Chronicles from the land of the happiest people on earth

Is a novel by Wole Soyinka which I highly recommend. The mix of corruption, officialdom and religiosity has been done so masterfully that occasionally one finds themselves laughing out loud. There is a place in the book he talks about choice and the example he gives is so riveting. I will quote it here verbatim.

[…]You see, you are sitting on top of this mud hill, and they are swarming all over you, crawling, rushing, racing with one another, columns and columns of them, getting more and more disturbed. When you disturb them, they begin to sting. You climb higher and higher, and finally there is nowhere else to go. And could they sting! The soldier ants, and the ones we call fire ants, who not only sting and bite but leave a painful red blister behind- yes, they begin their work. All that so called man courage is gone. The fire ants, you didn’t know, they had already traveled up your trouser legs….

So what choice you get? Nuttin’ at all. First you take off your trousers, but it is already too late. The soldier ants are already entangled with the hair of your blockos! You simply must take off your trousers, then the underpants. This is not in one corner-corner place where you can hide yourself, it is in public of other people, men and women, even children. But you must take off those trousers… so much for the neighbour you once slap for poking her nose in your family affairs! She’s looking at your real family affair and there is nothing you can do about it.


But the ending of the story reminded me of the dispute between a man and his ego/soul following the betrayal of the gong o four by Farodion.

On education reform

Sir Richard Branson has written something about education reform that I think is interesting but which I have some reservations about and I will explain.

I have no credentials as an educator. In fact, if someone were to have me teach their children, they would be committing an error. I am not particularly talented in teaching and I am not a patient guy. With that out of the way, we can now look at the article by Branson and see what we agree with and what we think doubtful.

First, everyone, or rather most people agree that we need some education reform. What these reforms are or should be is the matter of debate and will remain so as long we live. Quotation from his article will be indented.

I was never good at maths – the maths they teach in school anyway. Some people excel at trigonometry, calculus, or algebra and I wholeheartedly applaud those who do, and put their knowledge to good use in ways that make our lives easier. But we shouldn’t be excluding the vast majority of kids from learning practical life skills they need to succeed.

Is this to mean math is excluding majority of kids? Or do I misunderstand him. My principal in high school said we all had to pass math or at least have a fair understanding of it since we would need in in almost every facet of our lives. And Neil would say math is the language of nature. But if the good Sir uses math as an example, maybe we can have that debate. But not yet.

Learning about things like interest rates, how mortgages and loans work, and how much money is coming and going out is essential. For most of us, this is the real, everyday maths you need to know – core life skills that will benefit any child leaving school. So, I am all for teaching maths, but it’s the applied maths that will make all the difference when you’re working out a budget, want to buy a home, or start a business. And I hear that there is far too little of that.

And here is my first point of disagreement. To learn applied math, one need know the basics. Two, there are people who are born and die without taking a loan- financial exclusion among other causes- or not needing a mortgage and this is the majority, at least in the global south. This child who is going to need a mortgage must first learn basic math then understanding compound interest is a walk in the park. It will be easier to explain to them if they can repay their mortgage in a shorter period, their interest payments will be lower but they will have higher monthly or quarterly payments depending on their contract with the financier.

Some may be visual learners; some may prefer words – but we need to include every single child and we need to teach things that will actually be useful.

While this partly true, that is, we need learning to be inclusive, it is not always possible to tell what will or will not be important to a person when they grow up. Limiting education just because we think it’s not important is also what leads to fear of mechanization. Some of the people employed in these sectors would find it hard to learn new things as their education was limited. Give people a broad education.

We try and make everyone fit into the same box, and people aren’t built that way. We’re all so different, and that should be celebrated. The way children are taught and set up for life really needs an overhaul so that they can leave school and pursue their dreams – and have the skills they need to make them a reality.

This is indeed a good point. But I should point out is that as long as education is to be provided to the masses, there is no better way to do it. Standardized tests could be used to help parents, learners and teachers identify what paths a student would be best suited. Economies should grow large enough for everyone to get a something they like that makes it possible to make a living. And most people find their dreams in the classroom. They discover they can be teachers, astronauts, medics, or basketballers while in school. Maybe it is not the failure of the school but rather the whole system that kills dreams.

The world of work is changing so rapidly, and children who leave school without these skills will be left behind. We need dreamers, problem-solvers, and entrepreneurs to solve the big problems of our time – let’s set th

I agree totally. We need people who will think deeply about the challenges or the unintended consequences of chatGPT. How do we respond to a world where human knowledge has expanded but understanding has dwarfed?

In my view, we need to reform mass education. Most of it produce conformers. People who are good at doing particular tasks, but only that. Our education should encourage curiosity. It should force us to question strongly held assumptions. It should be rigorous. And it must expose us to divergent views. There cannot be sacred topics at the academy.

Sir Richard might have good ideas, but I think they are not fully thought out. Or he limited his thinking on math alone which again doesn’t represent the whole education sector or the desired areas for reform. Or maybe I misunderstood him and he is right. Only teach applied math.

The name of the rose

Is a novel by Umberto Eco, set in the early 14th century of our current era. In it, he writes of the theological disputes of the time with the pope living in Avignon and other disputes in the secular arm of things.

The two themes that are carried to the end of the novel attempt to answer two questions, did Jesus and by extension, the first apostles preach poverty? Did they own property? The second question is whether Jesus laughed? On these two questions, lie all the disputes in the novel.

The disagreements between the pope and the Fransciscans, Minorites and all the others introduced by Eco depend really on the intepretation of poverty that one adopts. The simple people who follow Fra Dolcino and others like him believe in poverty. They loot not to own but to have in common.

On the other end, that is, in the Abbey, life depends on the question of whether Jesus laughed. Any pursuit of this knowledge becomes, literally, a matter of life and death. Jorges through his various ploys kills or is an accomplice in the deaths that occur in the abbey within the duration of 7 days that our narrator was there.

Inquisitors like Bishop Benard Qui can only be appeased when someone dies at the stake. His commitment to truth leaves no room for doubt. He would kill an innocent person if it served his end arguing that god would recognize his own. Jorges kills so people can remain ignorant.

Alinardo is ignored because everyone believes his ramblings are those of a bitter old man. Maybe Abo’s life would have been spared or the monks like Malachi too, had he been taken seriously. But maybethe fate of the library was sealed from the time Bro William was assigned the task of investigating the death of Adelmo.

Why did temporal power allow itself to be involved in the inquisition which was really a dispute between the churches? Why allow the bishops to keep their hands clean in a matter that was entirely a doctrinal dispute?

What is it of relics that there always seems to be a person claiming to have one? And the more absurd it is, the higher it is valued?

If you are looking for holiday reading, this is a good one.

The Brothers Karamazov

By fyodor dostoyevski is an interesting book. Yesterday I decided to reread some two chapters, rebellion and the grand inquisitor. In both chapters, it is Ivan doing most of the talking and Alyosha doing the listening.

In the rebellion, Ivan takes on the case of suffering but dwells mainly on the issue of children whom he says are innocent. The adults have eaten the fruit and know of good and evil but not the children. He argues, therefore, that suffering of children is acute and must be explained.

He tells Alyosha the promise of a pleasant heaven where there is happiness does not cut it for him. He will take his chances on this side of the grave. He tells Alyosha he cannoy the person who has metted suffering on the children even the children forgave and sang praises to the good lord.

In the grand inquisitor, Ivan goes for broke. He says the three questions or temptations put to Jesus at the of his forty fast and his response to them is the reason for the unending strife on earth. By refusing to do as per the tempter, he denied men the miraculous, the mystery and authority.

By refusing to turn stone into bread, he denied men the miraculous. Only the elect few can follow him. The rest of mankind must look for bread.

By refusing to jump from the spire of the temple, even if he wasn’t certain he would be rescued, he denied men mystery instead ingima requiring that they worship him without the burden of miracles.

Lastly, by refusing dominion over all mankind, all empire builders have been struggling to unify the world. The Gengis Khans and all. Their tower of babel all come to naught. He would have achieved much more had he obeyed the tempter.

I say going for broke because there are many miracles Jesus does as reported by his biographers. Whether any of the supposed miracles achieved their ends, the jury has returned their verdict.

Have you read the two chapters and what do you think of the positions adopted by Ivan?

profiles in courage

by John F Kennedy.

I have for the last 7 years since I wrote this post been meaning to read this book to see if I was wrong in my conclusions then. I am persuaded I was right then in my conclusions as I still am now that whilst men and women have committed great acts of courage, these were only possible if they stood to benefit. Don’t be hasty to think of benefit only in terms of public recognition- no- the greatest beneficiary of our actions is the self, that one master you cannot go against. In times of great turmoil or crisis, it is that master that must be served.

Many might not have read this book by JFK, but I recommend it highly. Not because of the profiles, which are great by the way, but on its lessons on government. And why, for democracy to continue to work, we must all participate in politics. It is also the eye opener in why many or most of us are frustrated by the decisions the politicians make. We have elected them to be our representatives and expect that their votes will represent our will. JFK reminds us that we have also entrusted them to act impartially, with integrity in the hope that they will be led at al times by public good, however you define it.

As I wrote many moons ago asking what happened to the US of A of men such as Robert G Ingersoll, Lewis and others, I can add to the list such men us E Ross, Calhoun, Houston, Taft, Adams and others- who, my friends living in the Uneducated States of A know much more than I can ever know. It appears, to us, who watch from afar, that party obedience trumps everything else and that we see very few men and women who dare challenge the party. But then, yours truly, is not a politician.

In my neck of woods, such profile maybe hard to build in our present climate. However, there have been men and women who have defied the government of the day and suffered dearly or lost limb and life in defense of their principles- but they have been few and far between-. We remember Waangari Maathai (Prof) for her fight to save our forests for which she paid a personal price. Or those few men of courage who stood firmly with Oginga Odinga when in 1966 he formed Kenya People’s Union- the first Azimio Party- after resigning his office as Vice President. Of note is Bildad Kaggia who for this defiance was detained by then president in HomaBay (I think) for several months. Since then, we have only been electing scoundrels to the no longer August House. We have elected representatives who will sacrifice everything to remain in office. But maybe I am wrong and I expect too much of politicians.

So, again, as I did then, 7 years ago, I ask again today- is selflessness possible?

this is promising to be interesting

I am reading E. Anthony Rotundo’s American Manhood: Transformations In Masculinity From The Revolution To The Modern Era and the very first paragraph has me hooked. He writes

…….manliness is a human invention. Starting with a handful of biological differences, people m all places and times have invented elaborate stories about what it means to be male and female. In other words, each culture constructs its own version of what men and women are—and ought to be.

E. A Rotunda, American Manhood: Transformations In Masculinity From The Revolution To The Modern Era

and in this age of I feel in the deepest of my hearts that I am a woman, this should be arsenal in their armory. Maybe I have the cart before the horse here, but this is a bold start.

Keep it tuned here for more.

born to run

A Hidden Tribe, Super-athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall is a book that makes you want to run as you read it. At other times you get tired thinking about the many miles these people run (I mean who runs 100 miles in a day? ) and still have energy to do other things instead of laying dead for 3 days!

It also takes you to a tour to strange places in Mexico where one would to visit not to run, but maybe hike. Who runs in steep hills?

How do you run without injury? Maybe you run fast, tall and happily. I am not making it up. If at the end of a run you are not laughing/ happy you are doing it too hard or wrong. You should enjoy running. So your pace should be such that you can smile during your run. I smile sometimes, especially when I am going fast (maybe because i can’t believe I can run that fast).

You can outrun a horse, if you are fit enough over long distances. And maybe even hunt without a weapon. Just run the antelope to death, literally. It has happened before, so I read.

What Christopher’s argument basically is human beings are running machines. We can outrun almost if not all animals on the planet.

Even if you don’t like running, the book makes for good reading. You may actually disagree with all he says about running injury and all but find the story intriguing, especially about the Tarahumara country and their running.

Get off that couch and get running.

On labels or that kind of thing

A number of the readers here identify as atheists. Some who don’t do so identify as either non religious, agnostic and a few as anti-theist. Yesterday I was reading a paper, An argument for unbelief: a discussion about terminology by Nickolas G Conrad in which he makes the case that the best all encompassing term to use is unbelief. Atheism as we all know is loaded politically and socially and doesn’t cover the nuances of say Barry, who for all intents has rejected the orthodox dictates of religion but still find some relevance or utility in religion (a term that you might realise is not so straightforward by the way) or my friend from across the lands Veracious Poet or Nan.

He also argues, and I think I agree, that referring to some ancients as atheist do not do them real justice. They could have rejected orthodox religion but never did refer to themselves as atheists. They were freethinkers in France, Fouriers, positivists or followers of Saint- Simon but not atheists.

What do you think?

Tomorrow sex will be good again

By Katherine Angel

Is a book I would recommend for those still actively having sex or who plan to get some action in the future.

In it she addresses the issues surrounding consent especially following #metoo and other campaigns aimed at addressing sexual violence against women( especially women because they are overly represented in the number victims of sexual violence) and explored whether that active consent is a sufficient guarantee that women will be safe.

She explores arousal, desire, vulnerability and asks some very pointed questions. Many times men are won’t to say that women when they say no actually mean yes or that their bodies speak a different language which is not said for men. It is argued that the female body is disconnected from her person. And this unfortunately has been used in legal cases to argue against rape where defendants have said the woman was wet and so she must have wanted it, regardless of her protestations.

A very interesting question or theme that runs through the book is how can sex research which claim to be objective give us any results when sex is removed from its very subjective context of negotiation, desire, arousal and all those things we associate with sex?

Sex she argues is political. Especially in the manner in which the female body and desire is policed. And asks whether to demand that women be performative in the sex game will lead to any liberation? Is it the panacea to sexual violence? I don’t think so.

Go read the book. Happy week everyone and have some good sex while at it.

Things I never learned in Sunday School

By Nan Yielding

First, thanks Nan for the free copy. It is an interesting and easy read. I think a revised edition is due especially because I think you have in the intervening period learnt something that maybe was not available at the time of first publication.

This book is not a polemic against religion or an apologia. Maybe we could say it is an argument against taking someone as an authority without good reason. In this respect, I think Nan makes her point clearly throughout the book.

That said, I have a few issues with the book.

On the pentatauch, she alludes to Moses writing the first five books. First comment is that the existence of Moses is highly doubtful but that’s a story for later. On the authorship of the first five books, research that I have read point to a multiple group of writers. My preface to the African Bible( used by the Catholic Church) is explicit that while it is commonly believed Moses wrote those books, this is no longer tenable.

On Jesus, Nan writes in a manner that shows she is convinced of at least two things; he existed and had a message of love that he taught. The interesting question here is which Jesus. And having read several researches on Jesus life, I would ask with Ark, which Jesus? Nan writes we are certain Jesus died but this is putting the cart before the horse.

What can be said of the resurrection? She points out the various contradictions in the narratives telling of this special event. And I don’t think much needed to be added. Maybe we can say with Mangassarian that if he went to the sky it is best to live him there.

She writes a lot on Paul which is understandable because of his influence in Christian teaching. The first question is Paul who? Does the author of Acts know Paul? And while her conclusion is correct that without the Pauline literature, we would likely end up with a different religion today. She takes it for granted that Paul was. And I would think, as the theme of the book is not taking things on authority, a little bit of rigour would not be asking for too much.

Her exposition on the devil is quite illuminating. But in that chapter she says we are certain a supreme being exists? But does it really? Are we certain about this? What is the nature of this being & though in the final chapter she makes the argument that resembles that of Aviciena( via negativa) that maybe we can’t begin to name or even describe this being, this gives us no light on whether we should assume such a being exists.

I am not convinced the argument about the Roman empire persecution of Christians hold against scrutiny. I will have to dust my books & update this criticism but her position is not tenable.

I am African and it is a pet peeve of mine when I find African deities or religions referred to as tribal gods. This is following Hegel where everyone else has national gods or just religions but the African, no. His is a tribal god. I know it is not Nan’s fault here that most literature sees Africans only through the lens of tribe.

I think on matters where there is doubt, to express certainties must surely take away from the value of the work. To claim a supreme being/ god certainly exists is to stretch credulity a little far. My other general comment that covers the whole work is on miracles. The bible which is the source document for Christian belief is said to be a miracle- that is, it is not of natural production but involves the action of god(s) in unknown ways- is in need of defence.

While reading the book, a thought occurred to me concerning monotheism. Is it a belief in the existence of only one god or the belief in & worship of only one god While not negating the existence of other gods? The israelites are told not that other gods don’t exist, just that they should worship a specific god. Or as Nietzsche put it, the other gods laughed themselves to death when one of them said I am on the only god. Am I missing something?

Happy Sunday everyone. And thanks again Nan for the book.