Saturday, March 31, 2012


The luxury of rest has always been a divine mandate. So, for me, every Saturday afternoon begins 24 hours or more of surcease from labour. I will not work, and if I do, appropriate compensation is made.

I have been offered much to break my Saturday rest, but I still decline to do so. One must respect one's own beliefs, at the very least.


Friday, March 30, 2012

Work Is What It Is

I love work, but not as others do. I am not enamoured or enthralled, but I am occasionally excited by the prospect of doing things with my hands, my mind.

And for some reason, people know when I have too much time on my hands (or will soon have much of this valued commodity which one really can't have too much of) and offer more work to me. I am greatly appreciative.

I'm not a lazy person, but I do believe in slacking. Else the fabric warps.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Small Pleasures

So there we were, three companions in a little restaurant where once there were pig farms. The restaurant specialised in duck, but we had prawns and mushrooms. It was comfortable. And the best part was that I had only a handful of tiny burdens left to disperse across the wide ocean of all the stars.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012


The 250 pages grew to nigh on 300. The valiant three hundred should ensure I hold the pass. At least until the long-delayed oral examination, and hopefully beyond. I am so very tired. But my room is tidy now, and soon, it will be much emptier with the ghost of globalisation off to haunt someone else.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012


A few years ago when The Niece (I only had one at that time) was musing on the subject of fruit, she said, "If there are long uns, there should be short uns as well."

Well, some of my last few days seem to have merged into one long day, or as one person described it, periods of boredom punctuated by moments of intense horror. Tuesday has been the day I thought I had everything under control. At times, I thought perhaps it controlled me.

I am longin' for surcease. And a short'nin' of days, too.


Monday, March 26, 2012

The Body Corporate

Atlantis is an island nation which for most of its existence relied on exclusive corporatism to conduct its affairs. A group of magnates, elected from a pool of the meritocratic or other-cratic elite, ran the island as a Platonic republic.

In recent years, this has become different; perhaps in the last quarter-century, things have changed to a more inclusive corporatism. The more cynical would say that this is just exclusive corporatism with a strong co-opting policy. I'm not so sure. Even mighty Atlantis would sink beneath the waves if not for the magical talent keeping the ocean at bay.

What I think is true is that the other forces, the para-elites who claim that the corporate governance excludes them, are part of the tension that keeps the island nation viable. By doing the things the magnates can't do in public, by being magnates without being government, they help weave the axons of Atlantis into the neural network of the world.

Yes, it is essential for survival. No, it need not be done this way. Yes, it will always be unfair to somebody. No, you can't always have fairness or agree on what justice is.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Empathy Tango

In the 19 Mar 2012 issue of Newsweek, Jay Michaelson writes, "One of the core assumptions of [various kinds of] civil rights activism is that all of us, no matter how enlightened we are, have prejudice within us."

Exactly. This is an assumption which is biologically supportable. We've found so far that the natural state of human perception is to be wary of what is dark, old, unfit, deviant from the norm, and otherwise unnatural. Yes, there is a 'natural', and it can be defined in terms of how the human brain sees things.

There is too much data to prove otherwise. Humans drop into the 'uncanny valley' easily, feeling subconsciously uneasy when exposed to lifelike simulations that are too lifelike while remaining identifiably non-human. Humans can mask or attempt to control their responses and reasoning, but their visceral cognition can only be conditioned, not controlled.

Which leaves us in a bad place. Activists of all kinds point out we are all prejudiced and lack sufficient empathy to overcome this. We protest that we are sympathetic, that we are reasonable, but fall short of redemption. There is no redemption in the human world of uncomfortable biological and neuropsychological truths.

The tango occasionally brings us closer, but keeps us at arm's length while touching. If empathy is never sufficient, what hell has activism forced us to remain in? Hell, as a wise man once said, is other people. And as Marlowe pointed out, "We are in Hell, nor are we out of it; for where Hell is, there we must ever be."

Which is why the logical conclusion is that if salvation is to be found, it lies outside the brawling mass of humanity.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Education as a Driving Force

The van drifted in and out of its lane, and then swung into mine — half-way. Straddling the line like a drunk determined to prove sobriety, a moving and dangerous obstacle. So I flashed my lights and overtook him.

I encounter lots of situations like this one. But I always remember I'm a teacher. You can't educate by just accepting whatever other people do. Sometimes, you gotta teach. After all, you need lessons to neutralise morons.

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Curious Yellow

"... the deletion of memory is Curious Yellow's deadliest weapon."

And so began the odd little story that played off the sideline action in the big story. The subtext here was not about verging-on-porn new wave Swedish docudrama, but about the cognitive dictatorships mentioned by Charles Stross.

I attempted to look back into the history of the last twenty years, but was opposed by such constructs. Fortunately, I was armed with Strossian knowledge, and was prepared for a Curious Yellow kind of attack.

In the stand-off that ensued, I had the data and the memory, the documents and the network. The old-style dictator was balked and frustrated, and the first act came to an end.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012


What could not be seen is now made plain, what was hidden is now uncovered; thus endeth the lesson. Or so I felt, on the day that the report was finally signed, sealed and delivered. We had been through the rear end of history again, and come out victorious.

The repercussions continue, but the healing has begun. The king is dead, long live the more principled man.

A year has passed. The process moves on; it is slow, but exceedingly fine.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Difficult Circumstances

It's expected, of course, that if you do research in contentious areas (healthcare, education etc) that you will need some social and political awareness. The problem with this is avoiding ideological bias when the findings are ambiguous (and certainly, when they're not). Increasing awareness often increases the sensation of having gained knowledge when this is not necessarily true; indeed, the faux-knowledge virus use the facilities and faculties of your brain to construct a simulacrum of knowledge.

This is why so many people are more easily outraged these days despite the relative ubiquity of verifiable data sources. There is altogether too much of a tendency to take second-order conclusions and tout them as a foundational basis for decision-making and problem-solving. In the process, the first-order data that was made into information chunks is forgotten although a lot is written about the process of information construction.

It's like complaining about pink slime, chemicals, toxins, carcinogens et al in the production of chicken nuggets, while forgetting that the nuggets are still mostly meat, and they will sustain you if there is nothing else available that you'd rather eat. I am reminded here of an old primary-school joke: "What is the main ingredient in milk, by percentage? Water, of course; 90% or more." If there is no water, milk will save you from dying of thirst.

But isn't milk healthier than water? Well, no. It is certainly more toxic than water; it is water with impurities such as fat and lactose and protein in a colloidal suspension that can be disrupted by ionic substances — just add a few drops of lemon juice to milk to see what I mean.

But isn't milk more nutritious than water? Well, yes. Water has no nutrients at all, and yet is necessary for life.

Sometimes, the right questions need to be asked. Yet it is certain that the more powerful the questions (e.g., "How do we decide if we have a good education system or not?") the more powerful the opposition to the answers, the methodology of answering, the idea of getting it answered, and so on.

And so, I am an ongoing survivor of difficult circumstances. I want to know if education can be good without being perfect, while remembering that often the good is the enemy of the best. Then I remember the wise man who wrote, "The best is yet to be," and realise how to resolve that dilemma.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Insensible, Insensitive

In these days of sociopolitical correctness, the horse comes before Descartes. This is never so evident as on the Internet, where people expect everyone to do their research before making noise.

However, while some kinds of research are obvious and should be expected, some are less so. Supposing you use the word 'git' or 'twit' in a descriptive (and mildly pejorative) sense. Then someone points out that it makes light of a large and much-abused group of people. Are you to blame?

On one hand, you should know it is pejorative. It might be a humorous term, a colloquial piece of micro-abuse in your circles, but it is meant to be insulting to some extent. See also 'lame', 'cripple', 'dumb' and other terms of endearment-abuse.

On the other hand, how would you know about other people's sensibilities and sensitivities? I would certainly be mortified to be cracking jokes about 'lame jokes' only to discover that my anonymous interlocutor was short a lower limb. But in most discourse, to call a joke 'lame' or to say 'this hardware is crippled' is not an attempt to make fun of the limb-disadvantaged.

As words take on new life, the mutability of semantic burden and historical burden affects their impact. Old Anglo-Saxon words once used as commonplace lexical items went through a period of stern, stiff censorship before becoming what they are now — almost-unweighted particles of expletive speech.

Just today, I was metaphorically hauled up by my collar and bastinadoed for lacking empathy when discussing why a certain term was insensitive when used about cemeteries and nature. I had some idea, which is why I've never myself used the word in my own communications (except those discussing the word itself as a subject). But I was stunned to see how vitriolic the 'you should have known' attacks were.

In a way, the attempts to keep discourse civilised are becoming as barbaric or tribalistic in their own way as what they are avoiding. People won't scruple at using expletives you might be sensitive to, in order to make their point about words they think others are sensitive to. And they will justify themselves by intensity of emotional response, and vilify you for attempting reason.

I have no issue, however, with people politely telling me why they think I shouldn't use certain words and where I shouldn't use them. That's what style guides and etiquette guides are for. Some words will offend pretty obviously, and a one should indeed avoid those.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Score (Part Vb)

And then I found myself teaching anything my hand found to do, for that is what you must do. Needs must where the Devil drives, they say – but it needn't be the Devil, for there is sometimes no accuser when a man finds himself doing what he must do. Thus goeth the loop.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Score (Part Va)

In between two reds must be interred. Inside a red must be intrared. As above (suprared), so below (infrared). And so, I found myself teaching Literature.

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Score (Part IV)

There is a cold scent in the bright morning. It is the day after the revolution. Moses, at that age, slew an overseer and fled for his life. He married the daughter of a pagan priest, at one stroke going from polytheist culture to pantheist (or perhaps animist — we are not too sure about Jethro).

I am lost. Or rather, I am in the position of a captain who knows his ship is well-supplied and sound, but that a storm has placed him in uncharted waters with neither dead reckoning nor sextant as guide.

The sealed orders told me all I needed to know. The Dark Lord of the Admiralty had cast me adrift. Part of this was because of my allegedly annoying alleged habit of resorting to what some thought of as privateering to earn a living. I had done nothing of the kind.

The next few months would prove very interesting.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Score (Part III)

For years I ate the hot crispy noodles from the same stall, every morning, at the same times each week. The kind folk who supplied this sustenance would put chili on chili, sauce and fresh and dried, with pepper ground and split, making food that would raise a hellish sweat. I loved it. The heat in my body and the increased velocity of blood from caffeine (long hard black from the other stall) prepared me for each hard day.

I was on top of my game. Everyone said so. But it wasn't the game that mattered to the Dark Lord on his Dark Throne.

Innocently, I taught, I learnt, I walked around. I was given a Ring of Power, but I never really used it. Still, there was fear. As a wiser and older colleague pointed out, the insanity of ambition sees competition in every minion; those who lack it are often victims of the sudden strike, the knife in the dark.

The Dark Lord said to me once, "Do not dream of building an empire. I will raise to eminence only those who will do my bidding and will not contend against me."

I had not thought of building empires, rising to eminence, or contending against him. Unfortunately, I was soon to realise that I would not always do his bidding either.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Score (Part II)

The morning symphony swells, and that is the point, really. You no longer wake at dawn, but strip a bit later than that, plunge into a hot shower and hustle off to the battle stations downstairs and beyond. For now you work at that Death Star of educational institutions.

Shirt and tie, for the air-conditioned classrooms make it possible. And if your students must endure discomfort, similarly dressed, so should you. You're an officer of the High Command, and you are only four years into service. It is enough to make a U-Boat captain weep.

Yet, in the grimy underbelly of the beast, you know there is enough pain to go around. Things are going well, but things are not always right. And what is well for some of you may not be good for the monster machine that you are helping to govern.

Can a man do what is right without doing wrong? Too often we stray. In class, you lie to students all the time, in the guise of simplifying concepts, attenuating the truth, making nice clean clear narratives out of fog and mist.

Everyone goes home happy. But happiness is not joy.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Score (Part I)

Dawn is when the madness begins. Awake from no consoling dream of far fields or tall mansions, you take the minimal sustenance required for the walk to the bus stop. And so, on to work.

Along the way, a stray kitten follows. You wish you could spend more time with it, but you never see it again and on morose days you pray that it survived to have its own kittens. Along the way, early morning cook sounds sizzle through what is still night. And you sleep along the way.

The bus ride reminds you of the girl who used to sit with you on every bus ride for a long while. But now is not the time to remember eighteen when you are now on the way to school as a teacher of fifteen year olds.

There is a high bridge, a sky bridge, a bridge of birds (and avoidance of their excrement). You walk through crushed morning flowers and fallen leaves before the clearance crews do their own wearisome morning job. And at the chainlink fence you pause, for much has been lost and there is yet much to lose.

You dump stuff at your little wooden desk, the kind they give temporary teachers in an old school at the edge of the 'hood. There are books marked, unmarked, unremarked. You share a desk with the teacher from the afternoon session. She is not thrilled.

What's lovely is the sudden assembly of the masses in classes and the irrelevant irreverent thought of the old rhyme that says guys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses while the principal says something. A few months later, same students, different principal.

You bond with the young people as much as you can. That you're newer than they are gives you leverage — young people are always so keen to show older people what they don't know. You use that and other little cues to establish that your authority is worthwhile but unthreatening. You'll need every advantage you can get.

You teach football coaching instead of English. You teach entertainment instead of Chemistry. You teach thinking instead of Computing. And somehow, some people get it. They learn. You thrill.

A score of years have gone by, and I still remember names and faces. I doubt they do. Trainee teachers come and go, and most of them are gone for good within five years. Many of them become insurance agents — in this part of the world, that is what education is: an insurance policy against the ravages of life. It won't pay for everything, but it's money in the bank.

And so, your first year.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Score (Prelude, or at least, a Warning)

Almost twenty years ago, I became a trainee teacher. It wasn't my first 'professional gig', and it was my third job (I think).

I'm thinking about the way things went. This will take some time, and no doubt bore my visitors to death over the next few days.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Death in 60 Seconds

Someone recently pointed out a question which is supposedly one of those people resist asking themselves. "What would you say if you knew you'd be dead in 60 seconds?"

The odd thing is that I don't resist asking such questions. I can't remember ever having worried about dying. When I was very young, I thought I'd be immortal. Then my eldest grand-aunt died and I learnt that people were mortal and logically that included me.

So I learnt to say 'died' instead of 'passed away', 'dead' instead of 'gone to be with the Lord', and 'dying' instead of 'being looked after at the hospital'. At this point, I must credit an unlikely source for teaching me a fundamental truth.

The eclectic F&SF author Piers Anthony pointed out that Death signifies Change. He in turn got this from many venerable traditions. I realised this was obviously true.

And so I figured out that as one of the more final changes, and more certain, one ought to be prepared for it. You might never get married nor move house, but death is inevitable.

That's why I walk around with a mental list of people who I would tell, in my last 60 seconds (if I get that much time), "I loved you. You have been significant and appreciated in my life. Don't be sad. Bye for now."

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Sunday, March 11, 2012


Here is a small collection of other people's words. I have many such small collections. They serve me well in times when my own words run out.

"The threat of execution is more powerful than the execution of threat." — Aron Nimzovich

"Never show surprise, never show fear, never even pretend to take anything seriously." — Jon Courtenay Grimwood

"Tactics is knowing what to do when there is something to do; strategy is knowing what to do when there is nothing to do." — Savielly Tartakower

"When one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another." — John Donne, Meditation XVII

"Justice, like lightning, ever should appear to few men's ruin, but to all men's fear." — Milo Sweetman


Saturday, March 10, 2012


What is a venging, and what does it mean to be vengeful?

Oddly enough, all this vengeaunce, as Old French would put it, is just a mutation of the Latin vindicaré — to vindicate; that is, to obtain reparation, catharsis, freedom from the taint of accusation or guilt.


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Friday, March 09, 2012


There are levels of tiredness just as there are circles of Hell. Dante, andante.


Thursday, March 08, 2012

Values Inversion

So there I am, thinking about 'values-driven' education. And the man who is seriously talking about it mentions resilience, tenacity, integrity. All I can think of, it that one blinding flash of insight, is that he must be talking about hardened chewing-gum.

You can measure all three of these qualities quantitatively in a piece of hardened gum. You can evaluate them; that's why they're called values. But hardened chewing-gum has no virtue to it. It is a pestilence, an irritation, despite having resilience, tenacity and integrity. It has no justice, no compassion; it has no prudence, temperance, fortitude, faith, hope or charity.

That's because such qualities cannot be easily evaluated (if at all), and they need a live brain. They can be argued over, they can be tested and tried, but their right execution is an ideal that all societies think about at least once in their existence, and all good societies seek to imbue these characteristics in their members.

The problem with a values-driven education is the definition of values. And frankly, most people aren't very good at this.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

They Who Live In Cities

Cities are contradictions in themselves. A city brings thoughts together, it aggregates and transmits and disperses ideas. But a city also breeds close-quarters interaction, where difference becomes more important if one is not to lose one's identity. The polis then requires laws, regulations, social niceties — the polis must become a civis, the Greek democracy must become a Roman republic.

Cities militate against the rights of man. As one famous saying goes, free will ends where the reach of a hand meets the skin of a face. Free will and free expression are bound at the very least by the free will and expression of others. In a city, that physical landscape within which the metaphysical landscape moves, it means people are less free — they keep coming too close to each other.

And so humans may only enjoy the fullest extent of their rights when they are alone, separate from the logical demands of each other human. No man is an island, wrote Donne — but the hidden message in that meditation is obvious: nobody is free, and in a city, one is free least of all.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Sociological Pseudo-Arguments

Somewhere out there are liberals who enjoy shoving sociological pseudo-arguments in your face. Be prepared to face them the right way; probably bass-ackwards, running like hell is after you (not running like hell, that would mean you don't get away from it — you should run faster).

The first of these arguments is: X is rich — wealth insulates, so you shouldn't feel sorry for X and yeah you can make fun of them even if they're dying of some horrible disease.

The second of these arguments is: X is from a majority — (the oppressors, oppressor class etc) — so X cannot empathize with Y who is from a minority (the oppressed) and yeah you can make fun of them because numbers insulate.

The third of these arguments is: X is from a minority — but it's a worse-treated minority than Y's minority — so whatever you say, Y has it better and you can let X make fun of Y.

The fourth of these arguments is: you have never walked even one yard (or metre) in X's shoes, so how can you possibly understand X's problems?

The fifth of these arguments is: X has a condition that is perfectly normal in the animal kingdom, but is socially ostracized for insufficient reasons, so society should treat X at least like an animal and not make fun of this condition — which is, after all, within the realm of nature.

The sixth of these arguments is: you are MALE, how can you ever empathize with any X when your only claim to X-empathy is that you had a mother?

There are many more such spurious arguments which are actually ad hominem attacks on your ability to understand, empathize, walk a mile in someone else's shoes, or otherwise translocate your psyche. Run from them. But if you must stand and fight, at least point out what they are, and die a martyr in the full knowledge of what you fought.

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Monday, March 05, 2012


No... no... I am becoming a wonk. Or perhaps a sub-wonk. 'Wonk', if you must know, is 'know' reversed. Or it is a cross between 'won' and 'monk'.

Exhibit A:
From this researcher’s personal perspective, Mittelman’s overall philosophy seems akin to the idea that the same electromagnetic field can produce different effects in different contexts and be perceived and evaluated differently when different instruments and media are used — light, after all, still acts paradigmatically as both wave and particle, and has a dominant role in both optics and visual arts, among other disciplines. Hence caution is required when asserting the primacy of an existing paradigm for subsuming the new data, or when asserting that a completely new paradigm exists based on the new data.

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Sunday, March 04, 2012

Sunday Meditation

My Sunday meditation was also taken from T S Eliot's The Rock:

When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city ?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”
What will you answer? “We all dwell together
To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?

Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger.
Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.

There is one who remembers the way to your door:
Life you may evade, but Death you shall not.
You shall not deny the Stranger.

They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.
But the man that is shall shadow
The man that pretends to be.

It all reminds me of Atlantis, and what it was meant to be, and what it is.


Saturday, March 03, 2012

Again, the Rock

Thomas the Eliot, if not several Stearns a rhymer, once wrote these which I cannot and wish not ever to forget.

The lot of man is ceaseless labor,
Or ceaseless idleness, which is still harder,
Or irregular labour, which is not pleasant.
I have trodden the winepress alone, and I know
That it is hard to be really useful, resigning
The things that men count for happiness, seeking
The good deeds that lead to obscurity, accepting
With equal face those that bring ignominy,
The applause of all or the love of none.
All men are ready to invest their money
But most expect dividends.
I say to you: Make perfect your will.
I say: take no thought of the harvest,
But only of proper sowing.

The world turns and the world changes,
But one thing does not change.
In all of my years, one thing does not change,
However you disguise it, this thing does not change:
The perpetual struggle of Good and Evil.
Forgetful, you neglect your shrines and churches;
The men you are in these times deride
What has been done of good, you find explanations
To satisfy the rational and enlightened mind.
Second, you neglect and belittle the desert.
The desert is not remote in southern tropics
The desert is not only around the corner,
The desert is squeezed in the tube-train next to you,
The desert is in the heart of your brother.
The good man is the builder, if he build what is good.
I will show you the things that are not being done,
And some of the things that were long ago done,
That you may take heart, Make perfect your will.
Let me show you the work of the humble. Listen.


Friday, March 02, 2012

The Online Life

The online life is not worth living, but yet it is lived. And that is a meditation worth lamentation and relent.


Thursday, March 01, 2012

St David's Day (2012)

As the Welsh have put it, "A lluman glân Dewi a ddyrchafant!" — And they will raise the pure banner of [St] David!

Today is St David's Day, a day that always makes me pause for reflection on the year behind it. What has happened in 2011 that must be remembered at the Citadel of Wyverns?

There is a new lord at the Citadel, but not a new Lord. There is a new hope, but not a new faith. And the creed of the fathers is still the creed of the family, seen emblazoned on the shield of the wyverns.

By February this year, the last month of the long winter seemed past us. Spring has come again, it seems. There is perhaps more of the fire that used to burn on the mountain, the tide of golden flowers and blue waters descending across the faintly greening black hills of the land.

David, saint of shepherds and of teachers, ascetic, monastic — we thank God for the vision of such men and their dreams. And as that saint used to say, "Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd!" — Do the little things in life!


[Other St David's Day musings]

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