Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Your number's up

As soon as I saw this article about soccer hooligans using mobile phones as weapons, my mind started to second-guess the legislative repercussions in the near future.

Would they ban mobile phones at stadiums? At large gatherings? Would one have to be over a certain age to own a mobile phone? Would one have to obtain a government license to own or use a mobile device? Would people with criminal records be banned from owning a handset? Would mobile phone companies be forced to engineer phones in a certain way to get rid of sharp edges or aerials?

Ludicrous? Perhaps not so much in today's Western societies.

In the example of the mobile-phone-as-projectile above, the logical answer is simply to treat the assault of one person by another using a mobile in the same way as you would treat that assault were it inflicted with a baton, a cricket bat, a hammer, a fist or a stuffed badger. The medium doesn't matter, the law deals with the results - and the results are physical injury.

The focus, though, will undoubtedly be on the mobile phones themselves and I think it's because we're preoccupied with preventing crimes rather than solving them or punishing criminals. We 'prevent' crimes by creating a whole new category of crime - the crime of the precursor.

Under the dubous logic of precursor to crime laws, a perfectly legal action is suddenly rendered illegal because of it's statistical correlation to the initiation of a particular type of legitimate crime.

Thus handguns are illegal in the UK and Australia because of their association with violent death, knives are illegal to carry in public because of their association with gangs and street violence, shuriken are illegal because they're...sharp and knife-like, drugs are illegal because drug addicts are associated with theft and so on down the line until you have patently silly things like hooded tops being illegal in some London suburbs because chavs choose them as a fashion accessory.

What these laws blatantly ignore is the fact that none of these precursors is actually a real crime in and of itself. Owning and carrying a gun doesn't kill someone - choosing to use it in a certain way does. Drug use is self-harm, the decision to mug someone for more money to feed the habit stands alone as a separate action. Wearing a hooded top does not constitute any kind of force against another human being.

Yet participating in a precursor to a crime (a presumed precursor, actually, as the ties aren't always made in a statistically rigorous manner) nets you the same kind of criminal record as perpetrating a crime against another human would. Clearly, this isn't the correct function of the law.

The increasing problem with precursor to crime laws is that new precursors are guessed at constantly. Once-normal actions suddenly become illegal in a desparate and misguided bid to 'rid' society of crime - as if that is actually an attainable goal.

So my guess at the kinds of legislation that might be attached to mobile phones really aren't that absurd when placed in this light. A mobile phone is a potential weapon, owning and carrying one could be the precursor to some violent act. By the logic of banning or controlling the precursor, we should ban or regulate the ownership of mobile phones.

What is obvious after a little thought is that the extent of these laws has no limit. Their encroachment on civil liberties is done under the auspices of protecting us from legitimate crime - so they effectively have a carte blanche to multiply and grow, building into whole new lists of permissible and not permissible behavior.

When you take the reach of these laws to their natural conclusion, you eventually see the possibility for absurd legislation.

Take, for example, the 'fact' that owning and carrying a weapon is a natural precursor to an assault.

Let me list all the things that can be used as weapons and that you'll likely find on your person any given day:

A pen
An umbrella/walking stick
A bunch of keys
A book
A handbag/briefcase
A necklace
A tie
A hair stick
A ring that isn't flush to the fingers
A hot drink
A rolled up magazine
A can of deodorant under pressure
A mirror that can be broken into shards
A pair of sunglasses
A stilletto or fairly thin heel

This list is by no means exhaustive, it's just what I could quickly think of when considering the things I carry around and I know Matthew has on his person in public. It doesn't include any of the multitude of things that you can pick up from your environment and use.

How can these everyday things harm anyone?

Quite simply - a weapon is only an extension of the human body, something that gives leverage to an attack. Someone who has rudimentary skills in objects more traditionally considered to be weapons will be quick to spot the same properties in everyday objects.

Should we then ban those everyday objects listed? Should we not allow any person in our society to walk around with any sharp, pointed, heavy, edged or solid object? Should we also outlaw the training and learning of martial arts so that ordinary objects aren't viewed as potential weapons?

No, absolutely not. That would be completely absurd and the fact that it could conceivably be actioned under current legislative logic shows the underlying fault in the very logic behind a lot of legislation.

Weapons can (and I think, should) be carried for personal protection. Laws designed to disarm criminals only result in disarming the law-abiding poulace who genuinely fear a criminal record. Your average violent criminal, posessed of a record started in his early teens isn't going to be overly concerned about a charge for posessing an illegal weapon in public. He knows how to work the system, the charge isn't going to add much to an already blotchy record and he's unlikely to be employed or employable in the first place - one of the reasons that most of us don't want to have any run-ins with the law to our name.

Owning and carrying a weapon is not a legitimate crime. Using it in anything other than reasonable self defense is.

It's quite obvious that we need to repeal the current crop of precursor crimes and severely strengthen another area of law. We need to have zero tolerance for theft, assault, rape, murder - anything that is the actual manifestation of somone's initiation of force or fraud.

We also need to ensure that people can defend their person and property from criminal action without fearing legal repercussions either from the state or from criminals suing for injuries and damages.

Then it won't matter what kind of tool someone uses to perpetrate the crime - only the actual crime committed will matter - if a crime is committed at all, given that the populace will be armed and ready to defend themselves.

So looking back at the article on soccer hooligans using mobile phones - we can see that the use of handsets is only a curious bit of trivia in a piece of news about basic assault. It shows, more than anything else, the amazing pace of technology in that a device that was once prohibitively expensive and fragile is now expendable enough to lob at someone you don't like.

M

(Cross posted to A Western Heart)

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The postman always thinks twice

M and I happened to be downstairs in the hallway this morning at the same time as the postman called. I now have a unique insight into why the postal system doesn't actually work on this soggy shard in the Atlantic.

We watch him approach through the smoky glass. We both expect the doorbell to ring - the doorbell that would allow someone not three feet away to be alerted to his presence at the door.

*soft knock*

What the? So this is why parcels never get delivered unless I spot postmen coming up the drive. There's a great, big doorbell on the doorframe. Big. Unmissable. I swallow my initial indignation and open the door.

*package thrust at me*

He doesn't even look me in the eye, just pushes it toward me. It's not for me, it's for C. It could equally be for the couple downstairs. Or, probably, for the people next door.

*he walks off*

I spot something on the parcel and call out for him to come back.

"What's this?" I say, pointing to the great, hollering-danger-orange sticker that says 'ID Recorded'

A heavily accented "I don't know."

"What do you mean you don't know?"

"I don't know."

"It says 'ID Recorded' - did you record my ID? You didn't ask for my ID. You didn't even ask who I was."

*He trudges back, grasps the other end of the parcel and starts to pull it toward him.*

"What are you doing?"

"I can get you to sign for it if you want."

"No, no, I don't...that's not the point." A tug of war ensues. I win. "I want to know what this (pointing to sticker) means - does it mean that you're supposed to have recorded my ID?"

"Umm...it's from overseas."

"Yeeeees" By now I'm thinking it's more than a language barrier he and I have between us. It's reality barrier. "But the sticker says ID recorded. I want to know if someone paid extra to ensure that you took a signature before delivering this package."

"They usually have a red sticker over here." *points to other corner of package* "Then I usually record a signature."

"Sure, yeah. But what does THIS sticker over here mean?" I know full well that these stickers are from the Royal Mail. I've seen them on internal mail and parcels before.

"I don't know but it's from overseas."

"What difference does that make? Tell me what the sticker means."

"I don't know."

"What do you mean you don't know? Who on earth is supposed to know?"

He looks at me angrily, I'm not playing by the rules. "What does this mean?"

"It probably means you're not doing your job."

"What?" He raises his voice. "I don't have time for this!" He turns on his heel and marches away.

He doesn't have time for this? Are we discussing sporting results? Is there something I'm missing in this whole conversation?

Matthew by now is holding onto one of my arms, no doubt concerned that I may leap out at this man's throat.

I eye the postman, haughtily sauntering his way up the next driveway, studiously avoiding any eye contact with me. No doubt saving his energy to help bring his ponderous intellect to bear on another insurmountable problem.

I can't help thinking that he's right now planning jihad against anything coming in to this address. Considering the fact that most parcels don't get delivered and credit cards routinely go missing I have no idea how on earth he could make the service any worse. With any luck, the dimwit will stop delivering the 1001 pizza and curry restaurant flyers that seem to form a second rug in the hallway by the end of the day.

M

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Monday, November 29, 2004

Zoomquilt

A brief reprise before the essayic storm to come tonight. Take the time to enjoy something masterful - Zoomquilt.

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Sunday, November 28, 2004

Sooper dooper secret

Just outside my tube station for the last week:



Mmhmm.

'Covert' - "Not openly practiced, avowed, engaged in, accumulated, or shown" - according to dictionary.com which seems to be staffed by more intelligent people than my local Met bureau.

In these politically correct times, I wouldn't be surprised if every known criminal also got a letter in the mail. The letter, of course, would be written in non-confrontational language especially pitched to the target demographic. Something like:

"Deer Kriminal,

I is riting 2 tell youse that we r currantly undagoing a ongoing criminal catchment proces in yor area. Therez no were 2 hide - exept, u no - where there iz no signs like.

From

Detective Inspector Dibble"



*sigh*

Why do we even pretend that the police try to catch criminals nowadays?

M

Update: What better time to introduce a new link on my sidebar - one that should have been included long ago, since M and I have both been visiting his site daily for quite a while.

If you snorted with indignant laughter (or any other kind of laughter, I'm not fussy) at the above photograph, then you'll certainly enjoy what The Policeman's Blog has to say about the daily realities of policing in the UK.

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Friday, November 26, 2004

Truly Incredible

I went to see the new Disney/Pixar creation 'The Incredibles' this afternoon and came away happier than I have from a movie in a long time.

So right now I'd love to tell you all about it - and why you should go see it. The danger, of course, in reviewing any piece of art that has some element of plot or suspense is that my revealing too much does the art a disservice. How to sound like I actually thought about it rather than coming out with something as bland as: "It's just good, trust me."?

I've come to the conclusion that there must a school to train reviewers. Somewhere that teaches people how to convey opinions on things without ever revealing to the audience what those things actually are. Thinking on this for a while, I realised that these people could quite easily be political speech writers if they got tired of seeing bad movies and reading bad books.

It's not so much of a problem with every kind of reviewer, though. A restaurant critic isn't going to spoil your night by revealing that cos lettuce was used or that "...the ambugue frittata coils were in a grou-grou sauce with bruised pichmelons and a light sprinkling of galanta seeds."*

*No, none of these things actually exist, but they sound like they should. In fact, they probably will when some chef decides he’s tired of calling his signature dish 'bangers and mash'.

So what to tell you of the movie?

More Bond than Bambi, its great, it's fast, it's fun. It's a knuckle-gnawing ride through someone's fantastic imagination. And it's funny - in a clever way.

What's more, it's a breath of fresh air. These superheroes are...well...heroic - believe it or not. They're not your run-of-the-mill schmuck making do in a horrible situation - they're geuninely better at something than the people around them. Much, much better. Unapologetically better.

Add to this that the writers have managed to create well-rounded characters for the main 'cast' and all supporting characters, that the one-liners and visual gags keep coming at a consistent pace throughout the film and that there is an attention to detail which is just stunning...and you have yourself a nice little bit of entertainment for an evening.

So it's just good, trust me.



M


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Thursday, November 25, 2004

Home Truths

The most difficult thing about writing this post was to hold myself back from swearing.

It seems that someone is genuinely concerned about the way in which US Marines are treating furniture in people's homes after seeing some photographs of entrenched soldiers.

To wit:

"If soldiers are in need of rest and they have access to a residence, is it appropriate to sleep on a couch as opposed to the floor?

Is it appropriate to sleep on a bed as opposed to a couch?

Is it appropriate to get in the bed, or just sleep on top of it?

Is it appropriate to use the pillows or not?

And, if it's deemed appropriate to use someone's bed, is there any protocol as to whether one should remove one's boots first?"


I'll tell you what's goddamned appropriate. Anything - ANYTHING - that is necessary to win. It's appropriate to blow craters in the city, it's appropriate to reduce walls to cement dust, it's appropriate to storm mosques and schools, hospitals and private homes - in fact, anywhere a murdering group of thugs is hiding - and kill or subdue them, in that order. If the building happens to sustain damage, it's one of the costs of victory.

I sometimes wonder if people forget what the military is, what it creates with the cadets that walk into boot camps by the thousand every year.

Soldiers are trained, honed killers. They are drilled in the use of tactics, equipment and machinery designed to be the most effective means of eliminating the lives of other human beings. That's the hard (and increasingly unpalatable to our neutered populace) truth.

And here's the rub: the better they are, the freer you will be.

The standards of 'better' in this profession are really quite awesome. Here's what these men are capable of (from a letter home by a US soldier):

"I will end with a couple of stories of individual heroism that you may not have heard yet. I was told about both of these incidents shortly after they occurred. No doubt some of the facts will change slightly but I am confident that the meat is correct.

The first is a Marine from 3/5. His name is Corporal Yeager (Chuck Yeager's grandson). As the Marines cleared and apartment building, they got to the top floor and the point man kicked in the door. As he did so, an enemy grenade and a burst of gunfire came out. The explosion and enemy fire took off the point man's leg. He was then immediately shot in the arm as he lay in the doorway. Corporal Yeager tossed a grenade in the room and ran into the doorway and into the enemy fire in order to pull his buddy back to cover. As he was dragging the wounded Marine to cover, his own grenade came back through the doorway. Without pausing, he reached down and threw the grenade back through the door while he heaved his buddy to safety. The grenade went off inside the room and Cpl Yeager threw another in. He immediately entered the room following the second explosion. He gunned down three enemy all within three feet of where he stood and then let fly a third grenade as he backed out of the room to complete the evacuation of the wounded Marine. You have to understand that a grenade goes off within 5 seconds of having the pin pulled. Marines usually let them 'cook off' for a second or two before tossing them in. Therefore, this entire episode took place in less than 30 seconds.

The second example comes from 3/1. Cpl Mitchell is a squad leader. He was wounded as his squad was clearing a house when some enemy threw pineapple grenades down on top of them. As he was getting triaged, the doctor told him that he had been shot through the arm. Cpl Mitchell told the doctor that he had actually been shot 'a couple of days ago' and had given himself self aide on the wound. When the doctor got on him about not coming off the line, he firmly told the doctor that he was a squad leader and did not have time to get treated as his men were still fighting. There are a number of Marines who have been wounded multiple times but refuse to leave their fellow Marines."

They don't have the TIME to think about whether it's 'appropriate' to lie on a couch. They've probably just gone without sleep for days and have been running through swarms of bullets and shrapnel to get to a point where they can rest for a couple of hours. They have their priorities - among them the regeneration of their bodies so that they can continue to fight tomorrow. Consideration for someone's cushions doesn't and SHOULDN'T come into the calculation of whether it's a good time and place to lie down.

Something important to think about here is who these residences belonged to before the soldiers walked in. As I see it, there are likely to be two distinct groups of owners who should take away two distinctly different messages from slightly mussed rugs.

There are the Iraqis who are being saved by these very troops from an intolerable regime. If that's the case, then these men are your liberators. Consider a footprint on the couch to be the price you pay for their services - goodness knows you're fortunate that some American miles away is actually bearing the real hard-dollar costs of this operation.

There are also the Iraqis who were sympathetic to the ousted regime. If it's a residence belonging to an enemy, then I'd say welcome to one facet of having your ass kicked to oblivion. Somehow, I think upholstery is going to be the least of your future worries.

In the end, we have to decide what we want. Do we want effective soldiers - humans who have been honed to kill, to push themselves to limits that most of us can't even fathom and to survive? Or do we want over-cautious, politically correct, neutered men who wouldn't survive a moment of actual wartime soldiering?

These men and women are rare in our society already - they are people of courageous and unfailing action. Every time we impose some arbitrary rule of engagement or criticise them for doing something that is instinctual and right, we instill some degree of hesitation to their actions, not to mention cast doubt as to the honour of what they are doing. I can't imagine a worse disservice to people who are right now - as we sit and read or write blogs - fighting for our freedom.

M

(Cross posted to A Western Heart)


Update: The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiller gets the point too and posts up a Times Online article lambasting journalists for portraying our troops in such a bad light.




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Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Everybody was Bujin fighting

I found a link to some great photos from that Bujinkan seminar I went to some months back and thought I'd share some of them with a little commentary. Click on each for a larger version.

Here's the official photo, to give you some idea how many people were there:




Ahhh....the luxury of an entire hall covered in soft matting and lots of room to wave your sword around in. Bliss. Sword work is actually my favorite part of Bujinkan, it feels very natural and I can pick things up with ease...unfortunately. Unfortunately because it's really of less use than the hand to hand stuff we do and learning to fight against things like knives and batons. People just don't walk around with a cutlass on their belt like they used to in the good old days.

You can see me on the left side of the photo right against the stage, I have a green belt on and my sword is sticking straight up in the air. I'm highlighted by a sunbeam because...you know...I'm just naturally angelic:




An integral part of Bujin is balance...ensuring that you have it and your opponent loses it asap. Swords are multi-use weapons and can easily be used as a long lever rather than just a cutting edge.

In this example, the attacker (orange shirt) would have had his strike somehow rendered ineffective...probably by Ed Lomax (black shirt) simply moving out of the range of the blade and then coming back in while the attacker was finishing off his swing. Ed then moves in to wedge his sword behind the leading arm of the attacker and in front of his thigh. The attacker now cannot turn back toward Ed, so can't use his own sword.




I don't actually remember what Ed did at this point to make the attacker drop his sword. Let's just presume it was nasty and sudden.




Ed now uses the leverage he has to push the attacker off balance by stepping forward. Note the attacker's hands are ineffective because he can't turn and he can't kick at Ed with the near leg because to do so would likely mean him losing his balance altogether. Best he can do is continue on the turn that Ed is urging him on, present his back and move away...not the best strategy when the person behind you has a sharp Japanese sword.

This would have ended with a mat-kissing session for the attacker in some way.




A sword, though, needs to be OUT to be useful. You can use it as a lever (above) when it's still in it's scabbard, but you can't do much with it when it's still on your belt.

In this case, the attacker is holding his sword, getting ready to unsheath it and trim Ed's haircut by...oh...5 inches.

Ed isn't armed, so he has two choices to get out of the reach of the sword. He can retreat, which is a rather short term option unless he has somewhere to run to - fast. Once that sword is unsheathed it gives the attacker a couple of feet of extra sharp reach and the decided advantage.

Ed also has a different option - to step in. This is surprisingly effective in cases where the attacker is relying on some distance or superior reach to make their weapon or their hands most effective. I've foiled M's plans (he's 6'5, I'm 5'11) more than once by simply stepping in very, very close and punching/pushing/whatever from there. He loses the advantage of his greater wingspan.

Anyway, here Ed is choosing to step in. It's important to do this BEFORE the sword is unsheathed, for obvious reasons.

The guy with the red hair sitting far forward on the mat on the left, by the way is M...or as I have begun calling him lately 'The Ginger Ninja'. I'm standing at the far left of the photograph...concentrating...




Ed does something rather smart...and unexpected. He simply stops the attacker from unsheathing his sword. Now look at Ed's advantage here - he's stepped in, he's probably unsettled the attacker and definitely disrupted his plans. Ed also has a hand free, where the attacker has both hands engaged.

More getting-to-know-the-mat-intimately action would have followed after this one.




Serious though the topic was, we did goof around a bit. There was a lot of love in the room.




And this is my favorite photo by far. The seminar was made up of classes from all around the country. Halfway through the first day, we had a lunch break. Some people wandered off, some stayed. Most of my class stayed...and stayed together. We weren't really talking, we just gathered loosely, sat and reflected a little then - one by one - a few of us lay down and slept in a corner of the hall. The others sat off the edge of the picture and ate lunch.





Afterward, someone from another class came up to me and said:

"That was really nice"

"What?"

"The way you guys all slept in the one corner...it sort of shows...that you trust each other, you know? It's like your class gives off this great vibe."


And in a way, it dawned on me that we did. Kidding aside, we all trained hard every week and did things that could be dangrous. There had to be some trust - trust that when that fist was coming for you, it would stop just in time, trust that when someone's arm is around your neck, they will have the control necessary not to squeeze too hard, trust that when someone is twisting your arm to throw you to the ground, they're not going to do it with the speed and strength that would snap a bone. With an art as effective as Bujin, it's just too easy to hurt your partner if you're not conscientious. Every. Single. Time.

So I like that photo. It encapsulates to me how lucky I am to be training with those guys - most of the regular class is made up of black belts or guys who are within a couple of grades of it. It's always an honour to be there.

M



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From scratch


20 minutes. I swear to you – that’s all it took to cook a healthy dinner for three from scratch.

I’m telling you this because I’m sick to death of people who say that they don’t have time to cook. I’m nauseated by people whinging in the press about the difficulties of eating healthily in a modern world…yada, yada, yada. I’m fed up with the health Nazis deciding that it’s time to legislate food and whack taxes on things the state determines is ‘naughty’ to consume because we’re evidently too stupid to make a meal for ourselves.

Garbage.

If you can’t look in the fridge and the pantry without getting some idea of a meal you can create then guess what? You can’t cook.

No, really. You can’t. You have pretty much no idea of the kinds of things that can be reasonably combined to create something that is edible and nutritious.

If you can’t just walk into your kitchen and apply your mind, your dexterity and (probably) a bit of heat to some raw ingredients then you’re missing a rather vital skill.

And that’s just fine. Cooking is a learned skill – like typing or knitting or driving or pretty much anything else you care to name that humans have mastered. No-one is born with some innate idea of what to do with a frypan and an egg. These things are usually gleaned from watching parents but increasingly from media outlets foaming with excitement about some new celebrity chef and THEIR take on lamb roast.

(Roast. All celeb chefs do roast, it’s some unwritten rule. If you’re going to change the world of cooking, you must somehow start with roast, one of the easiest things in the world to make apart from soup. Take ingredients. Prep ingredients…might involve stuffing garlic shards into flesh of meat *gasp - the ingenuity!*…Tumble ingredients onto oven tray. Stick in oven. If you’re feeling particularly precious – baste at intervals. Pull out. Let meat rest. Carve. If you look nice for the camera and add a sprig of rosemary to your concoction you’ll likely be crowned the Next Big Thing and end up rehashing everyone else’s recipes with one ingredient modified in your bestselling book. Me? Cynical? Get outta here!)

You probably also don’t have a well stocked kitchen, which comes with the territory of not knowing how to cook. If you don’t know what to do with flour, spices, legumes, raw vegetables and herbs then you’re not going to buy them. If you don’t have them at home you’re likely not going to experiment with them. Bit of a vicious circle that one.

I love to cook, it’s no secret. What’s also not a secret is the amount of foul things I’ve made along the way when I was just learning. It’s a miracle that M survived the early married years considering the fact that I had a penchant for reducing otherwise serviceable ingredients into something that even a starving dog would have second thoughts about.

I burned, I over salted, I over sugared, I fell in love with certain ingredients and started including them in everything, I undercooked, I created lumpy sauces and custards that could be used as FX in B grade horror flicks, I skipped steps in recipes by accident and ruined things terribly.

But.

I also learned and knowledge compounded on knowledge so that now I know the basic tenets of cooking and can do something with almost any given ingredient – if I generally know it’s properties, how it tastes, how it reacts to heat and cold, what group of spices it will react best with. I’ve learned how to chop and slice properly. I’ve battled with slimy fish and their stubborn-to-remove scales. I’ve sworn at Google when holding a weird Asian vegetable picked up out of curiosity at a market…trying to figure out what the hell to do with it.

It’s because I’ve never considered myself to be a great cook that I keep experimenting and adding to that knowledge base.

Anyhow, coming back to all that ‘don’t have time’ nonsense. Nonsense. You don’t have the skill.

Besides, if something is important enough to you, you’ll find the time.

20 minutes is all it took to make this:



It's stupidly healthy and really nice to boot. I had to stop M and C from eating it standing at the kitchen workbench and shoo them into the lounge.

Lamb pan fried in extra virgin olive oil with mint (Pan. Heat. Oil. Lamb. Watch. Flip. Watch. Remove. Cut slices at an angle if you love your guests. Take frozen mint – fresh seasonal mint which you’ve placed into the freezer for just such a time – and chop repeatedly until you have a mush that you can spread on the lamb. Don’t use the stuff in jars – this is much fresher and tastier, the only difference between it and fresh mint is the consistency as freezing has broken the cellular walls of the plant material.)

Steamed broccoli, steamed potato (If you can’t figure out how to use a steamer, I’m taking away your right to walk around in society. You’re a danger.)

Nuked sweet potato (Microwave. 3 minutes)

Sauteed mushrooms (A little bit of water into the frypan once the lamb is finished…swish round to pick up the residue and allow to boil…throw in chopped mushrooms. Wait till they’re, you know, cooked.)

Sauteed spinach with roasted sesame seeds and Maldon sea salt (Roasting nuts and seeds can be tricky – because they’re devious for the most part. They’ll do nothing…absolutely nothing…then, suddenly, they’ll be black and your smoke alarm will go off. Watch them like they’re a street urchin within sniffing distance of your wallet. Remove from heat when you can smell the roasting seed and when there is a hint of brown. As for the spinach? A little olive oil…heat…spinach…and it’ll be wilted – therefore done – before you can say “Geez, I wonder how long spina….” The salt? The important thing here is that it’s the wonderful little pyramid-shaped crystals of sea salt, not just factory-churned NaCl. Instructions? Sprinkle sparingly.)

Dessert? We didn't have any but if you want something really nice and *really* simple to make...

Take some very, very creamy greek yogurt. Drizzle honey on top. Roast some almond slivers (just like the sesame seeds...watch 'em...and don't be stingy, they taste glorious and add great texture) and sprinkle them on top. Voila.

And that, my darling blog readers is it.

Really, if I didn’t have a book in one hand, I could have shaved a good 5-7 minutes off. But who’s counting?

M

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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

I'll ask for no more than an hour...

...of your time to read:

'History' by Bill Whittle of Eject! Eject! Eject!

I don't think I'll be indebted to you once you're done.

M

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Monday, November 22, 2004

Commentariat

I've been asked for my views on comments and comments policies. Alright, let me quickly post about that and blog policies in general since it's something I've been meaning to do for a while. This may as well stand as the current policy on this blog until/unless I feel the overwhelming desire to figure out how to make a pretty box pop up with some purpose-written policy on demand.

I think my views can be summarised in the following few points:

* A blog is private property. The only rules are those set by the owner of the blog and as such they are the ultimate arbiter in any disagreements, whether they be right or wrong in the matter.

*Some blogs are hosted on other people's servers or with free software that comes with conditions. *looks around* In such cases, the blog owner may themselves be subject to restrictions. Anything outside those explicit restrictions are fair game for the whims of the blogger.

* A blog doesn't need to have comments to be a 'proper' blog. They're a courtesy enabled by the blog owner, not a 'right' that the world at large has over a blog.

* Comments are - by and large - in existence to discuss the same topic as the post that they're attached to, not just some public megaphone. As such, spam should justly be deleted as should commenters that stray too far from the topic or from reality in general.

* An interesting point that was brought up at the ASI's Democracy and the Blogosphere event was that of libel/slander. If a blogger believes that someone is being libellous or slandering another, the comment should be deleted - for the protection of the blogger, if naught else. I think that this really has to be considered in context, though, as some bloggers wouldn't know a libellous statement if it came up and bit them on the ass thigh. The law probably hasn't caught up in providing us with precedents to work from (has it? anyone?)...so it's best to be on the safe side, remembering that a blog is still a public forum (albeit privately owned).

* If you don't like it, go elsewhere. Preferrably somewhere far, far away where they still spear and sauté the more annoying people in the village.

_____

There are a few people that have put these points in a different (usually more witty) way in their general policies:

Andy, Lead Simiant over at World Wide Rant has a rather long and frightening policy that reveals a lot about his psyche as well as the site in general.

Mike, Anger Management Consultant at Cold Fury has a lovely statement:

"While I enjoy and heartily encourage comments, even ones which disagree with my own opinions, please note that I can and will delete comments and ban IP's capriciously and utterly at my own whim. This is not a debate club, and I am under no obligation whatsoever to host insults, slander, and/or total bullshit. Complaining about it is futile. If this injures your delicate sensibilities too severely, click on the link to CWI Hosting on the main page and get your own damned website. It's not all that expensive, it's not all that difficult, and then you can say whatever you like."

Perry, Overlord of Samizdata opines:

"Samizdata.net editors are God and God moves in mysterious ways. If you have an article, comment, rant or smart-arse rejoinder that you would like to contribute to Samizdata.net, e-mail it to us and we might publish it suitably edited. Or not."

...and, most succinctly, Mike - Supreme Leader of A Western Heart states:

"Note: If the editors consider your remarks to be unworthy, they will delete them."

I think everyone now gets their drift and mine.

M

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Pavlov's ducks

I took the camera on my run the other day, just to see what I would capture. All it taught me was that you can plan all you like in life, but you can't faithfully predict what will happen.

I was running along a footpath by a lake. The other side of the water sports one of those massive old castles-cum-stately homes with sprawling swan-infested lawns, turrets, flying buttresses, towers...in short everything that you might need to defend yourself if dragons were to suddenly infest the piddly little hills around London or if we were to expect a Norman invasion wielding trebuchets and archers. It's now used as a crown court and really can be a very pretty building from some angles, in some light, if you have a penchant for that kind of thing...and if you squint.

So my plan was to take a photo of the building. I stopped and pulled the camera out of it's case, pressed the 'on' button and looked up to judge my shot.

Suddenly from below, I heard an almighty, braying, drawn-out 'Honk!'.

It was a swan the size of a small car and it evidently thought that I needed some critical direction. Out of the corner of my eye, I discerned other movement. As my gaze travelled up the length of the lake to my right, I saw all manner of ducks, geese and swans suddenly - as if on cue - turn toward me and start paddling as quickly as their little webbed stilts would let them.

It was a formiddable force and it knew it wanted one thing - complete dominance and control of any baked goods I may have with me.

Unfortunately for them, I don't run with bread rolls. I don't even eat them.

Not waiting to find what would happen if this battallion were suddenly dissappointed, I took my shot - of them instead of the building - and ran off...toward them down the footpath, passing them as they glided to a stop and followed me with deadly, beady little black eyes.

It was a narrow escape.



M

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Sunday, November 21, 2004

What Every Man or Woman Should Be Able to Do

I subscribe to a very small set of rather good email lists. Most of them are from professionals doing something very much against the grain in their respective fields. You can learn a lot from the troublemakers - they're usually the ones who bother to think rather than just follow.

Anyhow, the following message popped into my Inbox the other day and I thought it was just brilliant:

Dear Monica,

'Every man should be able to save his own life. He should be able to swim far enough, run fast and long enough to save his life in case of emergency and necessity.'

The quote mentioned above comes from Earle E. Liederman, a renowned fitness pioneer back in the days of Charles Atlas.

Anyway, in order to 'save his your own life' - as well as the life of a loved one, Liederman did NOT advocate bodybuilding. Or powerlifting.

Much of Liedermans' life-saving method evolved around the development of 'strength-endurance' with bodyweight calisthenics.

Recently, in Dr. Al Sears - Health Confidential for Men - a newsletter I HIGHLY reccommend, he said:

'I've seen patients transform their bodies through the power of calisthenics. You too, can see improvements in your appearance and in your stamina. And, by doing regular calisthenics, you will be lowering your risk of injury and building muscle that has been 'trained for function.'

Let's face it, big gigantic muscles may impress some people, but there is nothing more impressive than having the functional strength-endurance to do things with ease - including saving someone's life. Yours included.

Liederman's life-saving prescription is not very far off from my own. He wrote that you should ...

* Be able to swim at least half a mile or more;
* Be able to run at top speed two hundred yards or more;
* Be able to jump over obstacles higher than your waist;
* Be in condition to pull your body upward by the
strength of your arms, until your chin touches your hands,
at least 15 to 20 times;
* Be able to dip between parallel bars or between
two chairs at least 25 times or more.

'If a man can accomplish these things,' Liederman said, 'he need have no fear concerning the safety of his life should he be forced into an emergency from which he alone may be able to save himself.'

All for now.

Kick butt - take names!

Matt Furey


I had stumbled across his ad and read a short description of how he came to his techniques...a lot of what he said made sense as I had abandoned weight training years ago myself. I found that I was gaining a lot of muscle very quickly (NOT nice on a girl) and it wasn't really functional - I wasn't more flexible or limber or graceful...just stronger in isolated incidents and certain movements. So I've subscribed to his email list in order to get a better idea of what he offers, interesting so far. We'll see.

I still like that email, though, and thought I would share it - it most definitely embodies the third of the latin words I use in my title - 'Sententia' which is a way of thought, an opinion, a meaning...but with (or for) a purpose. Rather important, methinks.

M


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Canadian Prime Minister Announces ‘Adopt A Leftie Scheme’

In a bid to mitigate the effects of the massive migration of American Leftists following the recent election, Canadian Prime Minister, Paul Martin has launched the ‘Adopt a Leftie Scheme’

“Of course we’re glad to welcome fellow French-ass-kissing liberal wieners. We do so with open arms and pouty lips. It’s just our way.”

Fears are mounting on the local labour market as businesses come to grips with what it will mean to have so many actors join the workforce.

“We just don’t have the infrastructure to deal with the influx. There are only so many waitressing jobs in the country. Many will go without.” Said a Toronto McDonald’s franchise owner.

The PM has conceded that this could be a massive humanitarian disaster if not planned out on a federal level. Tanning lotion, tooth whitener and mirrors have already been air lifted into Quebec and other supplies are on their way. “We’re waiting on mineral water at the moment. It’s a tense time.”

The scheme to Adopt A Leftie is the brainchild of Mr Arnold Coif, Minister of Grooming, Deportment, Funny Little Accents On Top Of Letters and Other Odd Jobs. He realized early on that it was important to integrate the new arrivals into the existing community.

“No one wants to take out the trash one morning and find Janeane Garofalo sqatting beside the bins. Or worse, Michael Moore sleeping on a park bench.

Many of these people are professional actors. This means that they have no personality of their own; they are an empty shell waiting to be filled with someone’s orders. The Kerry campaign fulfilled that need perfectly for a while, but it seems that the election loss has un-coupled these actors from their ‘host’ and they are drifting north in search of redder pastures.”


Families will be encouraged to take an American Leftie into their home. To bathe, feed and quarter them for as long as it takes for them to find a job or decide that the lattes just aren’t up to scratch and migrate south again. State funding is available to mitigate the costs.

Monica White, Toronto


(Yeah, I'm on a 'funnies' jag. Feel sorry for C who has had to endure some of the worst attempts at different accents EVER and terribly lewd asides to almost every sentence she's uttered. My evil knows no bounds.)

M

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Friday, November 19, 2004

United Ninnies

France's most eminent toad-in-residence, President Jacques Chirac thinks that the UN should be the only body in the world allowed to go to war. 'Allowed', of course, by ... ummm ... the UN.

Here's how I envisage it'll look:

USA: We've got to invade Iran. They're pointing nukes at Manhattan and making gibbering noises from behind those beards again.

UK: Sounds like a plan...

Australia: Count us in.

Israel: Absolutely. We'll just be over there, unpacking the crates of semi-automatic pretties.

Syria: *cough* Well, actually we don't think it's such a good idea.

Germany: We can't commit ourselves to anything that may in any way endanger our new international image of daffodil-chewing peaceniks. Bunny shaped marshmallow anyone?

Zimbabwe: Hegemony! Oppression! Invasion! What? No, no, don't look at ME, I'm talking about the West.

China: What's in it for us?

Afghanistan: Infidels will never walk the holy lands of Iran! (blah, blah, blah...'Allah'...blah...blah..'blood will flow through the streets'...blah...'revenge'...'Islamic brotherhood')

Taiwan: I wonder if someone could please ask the delegate from China to stop pressing on my windpipe quite so hard...I...I can't really breathe....

Cuba: No, no. Don't think so. Unless you want to let us replace these junkheap cars with new ones anytime soon. You lift the embargo and we *might* let you defend yourselves.

Congo: Nope

Switzerland: Don't give a toss either way, mate.

Indonesia: I don't think so.

Taiwan: Umm, guys? *cough* This is getting a little frightening...

Pakistan: No.

Russia: Maybe....maybe. We'll have to talk.

Malaysia: Not on my watch.

France: Well, in light of overwhelming international opinion...I don't think we'll be able to condone such an action. You'll have to take your risk with those Iranians and their ire. On second thoughts, Germany, we *will* have a few of those marshmallows after all...looks like there'll be a lovely, toasty fireball in the near future.

(Taiwan slowly expires in a corner when no-one's looking)

(Cross posted to A Western Heart)

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Democracy and the Blogosphere

A couple of nights ago, I attended the Adam Smith Institute's 'Democracy and the Blogosphere' event.

Almost more interesting than attending the event itself was waking up to the blog posts of others who had been there and reading what they thought of the whole debate. Interesting because none of us seem to have taken the same thing away - which tells me that the net was flung a little too widely in respect to the topic of the evening.

Asking someone to succinctly describe how blogs will affect democracy really is a tough call. Blogs, after all, are just tools of communication...of dissemmination of ideas. It’s akin to asking someone in the 15th century to opine on the impact the printing press would have on the world. The obvious answer to us is: "massive and fundamental", but historical events are much clearer in hindsight than when we're living through them.

So the tangents the discussion went on that night were rather wild. Some of the panellists mused as to why on earth people blog in the first place. Two of the speakers were professional journalists and bloggers who seemed somewhat amazed that people do all this blogging and writing for FREE...their own blogs being either a distraction from real work or somewhere to display things that they couldn't get past mainstream media (MSM) editors. They missed the point that most people don't actually have the same powerful avenues for self-expression as they do and that blogging is enjoyable and profitable in ways that aren't usually measured in a state-issued currency.

One of the speakers talked about how effective blogs had been as a tool in communicating and refining e-government strategies to the public. If you ever want to see discomfort shimmy across a room, invite someone who just loves to improve and refine bureaucracy to the distinctly anti-big-government Adam Smith Institute.

One thing, though, became clear to me - none of us was really talking about the same thing when we said 'blog', as the term is so damned generic. There were such disparate bloggers in the room...government bloggers, political bloggers, apolitical bloggers, gastronomic bloggers, musing bloggers, business bloggers, bloggers like me...that we all brought different terms of reference in with us. It's no wonder the discussion devolved to talking about something we all had in common - censorship in comments sections and a strong comments policy.

The question of the influence of blogging on democracy is not unanswerable, though. It just takes a little stepping back and looking at the concept of what a democracy is and what blogging is from a macro viewpoint. So I’m going to try my hand at it in this post.

Democracy.

Any government developed with democratic or (classical) liberal ideas in mind is still heavily reliant on it’s constituents to uphold the tenets on which its power is based.

Take a look at America - founded on freedom, for a long time the greatest nation on earth, wonderful constitution - yet it is the nation that instituted anti-trust laws, that has a nationalized health system, that allowed someone like Janet Reno to act in a manner patently unaligned with its core principles.

I've a feeling that the founding fathers would gasp in horror at some of the things that the state they created has implemented. This is because these men had a firm grasp of the ideas upon which a good government should be based. They codified these ideas in a document and written law – which is, unfortunately, an imperfect device of communication.

It's because law has two facets, it’s 'letter' (literal translation) and its 'spirit' (fundamental meaning). The former can be circumvented by interpretation and reinterpretation of the words used, the latter is immutable - if you can find it and understand it from the words employed.

If the populace doesn't understand the spirit behind a document such as the American constitution, then it won't support the politicians that uphold that spirit or those ideas. If the populace doesn't value freedom more than it does security, then it will not revolt at freedoms taken away. If it doesn't understand the long term implications or the philosophical roots of government policy, then it will not question what is being done by those in power. It is the lack of check and balance from the populace that slowly erodes adherence to the principles of good government.

And here's where I think the point has to be made - democracy isn't a cure-all system for any nation state. It isn't a structure that will rigidly coerce people into a certain mode of thought and behavior. Zimbabwe, ostensibly a democracy, has a president and a parliament after all, yet look at what is happening and what the democratic structure is allowing. Democracy isn't a straitjacket, rather, it is a mirror of society and its ideas, its moralities and its current obsessions. Each populace under democracy, then, has the government that it deserves.

The Blogosphere.

So where does blogging come into all this?

A mature and freedom-embracing democracy requires an educated population, since it is the aggregated opinion of the populace that is enforced in the actions of parliament. This is where I think that blogging steps in to fill a current void in a most interesting way.

I’m going to go out on a limb and state that most people's formal education stops when they are no longer corralled in the penitentiaries created for children by our schooling system. It's no wonder really, as - unless you have a particular passion for knowledge of certain topics - most non-fiction books are a harder slog than fiction or entertainment.

Let's also state that it will be political and musing blogging that will affect democracy. Butterfly effect or no, something that an IBM employee writes about chip manufacturing isn't going to rock the boat come election time. By 'political blogging', I mean blogs that are predominantly focused on world events and their reportage with some analysis. By 'musing blogging' I mean those blogs that discuss, at length, ideas and their roots as well as their impact on the world today.

What you often see in the better blogs is professionals, scholars and well-read, opinionated, eloquent and intelligent people distilling their knowledge into bite sized pieces on a certain topic. These small essays, analyses or opinion pieces are embedded with hyperlinks to primary sources or sources for further information and reading. So blogs can make certain topics easy to read, easy to understand and easy to expand upon should the reader be interested and willing. In other words, they can make complex, non-fiction subjects accessible.

This really hinges on the internet being a legitimatized source of information, though. I remember that the trend to research assignments online started when I was in high school. By the time I was at University, it was expected that some proportion of research was from online sources – to the extent that referencing for just such sources was formalized and standardized. The internet is slowly being recognized as a repository of valuable information.

The advantage that blogs have over static web pages is not just the easygoing tone with which information is imparted and shared – but the conversations that strike up around expressed opinions. Blogs that choose to enable comments add a new dimension to their information dissemination – they become a node for a discussion. The best discussions are the thorough critiques of the post and subsequent defensive arguments by the author or likeminded readers. These discussions can either be reaction to simple political blog reportage, to a blog’s analysis of a situation or to an opinion piece or essay.

Someone coming to such a post can receive a fast and thorough education on a particular topic and then may be able to use hyperlinks (or, let's face it, Google) to conduct further reading at his leisure.

I’ve heard Perry de Havilland of Samizata.net state a few times that one of the great rewards of his blog is the occasional email from someone stating that Samizdata has helped them clarify and crystallize their views.

I don't suggest, by any means, that blogs can replace more formal means of education - but perhaps they can take up a role somewhere between 'nothing' and 'college' for people with some mild interest in a topic.

The other feature of blogs is their tapping into the natural human desire to feel that one isn’t alone in one's opinions. Let's face it – it's nice to meet likeminded people and read their screeds - it's an affirmation, occasionally, that you're not entirely mad to hold some of your views.

And then there is the wonderful-to-see blog phenomenon of fact checking the MSM. What I wouldn't give to be a fly on the wall when Dan Rather hears the word 'blog' nowadays.

So given these features – the dissemination of ideas and education of some readers, the sense of community and not being alone in holding a view and the check and balance of a too-long-complacent MSM – how do blogs influence democracy?

Where the twain shall meet.

Well, I think all three interact in an interesting way to change the dynamics of the populace in democracy.

No longer isolated, individuals can affirm that their views are held by others. Empowered to question a once unquestionable media, the populace is free to throw off the MSM's perception of what popular opinion is and ascertain it for themselves. Presented with a rich source of information, analysis and opinion, individuals are beginning to educate themselves – however little – about topics of importance or interest.

I believe that this may help to create a more informed and intelligent voter in the democratic system, one which is less likely to be swayed by propaganda and misinformation because all information presented by the parties will be subjected to the most rigorous review and critique online...which can only be a good thing.

Sure - much of this is mere speculation on my part. I don't think we've seen the full extent of the influence of blogs yet and it's a little early in the game to be making sweeping suppositions. (Like...say...the suppositions I've just made :) )

...but if you asked me to comment about the influence of blogging on democracy, the above would still be my best guess.

M


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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Amen, Sean

"Even before Mike Tomlinson reported on examination reform,everyone agreed, and competed at agreeing, that British stateeducation was a mess. Schools all over the country are turning out generations of innumerate, semi-literate proles. They have become places notable for bullying, truancy in its various shades, drugs, unwise sex, the occasional murder, and apervasive contempt for achievement.

Yes, there are those whose job it is to disagree with this proposition. Naturally enough, there are the teachers and educational bureaucrats; and thereare the relevant Ministers, who every summer put their names on news releases lauding the latest set of examination results. But everyone knows they are talking nonsense.

If examination results were an indicator of excellence, we should be living in a nationof Shakespeares and Newtons. In fact, grade inflation and a continuous debasement of the whole examinations system have made the results largely worthless. We can no more make people educated by giving them pretty certificates than we can make them rich by giving them bags of forged banknotes. State education is a mess...."

So read an email from Dr Sean Gabb that tweaked my attention this afternoon. Follow this link to the rest of the essay, a thought-provoking argument for the abolition of state education.


M

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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Nothing says 'Kwality' quite like a knife fight

You can dress it up in bling, you can quarter it in mansions, you can teach it the value of separating individual words with slices of silence but scum - in the end - will always be scum.

Or, should I say, "You can take the rapper out of the knife-wielding, drug-ridden, violence-soaked neighbourhood, but..."

Am I generalising? Yes, very much so.

Should the patina of shame be cast on everyone in that room or industry? No.

All I'm saying is that you don't often hear of concealed shanks at the Cannes Classical Awards.

M


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B.O.H.I.C.A

Overheard on the Tube recently:

Woman 1: "They're celebrating Eid at Thomas' school and I've got to make these biscuits..."

Woman 2: "What?"

Woman 1: "Eid"

Woman 2: "What's that?"

Woman 1: "Just some celebration or other...the kids have to make food and bring it in, it has to be vegetarian and...oh...all kinds of rules about it."

Woman 2: "Are you baking them tonight?"

Woman 1: "Mmmmm, I think so. Shouldn't be too bad, I've got the vegetable shortening and bits and pieces already."

Woman 2: "Don't you just love it when they do special things at school? They get so excited! What are they doing for Christmas this year?"

Woman 1: "Oh, nothing much...keeping it really low-key. You know...[whispers] the war and all..."


Eh? What? WHAT? Sweet jesus, woman, do you actually think before opening that trap of yours?

I suppose I shouldn't really be angry at her, she's probably never really stepped back to take a macro view of what's happening around her. This celebration of another culture's religious holiday whilst suppressing your culture's symbols must just seem like another natural extension of political correctness and multiculturalism. Another step forward. Another olive branch or appeasement or humble pulling back of the all-encompassing hegemony of Western thought in the West.

Whenever I see this kind of self-immolation, I tend to think of Edmund J. Pankau and one of his favorite phrases.

I saw him speak at a seminar once and we chatted for a while afterward. The man is very warm, friendly and gregarious in the way that only Texans can pull off with any impunity. On stage, he had spoken about fraud and fraud prevention, professional investigation techniques and tracing money flows across geographic and political boundaries - fascinating stuff. His expertise is in finding the rascals who pilfer large sums of cash and make a run for it, using the various tax havens and covers available to assist in wiping their trail clean.

When describing what it's like to be the victim of such crime, or what it's like to deal with dishonest, shady people, he employs one word incessantly: "B.O.H.I.C.A!" (pronounced 'bowheeka')

Smiling somewhat nastily, he explains what it stands for - "Bend Over, Here It Comes Again".

Indeed.

Those women have no idea, I'm sure, that they were being Bohica-ed (that word is such a natural part of my vocabulary nowadays...). By rights, they should have stormed down to the school and demanded that it either remove ALL religious references in teaching or, at the very least, refer to British culture's norms just as often as those of a foreign culture's.

This creeping spread of an incompatible foreign culture's memes in our schools and government institutions and simultaneous removal of all positive reinforcement of Western thought has got to stop before little Thomas grows up insisting that his wife walk two steps behind him and wear a veil.

M

(Cross posted to A Western Heart)

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Waterstones

For many years now, I have slowly refined my ideas of what my ideal home would look like. Over time, wings have been built and torn down, colours have changed, the thing has very much aesthetically matured from the typical, boxy, monstrous hulk of a mansion perched on large, flat lawn that every child draws.

Now it isn’t so much a building as a graceful accent nestled carefully into a stunning landscape. Its position is designed primarily to afford me the one luxury that few others realize is a prize – complete, controlled solitude. Large panes of glass admit the varying views from all sides; close quartered forest behind and sweeping vistas to the front. Inside, high paneled ceilings mirror the beautiful wooden floor and solid, simple wooden furniture. Subtle lighting and carefully chosen materials would complete the spaces of the rooms – softening but not cluttering them. Although the rooms would be large and airy, there wouldn’t be many of them. This isn’t a place designed for the needs of guests.

Through all the changes that this place has undergone in my mind’s eye, two things have remained constant.

One is a professionally appointed kitchen in gleaming stainless steel and glowing wood. Every fixture robust, functional and beautifully designed to be a joy to touch and use. Every gadget known to man would be easily accessible and placed carefully to fit into the multitasking workflow of creating several dishes at once. Cooking, after all, is where I learnt to visualize several concurrent streams of activity and plan each one’s commencement so as to time them for perfect convergence at completion. When it works, it’s a wonderful feeling.

I also know from painful experience that no matter how much time, effort and money you use to make the lounge room perfect, everyone will converge around the kitchen. Like groupies to a backstage area, they watch food preparation and talk over stealthily pilfered ingredients around the table.

The other thing that I want is a library.

I’ve always had only the vaguest idea of what the library will look like as I’ve never had a room devoted solely to the pleasures of reading, reflection and learning…the idea is terribly tempting. There would also be a writing desk next to a window…perfection.

So I was amazed that the idea of my home, my library, was acutely brought to mind the moment I stepped into the Waterstones near Goodge St station today. The first thing I noticed was a seeming fog of heavy silence in front of me – the kind afforded by carpet and wooden bookshelves brimming with sound-dampening tomes.

(Most Waterstones outlets are the stock-standard, cheerful, brightly lit, gargantuan megastores that have come to dominate the marketplace. The one I frequent most often is in the heart of the city and tremendously large, with it’s own bar as well as cafe. Unfortunately, it has all the atmosphere of an exceptionally flammable Starbucks. It’s functional but sterile.)

The sounds of the street cut out suddenly as the door swung back on its hinges. I turned left as it seemed as good an option as any other and padded silently down a corridor made narrow and dark by the abundance of shelving. This was unusual. A cursory glance told me that here one didn’t have to wade through venal chick-lit of the Candace Bushnell mould to find something to engage the mind. Bargain tables held gems like the compendium of Alastair Cook’s ‘Letter to America’. I felt immediately at home. Slightly different biology would have had me issuing an audible purr.

I had reserved some books this morning and they were waiting for me somewhere in this labyrinth – but I soon found that the staff weren’t going to take my hand and help me. They would be efficient and courteous but would give me directions to follow on my own in a no-nonsense clipped tone. Where did I remember this treatment from?

Ascending the stairs and asking after my reserved books at a new counter, I was given more curt, succinct instructions. I had to make my way up two more floors and had been pointed to the elevators. Choosing to take the stairs instead, I looked at them more closely and was met with a curious sight – I noticed that the carpet and banister of the stairs were of a very old style, slightly tatty but kept impeccably clean. Damn, did this remind me of somewhere.

Two more floors up and another counter looked a likely source of further instructions. “Classics are over there. Ask at the desk.” A brief smile, a nod to the right, a resumption of duties.

How very different to my encounter to a Waterstones Customer Service Limpet a few weeks ago in another store who just wouldn’t leave me alone when I asked for directions to a few books. I had literally asked her to *point* me in the right direction. Instead, she followed me to the shelf and insisted on searching…muttering…scouring… completely ineffectively may I add, as I found all three books first. Then she had the audacity to pry the books out of my hands, turn to march back to her counter and pointedly begin an interrogation into why I was buying those particular kinds of books. I remember a brief flicker - “None of your fucking business.” - crossing my mind as I smiled and lied: “School assignment.” There was no particular reason for buying the books, of course. I’m not studying – I just like to keep my mind active.

Anyone who buys non-fiction books, of course, has to have some sort of overriding immediate reason for it. If you buy Spice Racks for Dummies you’re starting a DIY project. If you buy Practical Pansy Pruning, they’ve pretty much got your weekend plans sussed out. If you buy Descartes … errr….yes.

Back at the curious Waterstones I now found myself in, I had hunted down my reserved books and paid for them. Wandering around the floor a little, I smiled devilishly as I passed by the ‘Philosophers A-Z’ section and the lyrics of Monty Python’s Philosopher’s Song immediately came to mind. I suppressed a chuckle and walked over to query a staffer who was on her knees, looking at something in a box.

“Excuse me”

A slight, unintelligible noise.

Clearing my throat, louder this time. “Excuse me.”

“I heard you. Just a minute.”

I was taken aback. Not offended – rather comfortable actually – this is the kind of communication I like.

She straightened up and dealt with my query very efficiently. She even knew about the obscure author I was seeking. Fascinating.

That’s when it hit me. What this was just like. Uni.

It almost felt odd to see cash registers here as this place was so much more like a Uni library than a commercial bookstore.

And what’s more, I liked it.

Descending the stairs again, I lingered on the other floors a little.

‘Classical’ had been populated by slightly artsy types who couldn’t quite help modifying their clothing or body in some way so that they could be ‘different’ (just like all their other ‘different’ friends).

Now, I surveyed suits cruising the aisles of an extensive legal area. Slicked hair, cufflinks, assurance. One in particular stood out – I’ve always found that a bespoke suit sits in a certain way that isn’t duplicable with off-the-rack fashions. He had cufflinks, manicured nails and an impeccably matched shirt and tie. Yes, it took a little while to ascertain those details. No, I’m not going to apologise. I walked on and descended more stairs, taking me to vastly different intellectual climes.

Downstairs, I walked past books on pure mathematics and saw a very pale hand tracing its way across spines of books, as if their titles were written in Braille. He had an oversized wooly sweater on and was terribly close to the books. I conjured a wild image of him finding the one he wanted through a combination of touch and smell. I must have looked at him for that fraction of a second that’s over the societally acceptable norm. He turned and…for the life of me…looked scared. Pale grey eyes blinked at me and I slid past as quickly as I could. I left the store amusing myself by spinning what I imagined his life to be like. It involved a laboratory with no windows, chalkboards, a long-suffering girlfriend and a personal obsession with an unsolvable equation of some renown.

So now I know what I want my library to be like – quiet, not too light and to be bursting at the seams with tomes on very disparate topics. As for the human accessories to the scene? I don’t think so.

M


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Dropped into the warzone...

There's something rather perverse about that little 'Next Blog' button. Based on my stats, I've surmised that once every 24 hours, my blog is on the rota to be flung at a few strangers pressing it. I can imagine that those would be some of my most diverse visitors, since other links to this blog are from like-minded blogs and sites.

So I had to snort when I saw that someone was directed to me from the 'Come to Jesus' blog. Must've been fun.

M




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The Emperor's New Committee

The funny thing about international organisations like the UN is that they rely on the global equivalent of the polite society's unwritten rule set to keep their power and influence. If their struggles for that power weren't so damned annoying, I would consider them cute.

By 'funny' and 'cute' I mean the same kind of cute that a pink satin bow on the ear of a dog mauling your foot would be cute. (And funny as in the noise it would make after your baseball bat connected with it) .

Essentially, the UN is only significant if enough influential world governments decide that it's significant. Like the unpopular kid at school tagging along after the fashionable group ('in' the crowd because he's temporarily tolerated), one slip up and he's back to eating lunch alone. I've a feeling that not supporting the US and Britain in the recent war was the UN's latest - and, hopefully, fatal - slip-up.

When some of the most powerful governments in the world turn their backs on the yipping and snorting 'resolutions' that the UN passes, it really signals the beginning of the end of anyone else taking the whole body seriously. Which is why this makes me smile and tingle slightly in the Retributive Justice Gland. (Thanks for the post Sherry...it felt so good...)

It seems that the UN doesn't like countries ignoring the UN. The UN is, apparently, in a huff over this whole issue and will stomp it's foot rather savagely if certain people don't turn around right now and start to listen again. The UN is serious on this one, folks. Angry memos will start to fly if there is no immediate satisfaction. A bureaurat* may even use an exclamation mark in a press release. Tremble.

(*The 'c' is missing for a reason.)

Not that anyone who includes Communist China in their Security Council as well as Cuba and Iran amongst it's membership should be taken very seriously in the first place.

I suggest that the Anglosphere cancel their subcriptions of Kofi's Kultural Digest and move to form their own association, if one is so very necessary to ensure we don't run around killing each other haphazardly and clubbing baby seals for kicks on Japanese game shows. Then invite others to the party if they demonstrably hold similar enough views to be considered friends and allies.

It's a technique my father (a teacher) used when his school mandated that kicking individual troublemakers out of the class was 'unfair' and 'traumatic'. He left the individual troublemakers at their desks and moved the rest of the class to a neighbouring room. Sometimes you've just got to tweak the system a little to get the right thing done.

M

(Cross posted to A Western Heart)


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Sunday, November 14, 2004

A Eulogy to Reason

or

"Western Leaders Issue an Open Invitation for Islamic Extremists to Slaughter their Citizens"

No, really.

I noticed this CNN story about the reactions of different world leaders to Yasser Arafat’s death. Small snippets of official statements of reaction.

(Yes, I realize that this is a Thursday news story, but I’ve been rather absorbed in one thing or another in the intervening days – it’s still relevant – stop being such a ‘fresh news’ snob.) :)

Reading through these statements, I was utterly horrified by the leaders of the free world essentially giving terrorists carte blanche – a goddamned invitation – to keep doing exactly what they’ve been doing for years, namely kill and maim in the name of their cause.


The usual suspects from the Coalition of the Killing had their say – this I was expecting.

Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri - "The Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas mourns with pride… An icon of our struggle and a great Palestinian symbol."

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - "…a hero to us all. He was the ultimate embodiment of decades of the just struggle of a nation for its undeniable rights to self-determination. A figure much loved and respected not only by Palestinians but also many in the world over, including Indonesia."

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar - "a great leader who dedicated his life to defend the rights of his fellow Palestinians."


THIS, though, is what most shocked me. These people are ostensibly on our side, yet they choose to use the slipperiest diplo-speak to avoid any condemnation of the man that has terrorized the world for decades. They praised him…actually praised his ideals and invited his surviving compatriots to KEEP GOING.

French President Jacques Chirac - called Arafat "a man of courage and conviction who has incarnated, for 40 years, the fight of Palestinians for the recognition of their national rights. May this loss unite all Palestinians. By remaining united they will continue to be faithful to Yasser Arafat's memory and will uphold the ideal to which he devoted his life.

The ideal to which this monstrosity devoted his life was the annihilation of anyone who didn’t agree with his particular methots to grab power. The means of this devotion was violence, terror, murder, torture…. Surely it can’t be possible that the President of France is telling these people to continue in the way they always have, using the same means?

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan - "For nearly four decades, he expressed and symbolized in his person the national aspirations of the Palestinian people."

‘Symbolized in his person’, eh? The man was a mass murderer, a religious bigot, a racist. Is this, then, what Palestine stands for? Is this the kind of Palestine that you would be quite happy to embrace as an international neighbour?

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton - "However others viewed him, the Palestinians saw him as the father of their nation"

Ever willing to press his lips to the ass of someone else’s cause, Clinton proves that it is important to respect the opinion of the supporters of one’s deadly enemy. It is wise to remember that the way those ‘others viewed’ Arafat was with utter horror, abject fear or extreme hostility - likely because he had instigated some form of violence against them.

Those ‘others’, incidentally, were America and it’s allies – one has to ask where Clinton’s sympathies actually lay during the time of his Presidency if he so easily identifies with the views of the Palestinian people now.

The Vatican - "He was a leader of great charisma who loved his people and sought to lead them towards national independence.”

Let me just finish that sentence: “…by any means necessary using techniques that are decidedly un-Christian.” A smack on the wrist and 20 Hail Mary’s for the acolyte who scrawled that one.

South African President Thabo Mbeki - "History will record that President Arafat epitomized that rare breed of leaders whose lives were defined by the unflinching sacrifices they made in the noble and just cause of the struggle of their peoples."

Sacrifice is something that one gives of ONESELF, all I seem to recall is the repeated and bloody sacrifices of everyone around the safely coddled Mr Arafat.

It is unbelievable that a country’s leader can officially label Arafat’s struggle ‘noble’ and ‘just’ without expecting to be barred from membership of any international body and fear of having his IMF loans cancelled.


Thankfully, there was a little sanity in the mix. Also, predictably, most of it was from the country who has it’s citizens regularly de-limbed by terrorists.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - "I hope that the new Palestinian leadership ... will understand that the advancement of the relations ... depends first and foremost on them stopping terror."

Israeli Justice Minister Yosef Lapid - "Arafat missed the opportunity to have peace in the Middle East and a Palestinian state and chose terror as a weapon, not only against Israel but against Western civilization. He was the godfather of al Qaeda and of bin Laden."

Israeli Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - "The tragedy was that Arafat, who had the power and prestige to move his people to peace, instead moved them and us into a terrible war of terror that cost thousands of lives, Israelis and Palestinians alike.

"This is the man who also pioneered international terrorism, the art of hijacking planes, ships, kidnapping and seizing of hostages and you name it. Which gave birth, of course, to other terrorist groups who emulated him, including al Qaeda."



Israel keeps its eye on the ball…probably because ‘the ball’ is grenade-shaped more often than not. The way that some in the west have reacted to Arafat’s death is just nauseating. He didn’t deserve a state funeral so much as a pine coffin and a pit filled with said coffin in the middle of the night.

M

(Cross posted to A Western Heart)

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Thursday, November 11, 2004

Bridget Jones: No Reason At All

I hate Bridget Jones.

Unequivocally, without reserve, I loathe the wench.

I don't think I would have really cared too much for her, wouldn't have paid much attention to the first film and certainly wouldn't have seen it had it not been for it's marketing strategy.

You see, apparently the author of Bridget Jones' Diary was influenced by Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. This fact was touted in the usual marketing mantra that accompanies any major film release.

I saw the film and walked out thinking...influenced by P&P?

How? Where?

Was she sitting near a copy of the book when she wrote hers? Did she glimpse the spine on a bookshelf during a critical moment of plot formation? Did she have a flashback to a forced read of P&P in grade school?

If she was somehow influenced, she completely missed the actual point the story was making by a mile. She took some of the surface plot elements - a central female character and two love interests where "One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it." She then completely failed to produce the one thing that gives Austen's P&P it's charm and opportunity for incisive dialogue and social commentary - an INTELLIGENT, COMPETENT heroine.

Bridget Jones is a bumbling, useless, pouting, perpetually confused shmuck. The scene I hate most is the one in which the girl is completely tongue-tied at a party. She can't gather her thoughts together to form ONE COGENT SENTENCE in a time of need.

Throughout the film, one simply wonders what on earth it is, exactly, that the two men (literally) fight over. They're just seen to like her. Just like that. She's a walking disaster, she doesn't know how to dress, she doesn't know how to stand up for herself, she's unutterably silly, she can't even cook a basic meal - yet somehow these two sucessful men throw themselves at her feet with professions of undying love (or lust, as the case may be).

Pah.

Elizabeth Bennet would run rings around her in almost any endeavour you could choose to name that doesn't involve modern technology. Bring Lizzie's temperament to the modern day and it would be embarrassing to have the two in the same room together.

I'm a hero/ine snob. I like them to be people I can look up to, admire, enjoy watching/reading about.

Bridget I wouldn't hire to bring me coffee in the mornings.

If I want to watch Bridget I can switch on Big Brother and find the sulky one.

You can transplant Colin Firth over from the excellent BBC production of P&P, you can call him 'Darcy' and give him some measure of arrogance but that a semblance to P&P does not make.

And now they've made another, a sequel in which Bridget...having happily gained the affections of the better man decides to dally with the cad. Why? WHY? Oh, you know why - because she's a mindless bint.

*sigh*

Leicester square was ablaze with light last night when M and I walked out of the movie we had gone to see. We could hear the high-pitched screaming normally associated with atrocity or celebrity. When I saw that it was the Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason premiere, I couldn't decide which, but was leaning toward the former.

M




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Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Cleaning House

A little over a year ago, I stood looking through this portal in Portsmouth, trying to imagine what was going through the minds of those who would have been in the very same spot on the 5th of August 1620. They were the passengers and crew of the Mayflower, about to embark on a perilous journey across unfathomable tracts of ocean to start a new life because the repercussions of expressing their particular beliefs in England had become intolerable. That bluff was probably the last of England that they saw when they set sail.





I wondered at the kind of people who would do something so drastic for their convictions and wondered at the kinds of ideas that they had planted when forming their new society. Ideas about about hard work, taking risks and taking a stand against tyrrany rather than being broken by it.

Well, we all know what happened to the country that they colonized - it went on to become the most powerful nation on earth. For a long time the only bastion of freedom and a sanctuary for the best and brightest of Europe when life here became intolerable in other ways.

Today, it seems that America is undergoing a little house cleaning as those who lost an election by forgetting the tenets on which their nation was built are murmuring about leaving for England, Europe and the very French-influenced Canada.

I welcome the news - not because I really cherish the thought of more of their like over here, but because this country is a cesspit of left-leaning thinking already and they would blend right in.

Most of the talented and hardworking people I know are either here for a temporary stay or already have their eyes on America or Australia as an escape from the gradual devolution of this society into socialism. Some plan to stay in the belief that things will one day be better - I sincerely hope they're right but personally doubt it very much. If those with classical liberal leanings continue to leave and those with collectivist views begin to pour in, the very nature of a democracy will dictate the government being one that favours left-wing policy.

If that does happen, if this country continues to crumble, then I'll be glad that it's around the ears of those who most ardently advocate the ideas leading to that demise.

So perhaps all those who despise being American should choose a day on which to launch the mass exodus for other shores so that we can mark it as the day that America Cleaned House. Good riddance.

M

(Cross posted to A Western Heart)

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Mindless Perfection

Don’t think.


“Don’t think.”

Can you imagine a worse torture?

“Don’t think about it, Monica.”

I try. I do the move.

He notices I fail to stop thinking.

How did he know? I think about it. Must be the way my brow furrows when I’m unhappy with my performance. I make a mental note to leave my face a blank next time around.

I step toward my training partner for another run through, visualizing the series of moves I need to set in motion. There is movement on the periphery of my vision.

He’s already seen something he doesn’t like and has moved close enough for me to sense that he wants my attention. I turn.

“Monica, just....” He trails off, scrutinizing me with a somewhat pained expression. It’s a look that he gives me every once in a while, a very long look. As if he’s trying to figure me out and it’s not going particularly smoothly. “You and I both, mate.” I think to myself just before he resumes speaking.

“...just stop analyzing.” He implores. “Do the move. Trust your body. You know this stuff, just react.”

I think about it. I try to bring a tool to bear other than analysis. What is there? A blank. Frustration. Try again.

It’s as if the cogs of my mind are whirring furiously, having been sent on a mission to retrieve some piece of data. The familiar sensation of a stream of results - the jumble of good, bad and obscure - isn’t coming back, though. Instead, there is nothing. A cold, uncomfortable, unfamiliar nothing.

Maybe this is it. Maybe this is how he wants me to approach training, awful and naked though it feels.

I look toward my partner, making eye contact, sizing him up again. What will his reach be? Is he heavy? Muscle-bound? Fast? I’m cheating – I already know how he moves. I nod my head slightly, indicating that I’m ready when he is.

He comes at me, a solid punch for the jaw – the first in a series of moves that I am to react to in a specific way.

My usual habit is to break everything I’m supposed to do into small components (like lego pieces) and to remember the sequence methodically, mechanically. This takes a lot of effort, which is why I must usually look like I’m calculating pi to 17 decimal places rather than avoiding a fistful of pain.

Now I’m not allowed to do that. I can’t analyze, partition and synthesize. I have to....to what? I still didn’t have a clue and he’s still coming right for me.

I stood there until the last second, willing myself to react naturally rather than from rote before years of training kicked in to at least make me get my head the hell out of the way.

I had also raised my arm in a block – but nothing else, no countermove. I certainly wasn’t ready for the kick coming my way.

Damn.



Who do you trust?


That was last week. The 1.5 hour journey home was a study in frustration, sulking, anger, mortification, introspection and – finally – sheer bloodymindedness that I would find whatever this damned Nirvanic state of no-thought-training was, even if I had to install a Temporary Lobotomy switch on my forehead to do it. Something told me that this was important.

M, sage as always and cryptic as Yoda when he wants to annoy me hovered around for days saying things like “Ahhh, but walking – you don’t actively think about how to do that anymore, do you?”

Right...so there are stages of learning. The mechanical, memorize-parts-and-put-them-together and then that wonderful, seemingly-miraculous moment when you find yourself just doing something without thinking about it – the point at which you trust your new ability.

I thought about all the skills that I had acquired over years and tried to remember that tipping point from belabored rote to effortless integration. I realised something very strange - that I naturally separated new skills into ‘physical’ and ‘mental’.

Mental tasks, I implicitly trusted myself with. I’ve always been confident in walking into any situation, any disparate job or role and picking it up quickly with minimal effort – usually to the amusement or chagrin of people around me, depending on the work environment involved. I also ‘intuit’ information as I learn – extrapolating high level concepts from basics early on. I trust myself with new information quickly, I trust that it’s integrated enough to rely on without explicitly checking against its minutiae every time I use it.

Physical tasks, on the other hand, I implicitly didn't trust myself to get right. I didn’t even trust myself when I was actually getting it right. I can type at 80wpm easily but if I pay attention to the fact that I’m doing it...I lose it for a while. I used to get better at the range when I was tired, I would run around the stage setup and not think at all...just engage targets as I saw them, as I peered in a window or as I kicked a door open – two perfect little holes near the centre. When I went around refreshed, I would routinely kill no-shoots. Too much energy to think, to size up the shot, to unnecessarily override my reflexes and second-guess myself into a bad shot.

The physical is also where I ‘chop’ instructions and memorize...rote learning. The only time M and I routinely argued was in Salsa lessons. I memorized steps and needed to get them exactly right. I would stop at any mistake and insist on starting again, where M would be doing the right thing and just flowing with the music, taking mistakes in his stride, doing generally the right move and refining from there. It’s a miracle he didn’t strangle me.

So this was the key, then. Not switching off the mind altogether, but switching it to automatic pilot, trusting that the information was in there and would be duly retrieved at the appropriate time.

Hrmm. Good theory, it was time to test it out.



Switching off.


What a difference.

I had resolved to take everything in uncritically, to take it in at the macro level and to implement it without analyzing it. This, I found, was excruciatingly difficult to master, I would waver between it and my normal state.

“You’re thinking again.”

I wince. “I know.”

“Stop it.”

I nod. “I will.”

At first, I would abstract too broadly and miss the detail that made the move The Move and not just some random movement. I narrowed the detail a little.

Not perfect yet, but workable.

Two very interesting things emerged from this shift in focus.

The first was that I was seeing flows, vectors and centers of gravity rather than move one, move two, move three, move four... I could see the purpose and genius behind these countermeasures to attack. I could also finally see the thing that I had always been told about this art – that it uses the way the human body naturally moves, bends, folds and falls in order to achieve control. It’s not pretty or flashy, but it’s subtle and superbly effective.

He came up to me at one point and asked if I was alright. I know I wasn’t behaving normally and was almost crosseyed from the effort of staying in this mode. I was quiet. I don’t think he was used to not seeing either my furrowed brow or my dimples for an hour solid.

The second was that I could finally sort out what I knew and what I didn’t. If it wasn’t stored properly in the cache, it just didn’t come out or came out as ineffective fluff. I wasn’t using a fresh demonstration to boost my knowledge levels temporarily in order to just get through a few practice rounds – I was finding my weaknesses and working on them whilst reinforcing and practicing my strengths.

I was working on one of those things that evidently weren’t stored properly. I was twisting and folding my training partner’s wrist/forearm and he was refusing to go down. I pushed his body around a fraction in a few different directions, testing his stability. Aha...I felt it. I pivoted to the left and pulled him along with me, deepening the stretch of his wrist to the point where he would move anywhere to avoid the pain. He folded and went down.

As I was looking down at my training partner, still holding onto his arm and contemplating a kick to the ribs, I felt a light tap on the crown of my head.

He was standing there with a smile on his face and a training sword in his hand.

“Why the long face?”

I panicked. “I wasn’t thinking, I swear! I was just concentrating very hard on not thinking.”

“Smile.”

“What?!?”

“Smile. Now I want you to enjoy it.”


It never ends.

M


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