Thursday, March 31, 2011

Citadel Miniatures

She sits in her office as the work piles up. She never knew it would be this heavy a burden, to be the left hand of the Grand Inquisitor and then to be abandoned to do the work herself.

(There is a fitting end to ambitions.)

She sits in her office unaware of the burden she never knew. It is abandoned and piles up, to be handed to the next Grand Inquisitor who worked heavy-handedly and who has now left.

(There will be no more Grand Inquisitors.)

She sits in her office thinking to play the game while deluding herself that she is not. She has lied to herself so much that she cannot see it is all happening again, and again.

(There will always be such delusions.)

She sits in her office doing the work. She has nothing much else left but work. She is abandoned by the rest, but she will always have her work. She expected nothing more than that.

(There will always be someone like that.)

She sits in her office. She has a good job and she has kept it that way all along. Not for her the gulls and the subterfuge, although she could probably handle all that. Good job, eh?

(There will always be what will always be.)

Wolff, who was once Sir, walked into the Panoptikon. He said to the Russian, "Ah come on, boyo, stop taking up precious observation time. We all know where those are going. Look at something else more important, will you?"

Labels: ,

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Short odes. Life. What time?


Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Looking though the not-so-ancient archives...
The economic philosophy of Atlantis has always been to develop a global brand based on what the international community has determined to be benchmarks and other criteria of success.
Yes, it is success-by-rubrics. Instead of creating a brand, you find out what other people call success, aggregate it as far as your limited natural resources and native intelligence will allow, and call it a brand.


Monday, March 28, 2011


Doing a PhD is like passing a gallstone, then turning around to see whether you know it. Everyone else seems to assume you do, so you are forced to greet it. And it sticks to you after that.


Sunday, March 27, 2011


Doing a PhD is like passing a gallstone.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Questionnaire: Director's Cut

And it came to pass, in the time when there was no lord at the Citadel, that a survey went out from the Landmark of Atlantis. In that survey were as many questions as necessary dimensions of the snowflake, and also some questions that were never to be asked. Here is one version of that survey.

01. What is your own strongest memory of the Citadel?
The smells! The dust and old shoes, the scents of the wardens, the sulphurous stench of the temple guardbeasts, the jasmine and the frangipani at dawn.
02. What is your most treasured possession?
I remember possessing a class of young novices. They were delicious and later on went on to far better things in life.
03. If not yourself, who would you want to be?
Many mornings there were when I was not myself. On most of those mornings, I had no idea who I wanted to be, or indeed whether I was or not. But there were sharp twinges in the direction of the Last Alchemist and also of the Hound of God. I was very sad when the latter passed on recently.
04. What did you learn about life in the Citadel?
Never play cards with a dwarf named Doc. Never eat at a place of tombs. And never sleep where your mother can catch you and make your troubles worse than her own.
05. When and where were you happiest?
Mud, floods, and running away to the City to bum around at various plazas and points.
06. What is your idea of misery?
Being stingy and hoarding your wealth; misery does not love company, for all misers live alone.
07. What do you think the Citadel stands for?
He who stands for nothing will fall for everything; he who stands on ceremony will die in ceremony. Oh yes, this I learnt from the Hound, who reminded me that 'ceremony' is a religious term, and that 'cerements' are grave-wrappings.
08. What qualities do you most admire in others?
Refraction, reflection and absorption.
09. What do you appreciate the most in friends?
Convection, conduction and radiation.
10. How would you make the Citadel a better institution?
I had words with my friend Severian, and he rather humorlessly said that the point of the Citadel was to produce torturers, and anything that made the Citadel better would also make it worse for somebody else.
11. What natural talent do you have and what other talent would you like to have?
I have a talent for making lists; I am a lister by nature. If I had another talent, it would be one for alchemy or other art beyond the powers of my nature.
12. Where would you like to live?
Where lived that mind forever voyaging, whose marble index gained height from giants. And is there honey still for tea? There are many angles there, and yet it is the East, and Juliet (one supposes) is the sun.
13. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
An achievement is a full armorial bearing, and so... party per pale Azure and Or, the Citadel's secret name in blood; in chief Azure a beast of splendour Or armed Gules and wreathed in flames. The shield has no crest, nor supporters, for it needs neither, and its motto is one that never ends.
14. What will the Citadel be like two centuries after the Dauntless?
The tumult and the shouting dies—
  The captains and the kings depart—
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
  An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget, lest we forget!

Far-call'd our navies melt away—
  On dune and headland sinks the fire—
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
  Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget, lest we forget!
15. What is your favourite way of occupying yourself?
No two bodies can occupy the same space at the same time, hence I am always occupying myself.
16. How do you wish to die?
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
17. What is your personal motto, and why?
In fide fiducia. It is a device of rare miracle.

Labels: ,


Short episodes. Life. What a time.


Friday, March 25, 2011

No Need to Count Sheep

I sleep easily. Sometimes, too easily. I use coffee to maintain the fragile equilibrium between the living and the dead. To keep awake, I remind myself, is not to keep a wake.

I can survive on four good hours of sleep. I feel awkward and fatigued if I sleep more than six. Somewhere in between is the golden mean of pillowed fruitfulness.

Sometimes I stay awake, only to realise that I am asleep. Sometimes I wake up, only to find that I have been doing work, and that a complete stranger has written a thousand words.

This post was written while asleep. A sleep.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Peak Performance

And that is one satisfied Old Man of the Mountain. I believe I will be invited back to train more of his hashashin brood. A good day, even though it was along that old and dangerous road.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Blur Ocean Strategy

Oho, saith the Recording Angel. I spy with my littlest eye the spectacle of a former Grand Inquisitor setting up shop once more. And he calleth unto him some of the Djinni who wert once enthralled to him.

Why doth he this? It is to make blurred the prints of his feet on the beaches of time. And hence, saith the Recording Angel, I shall name this the 'Blur Ocean Strategy'.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011


The Old Man of the Mountains has hired me to give a talk to his cadre of elite assassins. I think I am honoured. I will certainly scrutinize the refreshments before attempting them, but I have no illusions — these are professionals, after all.


Monday, March 21, 2011

The Transnational Capitalist Class

For some years now, this term has been used to describe the wealthy, those of status, and those who create and maintain such wealth and status, who also have high mobility. In the modern global era, these are the equivalent of the robber barons and colonial overlords of the previous era.

Nevertheless, the powers of that older era obviously took steps after the Second World War to ensure a place for themselves, but more especially, their descendants. Hence by the late 1960s, the rise of international schools to cater to diplomats and businessmen from the First World. This move thus ensured a continuing hegemony: Third World countries set up such schools or assist the founding of such schools so that they can continue to attract First World investment and patronage.

Atlantis was never immune to such blandishment, and it is in this era even less so. Which explains why you now have schools in Atlantis that offer 'international education for local students'. Ahem.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, March 20, 2011

History of Religion

Today I was watching a young person sidetrack a discussion on religion by pointing out the uses to which it could be put (enthusing an army, controlling the people, directing the social order etc). It was amusing in its own way.

But the main thing about religions is that they are the formal structures set up once the fluid narrative of life has begun to set. Just as young trees develop woody structures and young animals develop hard bones, so too does the protoplasm of human experience develop as attempts at some sort of rigour are made.

For a book to be the word of a god, symbolic representation of words must be invented. Writing and the reading of what is written must be developed. The oral tradition must become ossified, fixed as canon. And so on.

Much of this has nothing to do with the uses to which religion might subsequently be put. In fact, one might argue that you need a long lead time, historically speaking, before any religion can be used on the scale of armies, city-states and social movements.

That's not to say, on the other hand, that such uses never existed. The historical evidence tells us that such use has been plentiful and pervasive.

Religion can be self-policing, but about 80% of it is policed badly and leads to effects other than intended. I estimate this is true because of the amount of time spent in religious texts admonishing the faithful against such practices; obviously, these must have been a problem even then, right at the point of codification!

The problem is that deep probing shows that all human thinking tends to act this way, and even more so if it is democratic or scientific. That's because adherents of such otherwise rational philosophies can hide behind two potent defences: the defence of the majority and the defence of the reasonable.

After all, everyone knows that what the majority agrees to must be good, right? Hoho... modern religiosity.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Popper does a Weasel

For me as a science major (note the careful choice of phrase), Karl Raimund Popper (1902-1994) was exhilarating to read and frustrating to understand. The problem was that he had such good, strong, powerful ideas that it was hard to see where they failed.

He was the fellow who brought us the 'non-falsifiable statements are non-science' meme, thus inflicting decades of misery on both philosophers and scientists. For the former, the task of refutation was an itch that begged to be scratched, for the latter, head-scratching of the existentialist type was the problem.

He extended his philosophy to utterly refute Marxist theory, but in the end had to concede that whether scientific or not, humans did indeed often behave in certain ways. He was rather sore about the 'soft' or 'human' sciences, thinking of them either as proto-sciences — rather patronisingly, in the sense that if they worked hard they would grow up to be proper sciences (or 'Popper' sciences, I suppose) — or pseudo-sciences.

The main problem with Popper, of course, is that a true law of nature is impossible to falsify. Laws that you can falsify are laws to which you can imagine an exception. Some things cannot be imagined to have exceptions, and hence cannot be falsified. We would call those axioms, and if they could be modified to have exceptions, then we wouldn't know if the exception-making or the axiom-construction was the culprit.

And so, at the end of his days, Popper goes a-weasel. I must admit that he had us all going for a while though.

Labels: , ,

Friday, March 18, 2011

Due Diligence

Fact-finding is a very tough job, as is fact-checking. Facts have to be solid, solidly grounded and/or solidly sourced, in order to support the scaffolding of belief and hypothesis that humans use daily.

The problem is that there are people who are factitious: they are manufacturers of factoids and factualish substance who are actually supporting counterfactual and antifactual factions. In effect, they create fake scaffoldings and promote false beliefs.

If only such people could be as diligent as the facts deserve! The problem with the lack of diligence is that it creates the need for even more work in establishing the truth, much as demolition of an existing eyesore is needed in order to build a worthy architectural addition on the same site.

Over at the Citadel, many such eyesores accrete, built on rumour and gossip. Nobody bothers to check the facts or establish them in any way apart from hearsay. It is enough if one of the chief narrative-spinners says it is so.

I too am the beneficiary of such intelligence. But in my case, I have taken pains to ask, and ask, and ask again — the Law of Three, referred to in the social sciences as the 'process of triangulation', is the minimum due diligence in such matters. And what various sources tell me gets labelled appropriately: hearsay, circumstantial evidence, physical evidence, numerical data, statistical argument, and so on.

It is the least I can do. But for some people, it seems like more than they can handle.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Some person or persons unknown decided to spend a significant amount of time on this humble non-blog yesterday. I am certainly grateful to have such avid readers.

Yet I am mindful of my responsibilities. I do try to write as well as I can, but the quality may very a lot from day to day. Some days, I'm less coherent or witty or stylish or helpful than on other days. Some days, I'm frankly not very (or any) good at all.

This is not a very focussed place. The point was never to target a segment of population or to drive the readership up by spamming keywords. It's just a repository for stuff, a non-blog, a dump, so to speak. Some of it is like toxic waste — I have had to get things off my mind, and this is where those things have ended up.

So, for those of you with the patience to bear with all that: thank you very much. May you be inspired or at least entertained!

Labels: ,

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dartington and the Gnome

When one trawls the archives, one learns the most amazing things. This is a tale of Lord Dartington before he became a Laboured Peer, and how he met a Gnome to surprising effect.

It seems that one Young, an inquirer into the lives of those in Londinium's sunrise quarter (what we would have called a muckraker, but now call a sociologist), dug deep into the past and decided (a la Marx) that the sad and sorry state of these lives was based on the fact that they were tagged as people of insufficient merit. Essentially, the apparatus that defines merit, and the delivery of labels of merit, had bypassed them to their everlasting disadvantage.

Young went to the Economic School of Londinium (as did the Gnome); his doctoral exercise was about these lives and was duly traded in for the doctor's cloak in 1955. The Gnome, as you may recall, received his a year later, in 1956, for his work on guessing how much income a nation might have.

Three years later, in 1958, Young, still not Baron Dartington, published a powerful satire called The Rise of the Meritocracy, in which he predicted that birds giving themselves more exotic plumage would feather their nest at the expense of birds who did not know how to capitalise on their own plumage. In 1959, the Gnome started a country on the road to meritocracy. He seems to have convinced the Thunderer of the merits of meritocracy.

And so, Atlantis was founded on the misconception of a satire. Or so it seems. Myths are hard to work out, sometimes.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Thirty million words into three hundred thousand into eighty thousand. It is a reverse pyramid of words, and oh, how much pain can the brain endure?


Monday, March 14, 2011

The Methodology of Frustration

This is not quite as catchy as The Tactics of Mistake. Yet, it is one of those things that is equally true in terms of what defines my approach to life.

I've come to realise that when I deal with an audience, a class, or a discussant, I tend to use an indirect-fire approach. It is like slinging rocks up and over using a trebuchet. The sheer mass and volume of the load ensures that fundamental restructuring occurs on the other side, but you might not be able to see the effects till later.

That however, tends to lead easily to frustration in this modern age of education. One of my peers once commented that I had managed to teach an entire Chemistry lesson using nothing but Socratic reasoning. However, he cautioned, such an approach takes up too much time, and it might be necessary to do it more directly. Some students might get frustrated.

Personally I think that some people ought to be, and would benefit by being, frustrated. These are the ones whose unchecked growth would probably lead to disaster. Sometimes, however, a period of slower growth is important for consolidation. Things like forcing students to derive from basic principles can actually allow them to work out the commonalities underlying a broader range of truths.

Notwithstanding all that, I do of course have other weapons besides this 'methodology of frustration'. I have been known to deploy a ballista instead of a trebuchet. I sometimes have to lay siege to the citadel of the guarded mind, and in such situations, siege projectors of all kinds can be of great value.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Four Convenient Myths of Education

There are four main myths of modern education:
  1. That all students of the same age should be in the same school level or class.
  2. That school should be timetabled.
  3. That students should have streams, tracks, or fixed subject combinations.
  4. That teachers should specialise.
The first three of these are issues of administrative convenience, based on various ideas such as Piaget's now somewhat discredited concept of stages of learning, Bentham's Panoptikon for prisoner surveillance, and other systems designed with the assumption that all humans behave similarly or ought to do so. The fourth also assumes that this is so of teachers, that teaching ability is something that can be trained as a specialisation, and if so, it works only if the training is keyed to a particular subject or group of subjects.

It is this last one which irritates me the most; the first three can be passed off, explained away, or excused partly on the basis of administrative concerns (more about which, later). However, if a person can learn many subjects from different teachers, why can't a person teach many subjects to different learners?

I think that only the absence of hard work, cognitive effectiveness, and communications skill might be obstacles to the ability to teach any subject well. This absence, however, should not be the case in anyone who has graduated from the system of education in which he or she is deployed to teach. After all, hard work, thinking and communicating are three basic traits all systems should imbue the student with in ANY system.

The main reason, going back to the other three myths, is that of administrative departmentalism. Administrators are happy to divide people into neat groups, in what is called a Fordist arrangement. This form of specialisation is economically tidy. It is also efficient but not effective, because it ring-fences knowledge in a world that requires transdisciplinary prowess.

And that brings me back to the idea of putting administrators in charge of systems. About two millennia ago, Paul of Tarsus, in a letter to the church at Corinth, spoke at length about spiritual gifts and the building-up ('edification') of the Church as a whole (you'll find this in chapters 12-14 of the First Letter to the Corinthians). He went so far as to rank the gifts of the Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 12:28).

In that ranking, he placed the gift of apostleship first; that is, the ability to establish and provide strong foundations for an organisation. Prophecy was second; that is, the ability to look forward and provide direction for an organisation. Teaching was third; that is, the ability to provide education and disseminate knowledge relevant to the organisation and its goals. These were the three major, numbered gifts.

He then listed as subsidiary gifts the following: wonder-working, healing, helping, administration, speaking in tongues — in that order. Indeed, he spent all of chapter 14 of that letter pointing out that the gift of speaking in tongues is of the least importance, especially if no interpreter is present or no interpretation is provided.

This is a key to breaking up the myths of education. Good education is provided by establishing firm cognitive foundations, mapping a way forward, and teaching each person to find their way through the map based on the principles earlier established. Mass education, like Fordist mass production and mass food provision, has corrupted good taste. Or as Paul pointed out in chapter 15, "Bad company corrupts good character."

In the case of an impoverished state in which paucity of resources forces standardisation or 'optimal' resource allocation, perhaps the first three myths have to be supported. But whomever aspires to be a teacher, that person should take a good hard look at the idea of specialisation and realise that teachers can, and should be able to, teach anything.

All it takes is sufficient preparation, time, and effort. And of course, if you're that teacher, bear in mind that no matter what language you think you're speaking, it's a good thing if your students understand what you're saying.

Labels: , , , , ,

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Still not a Blog

Still. Distill. Not a blog, no no. I remember the days when I was told blogs were evil. The very next year, the local Priesthood of the Book declared an inter-school blogging competition. So, not evil.

But this is still not a blog, no no. This is a sequential scrapbook. Of random thoughts. Of mice and beets, of cheese and dates; of history, myth, and potato chips; of distant encounters and disasters. Not a blog at all.

The last time I said so, I also said that there would be nothing here by January. Then people scolded me, as if I had said a small island should be sunk into the sea. So I left it floating here. But not, so not, so not a blog.

In other news, the mills of God continue to grind. The time of the Pharaoh's officers draws to an end, as Exodus 15 says.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, March 11, 2011

Those Who Do Not Know Their History

Today I opened the 7 March 2011 issue of TIME. On page 2, I encountered a letter which I shall reproduce below:

I always admire Klein's well-written and factual articles. However, I very much disagree with his statement that "strong armies create security, a necessary precursor for democracy." First, Egypt must solve its problems with strong government and decisive leadership, not an army. Second, this is a perfect opportunity for the U.S. to demonstrate its goodwill via the Peace Corps. Now is the opportunity to seize the moment to promote peace, which we failed to do in the 1970s. It is not too late.

Michael Sandomeno,
Lucerne, Switzerland
It provoked an undignified HMPH from me as my eyes scanned the last lines. Lucerne, Switzerland, really?

Here's some history most people forget. The Old Swiss Confederacy, founded 1291, was unbeaten in battle till 1515 at Marignano. They had the largest standing army in Europe, the most desired mercenaries, and the most lethal kill-rate. These soldiers were the best close-combat infantry in the world for centuries. The Swiss have been exporting mercenaries (including technocratic and economic ones) for 720 years now.

How do you think they became democratic? They did it by fighting a huge civil war, beating up the neighbouring states, and expanding unchecked (and uncheckable) for 224 years (see previous paragraph).

As for Lucerne, among the many nice things it is known for, it is known for a particularly horrendous weapon, the Lucerne hammer. This thing was designed to smash armour using a hammerhead which looks like modern lobster-cracking gear, a long spike, and a short beak—all mounted on a 2-metre pole.

The Swiss, in short, were not a peaceable bunch of yodellers stuck on ski resorts high up in central Europe. They were a dominant bunch who were well able to enforce their own idea of democratic neutrality by beating up anybody else who came their way. Only the mass proliferation of firearms stopped them in the end.

So, Mr Sandomeno, please spare us the Swiss cowbells. The Swiss have no business telling people that you can have democracy without bloody battles and large armies. And, of course, neither can the Americans (who to this day, like the Swiss use their history as an excuse to arm the populace).

Labels: ,


Trapped in the anaconda coils. Long sentences are serpents, short sentences are wolves. The latter hunt in packs. My thesis is like a lump of jade buried in a ruined temple, itself embedded in a jungle, a forest, a continent of information and seething research.

The best advice I ever got was: just write and worry about editing later.

The worst advice I ever got was: just write and worry about structure later.

There is no justice in writing. There just is writing. Lots of it, in this world of 2011 AD.

I have a student who doesn't bother spelling. He just types an approximation and clicks to invoke the spell-checker. Then he picks the right spell (write spell?) from the drop-down menu that appears. Prefab spells.

There is no more place for the sorcerer of words, the magician of phrases, except in bookshops at more than $15 a pop. But I need the alchemy of the old, the formality that gives form, the illumination of the dream.

Trapped in the anaconda coils, I ponder my next move even as my ribs groan from the pressure.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cutting, Polishing

All around, I hear the sounds of cutting and polishing. A diamond-edged (or at least carborundum-edged) blade is cutting through concrete, maybe steel. It is far away, but shrill and loud. You can almost smell the metal, the grease, the static and the diesel generator. There is dusty death in the air.

In front of me is a mass of material. I think there must be 300,000 words of it. It has to be cut down to somewhere around 80,000. Woe is me.

Cut boldly. Polish finely.

Easy to say. I am going mad.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Under Heaven

Under Heaven is quite possibly Guy Gavriel Kay's finest book. I will say nothing more about it here except to say that it is all about independence in a society where the social fabric is very tightly woven, and some very difficult choices indeed...

...which is what I am musing about right now, as I look back on the departure alluded to in my last few posts. Because the man whose mortal remains rose up in the afternoon haze yesterday had a lot to say about that theme, in his wittily oblique but trenchantly direct Oxonian way.

He was a very independent man. But his independence ganged up completely along with certain values which would also have been society's values, and went completely against other values which society might have made acceptable but were unacceptable to him. He always made it clear that defiance itself was not a virtue, but depended on the thing defied. He once spoke about having kindness with teeth.

The thing is that he was also willing to acknowledge dependency is certain matters as an independent choice. He chose to adhere to certain norms. He chose his own master. And in all his choices, he remained faithful and steadfast. In that way, he sometimes let his choices rule him, so to speak.

His mind and memory did not fail, right to the end. His body failed him, as he knew it would. For him, character and choices, service and spirituality, these things in their most robust formulation were what he wanted in himself first and then in others. And now, as he would have said, I'll stop going on and on and just get on with my work. Heh.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

After the Wake

Last night I was at the most cheerful wake I've ever been at, especially considering that it was not an Irish wake or somesuch. It was one at which otherwise distinguished members of society told poignant jokes about the very dear departed, including his habit of pronouncing certain things 'no bloody good' and his love of photography, audio systems and cars with 'oomph'.

This dauntless hero and giant educational leader of our times will be subjected to funeral rites today, beginning with a church service this afternoon. The school anthem will be sung. But I do not expect the grieving to be entirely funereal. I expect them to be subversive with bright joy and the full appreciation of a life well lived, a life which took no prisoners but set captives free.

In parting, for a time, I remember perhaps three main lessons that he taught me about teaching. He repeated these phrases, I suspect, to many people during the span of his long life. As a life-long teacher himself, he had these things to say to those of us who later became teachers in his footsteps: "You're a graduate, get on with it man!" "If you teach, you have to make sure they learn something." "Nobody is hopeless, you have to help them do their best."

He lived that life. He did it all, and never counted the cost (or at least, not in public). He was an exemplary professional, and because the world is poorer for his parting, we who have learnt from him must strive to work better and make the world that much richer in compensation.

And as the foundation stones at each House of the Wyvern say: "To the Glory of God, and for the Youth of the Land."

Labels: ,

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Old Man of the Mountain

Every morning, he walked out onto the balcony. We thought of him as one of those battle-scarred hounds, perhaps of the kind used to bait bulls. He had no patience for bulls, even in the singular.

He would nod to the head of his prefects. And the whole Citadel would be silent in the morning sun.

We saw him afar off and uncomfortably near. But as a man on his own, body stretched out but mind sharp and clear as a glass dagger, he was both our lord and a father to us. Words came from him in a drawl that was somehow tightly executed.

He made us better. It was his duty, and he did not shirk duty. There was no encounter you could have with him, in which you did not learn something more. Whether that thing was of this world, of others, of society or of yourself, it would be something useful—and that, even if you did not know it at the time.

When I became a teacher, he said, "Well done." It was his way to stress the final word, to give a short bright smile of approval, sometimes guffaw when particularly cheered or pleased. He had taught my parents, and it was not small honour they felt that he believed they were of worth. I too felt that way.

In later years, with my own scars, I went to visit him in his rooms deep in the hill. He looked at me, said, "Do your best. Do what good you can. There are always those... who will blow their own trumpets. But we... do not have to care so much."

We spoke for more than an hour. He spoke to me of difficult times ahead, of changing times, of holding sure and steadfast even while moving with the times. At the end, he asked me to convey his regards to my parents.

I never got the chance to have another long chat with him, although I saw him a few times more. Since his time, there has been no lord at the Citadel, or any other House of the Wyvern, that has been as brave and strong in the Spirit and in the faith of God.

I do not think I mourn, although that is what I did when I first heard of his passing. He would have said, "That is... growing up. We make do. We muddle on, but we do our best. We fight... the good fight."

His cadences were always tempered and carefully chosen. He would stretch out his lines, hurry them up, add force, subtract cruelty. He was fond of the dramatic pause, but sometimes it was because he sought the exact word, the right word, the truthful word.

And if ever a true lord were to return to the Citadel, I would wish it to be a man like him. A hound of God. Domini canus. To all such men who have made their mark in this grand endeavour:

Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

He would have remembered his old university motto and grinned.


Sunday, March 06, 2011


This blog observes silence at the passing of one whose distinctive voice and distinguished service gave many of us freedom to also have distinctive voices and voices of distinction.


Saturday, March 05, 2011

Great Sadness

Of all the lords who served the Highest at the Citadel, none I knew were as keen-eyed or sharp-witted, exemplary in conduct or brave in adventure, as he who has just left us. He was the constant steel in our recent decades, the voice of counsel and humility. He was our Archivist at the end. I have not felt such loss in recent years since my grandparents passed over.


Wolff stands in the darkling day. The banners flutter at half-staff. The knight kneels, the cruciform hilt of his sword outlined against the fall of night. There is silence. All of us mourn the passing of legend. But as he himself would have said, The Best is Yet to Be.



My mind covers many time zones. It is not distracted, but dispersed. It sees night and day, both and severally. I watch my mind, and my watch minds me. I do not mind, and neither does she.

The gears grind on, as the delicate machine of men and minds restructures the Citadel. We are inexorable tools of the Highest. We chip away at the accumulated calcifications. We polish away the crude adornments of the last faddish minutes of the previous insanity. Slowly, slowly, canter the horses of the knights. Faustus has left the house.

It is 4 am. The coffee hasn't woken up yet. I have to wake it up. I have become a post-caffeinate organism.

It is 8 am. Time to go into the market and trade some ideas.

It is noon, neither am nor pm.

It is 4 pm. There is honey still for tea. But not for long, and not for me.

It is 8 pm. Is it supper, or dinner, or neither?

It is midnight, and here we are again, between night and day.

Labels: ,

Friday, March 04, 2011


"You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike," is a key phrase in the history of computer games. Unfortunately, some days as I edit my dissertation, I feel that way. Last night, one of my best friends pointed this out at length.

A person who does research constructs a maze and shows people how to navigate it. Such a person can be called a 'mazer', and what he does, logically, is amazing. That is not just a bad joke; historically, the idea of being mazed = being deluded, confused, or bewildered preceded the idea of a physical construct that does such things by about a century.

For that is what 'amazing' means: to amaze someone is to baffle and astound, to confuse or delude. If my dissertation is doing that to people, it's time for me to find the way out as quickly as possible!

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Altruism and Endeavour

I used to be a public servant. At that time, I calculated that I earned something like $1 per client per hour. Fortunately, clients came in groups of 30 or so. Even so, I received what I thought was a useful wage but one far from a professional one.

Time passed. I became a private operative. In terms of professional development, I got better (which you can interpret how you will).

I can now bill more than a hundred times the per client per hour rate. I have fewer clients but even so, I still am earning a few hundred percent more than I used to, on an hourly basis. And I can make use of my time more effectively in terms of my other life-goals and work-in-life balance.

But what to do when the public sector wants me to help out? For lawyers, there is often a pro bono element of public service; surprisingly, doctors have this too. But my own murky profession is one which every adult human being seems to think they can do — some think of it as a general human function that needs no specialist training. They are aghast when I present my bill, and they point out that some members of other professions don't charge so much.

I was heartened to see a healthy debate in the local press recently, concerning a surgeon who purportedly or allegedly charged way above the going rate for a wide range of highly specialised services. From my somewhat cloistered experience, I cannot imagine charging anyone so much, or that such charges can be justified. Of course, I could be wrong.

Over the last few years, I have come to realise that I too provide highly specialised services. Actually, I estimate that there must be about not more than 20 people in this state who can provide such services; not all of them are available or as easy to find. In fact, I suspect that the number is considerably smaller in practice.

As the Good Book says, "The workman is worthy of his hire," and, "Do not muzzle the ox when he is treading out the grain." I have therefore come to a position that includes an element of means testing: if my clients can pay without ceasing, I will accept that situation and charge a rate which is of benefit to me as well as to them, but is not artificially depressed; if my clients cannot afford this kind of standard rate, I will be altruistic and try to accommodate their situation by artificially depressing my costs and resulting fees as far as I can.

A truly grand endeavour is based on hard work and intense effort without token of reward apart from the pleasure of a job well done. However, a living must still be made, because it creates a sense of contract and collaboration in the professional community. This is why communities have traditionally always 'settled a living' upon the religious in their midst.

And that is why, absent a similar modern sensibility, I have to carve my pound of flesh (and blood) from the body politic. I don't do public service pro bono because (unlike many lawyers) I can't afford to upgrade my professional knowhow and maintain my current comfortable-but-not-luxurious lifestyle if I were to do that. But I do make a concession for those who labour in similar fields, because that too breeds amity and mutual respect.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, March 02, 2011


Last night was an interesting experience. As someone once said to me, "Wait till you see the whites of their teeth." I must have collected at least a couple of hundred pieces of data for the big map. Looking at who was at the top table and who wasn't, I had to suppress a knowing grin or two. Maybe three.

Time spent, time passed, all the lovely ladies and the grand gentlemen are gone. And yet we are who they were, my generation is all fathers and mothers now. Friendships remain, though some are indeed staled by custom or stolen by procrastination and Procrustes.

These random musings are like the things that swim to the top when you stir a bouillabaisse. Except perhaps with more tentacles. I do not think the mermaids will sing to me.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

St David's Day (2011)

Today is the 125th time that St David's Day has marked the years of the Dauntless Hero. Like Christopher Wren, it can be said that should you want a monument to mark his time on earth, just look around you. For unlike the stark superior edifice that is the Gryphon Hold, the work of the Hero is manifest in the many Wyvern Citadels that dot the landscape.

For a century and a quarter, the work has been that of men who felt the call of God. They sacrificed health and home to bring to others what they felt was good. They did not seek to gain glory, nor to make a gaudy spectacle of themselves. You can imagine then quoting from the first epistle to the Corinthians:

According to the grace of God which is given to me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation, and now another builds upon it. But let every man take heed how he builds upon it.

For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.

If any man's work abide which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet only as one escaping through the flames.

Last night I read in words of iron about the sadness of the present day. The Wyvern leaders of the past sought to deny no man an education, but to let all come who would, and to teach all regardless of standing or faith. Yet now, opportunities are denied in the name of 'excellence' and 'awards' and the false silver and gold of this age.

David of Glyn Rhosyn, however, had words to relieve this melancholy. I quote again, as many times before:

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

If we can live up to the lives of those fathers who did the good work and did not count the cost, who worked without fame or large reward, who did not count status and power among the masters to be served, then we can tread that path as well. And on this 125th anniversary of the Wyvern Citadel, I wish all my brothers and sisters the best that is yet to be.


[ Other St David's Day posts ]

Labels: ,