Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Post #1978

Over the last few weeks, as I've moved through the World Cup season this year, I've come to realise the number of posts I've made on this blog. Those numbers look familiar. It is almost as if, from post #1967, I have been moving forward from the year of my birth.

The implications, in terms of pattern and synchronicity, are dire. Will something happen to me if I stop at post #2010? What if I keep posting until I reach #3000. Will I come to rival Methuselah?

I don't know. It is all just a fantasy brought on my time, distraction, bad sleeping habits and a visit to the zoo. I think.


Whose World? What Cup? (Day 19a)

I have been waiting for this rematch since 7 June 1494. Actually, apart from obscure Asian historians, who had cause to worry about its provisions, and the Argentines, who once invoked it in the little matter of Los Malvinas (also known as the Falklands), not many others in recent centuries have thought of the great old treaty signed on that day.

For on 7 June 1494, slightly more than 516 years ago, Spain and Portugal divided the world between them. And tonight, in a very different way, they will battle for supremacy, with only one winner between them.

But apart from tonight's fracas and the linguistic legacy (mostly) of South America, let's face it: Portugal is no longer a world power of any sort. We might think of East Timor, Macao, and even if we were exceptionally historical in our literacy, Goa and Melaka — but hey, Portugal, not one of the great powers any more. And yet, the Portuguese did have an empire once.

I'm rooting for Spain, the more enduring imperial power of the two, tonight. But not because of political reasons — rather, I can't stand that talented but irritating Cristiano Ronaldo; I much prefer the many talents of Spain.


To be honest, the Spain that I admire seems a lot less creative than Brazil, a lot less skilled than Argentina, a lot less coherent than Germany. They're not unpicking Portugal and have come very close to being completely undone by them. At half-time, the score is 0-0; while it's been a lot more exciting than the previous match, it's not been more productive.

I think I am about to join in the usual malaise of Spain-supporters: a kind of exuberant disappointment.


It ended when David Villa scored (yet again) to make it 1-0. Then it petered out into the usual disinterested pottering around. The new striker Fernando Llorente looked distinctly bored but, trying hard to pretend that he was involved, could have scored twice more.

And so Spain remain, promising more joy, and possibly, more disappointment.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Whose World? What Cup? (Day 19)

Japan in blue play Paraguay in red and white. It's just one of those days at the office, so to speak. 20 minutes into the game, the Japanese are still defending as a unit, attacking as a unit, and doing those well-trained longshot things.

I don't know why I'm watching this one when I might need the sleep to prepare myself for Spain v Portugal later. But still, whichever team wins this one, it will be their first time in the quarter-finals. Some sort of historical moment.


Note: How does one distinguish between Uruguay and Paraguay? You could do it the geography-lesson way or you could just remember this: Uruguay has Diego Forlan and Paraguay has Roque Santa Cruz. Both are excellent creative forwards who haven't done so well in the Premier League. Santa Cruz has done better though.


I'm wondering whether Marcus Tulio Tanaka is named after Marcus Tullio Cicero. Somehow, finding this out has become more important to me than watching the match. And MTT is such a swashbuckling samurai-looking fellow too. I bet he'd be good as a Japanese statesman some day.


It's 0-0 at full-time. It is like watching jelly set. But with less anticipation.


Note: Much later, it appears the Paraguayans won on penalties, 5-3. So much for the Asian contingent this year. Heh.


Late update: Yes, he was named after Cicero. He has a Japanese-Brazilian father and an Italian-Brazilian mother! In fact, his full name is Marcus Túlio Amos Murzani Tanaka. Wow.

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Blackest Day

I had a really peculiar dream before the Brazil-Chile match last night. I dreamt that I was a civilian observer in some sort of paramilitary exercise. I was out on my day job as an intelligence operative, minding my own business (which in the trade is normally someone else's business) and having coffee. When I got back to the headquarters, which was also some sort of training institution, I found a note in my shoe which said, "The Riders are coming!"

This was a code telling me to 'bug out'; that is, grab my stuff and run. As some of you know, I do indeed carry a contingency package which allows me to do many things that most unprepared people can't. I grabbed it and left just in time to see the building enter 'lockdown', with a convoy of light troop carriers and several black helicopters surrounding it.

I found myself watching from a perch high up on a nearby building across an alleyway. The trainees inside were herded into classrooms in full uniform, as were the civilian staff. There, a bunch of thugs in black uniforms alternated between being saccharinely polite and being violently rude. As far as I could tell, they were searching for someone who had made nasty allegations about their Great Leader.

I had no idea who might have done this. But it was clear that about 1/10 of the population was being herded into black trucks, each with a small yellow star painted in a corner of the rear section. The trucks were lined up neatly on the astroturf pitch where the trainees used to play football.

Then I noticed, on a grey balcony set in the face of a grim building, illuminated from below and some distance away, the figure of the Great Leader himself. He didn't notice me in my shadowed nook, but he was grimacing, as if in some sort of nervous anticipation. He drooled slightly from the left corner of his mouth, then raised a gloved hand to wipe his lip.

Then I woke up. If dreams are indeed a clearing out of the subconscious, my subconscious needs to be reined in. Whoa!


Whose World? What Cup? (Day 18a)

Tonight is supposed to be the night on which Brazil qualify for the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup. However, Chile will be doing their best to carve out a slice of their own history by stopping them. In theory, this will be a much more entertaining clash than the crystallized boredom I sat through just a few hours ago. I hope.

And if I am still awake after this, I will tell you my dream about backpacking, black helicopters, and an odd sense of dislocation.


At half-time, I've watched Brazil be that much better than Chile. Watching Gilberto Silva's long-range but unsuccessful strike in the 9th minute, I realise that Arsenal retirees might be better than Chelsea and Liverpool captains. Juan and Luis Fabiano have, of course, scored for Brazil, making it 2-0.

But random thoughts percolate through my mind; did Fabio Capello think that Glen Johnson would be the equivalent of Maicon? Did he think Ashley Cole would be able to take Maicon on? And that is just (literally) one side that I'm looking at.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Whose World? What Cup? (Day 18)

Tonight we watch the Netherlands, a strong outsider (well, ranked in the Top Five) for the Cup, meet Slovakia. They are likely to do well, European team on European team. It's hard to call though. That Vladimir Weiss vs Arjen Robben duel will be interesting.


It was as I was typing that that Robben scored in the 18th minute. Ho ho. Der Fliegende Holländer.


It took an hour of the most boring football seen at this round so far, before the Dutch scored again via Sneijder. It looked as if the Slovak defence were trying to mark the long-substituted van Persie, and were confused because they couldn't figure out where he was. 2-0 to the Oranje. What on earth is Skrtel doing?


And a last-minute soft penalty, converted by Vittek, makes it a 2-1 scoreline. Terribly boring. Leaden.

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Green Lantern

I had a rather odd and unsettling dream a few nights ago. In that dream, I was walking along dank and crumbly ancient corridors. A voice whispered in my ear, saying, "Remember your oath, remember..."

In brightest day, in blackest night,
No evil shall escape your sight
Let those who worship evil's might,
Beware your power... Green Lantern's light!

An actinic radiance of emerald hue was blooming around me. The dark wings of evil creatures shredded in its glare. I strode across the astroturf, and the black soil could not hold me back; neither could the zombie arms that erupted from that tainted ground.

The funny thing, I was to recall in retrospect, was that the lantern logo on my ring of power looked a lot like this one, except that it was deep green and not sky blue. Ridiculous.

That's when I woke up. Why I can't have standard superhero dreams, I don't know.

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Mercurial Physics

From the late, great Freddie Mercury:

Oh, I'm burnin' through the sky yeah
Two hundred degrees
That's why they call me Mister Fahrenheit
I'm trav'ling at the speed of light
I wanna make a supersonic man out of you

I have no idea what it means. I have a sneaking idea that I know what it might mean. It might be all bollocks though, as the Brits say. And they should know. Or not. This is the genius of the late, great Freddie Mercury.

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Whose World? What Cup? (Day 17a)

After a humdinger of a match between Germany and England, in which I think justice was done for both 1966 and 2010, I have woken up from my inter-match nap to think about Argentina v Mexico.

I really can't decide who I want to win this. Which is a good thing, unlike my situation in the previous match. I think this time I will let the two teams do the talking with their feet. And I hope the refereeing and everything else is perfectly unbiased. Or equally biased, since humans are a biased lot.

Actually, I do have something to add. If Argentina win and it's Germany v Argentina in the next round, who would an England fan support if forced to do so? Tough one, that.


At first, it seemed as if Mexico were better at both attack and defence. Then it all fell apart after Argentina scored a hotly disputed offside goal in the 26th minute and the Mexicans lost their heads and their concentration. Another goal was conceded shortly thereafter. I feel as if I'm writing an obituary, and it isn't even half-time.


Well, now it is half-time. And some of the lads are having a go at each other outside the tunnel. Madness. This is upsetting. I'm not sure it's worth watching anymore. Sigh. I even see Diego 'Hand-of-God' Maradona trying to calm things down.


Final score: 3-1 Argentina. Not totally deserved, but the result is right; the better team won. Much better show from Mexico than England though.

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Whose World? What Cup? (Day 17)

As a British citizen, born and raised in East Anglia, I have more right than many of my readers to be supporting England in their quest for glory at the 2010 World Cup. However, I must confess I feel a sense of extreme disquiet in having to support this particular team.

It is true that they are getting better, I suppose. It is also true that they are reasonably good performers. But I think that compared with the other footballers I've seen at this World Cup, they are paid about 5-7 times too much. I am quite sure that a certain player who earns about £140,000 a week should not be earning more than £20,000, and if people do want to pay him more, it shouldn't be much more than £30,000. At least, based on his performances thus far.

If I had to say who was England's best player so far, I'd have to say James Milner. And I'd have to agree with a friend of mine who said Aston Villa might have played better than England if they had to use only their England players.

In contrast, Germany. I can't say I've ever supported them. After all, if you grew up in England and in the presence of adults who seemed to always be talking about the previous world war with one wary eye on the next, you probably would be squeamish about supporting Germany (East or West, in those days) or Russia (the USSR, then) too.

But tonight, I think my extreme disquiet with the present underperforming, underentertaining, overpaid England side might just spill over into a sneaking sense of admiration for the Germans. And even, dare I say it, the desire that they win it.


Germany went 2-0 up in the first half-hour with goals from Klose, then Podolski. The central defenders Terry and Upson appeared asleep. Upson, on the other hand, redeemed himself with a good header to score and make it 2-1. Lampard then scored. Or at least, it bounced into the goal and out again — and was not given! What a scandal! But I guess the English deserve it as karmic burden from Hurst's non-goal that was given in 1966. I shall laugh if that proves a critical difference.


Thomas Müller scores two in five minutes. It's 4-1 for Germany! Haha, now England bring on Emile Heskey to save them. It's tragicomic. You have to feel for an England team which is now under the cosh of the universal dharma. And that's how it ends. And if England had had that second goal, it would have been 4-2, probably.

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Doubt is the Key to Insanity (or Inanity)

This is really a sort of everted follow-up to a previous post on a rather vexing question. Apparently, there is a Persian proverb that says, "Doubt is the key to knowledge."

I now have a lot of apprentices running around trying to write 1200-1600 word essays on this topic. But what strikes me is that they don't begin with the obvious — that is, unpacking the metaphor and defining the terms.

What is a key? It is an object (material, insubstantial, metaphorical or otherwise) that is used either to gain, or to restrict, access to what is on the other side of a barrier.

In that sense, doubt must either be the active agent that starts a person on the path towards knowledge, or the active agent that confounds a person who is looking for knowledge. We must then define doubt and knowledge.

Defining doubt is easy; it can be done in many ways. Perhaps it is profitable to frame doubt as an active agent which is related to the ways in which humans 'know' things. A useful definition might then be something like: "A possibly unpleasant sensation of uncertainty with respect to the truth of an assertion or phenomenon, which may either provoke further action designed to quell that sensation, or deter further action because of other considerations."

Defining knowledge is also easy once one remembers that the purpose of establishing definitions in any debate is to dictate the terms of argument in a way that is useful to the person presenting the case. Knowledge, in this case, must be defined so as to make it the object of a pathway of inquiry that can be blocked.

It is therefore useful to define it in terms of the data-information-knowledge sequence: data are inputs received by ways of knowing, which when labelled and/or structured become information; information that is assigned a meaning (whether theoretical or practical, arbitrary or not, in physical act or mental process) is knowledge.

Showing how doubt is the key to knowledge in different disciplines or areas of knowledge then becomes a simple exercise in analysis. The overall outcome is likely to be different in extent from discipline to discipline, and the examples that can be used to demonstrate this range of results are manifold and can be used to make the exercise interesting.

The problem is that most apprentices don't think about writing out the argument outline before they just start writing stuff. So by the end, you are likely to see arguments like, "If you doubt things, then you will wonder a lot, and that will lead you to discover new knowledge. Thus, doubt is the key to knowledge."

I read such things and think that this must be serendipitous knowledge discovery, and that perhaps such people should instead write essays entitled, "Serendipity is the key to discovery. Discuss." Or perhaps, "Random writing is the key to failure. Demonstrate."

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Whose World? What Cup? (Day 16a)

Starry, starry night... tonight, the second match in the round of 16 sees the Black Stars of Ghana meet the White Stars of the USA. Let's hope it won't be a grey performance from these marvelously athletic sides!


There's been a lot of running around so far, but since Kevin-Prince Boateng's successful strike on the American goal in the fifth minute, there hasn't been another critical moment. Ghana have looked more likely to get the job done, with about twice the number of attempts that the USA have made.

The Americans aren't the newbies or the enigmas that some people think of them as. However, they always play like amateurs. That has a positive side: they play cleverly and in a gentlemanly fashion; even their bad tackles are 'oops' moments rather than cynical ones. It also has a negative side (at least for the purpose of game-winning): sometimes you can see them getting carried away with the sheer pleasure of kicking the ball around.


Ooh. The Americans displayed a lot more intent in the second half, resulting in a penalty after the hour when Clint Dempsey was brought down. Landon Donovan converted it.

Actually, the game should have been over long ago and the Americans should have won it. But we go into extra time now, locked at 1-1.


Ghana draw first blood with a classic goal from Gyan. [Outside, I hear my cat yowling. Maybe he is having nightmares about lions or something. More likely, he is dreaming that he is a nightmare of a lion.]

In the second half of extra time, the commentator has a Yoda moment: "Score they must. Free-kick they have. Goal they need." [My cat yowls even louder, then wakes up. Or was that the other way round?]

And so the Black Stars win, having rediscovered their hunger in extra time. They'll meet Diego Forlan's Uruguay in the quarter-finals. That will be interesting; I think the two teams have very different styles and abilities.

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Whose World? What Cup? (Day 16)

Day 16 already? Uruguay are playing South Korea in the first round-of-16 match, and my visceral responses at half-time are a) after 5 minutes, I know that the Koreans are just slightly not as good as the Japanese when taking free kicks; b) after 10 minutes, I think that the Uruguayans are having it too easy; c) after 20 minutes, I think that they are all settling down for the second half.


Yes, the Koreans were like a team possessed in the second half. And a cracker of an equalizer after an hour or so. From a free kick. Then Suarez popped up a second time and it was game over despite everything else. Not so bad, all round.

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Head Knowledge

I get very distressed when I hear Christians look at hermeneutics and theology and say, "It's all head knowledge. It isn't necessary." They are terribly wrong, by their own lights.

II Timothy 2:15 says, "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." It is a clear command to be diligent about handling the scriptures.

The wrongness of the phrase "it isn't necessary" is that it is a half-truth. The Bible and its contents and understanding of it are all unnecessary for salvation, according to Christian doctrine. But study of the Bible is necessary if you intend to use it as a workman uses his tools.

The problem arises when Christians bandy their own scriptures around without first trying to understand what they mean. II Timothy 2:16 says, "But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness." In other words, if you haven't studied the 'word of truth' and are sloppy at parsing or analysing (or 'rightly dividing') it, then you should avoid making irreligious and pointless statements.

That's not to say that those of us who have studied it should be arrogant. The text is complex. But the point is that anyone who makes a comment about a text should at least have a) read the entire text, b) learnt how such texts are to be examined, and c) learnt how to interpret the examined text.

Until one is reasonably experienced, one should avoid making statements about the text. And one should always be humble about accepting new input that is congruent with the entire text; you learn from fellow-labourers how the work is done. What one shouldn't do is blindly mimic or quote the words of someone else who is interpreting the text but not showing the principles by which he does it, or is using spurious principles.

All this applies also to the study of literature. Actually, this is why people who study any kind of religious text would benefit from being students of literature.

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Whose World? What Cup? (Day 15a)

At half-time, Spain are leading Chile by two goals to nil. I can't decide what's up with the Mexican referee. He seems fairly biased. By which I mean, he is biased in direct proportion to the misdemeanour level of each team. There is no doubt Chile are more violent and less good at the well-timed challenge, so the referee has been overpenalizing them accordingly — one man sent off and something like 16 free kicks against, but only two other yellow cards besides those that got the unfortunate Estrada to take the long walk.

Play has been mixed. Spain were noticeably bad at first, until David Villa's lovely long volley scored. Then they got better. Torres is still a passenger, but one who is drawing markers away. Chile look good, but they seem over-enthusiastic, leading to shots too high or long, and tackles too late or badly aimed.

Meanwhile, the other match is just that. Both teams seem only to be making up the numbers. The Swiss have seemed functional but not more; the Hondurans are... more interested in preventing the Swiss from advancing than playing for a win. Maybe it's all a Spanish conspiracy.


And so, both Chile and Spain are through. Chile pulled one back. I have to say that Cesc Fabregas looks like an incipient midfield general for his country. He is much better at the one-touch stuff and setting his colleagues up for opportunities than the other talent on display. He is also very hard to keep track of — one doesn't know if he's tracked back as a defensive midfielder, surged forward into the hole, decided to pretend he's a winger, whatever.

There we have it. Brazil play Chile and Portugal play Spain. How very tasty...

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Whose World? What Cup? (Day 15)

This will be an interesting evening. The Hermit Kingdom, boasting a national anthem called The Patriotic Song, will face Côte d'Ivoire, whose national anthem is the Song of Abidjan (which used to be their capital, the 4th largest Francophone city on earth, with a population of about 5,000,000). Only the Ivorians can qualify, but they'll need to beat the tough Patriotic Hermits by a large margin.

Meanwhile, I will probably spend a lot more time watching the other match, between Brazil and their former colonial masters, Portugal. The Portuguese have fond memories of Brazil and all the loot they got out of that great nation. The Brazilians pretend not to have any memories at all. I'll just note here that my not-so-distant ancestors came from the former Portuguese colony of Melaka.

Later on, Spain meet Chile (a similar story to Portugal-Brazil, historically), while Switzerland meet the Honduras. Basically, both Spain and Switzerland need to win. It is all too possible that Chile and Switzerland will qualify and Spain will be a third great European footballing nation to get dumped (unless the really unlikely has already happened and Portugal were dumped first).


Well, even though Côte d'Ivoire is leading North Korea 2-0 at half-time, the 0-0 deadlock of Portugal (in red) and Brazil (in yellow) looks like letting both through to the next round. Unless we see more red and yellow. It's a vicious game. Or at the very least, full of ill-judged behaviour.


Seven yellow cards and 24 fouls later... we're still waiting for a goal at Brazil-Portugal. It has just struck me that there's a very high chance of us seeing two matches between a Portuguese-speaking (Portaphone?) team and a Spanish-speaking one in the next round. The languages are basically regional dialects, but the Castilian hegemony won out (unless you ask a Catalan).


Final scores 3-0 to the Ivorians and a deathly 0-0 at the 'Match of the Day'. Ha! So Brazil top the group, Portugal are second; it is likely we'll see Portugal play Chile and Brazil play Spain. If it's Brazil v Switzerland instead, I shall laugh my socks off.

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The Apprentices' Sources

I have always favoured the apprenticeship model of learning. A good apprentice-master demonstrates habits of mind (thought, perception, planning and discrimination) while acting out the outcomes of these habits in real life.

The apprentice learns these habits, applies these habits, and in time learns to debate the master's actions — just as the master would contest his own decisions in the theatre of his head. Eventually, the apprentice learns from what is done, what is not done, and why things were done or not done.

The problem in the Citadel of the Wyverns right now is that there are few masters who can apply habits of mind to the teaching of the craft. In fact, there are few masters — the rest are journeymen or senior apprentices pretending to be masters.

I have a sample size of about 40 apprentices in this 2-year batch of about 900 students, roughly 5% of the population and somewhat statistically significant. They can't do proper references and citations, have little knowledge of the technical vocabulary of their areas of knowledge, and come up with spurious ideas which have no basis in research or reality.

It is shocking, in particular, to find out that the apprentices often have no idea of how to obtain source material, evaluate such material, or craft an argument out of such material. When I ask them, "What is your source?" they cannot reply; when I ask them, "What is the difference between X and Y?" they give me irrelevant excursions from the path of academic righteousness.

Yet, they are spending hours with their 'masters' every week. So what is being taught? I know that there are still some good teachers there; you can tell by what the apprentices do when you force them to do work on the spot. But some are completely at sea. About five of them, just in the last month or so, have told me that they have learnt more from one session with me than 15 months at the Citadel.

I am not sure that this means I am that good a master. It could mean that they have had the misfortune of having a journeyman or senior apprentice fobbed off on them as a master. It could mean they have been sleeping at lectures. It could mean that I am a convincing trickster.

But whatever it means, this must indicate a problem of some sort — the Citadel is behaving badly, the students are behaving badly, or the students are now more easily conned than they used to be. If there are problems, they need to be solved.

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Whose World? What Cup? (Day 14a)

Why am I watching Cameroon v Netherlands and Denmark v Japan?

I really don't know. I suppose I just like the idea of incongruity. In Group E, the Netherlands have already qualified and Cameroon are already out. Probably, the Dutch will get to meet Slovakia, the Italy-slayers and runners-up in Group F. The Dutch national anthem is called The William after William the Silent (yes, irony), Prince of Orange; the Slovak national anthem is called Lightning over the Tatras (whaaaaat? yeah.) The Dutch national anthem was the first full-fledged (words + music) national anthem.

Meanwhile, two whaling nations clash in the murky waters. Whoever wins qualifies from Group E. There will be blood. Incidentally, the Japanese national anthem, Kimi ga yo, has the oldest words of all national anthems in the world; its words date back to the 9th century, although its musical arrangement is much more recent. It became the official national anthem of Japan only in 1869.

This one will be fun. The Danish national anthem has the superscription, "This corner of the earth smiles for me more than any other," in Latin. (Ille terrarum mihi praeter omnes angulus ridet.) You could translate that as, "This corner on the ground is smiling for me first." Watch for set pieces.


Little did I know how prescient and yet wrong my last sentence was. The Japanese have obviously come up with a brilliant plan which converts one of their relative weaknesses to an improbable strength. The Danes are taller, but that obstructs their goalkeeper's vision. The hapless and unsighted Sorensen has fallen victim to TWO Japanese free-kicks — one in the left corner and one in the right corner, one over the wall and one around the wall. Danish free-kicks have been easily saved because the Japanese goalkeeper can see them coming.

Meanwhile, the Oranje have ground out a 1-0 lead over Cameroon at half-time. At this rate, the Netherlands will top the group (not unexpected) and the Japanese will be runners-up (also not unexpected, as they were ahead of the Danes on goal difference).


At full-time, the Dutch have topped the group with a gritty 2-1 win over Cameroon, while the Japanese have conceded a penalty and yet run out 3-1 (penalty was saved, but Tomasson managed to score on the rebound) victors. I am a little disturbed by how much schadenfreude I felt at the sight of the Danes being totally outclassed by the nippy (oops, I mean quick and agile) Japanese who seemed to stick to the ball and play it so much better.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Whose World? What Cup? (Day 14)

The order of the world is turning upside down as I watch Italy, the incumbent champions, 1-0 down against Slovakia. The Italian defence is like spaghetti; confusing, entangled, and porous. Meanwhile Paraguay are being held by the resolute All Blacks (normally in white, but not today).

I am happy when established orders are overturned. I hate conformity to the systems and patterns of the world.

Why? Is this some sort of post-adolescent rebellion? No. I think that to conform is to fail to assert one's God-given free will. If one chooses to surrender to the Divine, that is a deliberate choice. To allow oneself to succumb to whatever the world does is an accidental choice, a default of the will. One should resist. In fact, one should have debates even with God: Abraham and Moses did, as did many others. How else would one learn about the Divine?

And here, we watch Italy act as if the order of the world is pre-eminent above the active will of individual Slovaks fighting for qualification into the World Cup round of 16. Tsk tsk.


I am happy to report at full-time that my dreams have come true. Italy has lost to Slovakia after the scoreline went 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-1, 3-2. New Zealand has drawn 0-0 with Paraguay. These results leave Paraguay and Slovakia as the qualifiers from Group F. I am so glad to see both France and Italy out.

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Succession Planning

I know a man with a strange quirk. Although capable of fakery, deception, and mismanagement, he was always a good administrator in some ways. These were not the strange quirk. The quirk was an incredible sense of persecution and insecurity.

His latest exercise had the whole earth-and-heaven buzzing. He asked (not for the first time) that each of his staff members name the people that they wanted to have as their leaders in the next era. Of course, each ballot had the name of the writer on it. What an illusion of democracy!

As a previous participant, I have seen the hidden files. This is not about choice; it is about testing the waters of the red ocean for signs of trouble. The results of the poll would never be made public. As usual, it is also about control of information, lack of transparency, and a habit of manipulating people.

The problem he has, as acknowledged by those observing him from above and below, and besides, is that he has no legitimate or competent successors around him because of what he has done in the past. He now has to manufacture a guardian for his legacy; a truly competent successor might erase the memory of his time as dictator, but an incompetent one might sully the sheen.

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The Truth About Women

There is no single truth; many things are true. There are more things that are true about women than about men; it is therefore more difficult to decide what is true and what is not. Picture, if you will, Warren Ellis's 196,833 dimensional realities; there are more women, there is more to women, there are more kinds of women; there are more dimensions, and more realities.

Men are simple. They invent classifications, and assume that what works for men, works for women. Of course they work for women, since women have a finer resolution when taken as a spectrum; but this also means these systems are far less accurate. "Age does not wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety," said the Bard of Avon — this is true for many women, too many to count.

It is easier to reduce the dimensionality, to imagine that there is a single feminine mystique, a single feminine intuition, a single Mona Lisa smile. But that would be wrong; it would reify the unreifiable — for women are a continuous spectrum, and not the easily isolated lines of the line spectrum that is man. And even that is not what they are, not really, not altogether, not... truthfully.

It is still June.


Whose World? What Cup? (Day 13a)

It's half-time, as Germany battle it out with Ghana and Serbia grapple with Australia. No goals have been scored. To be honest, all four sides are looking nervy and lacking in assurance.

That puts me in mind of the steady compression of time. All the first 45 minutes of each of the two matches has done is force the action into the next 45 minutes or so. If things remain as they are until the very end, then Ghana will top the group and Germany will follow them. If Germany score a last-minute goal, then Ghana will be runner-up — unless somehow the other match has gone to 1-1. It is all very... fraught.


Özil scored for Germany to set up a tense last few minutes. Serbia had to draw, and looked like it. Then Australia scored two, the Serbs pulled one back — and had an appeal against Tim Cahill for handball turned down. A handy man, that. 2-1 to the Socceroos, and both they and the Serbs fly home. Ghana scrapes through, and Germany top their group. Business as usual.


In the next round, Germany will face England. This time, I think they will try the ground assault, not the air raid.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Whose World? What Cup? (Day 13)

Tonight is going to be entertaining. In Group C, England, the USA, and Algeria all need to win to have a chance at progression; Slovenia need a draw but face a desperate England side who have looked to be worth about 5% of their nominal market value. The amusing thing is that the sides that win will certainly get through.

This is similar to Group D, where Ghana need a draw against Germany but the Germans need to win to book their place. Meanwhile Serbia meet Australia, with the Serbs needing a draw but Australia needing a win to have any chance. Nobody is safe, but Ghana is safest; they would have to collapse against Germany and Australia would have to win big against Serbia.

I am also amused by the presence of two former Yugoslav territories and three former British colonies. Then again, the odds of a former British colony turning up in any given random sampling of the world's nations are very high.


At half-time, I am glad to see that England have shown more life than in their previous two matches combined. John Terry is still a graceless fellow with no sense of movement, though. But England lead 1-0.

Meanwhile, the cousins across the Atlantic should be leading 3-0 against Slovenia. I have no idea why they aren't.


At full-time, the cousins have somehow conspired to both qualify for the next round. 1-0 in both matches. Tsk.

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Love and Neglect

Sometimes, as a younger friend of mine said, you realise there are 1001 things about the opposite sex that you will never understand. As you grow older, you realise two more things: 1) it's closer to a million and one; 2) you don't need to understand it all.

I think that men tend to neglect many of these things. She might say, "Haha, the last time you bought me flowers was on my 21st birthday!" You think, "Haha, yeah, we were all young and silly once." You ought to think, "Errm. Time to visit the florist."

It takes a huge emotional investment to cater to all the little things. Men tend not to have these reserves. The reason is simple: the 'emotional' side, things like flowers and gifts and hugs and quiet moments — they are as much a product of physical and intellectual action as anything else, and just as consuming of the body's attention, energy and physical reserves. But men tend to invest instead in singular tasks, limited foci, specialist areas.

This leads to treating people by formula. Women read books about how diverse and complex things are; how nuanced, how different of meaning things can be. Men read books about x laws of this, y rules of that.

Men cannot keep up. But there are a few things that help. Be random — do random nice things once in a random while. Believe in the other person as the same person but with different daily seasons. Try not to understand in terms of linear logic, but in terms of accepting the many contradictions that a real person can have. Don't hunt the logical contradictions to destruction, but enjoy the different perspectives in each facet.

Above all things, love. Imperfect human love is much more acceptable than neglect, no matter how benign and well-meant. Leaving someone alone to cool down is not as good as leaving someone alone so you can cook a meal for her.

In the Good Book, men are enjoined to love their wives. But wives are not told to reciprocate in quite the same way. A look at the whole Book tells you why: men can only do a few things, but they can do them exceedingly well if they remember to do them at all — this is a key reminder. Women, on the other hand, are made to be 'helpmeets', are able to help with and understand many things, and tend to be critical of male efforts and behaviour (see, for example, Sarah laughing at the idea of Abraham becoming a father, and then later manipulating his efforts).

Women, in other words, need to be tolerant while hoping for the best. Men need to remember to love, with or without understanding it all. It seems to work.

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Whose World? What Cup? (Day 12a)

And here we go, into one of the World Cup groups with the least tension ever... we all know Argentina will qualify unless Greece stage a great upset and beat them heavily, but who will be runner-up in that group? If Nigeria beat South Korea and Greece lose (as currently expected), the West Africans will go through to the next round, there to meet Uruguay.

Can Greece win, though? It certainly looks beyond them. On a fortunate occasion, Greece could beat either of the other sides (and actually have, in Nigeria's case). But against an in-form Argentina, it looks unlikely; Argentina have been effective enough so far, and look to be getting more so.

Can Greece even qualify? Yes, if they do better than South Korea; that is, they have to win if South Korea draw, draw if South Korea lose, and not lose themselves.


At half-time, the scores are 0-0 between Argentina and Greece, 1-1 between Nigeria and South Korea. In the latter game, the Asians are using their lower centre of gravity to good effect, physically out-manoeuvring the taller Africans by changing direction and nipping into space faster. Nigeria scored first, though — they are faster in straight lines given time to accelerate, and a direct cross into the box resulted in a goal.

Meanwhile, I think Argentina is displaying a certain lack of cohesion; they have many options and much talent, and aren't being very accurate or responsive to each other. Greece, on the other hand, has one simple strategy — get the ball behind the two isolated central defenders, break the offside trap and score. It might work, since it doesn't seem to require so much brain power.


Well, Nigeria and South Korea redoubled their efforts, with predictable results: 2-2 at full time. South Korea go through because Argentina found their extra gear and strolled out 2-0 winners over Greece in the last 10 minutes of their game. And Messi still hasn't scored!

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Whose World? What Cup? (Day 12)

Just yesterday I was mulling over Dale Johnson's article on how each team might yet qualify for the next round of the World Cup. What caught my eye was the suggestion that South Africa might yet qualify if the unlikely happened — say if they beat France 3-0 and either Uruguay or Mexico won in their match together.

Half an hour after these matches started, France is trailing 1-0 and have had a man (Gourcuff) sent off for violent elbow use. How interesting...


37 minutes and a few more South African attempts later, Mphela has scored to make it 2-0 and they've also had an attempt denied for being offside. You can sense the electricity in Bloemfontein. It is almost as if every one of the lighting towers is a Tesla cannon.


Uruguay (population about 3m) is leading Mexico 1-0 now. The plot thickens...


...and then thins, as first South Africa concede a goal and then Mexico holds Uruguay to 1-0. A good outing though, from South Africa. The dream almost became reality. Mexico go through, probably to face Argentina. Uruguay will face the runners-up from Group B. We'll know more in a few hours' time.

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Independent Thinking

Newsletter XV, the Summer 2010 edition from my other old school has as its theme 'Independent Thinking'. In the editorial, the writer reflects on whether the School has always nurtured independence of thought, if at all, and whether the School should take any credit for such independent thinking as might be manifested.

To be honest, I believe it should. The masters at the school were a weird and wonderful bunch. They were serious about education, and sometimes about things like homework, punctuality and discipline, where these were related to our education. However, they (and that includes our chaplain) were always looking out for interesting opportunities, and always ready with an interesting tale or two. It was in the Chemistry lab that I first saw the thermite reaction carried out at close range; in the Biology lab I saw a classmate on a bicycle being made to demonstrate how much oxygen was left in human breath after a bout of exercise.

The School has produced oddly dystopic and cynical authors like Christopher Hitchens (well, he's more dyspeptic than anything else) and J G Ballard. The House of Commons has only had two English Independent MPs; both are fellow alumni. The list goes on. People from the School are indeed a strange bunch.

There's this line quoted, though, which says, 'Unlike some other public schools [it] was a reasonably civilised place even in the 1950s and 1960s, and teenage boys were not battered into intellectual conformity.' Perhaps this was true to some extent in the 1970s and 1980s and continues to be true today. But it is more likely that impressionable young men learnt to model themselves after their eccentric, competent and interesting masters.


Whose World? What Cup? (Day 11a)

I've watched a match in which a card-happy ref gave out something like eight yellow cards and a red. The red went to the Swiss, and they ended the game down one man and down one goal against Chile. It was hard to tell who was redder or crosser.

Switzerland after the sending-off had this amazing 4-4-1-0 that appeared to be 6-3-0-0 at times. I swear I saw a flat back six. But somehow, everyone fell asleep! First time I'd seen Switzerland bore themselves to sleep, and then try to wake up. It didn't work.

The next match is between Spain and the Honduras. Spain must win. The question is whether they can or not. They always come in looking like champions and more often than not have problems along the way proving it. I think the player who most epitomizes Spain is Cesc Fabregas. He is dynamic, creative, active, and sometimes just short of a match winner when it counts.

We'll see.


David Villa and Jesus Navas are probably the standout performers for Spain this first half; a goal from the former has given Spain a 1-0 lead. However, there have been a lot of free drama performances by some excellent actors, as well as genuine acts of petty stupidity that deserve to have been punished by the ref but weren't. Everybody here has a Latin temperament, it seems.

And it ends 2-0. That Villa guy? Scored the second and missed a penalty. Spain was profligate; if they had stuck to their guns, if the Torres had been more alert, they could have done a 7-0 like Portugal. As it is, they shouldn't be satisfied with their little victory.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Whose World? What Cup? (Day 11)

So I'm watching Portugal break fluidly, artistically all over the North Koreans (or DPRKs, as some might say). I don't think Portugal are THAT good, but they are good, and the North Koreans are somewhat unfortunate and not so good. The score on 66 minutes is 4-0 in Portugal's favour. The old empire-builders are showing the Hermit Kingdom what's what.

It sets up a thrilling encounter in the next round of group matches, as Portugal meet Brazil. Will the Old Empire beat the Great Colony? Will Cristiano Ronaldo get sent off? Stuff like that.


Portugal ended the match 7-0 up. The Hermit Kingdom goes home in disarray; the Portuguese have thrown down the gauntlet to a Brazil side who are also improving with time. I am even more fired up for that match now!

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Every time the World Cup comes along, I think of the accidents and incidents of geography that I have wondered about since I was small and learning the stuff in school. I've always wondered about continents, empires, and the paths of human migration. But the list of continents always fascinated me.

The Earth, seen from space by an alien visitor, would appear to have at most six large bodies of land: Eurasia (about 55m sq km), separated from Africa (about 30.2m sq km) by the Mediterranean Sea, Suez Canal and Red Sea; North America (about 24.7m sq km), separated from South America (about 17.8m sq km) by the Panama Canal; Antarctica (14m sq km), not connected to any other major land mass; and Australia (7.6m sq km), suspiciously close to islands like New Guinea. I don't think any alien would see Europe as a continent; the geographical lines of division just aren't clear enough. But if you chopped Europe off from Eurasia (for the sake of argument), then Asia would still be the largest continent, and Europe (at 10.2m sq km) would be the second smallest.

Taking a look at maps doesn't help very much, because the venerable old Mercators most people use seem to show North America as larger than Africa and Europe as this enormous thing through which the Greenwich meridian runs. But China alone (roughly 9.7m sq km) is almost as large as this imaginary geographical European continent, and the current Russian Federation, most of which is in Asia, covers 17.1m sq km. The only sense in which Europe is a continent is in that waffle of 'shared cultural and political heritage' — a waffle that actually has a fair amount of truth in it.

Why is Europe still given such special status? Perhaps it is because in 1900, when the big geopolitical maps were first drawn to define the modern world, Europe contained 25% of the world's population. Now, it contains just a bit more than 10%, a percentage that is falling by about 1% every decade. Perhaps it is colour: Europeans used to be thought of as fair-skinned Nordic types, at their darkest perhaps Mediterranean. Now, a quick look at any European football team will show that they are a lot darker. (Especially France, that little state which claims to be the heart of Western Europe.)

It is all still a mystery. They have an awful lot of football teams in the World Cup, and in the qualifying rounds and final tournament, more teams per capita than any other continent. I mean, poor Australia gets only 1 team (two if you include New Zealand), and has to compete with the rest of Asia. It all comes down to heterogeneity defeating homogeneity; China, Russia and India are big, but have no representation this year at the World Cup.

The world is a wonderful place. I am glad to be in it.

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Whose World? What Cup? (Day 10a)

At half-time, Brazil are leading 1-0 over Côte d'Ivoire, thanks to a lovely Brazilian-style goal by Luis Fabiano. Although Brazil are no longer the flair-at-all-costs insanely-wild-moments team they used to be, they are fairly solid, still inventive, still capable of magic.

Côte d'Ivoire, however, are not just Didier Drogba and ten other men. They're a pretty cohesive fighting unit, good at keeping possession but not so skilled at visualising the field of battle. Both teams have found that crossing from deep to the left doesn't work, but the other direction is reasonably effective.

And that's how it goes...


An hour into the game, Brazil have been helped by a referee who apparently can spot a handball but laugh it off, and allow a blatantly wrong goal on its artistic merits. But they're Brazil, and their third goal was entirely merited. 3-0 to them now.

I am, however, plagued with bad commentary. The commentator keeps going on about how Brazil is being brilliant and only they can be Brazilian. The former is sporadic, the latter is true, but I am irritated when he starts saying that only they can score pedestrian goals.


Didier Drogba managed to pull one back for Côte d'Ivoire, but of course (especially in the light of Fabiano's self-confessed handball-assisted second goal) it was too little, too late.

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Whose World? What Cup? (Day 10)

Paraguay, inventive and fluid, beats Slovakia 2-0. Why should things be any different? In all the talks of dogs and underdogs during any World Cup, it's never easy to say who a clear favourite might be except on the basis of form and depth — are the team always doing well against other teams of all kinds? And if the entire team were to be replaced by reserves, would that reserve team also do well?

The other factors are just too nebulous. Tonight we'll also see Italy play New Zealand. Italy have good depth, and fair form. New Zealand are relative unknowns who drew Slovakia 1-1 earlier. Logic would say Italy 2, NZ 0. This would be the result most of the time.

We live for the remaining chances, the slim shreds of possibility that say NZ will pull off an upset. But Italy are hard to defeat, although drawing is not such a difficult result to obtain. We'll see.

What's truly delectable is the match-up even later this evening, when Brazil (ex-Portuguese colony) meet Côte d'Ivoire (ex-French colony). Looking at the World Cup's interesting geography, one is struck by the thought, "Be careful when you build an empire; some day, the empire strikes back."


Ho ho... NZ just scored against Italy. 1-0 to the Land of the Long White Cloud.


And that De Rossi has just got himself a penalty for Italy. Iaquinta converts it! 1-1.


Afternote: 1-1 at the death. This just feels like a moral defeat for Italy, though. World Cup champions eh? Ha. And NZ keeper Paston should be the man of the match.

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Whose World? What Cup? (Day 09a)

Half-time at the Cameroon-Denmark match, and it's 1-1. Danish defending is like their butter cookies: it is slightly bland, and crumbles when you take too many bites. And there are normally too many in the box, but not of the kind you want.

More to the point, the Danes work best when they lash the long ball and run in straight lines or do the simple cross-and-shoot routines. Their short passes are often intercepted by the lower centre-of-gravity Cameroonians. The latter are good all-round, except when excited. Then, they miss the goal they should have scored: they ought to be 4-1 up by now.

Long lanky Scandinavians vs chunky muscular West Africans; what a match-up! But on this performance and all the stuff we've seen so far, I suppose the Netherlands deserve to get through from this group and I can't decide which of the other three undeserving teams will get through to the next round with them.

By the way, has anyone pointed out that Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon are all from the same stretch of coastline on the southern edge of West Africa? Must be the climate.


At this point, old Dennis Rommedahl (31, almost 32) looks like man-of-the-match material. And the Danes are 2-1 up.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Whose World? What Cup? (Day 09)

Having just watched the Netherlands subvert Japan's industry with a 1-0 win (the Dutch were Sneijder but the Japanese were busier), I am thinking that they and perhaps Argentina about the only so-called 'major footballing nation' that are really playing up to the tag. Or at least, obtaining results that fit the tag. Brazil will probably work out that way too, after their next match. But who knows?

It's now Australia 1 Ghana 0 on 15 minutes or so. If Australia retain that lead, every team will have won one game and Germany will be table-toppers on goal difference in Group D, possibly ending up facing the USA in the next round. But again, in this particular World Cup, who knows?


Who knows, indeed! A red card and straight dismissal for Australia's only striker, Harry Kewell. Handballing on the line in front of goal, and Ghana's Gyan has equalized from the penalty. It looked as though Lucas Neill was also asking for a red card for barging an opposing player down in the penalty box. It's all up in the air.


And it remained so. 1-1, and Germany, despite losing to Serbia, still top their group.

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Flagged Down

I was mulling over the fact that many people can claim more than one citizenship, more than one allegiance, more than one flag. It makes for something that is more akin to a network of associations than patriotism.

I have lived in Atlantis for most of my 43 years. Yet I was born a citizen of Greater Albion, and to this day, officials of the European Union recognize my right of birth and think of me as a citizen of that Union. I can travel Europe without let or hindrance, so strong is the concept of jus soli in that part of the world. And yet I am Atlantean by jus sanguinis, the right of blood relationships.

But I wasn't really thinking of me. I was thinking of Algeria. If they had their two famous sons, Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri, on the team, they would surely have played them. Heck, if they had Zinedine Zidane, I am sure they would have been more prominent in the World Cups of previous years. But Benzema and Nasri are both French-flagged, and Domenech didn't even bother to bring them to South Africa this year. How sad!

Sometimes, various institutions flag you. If you are X, you cannot be Y. If you are Atlantean, come your 22nd birthday, you shall have no other allegiances lest you be expelled. If you are a Christian, you cannot be a Confucian. Stuff like that.

How to explain the rich legacy of networks that can make a person so many things all at once? But a house divided against itself cannot stand, so a man should make his allegiance clear and stick to them, I suppose. A gryphon cannot morph into a wyvern; a man cannot serve certain combinations of two masters.

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At the beginning of a grand endeavour, before you know that it will be one, is always the whispering of a prayer, the enunciation of hope rather than the renunciation of the past. I remember these words from 1995, uttered by a senior member of the Church: "It is a school founded on faith, faith in the promise of young persons, faith in the importance of education and faith in the future, no matter how unpromising or insignificant the start."

These are sentiments not from a citadel of wyverns, but from a home on a hill; they are words spoken under the banner of 'Simple dans ma vertu, forte dans mon devoir'. I first heard those words when I was a young teacher, and I carried them in my heart. I quoted them in my Master's dissertation. I told myself that this was how a school should be blessed, by founding words that were based on a sure foundation.

I thank God for such things. I realise that schools, like nations, rise and fall; yet schools are unlike nations in that they are supposed to benefit all the people in them, not breaking any, but improving the lot of all — not by accident or incident, but by deliberation and as much wisdom as God might grant.

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Whose World? What Cup? (Day 08)

So the Germans can be beaten by the Slavs from Serbia, and the USA can only play football when taunted by old rivals. Same old, same old. It is shaping up to be a magnificent World Cup. Ideally, every favourite should be beaten at least once to heighten the tension and make the whole world sing (in rage, disappointment, joy or incredulity, it shouldn't matter much).

I'm going to sleep and watch England getting beaten by Algeria later on. Or at least, in a perfect world, this would be the case. Nadir Bel-Hadj, anyone?


I woke up to a world in which the United States of America are better-looking than England even at football. Or at least, for now. From 2-0 down, they were almost 3-2 up, except for some confounding referrals, so to speak. Huh.


I am in a world where Algeria look better than England. Maybe my dream will come true and anyone except England will qualify from this group. I'm normally an England supporter; after all, that's where I was born. But so far, this team has not made me feel good about English football.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Living Out My Science Fiction Fantasies

No starships, no alien worlds or aliens, no underwater cities, no teleport chambers, no easy augmentation fixes for birth defects. I looked forward to many things, from my standpoint in the 1970s and 1980s, but have not yet found them.

And yet, I find cause for optimism each time I read Science or the quarterly tech update from The Economist or any of the other sources I routinely sift for news about these things. Today, for example, I am reading the mid-June episode of The Economist's Technology Quarterly.

The list is interesting: Tesla's dream of harnessing ambient energy, now closer to reality as Nokia begins to pluck electricity from ambient radio waves for free; salmon modified to spawn faster and bigger using natural hormonal stimulation; vegetarian robots that harvest cellulose (grass, twigs) to run themselves; amoeboid robots that can change shape and squeeze into tight spots; self-repairing metal sheets; carbon composites that are both the body and the battery of a car; straw-bamboo-clay composites that are earthquake resistant and environmentally friendly; information eavesdropping by magnifying keyclick sounds; educational software that reads your face to gauge if you understand something; software that defends you from distractions.

All that is just in the summary, not the detailed pieces. The detailed pieces are even more fascinating.

But the game I've often played is the one in which I wonder how it would be if all these discoveries were 'in play' at the same time. What kind of world would we be living in?

It takes some effort to realise that while many of my dreams have not yet come to pass, many of them already have. Handheld lasers, mobile phones smaller than a pack of cards, computers the size of a small book, near-instant searches through massive archives of collaboratively-amassed — these are the things of Asimov, of Heinlein, of the old greats from the old times.

I am happy when I think of this. Such happiness keeps me going as I wait for the days of Space: 2019 (two decades is late, but not too late), of Niven, of Brin's Uplift universe and perhaps Cordwainer Smith. But please, not the dystopian visions of Ballard and Kornbluth; having Orwell come true is already bad enough.

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Whose World? What Cup? (Day 07a)

France appear to have self-destructed. When their offside trap blew up in their faces (if even they attempted such a thing, which I'm not sure they did), it was a simple 0-1 to Mexico. Then Abidal made an awkward challenge, and it was 0-2 from the penalty spot.

It's hard for people to remember that there was once an Empire of Mexico, and that California and Texas used to be part of it. But Mexico is an old and powerful nation, not just a source of pollution and illegal immigrants. Sometimes, a blinkered view of history makes us see things not as they are, but as we would like them to be.

So far, Spain and France in particular have shown that footballing powers are not immune to time, fate, history and the weight of glory. We will see more in the next few days.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Whose World? What Cup? (Day 07)

Watching Argentina demolish South Korea 4-1 wasn't really the triumph of guile over graft, as some might simplify it. Rather, it was the sudden understanding that the Korean goalkeeper could not shift attention from one side to the other quickly (how many can?) and neither could his defenders. Kudos to Higuain for scoring a hattrick; it was awful to watch him miss so many chances in the previous game.

Greece against Nigeria next. Most people will see this as a clash of European against African. But most people forget that Greece was last dominant in the time of Alexander the Great, about 300 years before the Christian era. Nigeria's kingdom of Benin held sway from the 15th to 19th centuries in West Africa; it was only defeated in 1897 by the British. Nigeria's last kingdom fell in 1911.

Today, Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation, and continues to be the most powerful nation in West Africa; its projected economic growth approaches 9% per annum, and its influence level within Africa is one of the highest. Greece is a backwater third-world state which can only squat in the ruins of the glorious past (17 UNESCO World Heritage sites) and dream of a blind poet named Homer; its projected economic growth is negative, and it no longer has any positive influence in its continent.

Maybe France vs Mexico will inspire more.

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Whose World? What Cup? (Day 06a)

It was not the first time the Swiss have kept their enemies at bay and triumphed through force of arms. Most people forget that the Swiss dominated Europe in the Middle Ages, fielding the largest and most technically trained army. For about 500 years now, Swiss mercenaries have been in high demand as specialists and valuable commodities.

And last evening, they scrambled one past the Spaniards and held on for an historic 1-0 victory in South Africa. Perhaps the CH on their car plates ('Confoederatio Helvetica') will some day also stand for 'Championship Holders'. A Swiss dream, perhaps? Who knows, in this odd iteration of the World Cup.

Later, Uruguay walloped the hosts 3-0 after South Africa had goalkeeper Khune sent off (I think it was harsh; a striker tripped over his stationary boot). Yes, it was mostly about Diego Forlan, as expected. Uruguay would have looked dangerous but not lethal without him.

At least some things are getting interesting.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Whose World? What Cup? (Day 06)

Tonight's entertainment starred Chile and Honduras. Most people would bill this as a clash between two South American sides, if you had to choose continents. I think of the Republic of Honduras (formerly Spanish Honduras) as a North American country, however. This is because anything north of the Panama Canal (and including Panama itself) should be considered 'North America' — after all, that's where they cut through the narrow umbilical that connects the huge mass of South America to its northern counterpart.

The capital of Honduras (which means 'depths' in Spanish) has that lovely name Tegucigalpa, which sounds Mayan to me, and which I've always thought was pronounced 'de Gucci gal pa'. But who knows what the Spanish have done with that?

Meanwhile, the capital of Chile is Santiago, which is Spanish for 'St James'. It's also the battle-cry of the Reconquista, in full, "Santiago y cierra España!" — "St James and strike for Spain!" Yes, St James, one of the legendary sons of Thunder, is indeed the patron saint of Spain.

Scoreline: 1-0, "Santiago!" Yet another entertainment-with-low-score episode. I hope Spain, playing in 15 minutes' time, is a lot better.


Haha. The disciples of Zwingli beat the hidalgos 1-0 after a terrible goalmouth scramble. Spain were interesting but not good. All the possession, but not self-possession enough to either stop the Swiss machine on its rare attacks or break their defence, which was traditionally resolute. Oh well. "Santiago!" It will be silly but normal if we don't see Spain in the grand final.


And on a third Hispanophile note, Uruguay 1-0 so far against South Africa? Two endlessly-running sides separated by one Forlan's distant strike of beauty. Ah, the beautiful game...

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It thunds outside. Generally, I think of 'thunder' as a rolling sound, a rumbling in the ether. But this is just monsoonal rain, with occasional booms. Or is that 'boomz', these days?

If it thunders continuously, I guess you could say it thundred, which would be somewhere between 100 and 1000 times.

Right now, I am wrapping up a comparison of the Citadel of the Wyverns in 1999, when I submitted my Master's thesis, and in 2009, a decade later. The story is cheesy. It should be grilled. For that last part, you will have to blame a certain ectomorphic (ectoplasmic?) friend of mine, who told the story about the pastor's wife and the policemen.

Don't ask.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Whose World? What Cup? (Day 05)

Having dealt with Slovenia and Slovakia in an earlier post, I found myself at a loss for clever commentary on the first match tonight: New Zealand meets Slovakia. Then I realised one thing: most people know about New Zealand, but few people realise that it is one of the most isolated places on Earth. The nearest continent to New Zealand is also the nearest major piece of land — Australia. The next nearest is Antarctica.

If you sailed eastward from New Zealand, you'd end up in Chile after a long stretch of empty sea in which you would cross the International Date Line. That's an interesting fact, considering that the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, is still New Zealand's Head of State. The sun still hardly sets on the British Empire, it seems.

New Zealand gets its name from one of the Dutch provinces, Zeeland. Those Dutch were everywhere in the bad old days — even New York used to be called New Amsterdam. Its Maori name is Aotearoa, 'The Land of the Long White Cloud'.

Also playing tonight are Côte d'Ivoire (officially) and Portugal. The Ivory Coast is so named for a long-gone ivory trade; since then, coffee and cocoa have dominated exports. Civilisation in the region has long flourished; evocative names like the Muslim Empire of Kong and the Agni Kingdom of Sanwi were trading with Timbuktu and other Sudanic powers even up to the late 19th and early 20th century.

Portugal, on the other hand, is the only remaining state in the Iberian Peninsula that hasn't become part of Spain (much to the envy of Catalans, Basques and other formerly independent peoples). The Portuguese retain their own language, approximately shared with their largest former colony, Brazil. It seems a long time since the Treaty of Tordesillas in which Portugal and Spain divided the entire globe between them.

Speaking of Brazil, they play against the Hermit Kingdom (or is that a Hermit Crab?) in the last match of the day. Sounds like fun.


Well, two very entertaining draws there. New Zealand must be happy to have their 1-1 against Slovakia; I'm not sure who is happier between Côte d'Ivoire and Portugal at their 0-0 'blockbuster'. Probably Portugal: towards the end, the Ivorians looked really dangerous, compared to the rather soft-looking Portuguese.


Hmmm. The Hermitage scored a consolation goal as the Samba netted twice. But the Hermitage was impressive. Generally stingy and very hardworking.

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Whose World? What Cup? (Day 04a)

I'm watching Paraguay holding a 1-0 lead over Italy at half time, which brings us to the only question that is trickier than the difference between Slovakia and Slovenia: "What's the difference between Uruguay and Paraguay?"

The Oriental Republic of Uruguay is a state existing entirely on the Eastern (hence, 'Oriental') bank of the Uruguay ('birds on the water') River. The land border on the other sides of Uruguay is with Brazil. Its motto is Libertad o Muerte, 'Liberty or Death'.

The Republic of Paraguay is a state some distance to the north of Uruguay, with the Paraguay ('many waters') River running through it. It has Argentina to its south, Brazil to its east, and Bolivia to its northwest. Its motto is Paz y Justicia, 'Peace and Justice'.

I guess there must be quite a bit of difference between the two. Uruguay has a sea coast, with the Atlantic to its southeast; Paraguay is landlocked, the heart of South America, in a way. Uruguay's capital is Montevideo ('Mountain View') while Paraguay's capital is Asuncion ('Ascension'). Paraguay has a 95% mixed Latino/Native (Mestizo) population, while Uruguay is about 90% white.

And at this World Cup, I think Paraguay is at the moment being slightly more successful...


Italy has just equalised through Daniele De Rossi, one of the three Italian players I think of as possibly the future of Italy's team. The other two are Giorgio Chiellini and Marco Balotelli. Sadly, the last-named, being of highly incendiary temperament, isn't at the World Cup this year.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Whose World? What Cup? (Day 04)

Well, here I sit as the second half of Denmark-Netherlands commences. I am impressed by the tempo sustained in blistering heat by these tall, hefty Northern Europeans (some of whom used to be Northern Africans, from the look of their statuesque frames and darkly-chiselled features). But it is still 0-0.

Denmark is one of the largest countries on Earth, by virtue of its associate country (as of 2009), Greenland. Greenland, at over 2m square kilometres or about 836,000 square miles, was granted home rule by their Danish overlords in 1979 and became an autonomous nation in 2009. That association makes Denmark the third largest power in North America, and the second largest physical presence in the Arctic Circle next to Russia.

The Netherlands is an agglomeration of trading states, the twelve provinces of the Dutch people. Two of those provinces are called North and South Holland, which is why some people persist (to some Dutch irritation) in called the Netherlands 'Holland'. 50% of its land is less than a metre above sea-level; should global warming raise the oceans, the Netherlands could well become the Sunken Lands.

But as I watch the goings-on in South Africa, they haven't sunk yet. Nor do they seem likely to do so.


Well, 2-0 to the Orangemen in the end. And at half-time in the second match of the day, Japan lead Cameroon 1-0, by the feet of one Honda. A well-placed kickstart, shall we say?

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Whose World? What Cup? (Day 03a)

Ghana-Serbia 1-0 might have been a surprise to some, but Germany-Australia 4-0 cannot really be said to have been a surprise. The thing about the Germans is that they always think they will win. To them, it is not surprising at all; at the very worst, they don't think they will lose.

In contrast, Australia, ever-optimistic and positive, made the mistake of hoping to win. It wasn't the hope that was the mistake, but the lack of certainty. Spurts of violent industry, the occasional Chipperfield run down the left, Tim Cahill (as he does at Everton) being a troublesome man up front — all these are quintessentially Aussie. But they are signs of optimism, the expectation (in the hopeful sense) that the future will be better than warranted.

That's not the same as knowing the future is bright, which is what all German teams seem to believe. There is no optimism. Just the expectation (in the deterministic sense) that if the opponent is lower-ranked, they will be beaten — and that if the opponent is higher-ranked, this can be corrected by the proper application of strategy and skill.

Lahm, not an obvious captain, was an engine of creativity and defence up and down the right. But then, so was everyone else in his team, wherever they were. On offence, Germany appeared to have a single sweeper and six midfielders, a sort of 1-6-3 formation. On defence, everyone retreated in order to give a 6-3-1. Of course, it was neither; it just seemed that way... just as it seemed that members of the Australian side were somehow not quite present most of the time.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Master Historian

I was pleasantly tickled earlier today to read a piece about one of the Grand Masters of the Citadels of the Wyvern. In that piece, the Thunderer's daughter mentions his great prowess and erudition; of greater importance, she mentions his skillful teaching. I had the honour of being a student when he was Master of the Citadel.

In my opinion, he was one of the best Masters. True to his ideals, always willing to work with or against the conventional as long as education was well served, he obeyed the principles and dicta of his first predecessor, the Dauntless Hero, in all respects. He has now retired as Master, but continues to serve as Lord High Archivist.

I have many anecdotes about him which I shall tell when appropriate. But one of them is apropos. When he came to the current Wyvern Citadel on the Hill to speak, some of my colleagues who had not known him whispered to me, "That is the way a Master of the Citadel should speak."

Of course, that would not sit well with the current Master, the Grand Inquistor, so I shall not mention the names of those illustrious colleagues. But it was clear that listening to the measured and intelligent speech emerging from the lips of this now much older man, they had been firmly made aware of some deficiencies of the incumbent. I laughed, and replied, "Yes."

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Whose World? What Cup? (Day 03)

Tonight's first match is Algeria vs Slovenia, a match that raises in my mind many interesting topics. The obvious one was the point of that crack some commentator made about whether anyone knew the difference between Slovenia and Slovakia. Well, I do, and I suspect so do a bunch of people who grew up around my time (along with countless others from other times).

I'm a person who grew up during the Cold War, in a world of Yugoslavs ('Southern Slavs') and Czechs who were actually from that hybrid state of Czechoslovakia. People like my ancestors saw the Yugoslavs come together after the first half of the Great European War of 1914-1918 + 1939-1945, and then fall apart a bit during the second half. But it was first known as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (before 3 October 1929, anyway). That is why I always think of Slovenia as 'that small anvil-shaped thing on the NW tip of Yugoslavia'.

Czechoslovakia had a similar history, beginning in October 1918 as a result of similar historical forces. In the second half of the Great European War, they got occupied by Nazis and ceased to exist, came back to life after that, and then somewhat peacefully broke up in 1993 to give the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

But all that is a lot more boring than watching Nadir Belhadj in his No. 3 shirt running creatively up and down the Algerian left wing. The name 'Nadir' means something like 'in opposition to'. In this game, I was struck by the fact that he was playing entirely in shadow, like the antithesis to the zenith ('the path above the head', describing the noonday sun) that his name implies. He was also far more active, far more creative, and far more unrewarded for his industry than his compatriots on the other flank.

Ah well, still 0-0, despite some entertaining moments and a smoothly-running game.


And it ended 0-1 to Slovenia! I still think Nadir was the Zenith for Algeria, though. At least in the other Africa-Western Eurasia match-up, Ghana beat Serbia 1-0. Apparently, a particular Kuzmanovic has itchy hands; he kept raising them and when he did it in the box, Gyan slotted the resultant penalty calmly in for the sole goal.

I have to say these two games were pretty good in terms of drama, if not goals. With South Korea still holding the record (in this World Cup finals) for number of goals scored, let's hope Germany-Australia (up next) will be a good Northern Eurasia-Southern Australasia (haha) performance.

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Whose World? What Cup? (Day 02a)

Argentina-Nigeria was not as dire as Uruguay-France from the previous day. Both teams were somewhat entertaining, although they seemed laboured. The most amusing part was Maradona on the sidelines, who reminded me of Tattoo (played by Herve Villechaise), Mr Roarke's (played by Ricardo Montalban) sidekick, from the 1978 TV series Fantasy Island.

As I type this, the USA-England slugfest continues. It's been easily the most entertaining match so far, although the means by which Clint Dempsey equalised for the US was rather sad, more a failure of goalkeeper Robert Green to get behind the oncoming ball than anything else.

For some, life is a pitch. But for some, that's not quite the way it's pronounced. Heh.


Well, the 1-1 scoreline lasted till the end. A fair result, I think.

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Whose World? What Cup? (Day 02)

In their first match, South Korea have scored as many goals as France, Greece, Mexico, South Africa, and Uruguay (in alphabetical order) combined have contrived to score up to this point. It is an interesting phenomenon.

This is perhaps the reason why some people don't like football; the scores don't have the majestic digits of rugby or basketball or even Scrabble™. Many games are dour 0-0 or 1-1 affairs; a 3-1 match is exciting and 7-0 is a truly unusual phenomenon. If that were a rugby score, 7-0 would have indicated a truly terrible game.

I once watched a rugby match back in the old days when Ireland scored five goals for 15 points. Like basketball, the scores are inflated by multiplying and then adding a 'difficulty bonus'. I wonder how that would work in football: would you give 2 points for a shot from within the penalty box, 1 point for a converted penalty, 3 points for a shot from outside the box?

Ah, no point dreaming up heresies. On to the Argentina-Nigeria match, another Afro-American combination which looks as if it could be exciting. We hope that, this time, looks will not deceive...

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Whose World? What Cup? (Day 01)

Yeah, I stayed to watch both of the opening matches in the latest season of 'World Cup: The TV Series'. It comes round every four years, as evidence that football is as good as all the world's other sports combined.

Last night, a wannabe North American side (Mexicans won't settle for 'Central American') clashed with a South African side (strangely enough, called South Africa). A South American side (from somewhere between Brazil and Argentina, literally) clashed with a Western European side (Western enough to have an Atlantic shore). Both matches were draws which did not draw, being action-packed but somehow lacking entertainment value.

I staggered off, feeling, "Whose World? What Cup?"

As usual, there was no answer.

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Friday, June 11, 2010


Every three feet, you feel the crush of melancholy. The season is black, the humour is dark, the bile is like atrament. But when you were in it, it was golden.

If such a thing lived, it would be a monster. It does, and it is. But it does not bury as much as it fertilises, for even monsters can be made into blessings, and even death can be turned to life.

Soon, it has been heard. Soon. This is a word that sounds like the hiss of the sea returning, not quite in a crash of waves, but in the first breakers as the tide rolls back in. Soooooon.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Who Coined 'Globalization'?

According to my friend at St Hilda's, who enterprisingly turned to the OED during my rant, the first use of the word 'globalization' was way back in 1930, by W Boyd and M M Mackenzie, and not by Theodore Levitt in 1983. However, a lot of American commentators (it seems a stretch to call them researchers under the circumstances) still claim that Levitt was the first one to use the term — this despite the fact that shortly after his death in 2006, the New York Times appended a correction to his obituary which denied this claim.

In this age of the Internet, I was able to find uses of the actual word 'globalization' at least as far back as 1959, with claims dating back to 1944, within ten minutes of beginning my search. When a key commentator in my field, such as Joel Spring, gets it wrong, it makes me wonder how on earth I am ever going to bulletproof my research. (In his defence, he cited this from another colleague, who cited the OECD. Ho ho.)

It is A G Hopkins's 2002 book, Globalization in World History (Pimlico/Random House), that I have found most useful so far. It divides the phenomenon into historical phases — archaic, proto-, modern, and post-colonial — tracing its origins back to the pre-industrial Chinese diaspora which first created a global economy and shook the foundations of the world.

Of course, the difference between Spring and Hopkins is that the former is an educationist and the latter is an historian. Educationists, unfortunately, are often so focused on the idea of education that they have been known to ignore the facts. Historians, on the other hand, have been known to obsess about facts so much that some have ignored education.

I do think, however, that all educators should be historians, even if not all historians educate. It is hard to think about educating anybody without knowing something about history — especially in this age of the globalization of knowledge-based disciplines.

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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Word of the Day: Censorship

Somebody from Canada spends time every night looking for the word 'censorship' in this blog. I have no idea why. This post is for you, whoever you are.

Modern ideas about censorship are pretty odd. For a start, the word has been prostituted for so long that it now admits to any kind of activity. What you don't do is a form of tacit censorship; what you don't say is some sort of self-censorship; there is nothing you can do that isn't not-something-else, and so you are always a censor.

But if you are always a censor, then what's the point of the word?

A Roman censor was an official who was in charge of conducting a census. He would obtain, tabulate and announce the results. In later times, this took on the sense of 'pronouncing judgement'. 'Censorship', therefore, ought to mean nothing more that 'having the state of being a censor, or of holding that office.'

A careful look will see that a censor is defined by what he does, and not by what he doesn't do. We've known for a long time that proving a negative is difficult, if not impossible. To say that acts of decision which are not specifically acts of public judgement (that is, you choose without attempting to impose your choice on others in public or in the public sphere) are also acts of censorship is a bit silly. To include random acts, on the principle that they aren't other acts, is worse.

If I make a random blog post, it isn't a form of censorship just because it means I didn't post something else. You'd have to say what exactly I was actively suppressing, and show that it would have had import in the public sphere. That act of suppressing a specific thing which would have had import (impact, or significance) in the public sphere is true censorship — not that wimpy vague postmodern idea of it.

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Lone Gunmen

Tonight I am listening to a sequence of songs that somehow, for no obvious reason, reminds me of the phrase 'Lone Gunmen'.

From Eleanor Rigby, The Beatles:

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

From Let It Be, The Beatles:

And when the broken hearted people
Living in the world agree,
There will be an answer, let it be.
For though they may be parted there is
Still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be.

From State of Grace, Billy Joel:

There you go, slipping away into a state of grace
I know the look that comes across your face
It's so familiar to me
Here I am, trying to keep you in my line of sight
I'm never certain that you read me right
Sometimes you don't want to see me...

From America, Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel:

"Toss me a cigarette, I think there's one in my raincoat"
"We smoked the last one an hour ago"
So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field

"Kathy, I'm lost," I said, though I knew she was sleeping
I'm empty and aching and I don't know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They've all gone to look for America...

This was followed by ABBA's Eagle and St Etienne's Milk Bottle Symphony. There is a certain colour of loneliness, somewhere in the long wavelengths beyond the microwaves, where the sea edges towards flatness and the frequency approaches never. Somewhere out there is the null, the opposite of singularity. And maybe, there is a lone gunman.

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Food Courtship

Sometimes, I just let go. I walk anonymous through the throngs, I look at the curious specimens in their glass cages, and I eat. I love hawkers' centres, I love food courts, I love the winding streets that the truly great cities have, lined with vendors of odd foods.

I like to imagine the minds that first came up with various foods. Who first mashed his rice into noodles? Who decided to roll a sausage in a coat of corn? Who decided to make the plastic dough that can be spun artistically into the prata, that pancake of pancakes? Who first made patties of lamb? Of beef? Of fish? Who first filled tender chicken with molten cheese?

I have been in love with many foods. I taste them still, a chemical romance or the memories of such. I used not to be able to leave a buffet without tasting everything; now I can walk relatively unscathed in the midst of plenty.

I have been with desperate companions, hungry and greedy men; I have been with the most delicate of young ladies, both of experimental and conservative tendencies. All my experiences with food have been interesting.

But I am no snob. The humble hot dog, fried cephalopod, leaf of garden vegetable, root of plant? I eat them all, save for a few enemies which my genes will not tolerate. And I enjoy what I can, for the Preacher says in Ecclesiastes that there is nothing better.

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Monday, June 07, 2010


Chesterton's Lepanto has been one of the greatest narrative poems in my life.

It concludes likes this:

The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke,
(Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke.)
The hidden room in man's house where God sits all the year,
The secret window whence the world looks small and very dear.
He sees as in a mirror on the monstrous twilight sea
The crescent of his cruel ships whose name is mystery;
They fling great shadows foe-wards, making Cross and Castle dark,
They veil the plumèd lions on the galleys of St. Mark;
And above the ships are palaces of brown, black-bearded chiefs,
And below the ships are prisons, where with multitudinous griefs,
Christian captives sick and sunless, all a labouring race repines
Like a race in sunken cities, like a nation in the mines.
They are lost like slaves that sweat, and in the skies of morning hung
The stair-ways of the tallest gods when tyranny was young.
They are countless, voiceless, hopeless as those fallen or fleeing on
Before the high Kings' horses in the granite of Babylon.
And many a one grows witless in his quiet room in hell
Where a yellow face looks inward through the lattice of his cell,
And he finds his God forgotten, and he seeks no more a sign--
(But Don John of Austria has burst the battle-line!)
Don John pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,
Purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate's sloop,
Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,
Thronging of the thousands up that labour under sea
White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.

Vivat Hispania!
Domino Gloria!
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!

Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight for ever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade....
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)

It is nothing like the reality of history, and yet everything like that history. I memorized the whole poem when I was ten, all because of one Isaac Asimov, who wrote a short story about the generation of literature from first lines. Amazing.

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Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Silence of the Wolff

I asked Wolff, my old acquaintance who was once Sir Wolff, to comment on the state of things at the Citadel of the Wyverns. All I received in response was silence.

It is a hard thing to realise that the work of all the old Order is slowly slipping away into a Slough of Despond. Yes, the numbers out of the Citadel are fantastic. But they belie a trend towards a truly low form of education.

What does the analysis say?

Essentially, a meticulously reasoned survey exposes the entire scam. There are five functional sections of the old academic division. Maybe six. Among the Lords Academic, perhaps three are fit to run the Citadel; the rest are either inexperienced or incompetent. Among the Lords Regnant, Lionheart himself has said there are none competent. When the Aasvogel departs, the whole will fall.

So now, Lionheart waits for a final accounting. The great question was, if things are so bad, wherefore the excellent results?

The game was given away by the High Priest of the Temples of Instruction. He and his predecessors have pointed out, through interesting statistics, that the overall ability of Atlantean students to produce results is excellent. In fact, given the cohort that the Citadel has been absorbing, it is NO surprise at all that these results have been achieved. Statistical logic almost compels it.

It is revealing that the areas propping up the performance are in Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics (all of which are preselected for by national examinations); and Economics and Business & Management, both untainted by the rot that has infiltrated the Citadel, since they never had roots in the squalid regime of recent years. It is also revealing as to where indiscretions and lack of integrity have led to system-rigging and other improprieties — especially in the hotly-disputed area of whatever tongues one's mother speaks.

But what about the bonuses that accrue to those who do well in lengthy dissertations and epistemological reasoning? The answer is, if the former is greatly aided by constant rewriting under supervision, and the latter (while not excelling) produces enough B-grades, then a fair number of students will earn two or three bonus points — the majority come from A+B, not A+A.

And all this was said, by saying nothing, by the Wolff. What amazing sources he has! And what glorious detail? What else are the Lords Regnant of the Citadel concealing from the outside world? We wait with bated breath.

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Saturday, June 05, 2010

Open Season

Earlier this year, the great high schools of Atlantis went through the convolutions of the annual ritual of the Open House, in which all secrets are laid bare and the souls of men revealed to many. Only, not quite.

At the Citadel of the Wyverns, now under siege, the High Lord Lord High Grand Inquisitor (also called the Aasvogel or 'le Yak Sauvage' behind his back) apparently delivered a mumbly and unedifying spiel, in which no hard data were provided, nassssty ssssecretssss were not laid bare, and the soul of one man was shown to be rather threadbare at this sad stage in his life.

What?! Really?!

Well, several parents, teachers, and many students assure me it is so. Unfortunately, I think it is a likely thing, and so it is probably true. A few have told me that had they not already entered into the Citadel, they would have gone off to the Gryphon Hold, or even to the House of the Flaming Book.

They told me that the Aasvogel was dilatory, evasive, circumlocutory, and in general, gave the appearance of a man whose heart is not in the grand endeavour. I think I shall call upon Sir Wolff to give comment in the next post.

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Friday, June 04, 2010


Ah, the barricades are going up at the Citadel of the Wyverns on the white cliffs. The aasvogel which runs the place is denying researchers, investigators, and other interested parties the opportunity to examine how exactly it is being run.

I am, however, happy to share the fruit of five years of interviews and data collection. It is illuminating. Some areas are excellently run indeed, and they can be used to cover for other areas of somewhat dubious quality.

We shall storm the barricades! When the new administration is deployed, there will be much bloodshed. All of it will be in red ink, though, not real blood. Ho ho ho. Education is a wonderful thing; educational research, even more so.

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Thursday, June 03, 2010

Is Christianity Divisive?

Before I give any answer, I shall make a specific point. 'Divisive' means 'having the quality of forcing apart, or of causing separation'. It requires that the target of this quality must already be divisible; i.e. it has discrete elements that maintain their individuality once separated, at least for a time.

Is Christianity divisive? The answer is yes. This opinion is arrived at by consideration of its basic mandates as set forth in the New Testament. Jesus himself says:

Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
(Luke 12:51-53)

The equivalent passage in Matthew's gospel (Matthew 10:34-36) says:

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.

In fact, the word of God is said to be "quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)

The point, really, is discernment. Although there is to be unity among believers, each issue can cause division. Sometimes, this is a pointless division; sometimes it is useful. It can be pointed out that without the need for division, the epistles would never have been written; each of them is designed to give advice and argument against or in favour of specific practices and philosophies.

But since the Bible can be treated as a weapon, it must be used appropriately. That requires hermeneutic effectiveness and consistency — people who use the Bible as a tool for dividing X from Y must read it like any other key text: it is indeed possible to use analysis of the text to discard spurious readings, and it is something the conscientious user should do.

Christianity is inherently divisive; it says that some people will belong and some won't, it says that some will be on one side and some on the other, it acts in the capacity of a determining (i.e. a boundary-making, from Latin terminus = 'boundary') agent. It need not be so, but sometimes it needs to be so.

That said, there is another possible point. The act of creating meaning is perhaps itself divisive. To say that something is 'red', for example, is to assert that other things are not. If they were also 'red', 'red' would have no meaning.

Would saying that something is 'divisive' then lack meaning? After all, if all meaning divides, then 'divisive' has no meaning.

I think this argument doesn't work: when we say 'divisive', we mean actively so, dividing with intent or with built-in capacity for causing discord. That sense is attested from the 17th century. In that sense, not all things need to be divisive, although they may serve to divide. In Galatians 3, as well as in Colossians 3, St Paul points out that within Christianity, certain categories — race, social status, gender — cease to be relevant.

Christianity, it seems, may be divisive. But it can also serve to unite.

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