vaecrius: A little yellow ant in the grass on a sunny day. (yellow ant)
2017-03-29 03:14 pm

Exercising a safety precaution every time versus verifying whether it is required

Cost of precaution: 100
Cost of verification: 101

Doing the precaution indiscriminately: 100

Verify, precaution needed: 201 (more than twice as inefficient)
Verify, precaution NOT needed: 101 (still less efficient)
Verify, error in verification, precaution not needed but done anyway: 201 + cost of embarrassment of failure (including loss of goodwill+trust of client or other party)
Verify, error in verification, precaution needed but not done: 101 + cost of whatever clusterfuck the precaution was designed to avoid

Factors to consider:
V Cost of verification
P Cost of precaution
N Chance that the precaution is needed
F Cost of failure of precaution when needed

If F itself implies ruin, then always go with the precaution and no other calculations matter: ignore the below.
The average cost of failure is F/N.
Our main 3 factors are then P, V and F/N.
If P is the smallest, then always go with the precaution.
If F/N is the smallest, then never go with the precaution.
It is only worth verifying if V is the smallest.

In this we are assuming:
This situation will play out enough times that F/N is meaningful.
Verification is not infallible.
When we say "smallest", the margin by which it is smallest exceeds the chance of the verification giving false comfort.

Of course, usually the work in doing the verification right significantly overlaps with the precaution itself (and sometimes the precaution is verifying something), minimizing the savings and leaving the temptation being to either say "fuck it" and skip both or doing a sloppy verification and increasing the risk of error.
vaecrius: A stylized navy blue anarchy sign juxtaposed with a pixellated chaos symbol made to resemble a snowflake. (anarchy and chaos)
2016-09-20 11:06 pm

So there goes the one of maybe like three things I remember learning in my undergrad studies.

Dropping universal grammar in favour of the general human learning heuristic is a wonderful thing.

I had long used the uniqueness of this human faculty for language as a sharp line between us and all non-human animals. Such a line - or at least an undisputable distinction - is important to the faith. But to relegate our capacity for language to a combination of things that can each be found in lesser or varying amounts in other species demolishes that wall.

And yet... we're still the only species that has language.

The UG is not the Logos. If it does not exist, it cannot even be a pale shadow of it. But the foregoing has suggested otherwise. I feel like a good friend has just thrown out an idol in my home that I wasn't even conscious was there.

The mystery remains, and the gatekeepers of heresy will not prevail against it.

A generalized learning process seems to imply that, literally, we just learn rules. Surely the effect of this, especially given some of the examples provided, is to blur the line between descriptive and prescriptive? And yet this does not give the no-split-infinitives pedants free rein: there are rules, after all, and then there are *rules*. There are the customs of one particular tribe, or of one particular subculture, within which *and only within which* "everyone" "typically" does (or says) something a certain way, and to blame someone for not talking proper in a situation where it would be actually improper to do so is unmitigated knavery.

I don't know where to go from here on this. It feels like there's something bigger, at least for myself, but I can't quite seem to recall or articulate what it is.
vaecrius: Duke2 Rigelatin overlord: "We'd kill you, you see, but our religion prevents the interruption of suffering." (rigelatin)
2015-11-27 11:14 pm

Scooping all the sand out of the beach with a spoon

Trimming a few of my inflammatory political posts. You know, the "all these fucking evil zombie shits need to be driven into the sea" ones.

Also ditched a few where it was literally nothing but me being a smug pedant about some thing or other. (There's still a lot more.)

Got rid of some linkdumps that were just linkdumps with no interesting comments that weren't just one-liners directly in response to the things linked.

Many musical linkdumps have been purged. Most of the links and embeds are glitched or deleted anyway.* It's... humbling to see just what sort of fleeting lust passes for "awesome" and "greatest shit I've ever heard" that I post and then promptly forget about a week later. The old tag "aural masturbation focus" was much more accurate.

*ahahahaha what the fuck. Almost every single YouTube embed I've got on my blog is linking to the wrong video.
vaecrius: Duke2 Rigelatin overlord: "We'd kill you, you see, but our religion prevents the interruption of suffering." (rigelatin)
2015-11-14 11:03 am

Re: Re: Re: Production

Further yet again to my garbled... garblings (as clearly there was no muse inspiring me in any of that), here is something by people who have done a much better job. Content warning: endorsement traditional Christian views on gender and sexuality, which may well include the ones you, the reader, consider terrible and hateful, or make you think of same )
There's a lot more and to quote all the good stuff would be to quote almost all of it. Little of it may make much sense outside of Christianity, or at least it won't make sense within modernity (while possibly making a good deal of sense in some pre-modern pagan societies).
vaecrius: Duke2 Rigelatin overlord: "We'd kill you, you see, but our religion prevents the interruption of suffering." (rigelatin)
2015-11-01 06:01 pm

Linkdump for all this story stuff that I've been reading

First, Fr. Stephen's post about something not directly related to stories* at all (though, of course, all things are at least indirectly related to stories*):
Someone commented with a recommendation for John C. Wright,** which led me to this blog post:
Meanwhile, Fr. Stephen posts the following:
Characters in good stories (particularly good children’s stories) are more than simple individuals with complex and unpredictable behavior. Such individuals would be of no more use in training a child, than reciting random numbers is for teaching math. What we want in a character, is, well character. We need them to be a certain kind of person (or dragon, etc.). People, including children, make sense of the world through the stories they know. Children without stories are forced to stumble through the world without a clue.
The underlined portion describes the modern approach to fiction we are all too familiar with. It speaks well of us that most of us fail miserably. (I am thinking particularly of the anti-Mary-Sue pontifications that I'm sure anyone reading this already knows - which tend, if followed literally, to produce characters as described in the underlined portion.)

In the comments, someone comments with a link to this:
Which includes an excellent example*** of how to write fiction in imitation of Scripture. (Dr. Guroian didn't have time to mention Psalm 68(67):23; there's bound to be other stuff in there.)

The above led me to read the following two book synopses, listed in the order I read them. One left me feeling nothing; the other had me immediately searching for a copy.,_a_Life_in_the_Woods
The former tries to stand for so much, but nothing in the story does so - it's just a bunch of stuff that happens. In contrast, every moment in Bambi is fat and heavy with meaning just being there. (Interestingly, the Bambi synopsis has no separate "Major themes" section; such things are irresistibly inferred through both the plot and the book's reception.)

And now for something completely different:
Basically the literary equivalent of playing an FPS.** *****

*I had typed "fiction writing" and then moved on, then came back to add the parenthetical thinking I had typed "stories", then corrected what I previously typed accordingly. Maybe that's the problem: we're (I'm) not even trying to write stories anymore.

**Yes, I am aware of both these authors' involvement with certain recent controversies. I do not make this post with the intent to endorse their positions on such matters and I am endorsing their work inasmuch that I am willing to read past their real and perceived flaws, as one must always do when reading anyone.****

***In other news, misleading description of the day: Cinderella: a young girl uses her mad freerunning skills and commands an army of dinosaurs to secure her reign as queen and execute vengeance upon her enemies.

****Re: flaws, more Wright than Correia. The latter's explanation of the Sad Puppies movement makes a lot more sense than what (admittedly little, but Correia describes it accurately) I'd been reading before getting his side of it. The former's explanation of his stance re: enemies, taken at its best, is indistinguishable from a pagan perspective despite the claims to Christianity, and the best thing I got out of it was the realization that Christ's admonition to Peter about swords could also be read as a prophecy about what would happen with the Western Church over a thousand years later.

*****2015-11-01 19:14 EDIT:
But we have to be taken back to when Parker was fourteen years of age to fully understand what moves him throughout the story. In that year, at the fair, Parker set his eyes on a tattooed man whose entire body, from head to foot, was covered with images. O’Connor writes: “Until he saw the man at the fair, it did not enter his head that there was anything out of the ordinary about the fact that he existed.”
I was able to finally see the Guardian. He was a giant of a man. Every inch of his skin had been covered in strange tattoos. The ink lines moved like living things. He looked right at me across space and time.
...a perfect arabesque of colors... (this song was one of the first that had randomly come up as I read the essay)
vaecrius: A little yellow ant in the grass on a sunny day. (yellow ant)
2015-10-28 02:04 pm

Memory lane 3 months before limitation date

In response to this comment:
I’d be very interested in the atheist-to-orthodox “take” on this sort of discussion.
I'm not even sure if I count, since I was brought up as a Christian before I became an atheist (de facto in my teens, explicitly in my twenties), but it did get me to try to articulate just what might've been going on in my head in the months leading up to my visit of St. John of Shanghai Orthodox Mission on the evening of February 1, 2014.*

Read more... )

*a date that I've always remembered as January 30 or 31 until I checked the day of the week just now. The reading of the life of St. Brigid I remember more distinctly.
vaecrius: The infamous cartoon of Darwin's head on a chimp's body, superimposed with a MSPainted Nazi armband. (are you a monkey)
2015-08-28 01:33 pm

Hump-and-dump Humpty-Dumpty. In hell.

And so we trudged along the frozen waste.
We found a wall of stone, ten feet in height,
Rough from wear and carelessness, easily clomb.
Stains, and a great stench, covered it--
Rotting, sulfrous protein, slime and shell.
Bubbling I heard: not below, but unseen.

Read more... )
vaecrius: Duke2 Rigelatin overlord: "We'd kill you, you see, but our religion prevents the interruption of suffering." (rigelatin)
2015-07-10 05:00 pm

Re: Re: Production

Following up on these garbled musings after a night's at least two nights' sleep.

This gets BADLY rambly. There is no organization because I do not even know what my thesis is, which is one of the implicit questions I am struggling with, and thus cannot delete something as irrelevant to such a thesis. )

2015-07-12 EDIT:
The distinctive role of the person of the Theotokos in God’s plan for the salvation of humanity is the source for the empirical, typological symbolism according to which the liturgical function of women in the plan of divine οἰκονομία is parallel to the work of the Holy Spirit, while the liturgical function of the male is parallel to that of Christ.
vaecrius: Duke2 Rigelatin overlord: "We'd kill you, you see, but our religion prevents the interruption of suffering." (rigelatin)
2015-07-07 04:33 pm

Re: Production

First, a passing thought:
A good design is seamless, unified, harmonious, whole. A bad design is fragmented and arbitrary, its elements stuck together ad-hoc with no consideration as to how one flows into the other. When the intelligent design researchers (and what they do is genuinely, legitimately research - I say this as a barrister and solicitor) look for signs of design, the usual formula is to isolate a harmonious design, deny the existence of its effective cause within creation, and conclude therefore that God must have done it. This is to deny that the effective cause is part of the harmonious whole, and to claim that there has been some kind of unnatural severance within creation. In other words, the signs of flaws and corruptions of the unified design of the original. If these are the signs of the Designer we seek, then that designer is not the One who designed causation for our use, Who is everywhere present and filling all things, Whose designs are at all friendly to us.

And now, have some cave worms (note: taxonomically not worms) to cleanse the palate.

According to this study, if you're white, male, well-educated or in the scientific "in", you are more likely to believe GMOs are safe. Or, rather, distrust increases the further you move out of this inner elite circle. There appear to be no controls for socioeconomic class. Am immediately reminded of Lewis' critique of Man's power over Nature being ultimately the mere power of some men over others.

Relatedly, I'm not the first to compare our economic system to a Paperclip Maximizer. The only real debate is just what is analogous to paperclips - mammon itself, or consumer products.

And now for some less short-form reblogging...

Fr. Stephen Freeman posts a trilogy of posts about sex and gender.

In case the blog is ever moved and the pictures are lost again, here are the pictures the accompany each:cut for spoiler - their best impact is when you read each article itself )

All three are well worth reading. That said, one quote struck me in particular:
In all discussions of our gendered existence, Christians must remember that male and female are eschatological images – they are images towards which we are moving, not givens according to which automatically live. The male who is not self-emptyingly male, is not yet what he shall be nor what he should be. The female who is not self-emptyingly female, is not yet what she shall be nor what she should be. And, of course, our situation is still more tragic and broken. For some, the experience of the energies of our nature is changed – whether through the brokenness of genetics or nurture. They are not yet what they shall be nor what they should be. We share a tragedy that is common to all humanity.
This is incomprehensible without an understanding of what Blessed Mother Maria Skobtsova was getting at in her reflection concerning the emulation of the Mother of God. It also provides, in my experience possibly for the first time, a framework for how we should approach masculine and feminine identity and prescription, in a way that finally relates to the theology of kenosis and the Cross (beyond the way in which all suffering so relates).

This leaves, of course, the content open: just what is male and what is female kenosis? Mother Maria's analysis is tantalizing, providing enough to offer a start to the dialogue but leaving nothing close to a clear, yes-no-depends method of recognizing either or both in another.

I'm starting to understand how Thomas Aquinas felt.

One possible answer: the distinction, outside of biological functions, is more descriptive than prescriptive in that if we simply follow the Way the means of that expression will make themselves known. But why then are there any commandments aimed at consciously maintaining the distinction?

Then Dana comments on Part 3 referencing a book called "Flight From Woman", and another hint suggests itself: every known effort to create a genderless society has only succeeded in creating a misogynistic society. Whatever the reason for it, it just happens that in our civilization the male is unmarked and the female marked, and to try to reform society such that everyone conforms to neutral the obvious thing to do (given the mindset of the revolutionary who is typically also an iconoclast) is to purge that which is marked. The requirement to maintain the distinction - especially in the New Testament where the early Church was going up against the gnostic heretics - may be (inter alia) a safeguard against that evil, which would be toxic to (again, inter alia) anyone who would otherwise have sought salvation through the feminine route.

I say "anyone" at the end of that paragraph. I do not believe in a strict individual (lit. individuus) binary where being on one side on one thing necessitates being on that side on everything else to the exclusion of the other. To believe in such exclusion would be to deny that any woman can carry her Cross, or that any man can be pierced to the heart by the sorrows of another - a denial both theologically monstrous and obviously untrue in experience. One of the most liberating and beautiful things I've found about Orthodoxy compared to Western theology is that to say X is Y is not to imply, in the absence of a genuine contradiction, that X is not Z.

But then how are we by (prescriptive, theological) nature male and female, but not all androgynous (~male and female created He every one of them~)?

Perhaps to all these statements should be added "without limitation", as the lawyers do. Are we each created, then, to find only the highest fulfillment in only one of the paths, however great our works may be down the other? We might, instead, speak not of paths but aspects, or abilities and potentials, or differing gifts of grace, or even statistics in an RPG (tempered, of course, by the constant remembrance that without God our works are nothing).

Or perhaps another test question is: which is worse off: a woman devoid of the feminine and a man of the masculine, or a woman devoid of the masculine and a man of the feminine?

I offer a very crude example.

The former (failure of own gender's virtue):
  • a group of men. One suffers emotional turmoil. The others lash out angrily and bitterly, say all manner of evil against whoever they feel may be responsible, fail utterly to bring consolation or solve the problem.
  • a group of women. One suffers emotional turmoil. The others do not know how to handle it and leave in shame.

The latter (failure of other gender's virtue):
  • a group of men. One suffers emotional turmoil. The others do not know how to handle it and leave in shame.
  • a group of women. One suffers emotional turmoil. The others lash out angrily and bitterly, say all manner of evil against whoever they feel may be responsible, fail utterly to bring consolation or solve the problem.

If both are equally bad, then this gives us no reason to believe that humanity is not fulfilled by total positive androgynity; if the former is worse, then that supports what we are taught.

This is increasingly becoming a matter of "I'll know it when I see it", without any ability to formalize what is going on. The Thomist understanding frustratingly remains.

Will hit Post for want of a logical conclusion.
vaecrius: Duke2 Rigelatin overlord: "We'd kill you, you see, but our religion prevents the interruption of suffering." (rigelatin)
2015-05-01 12:22 am

Between all the anniversaries and callbacks...

It occurs to me that we've just passed the 5-year mark for when we moved to Burnaby and my parents finally ceased living under the same roof.

Also, I really should get that notary they used (now retired IIRC) a big gift basket or something out of both thanks and apology for us having subjected her to a back-to-back purchase/sale at the end of April. I would never, ever have agreed to such a thing myself now.
vaecrius: A little yellow ant in the grass on a sunny day. (yellow ant)
2014-12-07 07:18 pm
vaecrius: a crude scrawl of a grinning, blazing yellow sun. (hier kommt die sonne)
2014-10-11 03:23 pm

Quote of the day

When one undertakes to examine Scripture in an idle, intellectual way, he creates hatred and quarrelling. Why? Because the intellectual approach to Scripture does not help us turn and reflect on our sins, but instead makes us focus on problems and concepts related to the study of Scripture – as a result our logical and intellectual faculties are aroused to no real purpose. “Knowledge” by itself adds nothing. On the contrary, it encourages the cultivation of the individual and his private sense of things; it fosters the self-sufficiency of his own personal opinions, which he then seeks to justify and impose on others. This kind of approach to Scripture immediately places you in conflict with others; it opposes your will and opinion to theirs, prompting you to disagree and argue with them, and to make enemies of your brothers. Filled as I am with my own opinions about things, I am not able to receive anything from God.

[…]It’s one thing to read Scripture because you want to collect information, and another thing to read it because you want to acquire its true content, that is, the Holy Spirit. This kind of knowledge is the life of God (cf. Jn 17:3), the entry and extension of God into our life; it is God’s descent and dwelling among us. We can judge whether or not our study of Scripture is authentic based on the number of tears we shed when we study. To be sure, I can also read Scripture without shedding tears, and without a strong sense of my sins, but with the hope that God’s grace, through my reading of Scripture, will break open my hardened heart. Read Scripture, then, but don’t forget about your sins and reduce Scripture to an object of intellectual inquiry, for at that point it ceases being the word of God and you start seeing it as something human. The criterion for your study should be this: the way you read the Bible should bring peace to your heart, communion with God, love of neighbors, and the consciousness of your own sinfulness: the recognition of how unworthy and ill-prepared you are to stand before God.
Elder Aimilianos, On Abba Isaiah

Bonus link: The Star by Arthur C. Clarke.

At first I thought it was a refutation, then a hypothetical refutation, a what-if. Then a story, if the ramifications are read backwards from what is implied (and there is no inherent reason in the facts presented to go in either particular order), of redemption. On further contemplation I feel this to be nothing less than an icon of the Cross.
vaecrius: Duke2 Rigelatin overlord: "We'd kill you, you see, but our religion prevents the interruption of suffering." (rigelatin)
2014-09-23 12:09 am

Quietly it crept in, knew horror.

This is a profound psychological violence here.
How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist? How can it not create a sense of deep rage and resentment. Yet it is the peculiar genius of our society that its rulers have figured out a way, as in the case of the fish-fryers, to ensure that rage is directed precisely against those who actually do get to do meaningful work. For instance: in our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it. Again, an objective measure is hard to find, but one easy way to get a sense is to ask: what would happen were this entire class of people to simply disappear? Say what you like about nurses, garbage collectors, or mechanics, it’s obvious that were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble, and even one without science fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.) Yet apart from a handful of well-touted exceptions (doctors), the rule holds surprisingly well.
--"On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs", Strike! Magazine, August 17, 2013
vaecrius: Duke2 Rigelatin overlord: "We'd kill you, you see, but our religion prevents the interruption of suffering." (rigelatin)
2014-07-05 10:48 pm

And after all that I still have no idea what the symbol means.

Someone posts a picture of a seal of a demon on Tumblr. I'm curious what the various bits mean. I pull up DuckDuckGo and pray for protection from heresy and delusion, a standard procedure of mine when I am about to look something up respecting occult symbols or demonology.

I fail to find anything explaining the meaning and I give up in a mix of mild awkward discomfort and despair that I would find anything worthwhile (morally edifying, finding the Holy Spirit at work in all things, casting some light on some scientific, mathematical or historical curiosity or other) respecting this sort of thing.

My prayer is answered when about a page or two later in my Tumblr feed I read a science article in which there is an insistence that the only thing distinct about humanity, language, is "a quirk of evolution", when it occurs to me to stop the beginnings of an attempt to formulate an objection to the implied "merely" and recite the Nicene Creed to see just what part of the faith the thing I was reading actually contradicted (spoiler: nothing).
vaecrius: The infamous cartoon of Darwin's head on a chimp's body, superimposed with a MSPainted Nazi armband. (are you a monkey)
2014-06-01 12:24 am

To clarify about "that Jesus thing".

It occurs to me that when I indicate that I am a Christian that might mean all sorts of things to people who are not themselves Orthodox Christians. With that in mind, I wish to compile a brief list of the various heresies and paganisms I DO NOT subscribe to. Wherein I DO NOT believe in all sorts of things... )

I think that covers all the big stereotypical ones and anything else can be dealt with as it comes.

In the meantime, here's something I had not thought I would have needed to believe, but should.
vaecrius: A little yellow ant in the grass on a sunny day. (yellow ant)
2014-04-10 10:12 pm

Hypothetical guaranteed income system on the cheap

[2014-05-16 EDIT]Well that was spectacularly dumb of me. $1k/mo for everyone in Canada is thirty-plus billion a month not year. That said, if we took all our fossil fuel subsidies and gave it all to the poorest 25% of the population, that actually does net roughly $1k for every man, woman and child every month.

As a thought experiment as to what might conceivably work around here.

Every man, woman and child gets $1000/mo, non-taxable.
No questions asked. No rules about how to spend it.
You don't get it if and while you're in jail.
This is on top of our current health care system, but should replace many other tax breaks and support and industry subsidies and whatnot.
It is an opt-in system and you must apply for the payment each calendar month. You may apply on behalf of an incompetent dependant, or some other person who lives with you OR is a family member and has previously signed their consent in person.
Right to each payment expires after the end of the given month.
Must do this personally, with exceptions for armed forces and diplomats and similar.
Everyone must have 1 morning off from work per month to do this. A person who causes a missed payment will be fined triple the amount.
25% non-refundable income tax credit for payments unclaimed, which can be transferred to a family member or a corporation of which one is a shareholder, but you must claim the credit for the year of the missed payment.

This is $30 billion in payments before admin costs (and tax breaks).
Compare for baseline. How much lower can we go?

As a very rough budget:
Rent (or $1000 CAD
Food: assume $30 daily budget for each person. 30x30=$900
(But if you can cook, that's closer to $600.)
Electricity: $100
That's $2000 right there. Add another $100 for telecommunications and "other".
If a typical household has 3 individuals, that's $700.
Total cost is $21 billion.
Allowing cooking, that's $18 billion.
Hopefully any unit so shitty that it doesn't have a stove will go for less than $1000 per month.

Possible horrible exploits:
- keep people locked up and take their money.
(this kind of fraud happens for other things too.)
- pop out lots and lots of kids.
(presumably our laws against parental neglect still apply.)
- impersonate someone.
(admin can keep better records. obviously vouching must be allowed.)
- use the money for...
(this is a feature not a bug.)
- government-side: misuse those records.
(how much worse is this than income tax?)
- force people to stick together.
($1800/mo to every single person is simply not going to happen. Limiting it to per household would create the opposite incentive which is far more perverse.)
vaecrius: Duke2 Rigelatin overlord: "We'd kill you, you see, but our religion prevents the interruption of suffering." (rigelatin)
2014-03-12 11:09 pm

(no subject)

A perspective, for those of us who have long looked from outside and been baffled:
For non-Roman Catholics, it is almost impossible to comprehend the attachment a Catholic has for the Papacy and our reaction was highly defensive. In the past, when we came across serious works of history which contradicted the Roman Catholic position, we were skeptical and if we found that the author was Protestant, or the book came from a Protestant publishing house, it was given scant attention and if it contradicted a dogmatic belief it was dismissed immediately. Only Roman Catholic historians have a pure line to objectivity, especially when it concerns articles of faith. This is what Catholics are taught and it is this belief that will keep their faith inviolate. This teaching is best exemplified by Pope Leo XIII in his celebrated Letter to the Prelates and Clergy of France (September 8th, 1899). While encouraging them to the study of history he reminds Those who study it must never lose sight of the fact that it contains a collection of dogmatic facts, which impose themselves upon our faith, and which nobody is ever permitted to call in doubt. Cardinal Manning of England is even more blunt, The appeal to antiquity is both a treason and a heresy. It is a treason because it rejects the divine voice of the Church at this hour, and a heresy because it denies that voice to be divine. 10 At another time Cardinal Manning wrote, The appeal from the living voice of the Church to any tribunal whatsoever, human history included, is an act of private judgment and a treason because that living voice is supreme; and to appeal from that supreme voice is also a heresy because that voice by divine assistance is infallible.

An important treatise on how to make friends and influence people.
The distinction between customs and crimes has special relevance to female genital cutting (FGC), also known as female genital mutilation (FGM), the preferred term of advocates. For several years now, the age-old practice of “purifying” girls by excising some portion of their external genitalia has been a serious concern of NGOs, the United Nations and some governments around the world. Laws have been passed against FGC, and messaging campaigns have sought to educate the public about its many ill effects. But these efforts have not eradicated the custom. On the contrary, they have tended to further entrench it, because traditionally minded people concerned about external threats to their corporate identity do not like having alien elites meddle with what is sacred to them.

What has worked is an unusual NGO called Tostan, which means “breakthrough” in Wolof, the predominant language of Senegal. Tostan began in a few rural Senegalese villages in 1991, and now runs additional adult education programs in Djibouti, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Somalia and Gambia. Tostan was not founded for the purpose of ending FGC, but rather as a way to provide “informal education” to a population ill served by the formal schooling provided by most African governments. That schooling is authoritarian in spirit, based on rote learning and focused on preparing a small elite for university entrance exams.

Based in the villages, the Tostan program is rigorous. Students (called “participants”) are required to attend three classes each week for three years. Teachers (called “facilitators”) must be from same ethnic group as the participants. The method is to use local folk crafts and storytelling to impart practical information about agricultural methods, health and hygiene, and the management of money. When the participants graduate, they are numerate, literate in their own language, and eager to use their new skills to tackle old problems. Today, Tostan is best known for its extraordinary success in ending FGC. To date, the organization has been instrumental in the decision of 6,778 communities in eight African countries to abandon the practice. But as noted earlier, this was not Tostan’s original purpose, and the organization did not achieve it by staging mediagenic events or shouting from a public rostrum.


[Tostan founder Molly] Melching first encountered FGC in 1975 while visiting eastern Mauritania with a friend who had grown up in a small village there. During that visit, she met a local doctor who confided to her that he opposed “the tradition” but could not change the minds of his wife and mother, both of whom were intent upon cutting his daughter. Thus did Melching, after only one year in Africa, gain a sense of how hard it is to change a deeply ingrained custom. If a girl’s own father cannot keep her from being cut, what chance does an outsider have?
They did this not by degrading their former shaman based faith but by showing them that Christianity was the fulfillment of that faith.