April 4, 2022
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Th Fnny Thng


The human mind is an amazing thing, and we don’t give ourselves enough credit. Take something as simple as reading and understanding text.

In our English speaking world we take for granted that sounds can be transliterated into phonemes formed by (more or less) predictable combinations of letters, that the phonemes can be jammed together in (more or less) logical patterns, and the whole may be reduced to pages of writing that anyone with a Grade Four education can cipher.

Generally speaking, in English and most Western languages we have the notion that each idea should have its own word, and that words should stand independently. But this pattern is not universal. Many languages are agglomerative, that is, they mash many ideas together into a single word, roughly comparable to an English phrase. Still, they're composed of letters, so you can more or less sound them out.

But while most Indo-European languages use sound-based alphabets, perhaps half of all humans use writing systems based on symbols that stand for ideas, unrelated to their sound. Thus, the Japanese word yama and the Mandarin word shan both mean mountain, are represented by the same symbol, but clearly are spoken very differently. If you find this odd, consider that I will look at a red octagon and think "Stop!", and a francophone will think "arrête". But both of us will step on the brakes and bring our cars to a halt. Same symbol, different sounds, same idea, same result.

There may even be more to the story. We have available to us thousands of examples of complex knotwork from the Inca civilization, plainly used for sophisticated accounting and communicating, but in the absence of a Rosetta Stone, we have little idea what they mean, or even much of a clue where to begin. If we can't decipher what these fellow humans were saying, why would we think we could become penpals with the Romulan Galaxy?

Although we do prefer things to be predictable and to follow the rules, when it comes to communicating, the turth is tht our minds are nmble enogh to srot it out evn wehn th ruels ar nto follwed.


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Friday Briefing Archives



Properly reading Torah calls for understanding complex musical notation called cantillation or trope in English. Here's a rather long, but very fascinating read of a software which solved complicated issues for training young Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah candidates, but which suddenly went silent. Highly recommended.

To have another language is to possess a second soul.


What I Do

I am an explainer, that is, I deconstruct complexity and re-frame it in understandable terms.

In particular, I explain the secrets of professional success-- things I wish I had known as a beginner lawyer in 1981, but which I had to learn by trial and error (and the occasional epiphany).

Simple yet profound, these secrets are really just specific applications of common-sense life lessons. They are the keys to true professional satisfaction and financial success.

Call me at 613-862-3489 or e-mail me at

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