that the singularity is the ideal to which all information (whether it is so, or merely an aberration in the energy transactions of the universe) goes, and once it is, nobody knows.

Is it any wonder that man imagines that he imagines God? Or that man (well, some portion or other of the human mass) imagines, "What is man, that [God is] mindful of him?" In the end, faith, hope and love abide; and if not, there is nothing.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011


The Citadel has been forever, say the common folk. Yet the Wise know that it was forged from war and alliance, from the patterns of law and the splendour of ceremony—and that there have been times when it seemed as if even the Citadel would not endure. In such times, the Heralds of the Highest rode forth, servants of the Citadel, even if not of its mortal ruler. With threat, diplomacy, and above all the knowledge and wisdom of lore, the Heralds used language and symbol as weapons in the defence of what they held dear.

And this was how we began our long campaign, many years ago.


Saturday, February 26, 2011


The problem with learning these days is that there is insufficient antagonism. Each student I meet seems to be the protagonist of a private drama. We have pussyfooted around so much that it is hard to move them away from their solipsistic lotus-dreams. In some cases, they seem less like lotus-dreams, though, than bad trips.

Whatever it is, I think more students would do better if they had constant rigorous antagonists. I suppose that a teacher could do the job, but only if that teacher were consistent, kind, and genuinely interested in being a creative and productive antagonist.

Why do I think so? I think that just as a drama with an unopposed protagonist is flat, or even one-dimensional, so too are the learning lives of students without someone to challenge them where it is needed and warranted. In order for constructs of depth to be created, somebody has to create the orthogonal and shift these self-involved people out of their ruts.

The problem is not confined to this generation; we were like that too. The difference is that now the rut-digging apparatus is more complex, ubiquitous, attractive. The whole 'cheap information network' idea has made people contributors and digesters of facts and information-bites, but not of knowledge and theory.

Or so I think.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Changing the World

Whatever you do, you change the world. The greater your potential to do so, the more you must change it. The more you can change it, the better it is that you change it for the better. And so it goes.

I don't know exactly when it became a Marvel Comics catchphrase (i.e. 'with great power comes great responsibility'), but it's convenient shorthand to put it that way. The principle, however, is somewhat well-established in law: if you have greater resources, privileges, and powers, you also have a greater duty of care in many cases.

In this case, it must be a greater duty of care with regard to the world around us. But here is where it gets interesting. If the universe was created by a God of unbounded powers, the responsibility must also be unbounded. He can't just delegate authority to humans, because He would still be responsible by virtue of being a higher authority with perfect foresight.

The question is then, to what extent is His responsibility voided by humans deciding to do things that they ought not do? Are we considered competent or incompetent? Does God's responsibility extend to maintaining the universe in a state acceptable to its tenants?

Ah well. It seems that power might be an expensive burden. But torque is cheap.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

What We Now Know

We've tested the human frame for centuries now. We've used physics, chemistry and biology and everything in between. And the conclusions have multiplied, so that everyone has an opinion about everything.

What do we now know? We know that the body and its functions are complex. Those functions include mind, emotion, and a sense of self. They also include self-correcting mechanisms and all kinds of amazing metabolic powers.

But, as Paracelsus said, Alle Ding' sind Gift, und nichts ohn' Gift; allein die Dosis macht, daß ein Ding kein Gift ist. That is, "All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous."

There are only three general rules about the body, it seems: 1) use it often, do not spare it, but rest it when you can; 2) use it in many ways, but occasionally do specific things with intensity; 3) everything can be taken in small doses, and some in large doses, but if you feel full, that's bad.

This applies to every organ of the body, generally. The brain is probably the main exception to Rule One because it never really rests. But you can spare it from certain kinds of brain-cell destroying stress, like being hit in the head repeatedly or being exposed to extremely bright lights or loud sounds (see Rule Three).

So, what do we now know? We know a lot about specific things, but the big picture remains the same after many years. Paracelsus laughs at us.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Out of the Box

I was thinking about Stockholm syndrome and how it applies to many human dominance/control situations. The syndrome takes its name from an episode of bank robbery and hostage-taking in which the hostages ended up having more positive feelings towards their captors than to their rescuers. In established firms with a strong and authoritarian leadership echelon, and in some political entities (ditto), those who are employees of the former and members of the latter may find themselves locked into such a psychological response.

Whether this is true or not, it's probably a natural human tendency to like boxes and being in them, because humans are always happy to be able to delimit territory and determine boundaries. Humans will also test those limits and push those termini, but that seems mainly for the purpose of finding out what and where they are.

To think out of the box is not merely to puncture a membrane and look out, but to jump over the top into a place which is no longer bounded. When we are told not to conform to the pattern of the world, it is an out-of-the-box directive — and one extremely difficult to obey. That's because we're so used to being in the box, and so used to being relatively happy by being boxed up or boxed in.

I've found, myself, that doing work when out of the box is very much harder than doing work when in the box. In the box, you know what you can do and what you must do, so you don't have to spend extra energy pushing your personal limits and finding stuff to do on your own initiative. You don't have to attempt anything you aren't told to do. It's a great recipe for getting fat and predictable.

More insidious, perhaps, are the majority of the 'think out of the box' sessions that box owners sometimes hold. These enable box-dwellers to climb around on outside on the surface of the box, thus gaining relative freedom and not much else. Since these box-dwellers can't fly away, the surface of the box holds them almost as much as if they were inside it.

That's not to say that 'think out of the box' sessions are useless. Where box-owners have empowered their box-dwellers, genuine escapes and feats of imaginative and creative prowess can be performed by those who can jump, fly, tunnel, and otherwise transcend the surly bonds of boxdom.

Right now, I have just realised that having left one box, I spent quite a bit of time setting up my own box. Now I have to think my way out of this very nice, very safe, very comfortable box — if I want to do something more with my life. The question is: how do I do that, and why should I?

Sigh. Back to the box for now. At least it's my own box.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Dream Beginning in Collapse

I dreamt that I stood on a balcony, and I watched three men remotely operate huge mining machines that dug deep. And in minutes, they had dug a pit, and the broad bright green had become a sucking morass of grey mud.

Then only did I walk back into the building, which was a boarding school, and the students greeted me as I began the inspection of their corridors and rooms. But there were no masters, no teachers. There was only light, and an absence of burdens. There was work, but it was peaceful and purposeful.

And as I woke, as if swimming upwards from the depths of the sea, I saw tubs of gelato, and packets of smoked salmon, and other things as if stored up in advance for a feast. Then I did indeed awake, and felt a great desire for noodles with minced pork, vinegar, and hot chillies.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Bottled Messages

People leave comments on this blog and I do try to answer them. Sometimes, I miss one or two. Some people have asked me to put one of those comment-tracking widgets in the sidebar. I have refused for two reasons: 1) not every commenter wants everyone else to look at their comments; 2) this isn't a WordPress blog. Heh.

However, I treasure most comments as much as I do the many little notes people have left with me over the years. I've kept many of these, and they mean a lot to me. For some of these notes, I have forgotten (if I ever knew) or will never know who wrote them. These are like messages sent in glass bottles over a wide ocean of time: the chances that I will ever get to respond (if I haven't already) is very low.

I thank all of you who have sent me such bottled messages. If you left a comment on one of my blogs many months ago, and the answer still is something you would like to have, it might be there. I answer all those comments eventually, except for those which don't seem to invite one at all.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011


If you cannot lean on your own understanding, then surely at least two things are out of reach: independence and knowledge. For if you cannot lean on what is your own, you must be supported by what is not; and if you cannot lean on understanding, then nothing that is known can stand.

Understanding is the basis of epistemology — that is, the answering of the question, "How do you know?" The word 'understand' itself means something like 'to stand close enough to grasp (what is true)'. But when what is true cannot be grasped, then being close enough is an impossibility, a striving after the wind.

That's not to say that there are no truths that can be grasped usefully enough, but that wisdom is not found in grasping such truths. I know I need to eat to live, but there is no wisdom in that bare fact that will tell me what exactly the best diet is, given all that I am and all that I can have. And so to are all the other things in life.

For a human to glory in the great accumulation of all the knowledge we have is like a person walking in a supermarket who has still not answered the question, "What do I need to live?" It might seem irrelevant in the midst of plenty, but if you cannot reach out your hand and take what is offered to you as life, you will starve.

The logic of salvation is simple. To be fair, it must be offered to all, and it must not be beyond anyone's reach. It must therefore be the simplest of things, so simple that formal reasoning (let alone theology!) cannot be required for it to be obtained.

Thus, the foolish things will confound the wise, the weak things will confound the mighty, and the things of no consequence and substance will confound those that are of consequence and substance. The wise scholar, the strong leader, the wealthy merchant, and others such as these — they will find that glorying in whatever gives them prominence does not bring them closer to the simplicity of the truth.

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Saturday, February 19, 2011


For a while now, I've known that my personal income is below the national median income. That is, more than half the population that is earning anything is getting more than I am. But I have also realised something else. I'm comfortable with it.

By comfortable, I don't mean that I have a sort of 'poverty = piety' thing. I mean that I don't envy people with more, and I always have money I can afford to give away. I still wear shirts I bought ten years ago (and am glad I still fit comfortably in them) and many of my other clothes date back just as much.

I eat sparingly. The other day, I calculated that I could live on an average of $20 a day if I wanted 'luxury'. However, my typical daily expenditure, were I to purchase everything I ate myself, would come to about $3.00 for breakfast, $0.50 for lunch, $3.00 for dinner, and $3.00 for 'luxuries' such as extra coffee, a piece of dark chocolate, and suchlike. Call it $10. The most 'expensive' items in the menu would be fish and fortified cereal.

By far my greatest day-to-day expenditure, unfortunately, is reading material. I am quite sure this comes to $20 a day as well. I can afford to cut down, I guess.

The greatest financial burden I have is the regular outlay on things like insurance premiums, taxes, fees. I find that the comforts of living in a reasonably civilised environment result in general taxation which does make a fair dent.

I have no right to be so blessed with what I have. I sometimes remind myself I have no right to have so much to be happy about. And I laugh, and dispose of more income. No, I'm not poor at all.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Fallen Wyverns

Oh, my audacious friends! You have now embarked on a journey into the dark and rather wonderful world of the bizarre. I will not inflict upon you another game of considerably more wonderful and amazing content, but an entertainment that you will enjoy once you have learnt to see it for what it is. There may even be Abstractions!


And so, we begin the last part of this particular leg of the long history of the Citadel. For 125 years, shifting from place to place, it has gone from strength to strength and undergone trial by fire, sword and bad administration. The endgame is in sight for this round.

But first, there will be words from our sponsors. And unfortunately, the hoped-for end is still quite a while off.


Join us for a tour of the New Towers! What ghastly horrors lie buried in the Room with the Balcony? Is there a Beast that Haunts the Circus by Night? What hallucinogenic mushrooms are mixed into the Friendly Yoghurt-Seller's concoctions? All will be made clear in time. Cheers to all our watchful, persuasive, dangerous and shadowy friends!

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Responses to 'Prescribed Topics'

They are not more than that, I think. When I post responses to other people's thoughts, to things I've read, to the annual 'prescribed topics' list that appears like Athena from the head of Zeus, they are just my slightly mediated responses. They are sometimes close to immediate, but mostly they have some degree of mediation. Or even, remediation.

I do post what appears to be a set of ten canonical responses each year. But I must caution readers of those responses that they are my quick 'first-sight' responses to questions that are pretty deep. It disturbs me when soon thereafter, all over the Turnitin universe, chunks of those responses begin to appear.

My responses are worth something, I do like to believe, but they should not be worth that much. They are only stepping stones to thoughts that each person has the right, and ought to have the desire, to develop against the onslaught of a given question.

Some examiners, seeing this blog cited in some essays, are not happy that a pesky blog should be honoured that much. I agree. Take the thoughts if you want, but change them, maul them, reshape them and make them your own. That would honour me a lot more.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011


Optimism is the belief that this is the best of all possible worlds; that this is optimal among all the worlds there might be. But as many a would-be humorist has noted, it carries the seeds of pessimism, the belief that this is the lowest of all possible worlds; that this is pessisimus, or as footling as can be. For what else can one say if this is the best as well as the worst of all possible worlds? Which must be true, if this is the only world we have.

And yet, to paraphrase Galileo, still things move along. I am still alive. I feel good most days. I am happy that people can make marvellous banana soufflés one day and equally wonderful salmon sushi the next. I take great pleasure in watching Barcelona act like Arsenal, losing their way in the second half, and worse, just plain losing. I find happiness in many things.

I am convinced that if this is the worst of all possible worlds, there can't be more than one. It's like the old joke: "You're my favourite sister!" "Of course; I'm your -only- sister."

It doesn't take much faith, I'm afraid. After all, a world in the hand is worth many worlds in some strange meta-physical theory. But what faith it requires, I am quite happy to contribute. In hoc signo vinces.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Aeropress: The New Rite

It is like a vernacular liturgy.

Just load up the column, the way we used to pack a chromatographic column. But this time, you're using ground coffee, not silica. Even the skill of adding the fluid to the solid phase seems similar. But the Aeropress is different. There's a microfilter at the bottom of the column, for a start.

With the Aeropress, you add warm water add around 80°C to the coffee. You can even add cold water to the coffee and then top it up with hot water. Too hot, and you'll burn the coffee, extracting bitterness. Too cold, and you probably won't extract much.

Then you put the plunger in and steadily compress, until the slurry becomes a packed mass (a 'puck') and the crema is oozing out at the bottom of the column, where the detachable filter is screwed in.

Collect the brew. Savour it. And also, in passing, savour the ease with which you can unscrew the filter, pop out the puck (it makes that sound too, when 'pucked'), and wash up in less than a minute. Ready for another round.

But first, contemplation of what has been wrought. Simplicity and complexity, and the enlightenment of the bean. Ahhhhh.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011


I unlock the door. It is a grille reinforced with wire-mesh. I step through. I hear a distant jingle, once, lightly as if a dancing-girl has tipped her ankle at me. I look up in time to hear a barrage of clinky jingles as the cat bounds towards me, the bell-collar doing its job.

He's eight, going on nine. He is amber and flax in the afternoon sun. At this time of the day, I'm normally busy and he's normally lurking in the corner of the garden that is shady, cool and looks out on the entrance to this domain. He's curious as to why I've stepped into the garden.

I walk to him. I know something he doesn't know, for once. I have some free time, and I am going to share it all with him.

He runs at my left foot, nuzzles. He sags against my big toe. It's his usual routine. He likes my toes. They are chunky, knobbly, and hence give him an excellent rubbing surface. He gently bites down on the largest joint. Mine, he establishes, leaving little dents.

He perches on my foot, a habit from his kitten days. Now, much too big, he simply curls around part of it and flicks his tail against my knees. I have taught him not to stick his claws into my foot when he wants attention.

I grab him around the head, gently. He goes limp. All cats think they're tigers, but some of their reflexes are responses to bigger tigers.

I scratch him firmly behind the ears with one hand, but not too hard. Between, behind, around. Under his jaw, into his neck muscles. He stretches, claws out, flexing. He blinks very slowly, the sun making his eyes into clear, bright lime-jelly fire. This is the life, he purrs.

I sit on dry, aromatic grass. A light breeze dances by. The cat flumphs sideways, mouth slightly open. Scritch, scritch. Time passes.

Finally, I get up. The cat opens his eyes wide. And his jaws. He accompanies me to the door. As I step back in, he bats at my ankle, leaving fine white lines. Then he runs off, back to his shady tiger-dreams.


Monday, February 14, 2011

The Nexus and the Orchid Plant

In the ecology of the tropical jungle, the orchid is an interesting and sometimes apparently parasitical plant. Orchids, sprouting aerial roots and tendrils of all kind, take in material from the entire network of water and minerals that semi-visibly permeates the jungle. And they bloom frenetically and gloriously, lie fallow for a while, and then bloom again. It depends on whether the conditions are right or not.

The orchid is not a tree, that mighty and mightily obvious pillar of the jungle. A single tree can sustain an entire ecology on its own, if it is big enough. Even an ecology that includes orchids. A tree is a nexus for comings and goings — for trade in nutrients and life, for cycling and recycling; it can sometimes act as a gateway for the mass movements of populations, or a base for sudden bursts of fecund creativity.

The orchid can be a nexus too, but a very much smaller one. If it is fortunate, its location will make it a more important micro-nexus. But the orchid, as earlier mentioned, is not a tree. And the tree is not merely an orchid writ large, but something altogether different because of its scale and deep resources. The tree props up the jungle, and the jungle props up the tree. The jungle might be a less glorious place without the orchid, but it will probably survive.

So too the small glory of Atlantis, and the larger lands of the New World.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sun Sun Sun

Heat. It rises off the ground and it curls around you and it tickles your skin and sometimes it makes you too sleepy to care about your dignity.

Yesterday was a bit like that. Thunderheads on the horizon and some rain, but mostly heat. It is good for a man to see the sun, but not head on, and not on the head.

Sometimes waiting for the heat is its own reward and punishment. Or crime and punishment. I think I'm suffering from heatstroke.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sat Sat Sat

For some reason, that reminds me of childhood games, when I was very young and it didn't matter whether the people you played with were young or old, male or female, as long as everyone had a good time. But Saturn is Kronos as well as Chronos, the two beings conflated, and hence he is both master of scythe and hourglass, and hence of inevitable old age and doom.

And hence, by association to Haiti and the dark loa, and also to Sonnabend, and the eve of the Sun. Such darkling things are somehow related to Saturn's day.

Perhaps that's why we thank God for Friday and not so much for Saturday. But Saturday is also the Sabbath, and ought to be for contemplation and rest.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Fri Fri Fri

Friday, for some reason, is always linked to fecundity and femininity. And for many reasons, it reminds me of Rene Russo. That lady is awesomely Fridayish.

But why Friday? I'm not very sure. But Rene Russo is Fridayish to me in the sense that Sandra Bullock is Saturdayish and Meryl Streep is Tuesdayish. It takes some enduring presence to be evocative enough to produce in me an association with a specific day, I think. Angelina Jolie is Thursdayish.

Hold on, now, you might say. Why this sudden onslaught of feminine energy?

Well, it's Friday, don't you know? Heh.

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Thu Thu Thu

I can't actually think of Thursdays these days without thinking of the upcoming Kenneth Branagh movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Rene Russo. Oh yes, and also Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman.

See? I am biased by age. I can recall certain names more easily than others; it must shock some of you that I can recall Rene Russo's name and face much more easily than Natalie Portman's.

Thursday is a day not dedicated to war, as some of you might think. It's a day dedicated to noise, shock, and other alarming phenomena. I think today might well heave up some of this.

It's all too much for this old man.

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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Wed Wed Wed

It either sounds very damp or very married. It all began when I looked at my week and counted the number of appointments per day. Three. Hence repetition.

Etymologically, 'Wed Wed Wed' might as well be 'Odd Odd Odd'.

And that is where etymology leads to gems of great insight. Such insight has led me to believe that the motto of the University of Oxford really means 'pizza makes me happy'. Which, of course, can't be right. Can it?

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Tuesday, February 08, 2011


Humans play games. The necessity for that seems built-in, since games of all kinds offer various proportions of expected and unexpected outcomes. The former provides the cognitive triumph of an outcome that one has judged correctly and/or well; the latter provides excitement and a break from routine. The problem with homo ludens, or 'game-playing man', is that he too often stumbles into the Ludic fallacy by either thinking that life mirrors games, or that games don't mirror life enough.

Recently (and still ongoing), I have been interlocuting with a gentleman who asserts that logic is important. I agree. However, I added the caveat that logic is not always the best tool. This, he violently disagrees with.

Here are the arguments he's tried so far:

1. Logic is the best tool because nothing else is a tool.

2. If logic does not succeed, you must be using a simplistic form of it.

Here is what I've said:

1. Some areas of human endeavour are not susceptible to logic.

2. Logic itself will tell you that it fails to provide an answer sometimes.

To me, it is a game, these acts of provocation. I don't know if I will ever convince the rationalists, atheists, or rational atheists. But I feel compelled to answer them at times. Oddly enough, I too am using logic. I am also aware that I am using logic in realms where it was not meant to go. But the paradox is that my interlocutors believe that logic can be taken anywhere, and that if the outcomes do not favour them, I must be misusing logic.

We all agree I am misusing logic; that much is clear. I believe I shouldn't be using it, they believe I am using it badly. But the point is equally clear, either way: there are things you can't use logic for. One of those things is justifying the use of logic using logic. Ho ho.

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Tue Tue Tue

After every Monday comes a Tuesday, and this has been the oddly mismatched fruit of barbarian calendaring. It used to perturb me that the moon had a day at all; it seemed counterintuitive. But who was Tue?

I learnt later that it was Tiw, also Tyr and such, who got himself a day. He's Mars in the Roman pantheon, which explains why the Romance languages have the same day called Mardi and suchlike.

Well, Tiw eats his own.

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Monday, February 07, 2011

Mon Mon Mon

Waking up on a Monday morning, only to suddenly realise with blinding insight that 'Mon' and 'Nom' are enantiomorphic. Such instances are what life is made of.

I eat my processed food, my bread and rolled oats, and wonder why people insist that processed food is bad and yet tell me to cook my food.

I drink my boiled water and think of how far we have come, we environmental barbarians, using up fossil fuel just to boil chlorinated water. That, I suppose, ensures that anaerobic bacteria will be able to thrive in the resultant deoxygenated, dechlorinated liquid. If they could find any nutrients in it.

Then I realise that this is what I am. I have become an anaerobe. I live in an environment that has been boiled. I can get by without the oxygen of life. And there isn't even any chlorine left.

Nom nom nom. The quest for food beckons.

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Sunday, February 06, 2011

Between Nations

Does the history of the International Baccalaureate reflect the history of the last half-century? And if so, how closely?

It's an interesting issue to think about. With the help of the dedicated Tristan Bunnell, a gentleman I have never met but whose reflections and research on the IB have informed my own, I have been drilling into the body of knowledge that exists.

It isn't a very large body of knowledge. I speculate that not more than 5000 pieces have been written in the scholarly literature about the IB, or at least, in a way that is useful to me in any sense.

It is interesting, as well, to read the blogs of people like George Walker, that eminent chemist who was once the IB's Director-General. This is because he had very interesting opinions and gave particularly visionary speeches. However, I have wondered to what extent his articulate(d) views represented the IB's 'official' perspective.

As for Jeffery Beard, the incumbent on that thorny throne? He has been less interesting, and in one case, somewhat repetitive with regard to re-packaging other people's views. I wish him well and hope he will speak more from his own heart.

Yet, for all the personalities associated with the IB and all the things they've said, there is little of substance that I can nail down regarding the deep philosophies and dreams of the IB. True, I can read all the stuff on their website and in the IB Learner Profile (and suchlike), but there is little meat.

What Bunnell and others have tried to do is flesh out the sparse architecture and hollow halls of the huge-looking IB corpus. So far, huge is something you think you see, but is not borne out by the susbtance. Fewer than 10,000 candidates take the November examinations each year; in fact, just one particular school has supplied about 5% of the candidature for that examination since 2007.

Likewise, about 100,000 candidates take the May examinations each year; more than half come from the USA, 10% come from Canada, and 5% come from the UK. It is a predominantly Anglophone examination. Another interesting fact: the average school candidature is about 30 students, and only about 75 schools in the world have an IB candidature of >200 students; for the November examinations, only 1 of these.

So the IB is international, as in 'spanning more than one nation and involving transactions across more than one nation'. But its presence is patchy, and that needs to be changed; in Africa, for example, the huge majority (I think 90% or more?) of IB schools are in Kenya. India and China together field only about 3000 candidates a year, while tiny Singapore sends about 1300.

I could go on. But I am not knocking the IB; rather, I am genuinely interested in its raison d'etre, how it is growing, whether it will achieve its stated goals while retaining its ideals, and how it will make itself more relevant in the less Anglo-dominant world milieu that is unfolding.

Can an educational organisation that broadly distributed have so few staff? It seems almost post-modern, to rely on schools and states to make up the deficit. That too is interesting to me. I am interested specifically in whether some day the IB will become something like an associated UN educational arm, since it is already affiliated with UNESCO. Will IB teachers be like UN peacekeepers in blue helmets?

There, I think, I am beginning to ramble. Or maybe fantasize. But universal education with the goal of making all mankind think critically and broadly is indeed some sort of dream worth dreaming, if not a fantasy.

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And so it was tonight that I sat down to watch the battery of the Artillerists at work. The bombardment began early, but let the opposition off in the second half. And so it has been, and all too frequent instance of the kind of story told in the annals of the Artillerists.

The Good Book says, "Let he who thinks he stands be careful lest he fall." It is a true saying. In more melancholic vein, Eliot writes, "Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you." And so it goes.

A hundred and twenty-five years since the Artillerists began to fire, and still, the lessons have not been learnt. We who admire them, and have admired them all our lives, still note their uncanny ability to self-destruct at the worst of times.

But the gentlemen who hold fire in their hands know that there will be other times, and those will be better, and the best is yet to be.


Saturday, February 05, 2011

Mad Max Beyond Star Wars

I had a curious dream, of the kind which pursues you when you have had too much good food and pleasant drink. This one needs to be set down.

I dreamt I was discussing insurgency on a desert planet with two rugged characters. These two characters looked a lot like Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford. The plan had something to do with unsettling a planet that was under the figurative bootheel of a terrible dictatorship.

Eventually, we decided on the sort of harebrained scheme (ah, the Lunar New Year revels speaking, there) that normally appears in comedies or education systems. The plan was to rig the viewing screens of the underground city of the desert nomads, so that they would think they were under attack by hordes of shiny golden protocol droids, each unique but all the same. (Yes, ??!! and is the correct plural term C-3POs or Cs-3PO, I wonder?)

With the help of a rather hairy bunch of co-conspirators, this is exactly what we did. The desert nomads were cowed by the virtual onslaught of the Golden Horde, assisted by lots of random shooting, bombing and bad driving habits.

Then we were betrayed by a swarthy pirate whose initials were LC, as was clearly marked all over his equipment (although it looked a bit like LG, I'm sure those were LCDs). The dream began to lose its 'coherence' and I woke up.

I don't often dream, but when I do, they turn out quite interesting.


Friday, February 04, 2011

Ferry Tale

I'd never heard of Gerry and the Pacemakers before. Apart from growing up in awe at the antics, exploits and heroics of Liverpool FC's goalkeepers, I was never a fan of any Merseyside team. So it was with a slightly jaundiced eye that I noticed I had become a fan of the song Ferry, Cross the Mersey.

It's a typical 60s song that in this age, half a century later, evokes a typical 'Golden Age' nostalgia for a time that one hardly ever knew. Yes, I was born in that era, but the song antedates me. It was #8 in the UK in 1964 and #6 in the US (of all places) in the succeeding year. However, a 1989 version hit #1 for three weeks. Most recently, I heard my DJ cousin playing it late at night on the radio.

What exactly does it evoke? And how?

In me, it evokes a heartfelt yearning for a less complicated time. It begins with "Life goes on day after day / Hearts torn in every way..." and continues later with "People they rush everywhere / Each with their own secret cares..." In between, the singer asks the Mersey Ferry to cross the river and bring him over it to the place he calls home.

It's a place where people everywhere seem to smile, don't care what his name is, and will never turn him away. It's a place he loves.

I think almost everyone needs a place like that. Some of us will indeed have to cross a river to find it. Some of us will have to remember to carry the ferryman's fee. But all of us have some sort of yearning for some sort of home.

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Thursday, February 03, 2011

Year Of The Golden Hare

No, I'm not having a blond moment. But I am certainly wondering if this will be my Year of the Silver Hair. Little arthritic bits, a flowering of the hoar upon the head, stiffness on waking, the onset of presbyopia. Not that I haven't wondered about it before, of course.

It feels like a good year waiting to happen. I wonder how long we have to wait.

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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Endings and Beginnings

This is the end of the year of the Golden Tiger, a year of financial and social upheaval, according to traditional beliefs. It also heralds the beginning of the year of the Golden Hare, a year of plenty, and of social comfort. Within months, the Citadel will see a new lord and the High King will no longer have to fill the lands with war and rumours of war. The former is certain, the latter is wishful thinking.

For me, personally, the year of the Golden Tiger brought nothing but sought-for upheavals. It has ended with me realising how stress I have been under and how much faith I have unknowingly been using. It has left me mulling over the strangeness (in a fundamental sense) of God, and yet how difficult it is to become truly estranged from Him. Once a son, always a son, as they say.

I have renewed old friendships in startling ways. Old wyverns still carry their stingers, and old venom is more powerful than young. The truth of the wyvern's venom is that it is not the evil of gossip and rumour, nor the scorpion's backbiting sting; rather, the wyvern's venom is an alchemical catalyst. It forces change: "Change or die!" is its motto.

But why is that the case? It is by change that the best is yet to be. As an older sage once put it, "Old things are passed away; behold, the new has come." All things that one wishes for can only come if present circumstances change.

Every Egypt will one day have a new Pharaoh; if the new one has forgotten Joseph, then Israel mourns. But it the new Pharaoh makes Egypt not the ancient tyranny of the past, then Egypt become something new, not-Egypt in a sense.

As a child of two calendars, I get to see the grace and glory of God twice in the special way that a calendar offers. A year ends, a year begins; in one year and out the other. But something always happens in between, and as I grow older, I have learnt that each year means opportunities offered to be wiser.

Thanks be to God.

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Tuesday, February 01, 2011


Mucus is what lines your mucous membranes, just as phosphorus is the element which makes compounds phosphorous. It is a simple rule — the -us ending is normally a noun; the -ous ending is normally an adjective. A person who uses the word 'humerous' is referring to something about, of, or related to the humerus.

That said, I was mulling over the colours of mucus. I am quite sure it would make a perfect artistic medium if it wasn't normally full of the plagues of humanity.

Clear, colourless mucus is the norm. I've seen yellowish mucus, which indicates contaminants, perhaps infection; brown mucus, the darker variant, almost certainly means infection. Green mucus, the greyish-green iron(II)-coloured variety, is pretty serious. Mucus with red streaks is often the product of coughing or sneezing too violently; if you have dark red clots in it, this is probably either life-threatening or indicative of some sort of nosebleed.

I've seen brown mucus from heavy coffee-drinkers which simply meant that they hadn't washed out their mouths after drinking. I've also seen wine-coloured sputum from other drinkers.

Why did I think of all this? Why am I writing about it? It's a long story.

I was actually thinking about my students' writing skills and how irked I was with their inability to spell phlegm or phosphorus correctly. Bad pH readings, I suppose.

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