Friday, October 26, 2007

End of a Term

Finally, the school term is over! I have about a few things left to do.

1. Finish up my class testimonials. Trying to put the nicest spin on my students is rather draining. Did I give my own teachers that many headaches in the past? Hmmm... let's see... "sustained logic and independent thinking", "outspoken", "spontaneous", "serious", "steady", "thinks in depth and with perspective", "sincere and earnest".
Gee, I think they must have really put some effort into writing my testimonials. Can't do any less for my class!

2. Invigilation for 'A' Levels. Piece of cake.

3. Train students for the Chemistry Olympiad. The date is getting nearer. Yikes!

4. Train for the year end marathon. In progress. Once I get all those cuts on my leg from the soccer match healed up, that is...

5. Complete my application for a local Masters course. Will also need to find out exactly what to do on the MOE side to avoid being AWOL. Plus when my contract exactly ends...

6. Brush up on my Christmas carols. Just in case somebody needs a decent bass...

7. Get Battletech going again.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

We Are the Champions!!!

Just today, the Junior College Staff Soccer tournament was held at Jurong JC. And after 2 years of being eliminated in the knockout stages, the SAJC Staff Team has finally gained the championship in 2007!!!

During the course of the tournament(7 matches), we did not concede a single goal in regulation, and our team depth enabled us to plug in players with barely a dropoff in skill and pace. We were also far more comfortable as an unit in defense or attack. I have to admit I made my share of errors: 1 kena lobang, 2 blown defensive assignments that I remember, 3 misplaced passes. But my teammates covered perfectly for me. And I marked several key opposing players out of the game. Hey, I've trained as a man-to-man marker, after all.

On a personal note, it was also the first championship I've won in many, many years. Since I left Catholic High as a student, whether it was chess, soccer, or choir, the groups I'm associated with have always come in second at best. NJC Choir at the International Music Festival in Sydney, 2nd place. 1997 JC soccer tourney - 2nd(I was only a member of the recreational side, but we were the whetstone on which the blade of the first squad was honed). NUS Choir at Voyage of Songs, 2004 - 2nd in damn near every category we took part in. I was so weary of coming in 2nd best, so this year I thought my own best chance of breaking the losing streak would be through this tournament.

All the staff training games, all the practices, all the times I've implored players to turn up. It's been all worth it, with or without this victory. The staff who participated, teachers, support staff etc, we've grown to know one another better. Nothing better than the fire of a game to forge us into a team. One staff teacher vowed he'd stop bullets if it meant a clean sheet(or words to that effect). He lived up to his word.

Next week will be the climatic 'end of season' intra-staff game between the PE department(plus alumni) and the rest of the non-PE staff team. Let's see what happens, though I'll probably be trying to man-mark their ace winger(who can usually run with the ball faster than I can without it!!). It's going to be a more relaxed affair, though both sides will still be trying to win it for bragging rights!
Bring my bow
Fill my head with flame, and we must
Let them know that the torch is lit again
Crystallise the pain behind your eyes
Are you ready to fight?
-A Call to Arms, Mike & the Mechanics
And after that, I have to start intensive training for the Singapore Marathon. My heart quails a bit at the thought of running 42 body wrecking kilometers.

I will do it. I need to prove to myself that I'm tough enough to endure this. I'm not a loser!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

For Want of a Nail

On the 3rd July, 1863, one of history's greatest generals, the Confederate(the slave supporting South) general Robert Lee, launched a suicidal attack with a significant portion of his force into the teeth of the Union(the slavery opposing North) army, entrenched on hilly fixed positions. This attack, Pickett's Charge, failed, and was to go down in history as a major turning point in the American Civil War.

Frankly speaking, up to now I could never figure out how such a decorated general could be so stupid to send his men into a direct assault with numerical inferiority. Historians simply waved their hands and said, "Everybody has an off day, and Lee's one off day was at Gettysburg."

I don't believe that. Heck, there are generals in history who did not have off days. Wellington, for example, though the nearest he came to an off day was when Napoleon stole a march on him("Napoleon has humbugged me") before Waterloo. So the biggest question everybody always had about Pickett's Charge was: What the @*$&%! was Lee thinking?!?

Everybody knew such an attack would fail. Why would an intelligent, informed, and experienced general of Lee's stature commit such a mistake?

So what happened? I came across a book at the library today that explained it quite well: Tom Carhart's Lost Triumph. All the evidence that Carhart managed to glean from primary information from the battle's participants, as well as the battlefield dispositions, all point to one almost undeniable fact: Lee intended for Jeb Stuart to fast flank from the Confederate left and fall upon the Union's rear just as Pickett charged his men, trapping the Union forces and subjecting them to attack on both sides. Soldiers, no matter how well trained, would always suffer a severe morale blow when informed of enemy troops to the rear. The Union line would have been severed in the middle and risked defeat in detail as Confederate troops poured in.

It would have been a decisive victory for the South, and despite the Grant's victory at Vicksburg, might have been enough to force the Union government to sue for peace, effectively ending the war in favor of the South, which simply needed to survive to win the war.

There was no other reason why Lee would assign all of his mobile troops, his cavalry, to Jeb Stuart, exposing his own flanks, if he didn't have some form of audacious gamble in mind. And that gamble failed when Custer stood in Stuart's way and delayed him long enough that Pickett's Charge went off unsupported by Stuart's simultaneous attack into the rear of the Union lines.

One paragraph says it all. After the battle, after most of his generals had reported in, Lee said, "I never saw troops behave more magnificently than Pickett's division of Virginians did to-day in that grand charge upon the enemy. And if they had been supported as they were to have been, -- but, for some reason not yet fully explained to me, were not -- we would have held the position and the day would have been ours. Too bad! Too bad! OH! TOO BAD!" Support, from where? Since at that time, Jeb Stuart was the only general yet to be report to Lee for debrief and give his excu... uhhhh... explanations, it only stands to reason that Stuart was to be that support.

So it boils down to two things: Lee was indeed a great general still, and his failure at Gettysburg was not due to his simply being stupid enough to send 20 percent of his men careening into enemy lines on a whim, but due to his counting on everything to come off exactly as planned, and not managing to consider the interference of the infamous Murphy: Whatever can go wrong, does go wrong. Which is a completely different kind of mistake.

And the second thing was the old nursery rhyme:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost
For want of a shoe the horse was lost
For want of a horse the rider was lost
For want of a rider the battle was lost
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail
That nail(or lack of) was the presence of a significant Union force in Stuart's way. If not for that, Gettysburg would have ended very differently.

So for all of you students studying for your 'A' levels, or preparing for your OP for PW, remember, the devil is in the details!!!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The real location of Troy

Most people remember the lavishly directed yet ultimately unsuccessful attempt at recreating the Iliad on the big screen, the movie Troy. It was for many, their look at one of antiquity's greatest wars.

Or was it?

I recently finished a book by Clive Cussler, an adventure with his eponymous hero Dirk Pitt. The story was, quite frankly, crap, but his support of a little known theory regarding the location of the ancient city of Troy was the most interesting part of the book.

Homer's verbal depictions of Troy and its surrounding environs did not fit the Mediterranean at all. Firstly, the sea on which the invading armada sailed on was said to be gray, boundless, misty at various points in the Iliad, which hardly describes the sunny blue Mediterranean sea. Such a description, however, points us immediately to Northern Europe.

Second, Homer named nine rivers, plus the local foliage, which included oak trees(!!!) and marshlands. The most stunning part was the sheer similarity between the Homeric names of the rivers and their modern equivalents.

Third, the climate was described as full of rain, fog, and snow. Sounds familiar already? In short, no way it took place in the Mediterranean. A northern locale would be the most likely.

Two options have been offered, but one fits the data better than most, and surprisingly it's near Cambridge in England. The geographical features fit perfectly, and several ancient Bronze-Age monuments still stand supposedly unexplained by archaeologists.

All the rivers and their names did not change much through the ages, and the rivers around Cambridge match up perfectly with the ones Homer described, in terms of their names. Have a look: (Homeric/modern) - Aesupus/Ise, Rhesus/Rhee, Rhodius/Roding, Granicus/Granca, Scamander/Cam, Simois/Great Ouse, Satniois/Little Ouse, Larisa/Lark, Cayster/Yare (Caistor castle is at its mouth), Thymbre/Thet, Heptaporus/Tove, Callicolone/Colne, Cilla/Chillesford, Temese/Thames. Some of these names have endured virtually unchanged for 3000 years!!! This cannot be a simple coincidence. One interesting fact about history: conquerors change city names, but hardly ever bother to change the names of rivers!

It's a fascinating theory, and one that definitely pokes the established 'experts' in the eye. And I'll file it away as one of my numerous contrary positions that simply disagrees with current dogma.

For more information, you should read Wilkens' "Where Troy Once Stood". The evidence is powerful and stunning in matching up almost exactly with Homer's account.