Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Year

Consider it leapt.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Secondary Schooling

"And so it has come to this...", as the excellent webcomic xkcd notes, is a rather useful line. It happened to insert itself into my stream of consciousness as I contemplated Monday's changes at the Citadel of Wyverns on the imaginary White Cliffs.

I saw change coming about nine years ago, and the documentary evidence for that is (amazingly) still stored in places as diverse as the Cathedral of the Book. However, reactionary forces of the decadent establishment pushed back strongly. Many felt that change for the sake of change was being proposed. They were unable to see necessary change, even as it forced them to move along.

And here we stand. Will people still keep building sandcastles as the tide comes in? Some people are too young to be acting so old; some are too old to be acting so young. The staff room in the old days reminded me of a Fox TV series I like a lot: NCIS. You could get your team together and start moving quickly when there was work to do.

Now, it's all drama and intrigue and something more like Borgias and bourgeoisie than sense and sensibility. But there is light coming down from the shiny and upright dome that looms above the benighted hill. And so, we Wyverns keep the faith and wait.

I shall go look for Sir Wolff and the blade that Oldham gave his forefathers.

Labels: ,

Monday, February 27, 2012

First-World Parliaments

The oldest parliament (or place of parley) in the First World was held in the shadow of a huge black basaltic slab on the west face of the Thingvellir, the 'Valley of the Thing', in Iceland. Sources generally agree that this democratic assembly of all the local people, the Althing, started around AD 930 and has been in existence therefore for more than a thousand years. That span takes into account the periods of anarchy and times of war that disrupted the Althing and scattered the assembly. To this day, a thing is an object to be agreed upon.

But the longest continually-running democratic institution in the world is probably found a bit further south, on Britain's Isle of Man. There, the local assembly or Tynwald has been meeting regularly since AD 979, and this is its 1033rd year of existence.

These are true First World parliaments, the first ancestors of various assemblies that spread throughout the North Atlantic region, and eventually culminated in the Westminster Parliament at London, which some call the mother of all modern parliaments. The big difference is that at Westminster, those who meet represent a majority or plurality of their constituents, but sometimes not even half of those they claim to serve.

A First-World parliament thus became one at which the laws of the realm are fully and freely debated not by all those bound by such laws, the laws of the commonwealth of the people, but by their representatives. This is of course somewhat necessary as states get larger, but one also has to wonder about what has been transacted without the full, free knowledge of the people.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, February 26, 2012


I've been listening to Billy Joel at Shea Stadium in 2008, again. One thing that has struck me is how most of the people I know like his music, which mostly seems natural and unforced even when it's being odd or schlocky.

The counterstrike, so to speak, is noticing that some critics have an issue with this: his music seems inauthentic to them because it is so facile. It's not innovative enough, not edgy enough, not strange enough, not tortured enough. Yeah, what a criticism; it's only in the arts that someone can be -too- good at what they do.

So it's great stuff, and in the man's own words, "Don't take any s**t from anyone!"


Saturday, February 25, 2012


There are things that one wonders about all the time. Why is it that human minds, like resonators, transmit such grievous things? Whether ghosts (real or unreal or imaginary or actual or virtual) or ancient sadnesses, they continue to echo bizarrely across the history of the land. And death, while it may have no dominion or perhaps because of that, does not end the broadcast of the grave.

Labels: , ,

Friday, February 24, 2012


Sometimes the day passes in fragments, freed bits of one's time, fractured, frail. And some people thank God for this unravelling. I find myself struggling to be truly thankful for it, despite being aware that it could be so much worse.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Globalisation: In The Field

By now it should come as no surprise to anybody that my research area is within that widely-dispersed and contestable phenomenon (or, to the hardcore, 'presumed phenomenon') known as globalisation. It is indeed a fiercely contested phenomenon, because many heavyweights have attempted to define, counter-define, or redefine it; some have sought to rubbish it as just a convenient term to cover many other phenomena that just happen to interact across the globe.

But something from a recent paper by Susan Robertson resonated within me. And, as a former communications specialist, I realised how appropriate that metaphor was.

You see, globalisation is indeed a field. Like the many fields we encounter in physics, defining it is often based on empirical research concerning how it acts upon (or otherwise interacts with) other entities. In the case of a modulated radio-wave field, it induces a variable current in a conductor (or antenna), which we can convert to audible sound waves.

Similarly, globalisation is a field with many components. Some components can be measured by effects on entities (such as 'education sectors' or 'markets') and sub-entities thereof (such as 'schools' or 'businesses'). Some can be measured by less quantitative effects and other debateable phenomena such as human well-being and quality of life.

The lessons we learn from investigating the field of globalisation therefore depend very much on which instruments we use and what entities we observe interacting with that field. Since the primary observers, investigators and participants are all human, globalisation field theory is thus a human science, and can be treated as a multi-disciplinary area of expertise much as complexity theory.

But is globalisation a real phenomenon? Undoubtedly it is. It is real in the sense that it is not ideal, but actual; it is also real in the sense that discussing it as a phenomenon allows us to say it is one, since it is a human phenomenon. After all, we have no doubt that 'love' is a real phenomenon even though some people say it all boils down to oxytocin levels.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fluid Movement

As a body travels through a fluid, turbulence may cause undesirable rotation. Consider an aircraft moving through... air.

If rotation occurs around the long nose-to-tail axis, this is called 'roll'.

If rotation occurs around the wing-to-wing axis, this is called 'pitch'.

And if the plane for some odd reason begins to spin on its vertical axis, this is called 'yaw'.

Ships have similar problems too.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Writing a dissertation, and then having to make corrections to it which are mutually exclusive because you have multiple examiners, is loathsome activity. And the worst part is after you've done the corrections, you find yourself correcting the corrections while realising you're never going to please everyone.

Advice from supervisor: don't let the examiners re-read everything. Just write enough to keep them satisfied, point it out to them, and hope they won't notice it no longer coheres.



Monday, February 20, 2012

Early Teaching

You listen to what parents say to their very young children in the course of teaching them basic skills like how to use a spoon, a cup or a toilet. And sometimes you wonder if these parents ever learnt to use what certainly sounded like their first language (and to all intents and purposes, their children's mother tongue).

The three most obvious responses to the successful accomplishment of a task are: that it is a clever, a good, or a right thing that has been done.

But just imagine what the children are learning: that merely to accomplish a basic task that all young people should be able to carry out is an unusual success — that it is intellectually admirable, morally admirable, or ethically correct above all.

I think it's all right to do some positive reinforcement. 'Keep going', or 'yes, this is what you should do' is a suitable response. But the really good responses are all too often used so much that they lose power. In the end, these parents have to call normal acts 'good' and above-average acts 'excellent' just to keep the reward system going.

Daft, I say. At least compensate by heavily punishing the negative acts, or something. After all, inflation should work both ways.


Sunday, February 19, 2012


"I may make all thing well, I can make all thing well, I will make all thing well, and I shall make all thing well; and thou shalt see thyself that all manner of thing shall be well."

How are 'may', 'can', 'will' and 'shall' different? And does the omnipotence or free will of the person make a difference?


Saturday, February 18, 2012

All's Well

I was pondering some of the imponderables today, namely the mystical visions of Dame Julian of Norwich. In her Thirteenth Revelation, she says some of her most famous lines, in particular the one quoted as, "… all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

As usual, as in so many feel-good (feel-well?) sayings, some context has been elided. What she said was, "It behoved that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." That is, the world is a dark place, but it turns out well.

The good Dame, however, said many other things that make me (personally) feel better. One such comes in her Sixth Revelation, when she says, "The age of every man shall be acknowledged before him in Heaven, and every man shall be rewarded for his willing service and for his time." I would like to believe this is true, in my more self-pitying moments. Heh.

To get there however, one needs some knowledge of her Second Revelation, in which she says, "It is God’s will that we have three things in our seeking: — The first is that we seek earnestly and diligently, without sloth, and, as it may be through His grace, without unreasonable heaviness and vain sorrow. The second is, that we abide Him steadfastly for His love, without murmuring and striving against Him, to our life’s end: for it shall last but awhile. The third is that we trust in Him mightily of full assured faith."

But the mystery of belief is still there in the Thirteenth. I can't stop thinking about the subtleties of this line ascribed by the Dame to her Master: "I may make all thing well, I can make all thing well, I will make all thing well, and I shall make all thing well; and thou shalt see thyself that all manner of thing shall be well."

Maybe I'll post on this again.

Labels: , ,

Friday, February 17, 2012


I think the reason people get jowly in old age is that as one gets older and forgets to smile, gravity (the quality of being down) takes over. I must remind myself to keep smiling and doing work against the force of gravity.

Labels: ,

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Word of the Day: Reck

Words have long histories, some rather convoluted. Sometimes, a word's partner goes missing, and we wonder where it went.

That's the case with 'reckless'. What is 'reck', and why does having less of it (or the loss of it) make things difficult? 'Reck' comes from the Germanic, its old English form being something like reccan. It carries the idea of 'to take care of', 'to heed' or 'to have a thought for'. If you do none of these things, then you are said to be 'reckless'.

Obviously, if you are doing all these things, you are said to 'reckon' — giving due consideration to the topic at hand. Eventually, there will be a 'reckoning' — an accounting of all the pluses and minuses of the outcome of an incident, event, or other process.

'Reck' has traditionally gone with 'rede', the Germanic word for counsel or advice. A person who is 'ill-read' is actually one who is badly advised; a person who is 'unready' may be badly-advised, or lack wisdom, or reject good advice. The implicit or explicit relationship is one of recking one's rede; to be reckless of one's rede might lead to disaster.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Asleep Awakes

I fell asleep last night while thinking tiring thoughts.

Anglo-Saxons still carry the burden of their past, the unsettling lack of fit between empire-building and empire-burning. I looked across the darkling plain, as Matthew Arnold puts it, and saw ignorant armies clashing by night on the battlefield of the spirit.

How else to explain the contempt, revulsion, fear and disgust that comes out of the USA as it used to come out of Victorian England? There is a kind of socially-mandated or oddball respect for the ancient cultures of China, India, Persia and the rest of the cradle of civilisation — a cradle that runs from Asia's western border with the Mediterranean and Africa to its eastern border on the Pacific, rocking on its base in the Indian Ocean. But there is also a visceral horror at the purported barbarism and inhumanity of the evil Oriental who can be found throughout the region.

This is why the United States of America, while speaking peace and joy, still wants to keep bases in the Indian Ocean (where the US really doesn't belong), float navies in the South China Sea (which has been the Nanyang or Southern Ocean to China for centuries), and neutralise the Persian Iranian nuclear programme (despite the fact that Pakistan and India, just round the corner, already have nukes ready to go). They deny the overwhelming desire to obtain and keep a resource-rich empire, with very British precedent, while lusting after the kingdoms of the world.

Such an insecure power. When the crude but much-trumpeted beginning of that power came in 1776, my ancestors had left China and settled elsewhere already. My ancestors lost the use of their Chinese language before the USA was more than a dream. By the time the present 50-state confederation (with protectorates and assorted imperial fragments) was formed, English had become my mother tongue — but not American.

But America has a right to be an Eastern Pacific and Northern Atlantic power. Where it fails is its oil-driven hunger to be a Middle Eastern power (meddling through proxies) as well. This meddling in Asia is what did for Britain eventually, and may yet do for the Pax Americana. It ain't healthy, cowboy.

America the beautiful, God shed His grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea. But stay out of other people's seas, do.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

So Few

It was about halfway through Simon Winchester's Atlantic: A Vast Ocean of a Million Stories that I realised why there are millions of stories about the Atlantic but scant hundreds of stories about the Indian. Indeed, we can call the Atlantic Ocean 'the Atlantic', but to call the Indian Ocean 'the Indian' seems odd.

The Atlantic is of course the cradle of imaginary civilisations, all the more imposing and fearsome and aweful for their imaginary status. It is raw water running in huge amounts, the same water that flooded through the gates at Gibraltar and drowned the plain that became the Mediterranean. There are no safe margins by which a ship might sail across the Atlantic forever within sight of civilised land.

The Indian, on the other hand, is the cradle of a hefty chunk of real civilisations, from the east coast of Africa up to the fractured lands we call the Middle East and Mesopotamia, and along the coast of the Indian sub-continent, the central feature of that ocean, and down the Kra peninsula to Singapore and beyond. It ranges from Port Elizabeth in South Africa to Adelaide in South Australia.

The Indian is a benign ocean, relatively speaking. This is why trade across the Indian was the most important trade of all for many centuries. The Atlantic is relatively turbulent, and if not for the wholesale theft of the New World's riches to pay for the Old World's luxuries, was not an encouragement to global trade.

Winchester makes one mistake. He points out how European and American talent in the arts and letters were inspired by the Atlantic to develop complex Romanticism. But the question must be asked: What other ocean did the Romantic soul have to write, sing or play music about? In overstating the case, he did his marvelous oceanic subject a great disservice.

Labels: , ,

Monday, February 13, 2012

Odd Jux

Right now, I am sitting back with a warm feeling of contented amusement percolating in me. Such moments do not last, but the memory can remain.

This feeling is upon me because I am contemplating two lovely hardback volumes sitting on the shelf together. The one on the left is a Subterranean Press collected edition of Barry Hughart's The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox; the one on the right is John Whitbourn's The Complete Binscombe Tales.

The first is a compendium of alarming novels about a China that never was; the second is a compendium of alarming short stories about an England that could very well be. Both overturn their respective myths with a good shot of common sense and a better shot of humour. Yet both are wildly fantastic.

How else to explain the continued survival of the evil Duke of Chin and assorted awful throwbacks to a distant and possibly imaginary suppressed Chinese past? How else to explain the horrified realisation that the return of Arthur would spell the doom of modern England — the Anglo-Saxons of the day being of course his worst enemies? And so it goes.

But what these two books really have in common is that they cater to the yearning in all of us for pasts that never were but could have been. Humans can't help but wonder about such things.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Subconscious Bookery

Like most bibliophiles or just plain readers, I normally arrange books by genre and theme. Crime and mystery, SF, fantasy, politics, historical fiction, whatever. But sometimes, a subconscious aesthetic takes over. And on some occasions, this can be pretty complex.

For example, on my top reading shelf is part of my chess collection. Besides the literally voluminous row of John Watson's Mastering the Chess Openings series, I've placed a few other books from the same publisher and a Practical Endgame Play: Mastering the Basics by Efstratios Grivas. Next to Grivas, of course, is Glenn Flear's Practical Endgame Play: Beyond the Basics.

And beyond the beyond? I note that this is where my collection of guides to philosophy and my little collection of theological philosophy by Peter Kreeft. Indeed, my Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Kreeft and Tacelli sits right next to Flear's book.

It's interesting to see how those books got there. You would guess at several reasons. But you would possibly be wrong (indeed, since there are fewer real reasons than guesses, some of you would certainly be wrong).

Meanwhile, I marvel at my subconscious ingenuity.

Labels: ,

Saturday, February 11, 2012


There is an ending to the week that is the beginning of a weekend. There is an old power that is weight without majesty, age without wisdom. And yet, on its own, the weight of long existence exerts a dominating force that is almost violent.


Friday, February 10, 2012


No, this day is far from it, more humid, more impassioned than anything else; in the old days you would thank the Goddess for the day it is, for that is what Friday is all about.


Thursday, February 09, 2012


They grow, as other green does
You cannot tell buds from them
When both are young

They can be very long, sharp
As the words of leaving love
Or nails fresh hung

I remember grasping them
Gasping when the flowers failed

Labels: ,

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Weeding's Day

I stand on the mound where the golden cat sleeps in the golden sun. He culls the grassy verge, depopulating the sweet who die young and thus bear much fruit. He stretches, gives me the eye, a once-over from a higher power which has undergone kenosis.

Every morning, he does his weeding. I only do mine as appropriate. And what other day is there, but that which was dedicated to the Lord of Mounds, the Weeder of the Slain, he who hung on a tree for three days to learn the mystery of salvation?

Such an odd echo. But as someone else once put it, only the greatest rock makes the greatest ripples.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Atlantean Myth (Part V): The Kobold's Tale

The Kobold just passed on his gun-carriage way, old beyond his years, pleasant beyond his early nature, just another nonagenarian gone to seed and dust. So little of his story is known, and yet so much. His was a contrary nature, and a sharp-edged one.

He was there at the beginnings of the Third Age; it was he who held the Hammer of Might as the Thunderer was confirmed in place as the First Among Equals. And few noticed who sat in the chair, who deputised, who querulously grumbled about the cold and yet wielded colder powers. For the Kobold was master of iron and steel, as are most of his kind, and his ways were those of the dark arts and the academic life.

My revered ancestors worked with the Kobold. Like a lizard, he would sun himself cold-bloodedly on the metaphorical sundial or lawn and pronounce judgement on those he felt were lacking. In those early days, he was the main purger of the heretics, the heterodox, the insufficiently rigorous. Indeed, my near ancestor was nearly purged himself, save for the intervention of the Gnome.

The Kobold was steel to Golden Mountain's concrete, was iron to Black Diamond's diplomatic charm. His was not the art of compromise, although in later days he mellowed. He railed against the Thunderer's excesses, as all smiths will against the warlords who use their tools.

Like a Lear, he let drop the reins of power, and found no leverage to take them back. He had seen the Thunderer dissolve in tears, he had put courage into the heart of the Gnome. But all that was taken from him, and he descended into obscurity, scattered moments and a wheelchair.

I used to greet him, mornings or evenings. He had become gracious, relaxed as he contemplated the end of a story that had dragged on too long. Very few caught any glimpse of the dragon, the iron chancellor, who had wielded the sword and lash over the temples of the Book in the bad old days. I remember him both ways. But morning and evening pass, and thus the day is done.


Note: For other mythic discursions into this modern Atlantis, see here. Yes, some of you might have noticed, this was Toh's day.

Labels: , ,

Monday, February 06, 2012


The world, and all it contains, that verdant dial, that mound of earth.


Sunday, February 05, 2012


You may experience white space.

This place intentionally left blank.

Two days hide like two ravens. Thought. Memory

Labels: ,

Saturday, February 04, 2012


You may experiment with space.

This place left intentionally blank.

Well, if you think this is about what you think it is about, you should know that it's Some Other Technical Academy that I'm talking about. Or not talking about. Or even refusing to say anything about, just on principle.


Friday, February 03, 2012


I think she is shy not because she is afeard, but because there are too many things on her mind. She is swarmed by them, mellipotent, bellipotent, honeybees with stings that irritate not burn. She hesitates to conclude, because there is too much life in her mind, and hence no conclusion. She would rather let it out in light and movement, in air and crystal-clear water.

And therefore, we must put some straw into the clay, some iron into the cement. The marbled index of a mind forever foraging must be made into the streamlined codex of a mind ready to sit for exams. Sigh.

Labels: ,

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Word of the Day: Avuncular

The Romans, like the Chinese and most other imperial cultures, were very hot on the veneration of ancestors and the assigning of appropriate titles or terms to each relative.

And so, avunculus was the term used for one's maternal uncle, one's mother's brother. It was the diminutive of avus, a 'grand old man' on that side, normally one's maternal grandfather (one's mother's father).

I suppose that distinguished it from a carbuncle, which by similar formation meant 'a small glowing coal' and thus 'an inflamed red spot'. It was also used to describe garnets and rubies. And pimples. Hur hur.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, February 01, 2012


It is a warm winter we are having of it. Strangely, there are few things more pleasant than to sit in the City of Life, in the Building of Colour, eating the food of the free and drinking the drink of the strong, with good company.

Which is what I was doing today, and glad to have been doing.

Labels: ,