Thursday, June 30, 2005

Fat Thursday June 30, 2005

The actual lines of a pig (I mean of a really fat pig) are among the loveliest and most luxuriant in nature; the pig has the same great curves, swift and yet heavy, which we see in rushing water or in rolling cloud. Compared to him, the horse, for instance, is a bony, angular, and abrupt animal. I remember that Mr. H. G. Wells, in arguing for the relativity of things (a subject over which even the Greek philosophers went to sleep until Christianity woke them up), pointed out that, while a horse is commonly beautiful if seen in profile, he is excessively ugly if seen from the top of a dogcart, having a long, lean neck, and a body like a fiddle. Now, there is no point of view from which a really corpulent pig is not full of sumptuous and satisfying curves. You can look down on a pig from the top of the most unnaturally lofty dogcart; you can (if not pressed for time) allow the pig to draw the dogcart, and I suppose a dogcart has as much to do with pigs as it has with dogs. You can examine the pig from the top of an omnibus, from the top of the Monument, from a balloon, or an airship; and as long as he is visible he will be beautiful. In short, he has that fuller, subtler, and more universal kind of shapeliness which the unthinking (gazing at pigs and distinguished journalists) mistake for a mere absence of shape.

GKC, The Uses of Diversity 99-100

Short Wednesday Surprise (late)

Yesterday I got home from work, and my sister asked if I wanted to eat at an Italian restaurant which we both like, so we went.

As we went inside, she asked, "Isn't this the day our aunt likes to come here?"

I told her "I have no idea." I looked back outside, and saw my aunt, uncle, and cousin drive by... In a moment they came in. How nice we came on the same day for once!

So we ate dinner together. I was going to get some dessert, and my aunt murmurs, "Don't bother, come over to my place - I have some cannoli." My sister chimes in, "well, we can come, but I can't stay long."

Then I started to suspect something.

And when we got to my aunt's, my cousin opened the door, but his parents weren't there...

In a just a few moments, they came into the room with a cake stuck with lighted candles! Two of the candles were digit-shaped, but for security purposes I omit further details. While it was not quite as surprising as they intended, it was a happy time!

No, yesterday was not my birthday. That day, however, is coming soon.

But I told my aunt I would write this little story and put it here for the e-cosmos to read...

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Happy 104th anniversary!

To our dear Aunt Frances and Uncle Gilbert!

Happy 104th wedding anniversary!

Might I quote a little of Maisie Ward's records of this happy day?

The wedding day drew near and the presents were pouring in. "I feel like the young man in the Gospel," said Gilbert to Annie Firmin, "sorrowful, because I have great possessions." [See Matthew 19:22]

Conrad Noel married Gilbert and Frances at Kensington Parish Church on June 28, 1901. As Gilbert knelt down the price ticket on the sole of one of his new shoes became plainly visible. Annie caught Mrs. Chesterton's eye and they began to laugh helplessly. Annie thinks, too, that for once in their lives Gilbert and Cecil did not argue at the Reception.

Lucian Oldershaw drove ahead to the station with the heavy luggage, put it on the train and waited feverishly. That train went off (with the luggage), then another, and at last the happy couple appeared. Gilbert had felt it necessary to stop on the way "in order to drink a glass of milk in one shop and to buy a revolver with cartridges in another." The milk he drank because in childhood his mother used to give him a glass in that shop. The revolver was for the defense of his bride against possible dangers. They followed the luggage by a slow train.
[Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 151]

... The only fresh detail I have learnt about the wedding comes from Rhoda Bastable, a young cousin of Frances, who was a bridesmaid. She remembers Gilbert's arrival at the church, for once correctly dressed - except that he had forgotten to put on a tie. Rhoda's brother was sent rushing off to buy one and returned triumphant just in time to get it round his neck.
[Ward, Return To Chesterton 69]

And dear, fat Uncle Gilbert - you did explain that milk and gun thing:

It is alleged against me, and with perfect truth, that I stopped on the way to drink a glass of milk in one shop and to buy a revolver with cartridges in another. Some have seen these as singular wedding-presents for a bridegroom to give to himself, and if the bride had known less of him, I suppose she might have fancied that he was a suicide or a murderer or, worst of all, a teetotaller. They seemed to me the most natural things in the world. I did not buy the pistol to murder myself - or my wife; I never was really modern. I bought it because it was the great adventure of my youth, with a general notion of protecting her from the pirates doubtless infesting the Norfolk Broads, to which we were bound; where, after all, there are still a suspiciously large number of families with Danish names. I shall not be annoyed if it is called childish; but obviously it was rather a reminiscence of boyhood, and not of childhood. But the ritual consumption of the glass of milk really was a reminiscence of childhood. I stopped at that particular dairy because I had always drunk a glass of milk there when walking with my mother in my infancy. And it seemed to me a fitting ceremonial to unite the two great relations of a man's life. Outside the shop there was the figure of a White Cow as a sort of pendant to the figure of the White Horse; the one standing at the beginning of my new journey and the other at the end.
[GKC, Autobiography CW16:43-44]

How happy you were! Dear Auntie, remember this poem Gilbert wrote for you?

"At Night" (For Frances)

How many million stars there be,
That only God hath numbered;
But this one only chosen for me
In time before her face was fled.
Shall not one mortal man alive
Hold up his head?

Please ask "The God with the Golden Key" (about whom you both wrote so well) to bless all married couples with special graces on this wonderful day.

Sent from Cosmos E. (I mean, the E-cosmos... hee hee!)

Your nephew,
Dr. Thursday

Monday, June 27, 2005

More on the "Heretics" Conference

Nancy at Flying Stars has been posting some reports on the recent Chesterton Conference held by American Chesterton Society just over a week ago. One of the useful things I would like to note is that YOU can arrange to have some of the fun of that conference simply by ordering the audio tapes from the American Chesterton Society. (If you listen carefully, you may even hear the speakers during the few quiet periods when I was not laughing.) If you do order the tapes, you might also get yourself some beer (preferably home-brewed) or wine (preferably home-brewed) and some cheese (preferably Stilton!!!) - and enjoy yourself while you listen.

Some of the things you might want to know about:

We stay in a college dorm at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnesota. The hall is called "Grace Hall" - which was especially funny given that the conference was about heretics. There are two other buildings a few dozen feet away. One is the dining hall where all the meals except the banquet are held. The other has a large lobby and a good-size lecture hall, where all the talks are held. On the lawn between this and the dorm is an awful piece of rusty metal, which, however, is not the one called "Rusty Droppings" which was recently published in the magazsine (that one is located at XXX college, but I will give them no free advertising here!)

In the lobby, there are tables with wine and beer and cheese, and (at times) coffee, and even water. You know: "Feast on wine or fast on water, God almighty's son and daughter..." (GKC, The Flying Inn but I quote from memory)

There are also a number of used book stands (including the wonderful people from Loome!) Of course you can get any of the Chesterton stuff from the ACS (which you can see on their web page) - but I was happy to see that there was a new re-print of GKC's early poetry - which has some illustrations by himself. Also the first of the Father Brown volumes of the very important Collected Works (CW) from Ignatius Press (IP - in this context, we are NOT talking about the "Internet Protocol"... hee hee)

There were a LOT of people there. It was really great! A good number of young people, too (not that I am not young, but the years do creep up on one...) Towards the opposite side of the timeline, Frank and Ann (Stull) Petta were there; Frank has been to all of the conferences since they began some 25 years ago.

There is so much more, and perhaps I will be able to recall some of it before I... er... forget...

Three Calls

Three Calls
"Here am I, Lord, I come to do Your will."

"Come," the mighty Father said,
"That the hungry flock be fed.
Crucify yourself to earth,
And receive eternal mirth.
Dedicate your strength, your youth,
To the study of My Truth."

"Come now," said the risen Son
Through His bishop; powers run
As the chrism marks the sign
Of authority divine -
"Bind or loose" - with Peter's keys,
"Teach, and feed" - the gifts of bees.

"Always come," the Spirit's call:
"Though the wine be mixed with gall,
Gifts of flame dispel your gloom,
Strength to leave the upper room.
Angels bow, when in your hand,
God comes down at your command."

(Easter 1989)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Short Wednesday Leftovers

There was something which I wanted to write about yesterday, but I was rather busy with one thing and another. (Some of us call it "work"...) Actually I did not write it yesterday because I left the book I needed sitting somewhere and forgot where it was... then found it too late at night and had other things to write (maybe some year they will be here!)

You see, I got this very interesting book last week when I was at the Loome used-book stores. (Well, it wasn't by Chesterton, but then you should remember what it say at the top of this page: anything "from pork to pyrotechnics"...)

The book is a curious monograph called Modern English Word-Formation and Neo-Latin by Anna Granville Hatcher. The book studies the origins of "copulative compounds" - that is, words like "Word-Formation" and "Neo-Latin"... (hee hee)

I flipped through it and two GIGANTIC long words caught my eye. They were even in Greek! It suggested a nice fun thing for a Short Tuesday paradox...

So, from now on, you can look forward to LWoSW: which is "Long Words on Short Wednesdays" - and even though it is late, here is the first installment...

Long Words on Short Wednesdays 2005/06/22 (late!)

If someone asks about long words, many people suggest the famous 28-character "antidisestablishmentarianism".

Or they refer to the perhaps even more famous 34 character Poppins word (which I do not recall as having been in the book): "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious".

Chesterton has one which exceeds this by four letters: the title of a poem in his The Coloured Lands... "Plakkopytrixophylisperambulantiobatrix" which I am told, can be sung to the same "Poppins" song. (No, I will NOT provide a .wav file for you!) It would be phrased thus:

Plakk-o pyt-trix o-phil-lisp-er am-bu lan-tio ba-trix

Ahem. To resume, about this book and its long words. In some other book (which I also cannot find at present) there are some nice long Greek words, which somehow make it even funnier, because they can actually be translated - and I always DID wonder what the Poppins word meant! (The poem tells about the GKC word, which I omit for reasons of brevity...) I think the other book was by D. L. Sayers, who was a WONDERFUL writer... (ah, I am sorry, I am wandering off topic again...)

Anyhow, there are a BUNCH of nice long Greek words, which I cannot render in Greek characters just now (I have to learn the incantation to do it, and Hogwarts is on summer break at present!) So I will write it in English...

Batracho-muo-machia = "War between Mice and Frogs" (a poem, once thought to be the work of Homer!)

Then in a footnote were these (which was what caught my eye in the first place!)

hO spermagoraiolekitholachanopOlides!
hO skorodopandokeutriartopOlides

Note: the big O is long (omega); the others are short (omicron).

The first word (31 Greek letters) means "market-sellers of seeds, peasepudding and greengroceries".

The second word (29 Greek letters) means "Bread and garlic selling hostess"

They are apparently from Aristophanes, who wrote odd plays about Frogs and such. I remember there is another Greek word he used which is supposed to be the frogs croaking, and some school or other uses it for a cheer. What a cool thing that must be at a football game! I think it was spelled like this:

"Brek-kek-kek-kek-kex. Ko-ax, Ko-ax."

Wow. Try it yourself. Go ahead- say it out loud, in your office or in the library - go right ahead! (You have to do it with a Greek accent. Maybe buy some garlic...)

Yeah - it's just like frogs. (No more "ribbit" for us.)

OK, maybe this is a bit too long for a Short Wednesday. But - hey - it's Thursday...

Fat Thursday June 23, 2005

It was great to meet the wonderful and inspiring and funny Mark Shea at the "Century of Heretics" ACS Conference last week. Except that he lacked a moustache, I must say he definitely approached my mental image of GKC far better than many others - even better than me! (Or so I have been told...) This is because Mark is somewhat taller than I am, and thus closer to GKC height. However, we did not compare weights, and perhaps I have him there.

But we both had a good time, and he even knows my "secret" identity (which is not all that secret - more of just a BIT of a joke, hee hee.)

Which suggests a very appropriate quote in honour of the day:

At a Distributist meeting someone said to Chesterton: "You seem to be enjoying yourself," and was told: "I always enjoy myself more than others, there's such a lot of me that's having a good time."
[Maisie Ward, Return To Chesterton 132]

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Julian's web page

There is a brilliant young man I know - his name is Julian Ahlquist - or Jules for short - and I had the happiness of laughing with him during the ACS "Heretics" conference last week. Among other things, he performed a skit from the earliest Star Wars movie (the 1977 one): specifically, the scene in the Death Star where they are discussing things and Darth has his famous line "I find your lack of faith disturbing..." (hee hee) Jules performed all four parts, and it was superb.

Jules is a student at Christendom College, which I visited earlier this year. (An aside: during that visit I had the distinct joy of meeting the famous artist Ben Hatke!)

But Jules also has a very interesting web page. I should say something about what is interesting, but just about all of it is interesting! For a short Wednesday, however, I should single out two aspects for your delight:

First, the collection of strange quotes filed under the heading "Sethics". These would be unbelieveable and perhaps explained by a malfunctioning imagination, except that during the conference last week I met another person who has actually witnessed Seth saying these almost incredible things! They are very funny. Also, I have seen the same kind of thing in graduate school, where it is far less noticeable (we're busy with our dissertations, and so don't mind - or notice - departures from normalcy quite so much!)

Second, perhaps more significant in the year when we remember GKC's Heretics, the collection of very unusual "facts" collected under the title "Funny Fallacies". (Some of these were actually discovered by your humble servant!)

I hope you will enjoy this page as much as I have.

2005 ACS Conference Sidenote: Loome Books

One of the best things about my recent journey to Minnesota was visiting the two Loome bookstores in Stillwater. One sells general-topics used books. Among other things, I got a couple of curious-looking science texts, two monographs on Latin ("Sounds" and "Forms") and another on compound words in English - it quoted some of the longest words I have ever seen - and they were in Greek! I started laughing out lound in that solemn bookstore - alas, eyebrows were raised. (hee hee) Yes, these were nice long words, lots of fun. (Move over, Mary Poppins!) In fact, I will deal with them in a separate posting.

BUT! one of most wonderful places I know of is the OTHER Loome store. It is the "theological" section, and it is housed in a little old church (some denomination, I forget what). You have to see it to believe it - a perfect site for all kinds of stories... The only drawback to it is that it is rather dark for a bookstore. But the charm, the mystery - and the AWE! Imagine: An entire row of shelves FULL of books by St. Thomas Aquinas! - including gigantic volumes labelled "Opera Omnia" all in Latin, published by driection of Pope Leo XIII. Wow. Liturgy, Saints, hymns, et cetera... (I KNEW I had not brought enough money.) I got some very interesting things on liturgy - sooner or later it ought to show up here - or else in my software. (Oh, I haven't explained that yet; I will, don't worry.) On and on and on the shelves go, all over the former choir loft... Just amazing.

(Note: I have no connection with them - but I am a SATISFIED customer!)

I look forward to next year's conference, and another visit to the treasure houses of Loome. And I iterate my posting below: I am very thankful there is such a place.

Short Wednesday June 22 2005

The Chesterton Conference ("One Hundred Years of Heretics") was great!

Old friends, new friends, and other delights - like going to Loome Books! Stratford Caldecott telling a joke about the Heisenberg Uncertainly Principle. Mark Shea enumerating reasons why one ought not be Catholic - strangely reminiscent of GKC's list in Orthodoxy. Talking with Flying Stars author Nancy Brown! Lots of books. Father Jaki. Father Schall. And perhaps 300 Chestertonians!

Which makes one grateful for such a great gift.

Chesterton had a wonderful poem about this, which you ought to read:


I cannot count the pebbles in the brook.
Well bath He spoken: 'Swear not by thy head,
Thou knowest not the hairs,' though He, we read,
Writes that wild number in His own strange book.

I cannot count the sands or search the seas,
Death cometh, and I leave so much untrod.
Grant my immortal aureole, O my God,
And I will name the leaves upon the trees.

In heaven I shall stand on gold and glass,
Still brooding earth's arithmetic to spell;
Or see the fading of the fires of hell
Ere I have thanked my God for all the grass.

[GKC, Collected Poems CW10:209]

And I am also thankful to be "there and back again" safely.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Deo Gratias!

Alas, my usual Day-oriented postings have been disrupted, but that is merely a part of the Great Journey to the annual Chesterton Conference!

And so: Thank God for a long but safe journey to Chesterton-land! I am here, with just a few hours to go before the activities get under way.

I will report on both the journey and the conference later - and look forward to meeting Nancy of the Flying Stars! I have already met Mark Shea! I have also met the youngest Ahlquist, who is named Gabriel - an important name to any Thursdayite, and to anyone in the communications professions. (The archangel Gabriel carried the greatest of all messages - that is, Mary's "fiat" - from Nazareth to the Eternal Throne!)

One little thing I will report: on Monday night I was perhaps more Chestertonian than usual, since I stayed in Chesterton, Indiana - not, however, named for our Big Guy, Uncle Chestnut.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Short Wednesday in the Twin Cities

I am posting this by means of the machinery at the headquarters of the American Chesterton Society. The Conference begins in just about 86,400 seconds (one day) - stay tuned, there will be more eventually...

Friday, June 10, 2005

The Call

"Ask the Lord of the Harvest to send laborers to his harvest."
Matthew 9:38

When Jesus came upon the earth to teach
By telling stories all could comprehend,
He sent the Twelve into the world to preach;
His narrow way was not to be a trend,
But something bold to use and to defend.
And so that darkness old to Light would yield,
He called for men who truth from lies would rend:
O Master, send more workmen to the field!

The human illness, far beyond our reach,
The Doctor on the Cross the cure did blend;
The Word, by touch or words of human speech
The sick in body also sought to mend -
A Roman soldier trusted, was His friend,
And so his servant far away was healed;
A cure long-distance, Lord, to us extend:
O Master, send more workmen to the field!

At Caesarea's rock, Rock spoke for each,
The Son of Man as Son of God was kenned;
And He for them cooked fishes on the beach
Who from the throne the Spirit soon would send.
So "Father, Son and Spirit" God was penned,
No longer was Almighty God concealed;
We turn to Him for help, the knee we bend:
O Master, send more workmen to the field!

O Harvester whose vineyard has no end -
O Hidden God whose face the Christ revealed -
Call workmen brave, for You their lives to spend -
O Master, send more workmen to the field!

(March 17, 1995)

St. Paul's Analogy of the Body Updated (#2)

"Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ."
[1 Cor 12:12 Jerusalem Bible]

The poor cells

The bloodstream is the mechanism through which oxygen and nutrients get to the cells of the body, as well as the way that wastes are removed. However, not all cells are supplied by blood vessels. Some must rely on their neighbors to bring them food and take away their waste. These poor cells are very important.

They are the cells in the cornea and lens of the eye.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

SWQR: The Pirotechnia

This is not a typo for SPQR. An SWQR is a "Short Wednesday Quick Review" - a review of a book on my shelves, limited to 16 lines on this post-edit-screen. (This intro does not count against the limit.)

The Pirotechnia by Vannoccio Biringuccio (1540) available from Dover Publications Location: Reference.

Dover's back cover states this is "history's first clear, comprehensive work on metallurgy"; it was published in 1540. It is a fantastic book, giving insight into the impressive engineering knowledge then in practical use - its author was appointed "head of the papal foundry" before his death. It indicates the importance of starting one's work by asking God's grace "so that He may intervene to aid in every doubtful and difficult effort". It reveals the irrationality of trusting in "magic" which claims to do easy part (finding gold) but refrains from the hard parts of engineering (mining and refining). It considers various engineering aspects such as labor, transportation, access to fuel and water: "of all inconveniences, shortage of water is most to be avoided" as much use was made of its power. Finally, it gives a rather terrifying technical insight into certain passages such as the refining of gold in Malachi 3:3, or this: "The words of the Lord are words without alloy, silver from the furnace, seven times refined." (Ps 11:7)

Wednesday's title

I forgot to mention about today's title.

Wednesday is (as all computer people know) the longest day of the week.

So these postings are paradoxically known as Short Wednesday...


How can one properly return thanks for a great gift - especially the awesome gift of a book?

And not just any book.

It is the hard-cover edition of a TRUE marvel, accurately printed in red and green:

The Neverending Story
by Michael Ende.

I have read it many times, and am now reading it again. I learned from the back flyleaf that this genius storyteller died ten years ago. But his story continues, for it truly is neverending - and we are part of it. It is VERY Chestertonian - and how can it be otherwise? For "All the languages of joy are related."

Another of the same vintage...

This is my favorite of all...

Why admonish the caramel smoke-filled paraphrase?
Beneath their striated attic, all seven hundred
of the tiny spheres, each with its portable cavern,
its individual foil-wrapped candelabra and
its remote-controlled umbrella, wait
as the forest amends yet another constitution.
Steel-shod fish patrol the inkwell of the past.

"Too serious, too long"

So perhaps no one has actually said it. But maybe it's true.

Hence, for the VERY FIRST TIME, I will post one of those fantastic, intellect-shattering "MODERY" poems which are all the rage. Perhaps I will explain their origin sometime: yes, it has to do with computers. Chesterton has a poem about such things, too, which I may also post sometime (or at least a link if I can find it in the e-cosmos.)

No that is not a typo: these are called "modery" - M, O, D, E, R, Y.

Tree-shaped motorcycles tiptoe ravenously
Along the well-tempered staircase.
No atrocious furry dice are calculating,
Sipping brandy snifters full of goat's milk,
In their after-dinner vestiture, so chrome, so thin.
Will the chocolates ever remain impervious?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Division of the Waters (Part 2)

(This is excerpted from my The Everlasting Detective - a collection of unpublished essays)

One of the recent proposals for the abolition of mental prowess of children is to cease teaching long division. This fiendish torture has been discovered to be useless in adult life, and takes too much time to learn - time which (it is claimed) should be spent on acquiring problem-solving skills. Besides, almost everybody has a computer (or at least a calculator) now, and so the quotient is merely a keystroke or button-press away.

I have to challenge this proposal with all of my background and credentials in computer science. The reasons given are not true. As an adult, I have used long division in study and at work, when factoring polynomials, converting numbers on a computer, integrating by partial fractions, and in Galois Field Theory (an exotic branch of mathematics which underlies error-correcting codes used in compact disks).

A rather serious point, far from obvious to some, is the interesting fact that computers and calculators don't grow on trees. Some human has to know how to perform long division in order to give that ability to computers. Sure, long division is an easy program to write, and it is often taught in introductory programming courses. But there is a reason why it is easy: nearly everyone already knows how to do it, since it is one of the very first algorithms learned in school.

One learns how to perform long division in order to learn a technique, not to get answers to some arithmetic problems. In order to perform long division, a student needs to be able to multiply, compare, and subtract numbers. But the student must also acquire the more complex skill of following an algorithm - a series of steps to accomplish a solution. It is an excellent example of this abstract problem-solving method: the use of several simpler steps to perform a more complex task. This is a valuable lesson in learning how to perform long division, not counting the acquisition of the useful ability to divide.

The Ability to Divide

As is so often the case, a careful reading of the Gospel will show Christ performing all kinds of normal human activities - activities which are startling to see as one of the divine occupations. But Christ, as Master of the Mathematicians, challenged the world: "Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division." [Lk 12:51] That division is to be the last and final division, that of the "sheep" and "goats" foretold in Mt 25:33. Paradoxically, that division will also bring peace to the sheep, for, "they will never hunger or thirst again; neither the sun nor scorching wind will ever plague them, because the Lamb who is at the throne will be their shepherd and will lead them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away all tears from their eyes." [Rv 7:16-17, emphasis added] That "living water" is the One Who Divides, Jesus Himself.

"Divider" is not a term commonly applied to Our Lord, though quite apt, as we shall see. It is linked to the slashing, hacking verb bara - the verb used in Genesis for God's act of creation. [The Hebrew bara is discussed in S. L. Jaki's Genesis 1 Through the Ages 5,295] It is a fundamental element of the creed to state that God and creation are two separate things:
Christianity suddenly stepped in and offered a single answer... This answer was like the slash of a sword; it sundered; it did not in any sense sentimentally unite. Briefly, it divided God from the cosmos. That transcendence and distinctness of the deity which some Christians now want to remove from Christianity, was really the only reason why any one wanted to be a Christian.[GKC, Orthodoxy CW1:281]

There is a striking association here, an association between the act of division, the act of creation, and Jesus Christ. It is found within an everyday substance; a substance which is common, necessary, and unusual; a substance which is the divider of natural life and the symbol of the Divider of supernatural life. It is water.
(to be continued)

The Division of the Waters (part 1)

Tuesday, according to the Chestertonian formula proposed in The Man Who Was Thursday, is dedicated to the "division of the waters" and such awkward things as the "firmament" - which I once struggled over, until one day I was lokoing at the sky and wondered about that big blue bowl hanging over my head. Then I realized it is just a obvious as the sun RISING and SETTING - it looks as if that bright blaze is HANGING from a big blue bowl... at night it is a big black bowl, set with lots of tiny gemstones, turning, slowly turning, always turning... That's what it looks like, anyway.

And then, as time went on, we found out the paradox. The smallest thing visible to us - those pinprick-size gems of the starry night - were actually the LARGEST things visible to us... and when we see that dim glow labelled M33 [Correction: should be "M31". Thanks, Joe!] - also known as the Andromeda Galaxy - we are seeing a vast array of trillions of stars some 2 million light years away - possibly the single biggest thing we can see at one time.

The paradox of division - of unity and separation - of big and small... We shall proceed to explore this by a somewhat more terrestrial pathway: the pathway of water.

So everyone go get a glass, drink it and be thankful, and be here next week for more. Note: for this particular assignment, the usual Chestertonian beverages are not permitted. He himself expressed it thusly:

"Feast on wine or fast on water,
And your honour shall stand sure;
God Almighty's son and daughter,
He the valiant, she the pure.
If an angel out of heaven
Brings you other things to drink,
Thank him for his kind intentions,
Go and pour them down the sink.
[GKC, The Flying Inn]

Monday, June 06, 2005

Science Monday 2005/06/06

Today we shall look at one of the usual topics brought up whenever someone tries to use both "science" and "Catholicism" in the same sentence. I refer to the great Italian Catholic scientist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) and his work on the Copernican theory that the earth goes around the sun.

It is quite fitting for a Chestertonian to examine this topic, because the truth is a paradox. The Galileo case is paraded as a conflict between science and the Catholic Church. It was, but the gameboard was upside-down. Galileo the Scientist had the theology right; Bellarmine the Theologian had the science right. Bellarmine? Yes, that was Cardinal Bellarmine - who later became St. Robert Bellarmine.

The truth, strangely enough in this media-driven age, is not well known, because the Galileo case makes a nice stick for that media to hit at the Church. The paradox is that it hits at science first. It may be true that the Church pardoned Galileo. But it was Science that condemned him - it did in his own lifetime, and still does - for no astronomer, beginning with Kepler, thinks that Galileo had it right. He loved circles, and insisted that the planets moved in circles. Kepler did the math, and showed that they went in ellipses, but Galileo Would not listen. Thus we now have Kepler's laws of planetary motion. There was more, involving his "proof" of the earth's motion in relation to the tides, but when his "proof" came out, he was shortly shown to have made a serious error in math; it also denied the moon's role in the tides.

One should bear in mind that the "proofs" of the earth's motions took quite some time: our revolution about the sun was demonstrated by Bessel in 1838 when he used the earth's 180,000 mile shift in six months to measure the distance to 61 Cygni - this is called "stellar parallax". There is a nice quick demonstration for the kids: (1) hold up your index finger at arm's length. (2) Shut one eye, and notice where your finger is against the background. (3) Now, shut the open eye and open the closed one. Your finger will "leap" against the background! That is "finger parallax". If you could measure the angle, and knew how far it was between your eyes, you could find out (by trigonometry) how long your arm was. Well, of course I know it is easy to measure your arm! But it is not easy to measure the distance to the stars, and up until 1838, no one had ever done it! (61 Cygni is about 11 light years away, or some 65 trillion miles.) The other motion, earth's daily rotation, was demonstrated in 1851 by Foucault using a pendulum.

Now, let us proceed to the paradox. I will give it as Fr. Jaki phrased it in his 32-page booklets (available from Real View Books): that classic clash between science and Christian religion that Galileo proved to be a better theologian than Bellarmine and others, whereas the latter had the better of a strictly scientific point: They rightly insisted that Galileo in vain claimed that he had provided an experimental proof of the rotation and orbiting of the earth. [Christ and Science, 24]

Galileo consulted St. Augustine's great commentary on Genesis, De Genesi ad litteram) which rested on the guideline that whenever reason established something with certainty about the physical world, the Bible should be reinterpreted accordingly. [Augustine also warned Christians] who refused to make the necessary reinterpretations make the Bible a laughingstock of unbelievers. [Galileo Lessons 12]

Keeping alive all these and similar details is helpful, but not decisive in facing up to the most fundamental lesson provided by Galileo's conflict with the Church. The conflict was between the imperfect states in which two theoretically perfect entities would forever find themselves. [Galileo Lessons 21-22]

There is more in both of these little booklets about this important matter - more than I can reproduce here. But let us end with Chesterton, who as usual goes even deeper...

...for some mysterious reason this habit of realizing poetically the facts of science has ceased abruptly with scientific progress, and all the confounding portents preached by Galileo and Newton have fallen on deaf ears. They painted a picture of the universe compared with which the Apocalypse with its falling stars was a mere idyll. They declared that we are all careering through space, clinging to a cannon-ball, and the poets ignore the matter as if it were a remark about the weather. They say that an invisible force holds us in our
own armchairs while the earth hurtles like a boomerang; and men still go back to dusty records to prove the mercy of God. They tell us that Mr. Scott's monstrous vision of a mountain of sea-water rising in a solid dome, like the glass mountain in the fairy-tale, is actually a fact, and men still go back to the fairy-tale. To what towering heights of poetic imagery might we not have risen if only the poetizing of natural history had continued and man's fancy had played with the planets as naturally as it once played with the flowers! We might have had a planetary patriotism, in which the green leaf should be like a cockade, and the sea an everlasting dance of drums. We might have been proud of what our star has wrought, and worn its heraldry haughtily in the blind tournament of the spheres. ["A Defence of Planets" in The Defendant 56-58]

Sunday, June 05, 2005

A Comment on Semitic Verbs (and other things)

In the post below I mention "Semitic verbs" or those who study them in what may be construed to be a less than complimentary fashion. I was merely using the term to refer to a certain kind of attitude... And yes, we get the same thing in computer science: that "object-oriented", "user-friendly", "internet-based", "plug-and-play" world where the O's are always big and the paychecks are...

Uh, well, perhaps not. Actually it is good for me to mention this. "Big O" is the term we use to indicate something called the "complexity" of a problem: it is supposed to measure how long the theoretical solution will take. Some fanatics have erected altars to it. Others treat it as heresy. (I am squarely on the fence, for I think both are right, and so I am rejected by both camps!)

Anyhow, long before I began playing with computers I played with Egyptian hieroglyphics. (I have yet to play with Hebrew, though I have a coloring book of the letters.) Back in 1972 I received a large tome from my father: Egyptian Grammar by Sir Alan Gardiner, who wrote:
The Egyptian language is related, not only to the Semitic tongues (Hebrew, Arabic, aramaic, Babylonian, &c.) but also to the East African languages (Galla, Somali, &c.) and the Berber idioms of North Africa. Its connexion with the latter groups, together known as the Hamitic family, is a very thorny subject, but the relationship to the Semitic tongues can be fairly accurately defined. In general structure the similarity is very great: Egyptian shares the principal peculiarity of Semitic in that its word-stems consist of combinations of consonants, as a rule three in nmumber, which are theoretically at least unchangeable. Grammatical inflexion and minor variations of meaning are contrived mainly by ringing the changes on the internal vowels...
[Egyptian Grammar 2]

Very interesting. Now wait, don't get all jumpy, here. Maybe we ALL ought to rejoice in the Semitic tongue! For that means, in that language,


Major goosebumps.

There is something else that works that way: DNA. God puts the same Semitic word-construct into protein formation: for THREE nucleotides are translated (by the ribosome) into ONE amino acid (the building block of protein.)

Hey, St. John, looks like molecular biology supports your line about "the Word was made flesh"...

After Pentecost is hardly Ordinary - or is it?

Now that we have passed the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary we are here in the Sundays after Pentecost.

It is one of the many heights of humor left us by those meetings of the early 1960s that the Sundays between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, as well as those from Pentecost (roughly) until Advent are called the Sundays in "ordinary" time. It has been explained that since Easter depends on the lunar cycle and therefore shifts, some felt it was awkward to have those extra "Sundays after Epiphany" come in November. What they hope no one notices is that they usually skip one of the week numbers, sort of like an elevator in a skyscraper with no "13"... But some of us have noticed, and laugh!

And of course, as they take up their green vestments today, some former seminarians, armed with their Semitic verbs, their Q-document, their deutero-Isaiah, and their Jose the Spanish Prophet (is THAT how it is pronounced?) will probably feel the urge to talk about how "it's back to the ho-hum, normal boring, ordinary time" since we are "finally done with the big feasts". (Yawn.)

Wow - they must have missed something. Maybe they live very sheltered lives?

First, it should come as no surprise that ALL the Sundays for roughly the last 1972 years have been Sundays after Pentecost - you know, that day over in Jerusalem when the Spirit came in tongues of fire. (Hmm. I hear Gandalf's challenge to the Balrog on the bridge...)

And if we were going to label those Sundays, we would have said, "first, second, third,..."

Now for the fun part. These numbers are ORDINALs - and indicate an ORDER or a position. The Church Militant has been marching to the orderly beat of Sunday after Sunday, all the weeks since that Pentecost. Obligatory GKC quote: "If the Church Militant had not been a thing marching, all men would have been marking time. If the Church Militant had not endured a discipline, all men would have endured a slavery." [The Everlasting Man CW2:372] Rock drummers have something called a "click track" - like a metronome which gives the beat - for us, each seventh turn of the Earth provides our marching tempo!

Moreover, just as each Friday ought to be a "fast" day in commemoration of Good Friday (solemnities excepted), each Sunday is (or SHOULD BE) a feast day and a "little Easter." Perhaps too many of us have treated Easter in too ordinary (ahem!) a fashion - not having had a good Lent, perhaps - but we still have time.

Do something out of the ordinary while you're marching. Have a little Lent on Friday, and a little Easter on Sunday.

All this talk about time and counting suggests two interesting asides:

1. Did you know that the first countdown in literature was actually a count-up? Yes, they counted up to forty! In Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon the great cannon in Florida was ignited on December 1 (in a certain year of the late 1800s) at 10:46:40 PM. Note that this was not the first trip to the moon; the Italian poet Ariosto uses a chariot drawn by winged horses to get there in his Orlando Furioso - this may have been the earliest science fiction story! (RE the Verne story: if the Pope had built it, he might have called it the Roman cannon.)

2. And speaking of Roman things: did you know that the ancient Romans counted their days in the month DOWNWARDS? They were always looking forward to the next feast day! It is almost as if they had some inspiration about the years B.C. - but, my dear Virgil, that is another topic for another time. Hee hee.

Friday, June 03, 2005

St. Paul's Analogy of the Body Updated (#1)

"Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ."
[1 Cor 12:12 Jerusalem Bible]

The Heart
"The mammalian embryo, having practically no yolk available as food, is dependent for its survival and growth on the prompt establishment of relations with the circulation of its mother. This implies the neceesity of a very early development of the embryonic cardio-vascular system, for the maternal circulation remains confined within the uterine walls and the embryonic circulation must grow to meet it. Until this is accomplished the embryo is dependent on what food material it can obtain by direct absorption from the fluid within the uterine cavity..."
[B. M. Patten, Foundations of Embryology, 289]

How poetic is is to note that the hemopoietic centers - that is, the places where blood is made - begin to form around the third week of life. But these are not the red blood cells of adulthood called erythrocytes - those marvels which bring the outer air to every part of the body, which do not have a nucleus, and so do not divide and never have offspring, but exhaust themselves in service to the body...

Thus, let it be noted that never again can someone say that the celibate priesthood is unnatural! It is curious to also note that there are two other early forms of red blood cells which do have nuclei.

But these servants of the body will not go anywhere unless they are sent [See Romans 10:15]...
As a mammalian embryo advances [through the early stages of life] it satisfies all its metabolic needs by simple, diffusive interchanges with the fluid medium in which it is immersed. But as the embryo continues to gain size and begins to take form, a functioning circulatory system becomes necessary in order to make use of the required food and oxygen obtainable from the mother's blood. Hence it is that the heart and blood vessels are the first organ system to reach a functional state. [at about 4 weeks]
[L. B. Arey, Developmental Anatomy 375]

It is the heart which sends forth the blood, and so enables growth.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.

When I started work at FEL

This is a part of my tribute to a dear friend, Samuel R. Frankel.

I started work for Sam on September 19, 1977 - my first real job. It was a strange sequence of events...

On Labor Day I had fallen out of a tree (from three feet off the ground), getting a hairline fracture of my ankle, and I had a cast. I had no degree, despite having been in college for four years (no free advertising for it here!) having spent too much of my time playing with the two-million dollar toy they had: a Control Data Corporation 6400 computer. That was a gigantic thing, amazingly powerful as Cray's machines were (someday I may tell more of THAT story too!) I had been proposing my own software projects, designing and implementing them almost from the start of college in 1973 - and so I thought I KNEW programming... heh, heh. (I didn't. I could not spell NP, you see... more on this next time!)

Sometime during that summer, a friend of the family had suggested I see if "Frankel Engineering Labs" might not have an opening. It was not far, only six blocks away. As I was to learn, FEL had two departments: NC and DP. DP was "data processing" - they did what we call business applications like payroll and accounting and that sort of thing. NC was "numerical control" - they did a variety of engineering consulting functions, primarily handling the cutting of metal by machine tools which were controlled by a computer. (They did not DO the metal-cutting, but assisted those who did.)

So I took a two-inch thick stack of listings of my college projects to show Mr. Frankel...

SRF: (big smile) "So, young man, do you know BASIC?"
me: (nervously) "No, I used FORTRAN and their assembler."
SRF: (eyebrows raised, gesturing to back room where computers were) "We only use BASIC here. Some FORTRAN, once in a while; some assembler."

So the interview seemed (to me) to be "well, thanks, but no thanks".

Then, one day in the middle of September, in my room with my cast, wondering what would happen, my mother called me to the phone. It was Mr. Frankel. He wanted me to come in on Monday and "talk about work". So I took the bus, and with my crutches, I hobbled down to 125 South Fifth Street and up to the second floor...

SRF: "Here is a FORTRAN program - it does XXX with a plotter, and we want you to check over it for bugs and get it working..."

That first morning I had no idea what the words (here represented by XXX) meant, and that took a good hour or two to explain. I won't re-live them for you now, but the quick explanation was that the program had to take some information which was really instructions for a "Bridgeport milling machine" and turn it into a picture on a plotter (a mechanical thing which draws pictures - you know those "earthquake machines" with a drum of paper and a pen wiggling? Instead of moving the pen according to the earth's motion, a plotter moves the pen according to a computer's commands.)

SRF: "And this is Charlie. If you have any questions, ask him; he'll help you..."

And so it began. I sat there reading over this code, still not entirely sure what the "Bridgeport" thing was - it had to do with a lot of commas, though, and some were M codes, but there weren't any M that I could see! At leaast I had been using a plotter at "that school" to draw music since 1974, so that part was OK. Plus it WAS in FORTRAN, which I could read. (Also I had gotten a book on BASIC, and it was not all that strange, sort of like knowing Latin and looking at Spanish... Later I became fluent in two dialects of BASIC.)

Maybe an hour after lunch, I said to Charlie, "OK, I think I am ready. Can I get on the computer and edit this program?"

And then he said this strange thing, which told me I really was in a new world:
"What do you mean 'edit'? And no, it's after lunch so we can't do it now."

As I was used to using the interactive editors at "that school" - nowadays we call them word processors, but there is nothing really new about them. (You know, like "notepad" or "WORD" or the thing you type comments in.) I could not understand why I could not use the "editor" there... but that was because there WASN'T ANY. (Some months later I wrote one - in BASIC.)

And it was even harder to understand what lunch had to do with FORTRAN. Except that the computers were being used by other customers to do "timeshare BASIC" - running their business or engineering programs - and could NOT do FORTRAN at the same time! (During lunchtime there was a free hour when we could stop the BASIC software and use FORTRAN...) Wow, it certainly wasn't like the big CDC at "that school"!

Finally, it was late in the day, and I was wondering when Mr. Frankel was going to meet with me "to talk about work"... So I went to see him.

SRF: (smiling broadly) "Yes, young man?"
me: (nervously) "ah, you said that we were going to talk about work..."
SRF: (nodding happily) "Oh, yes. Yes, it's fine."
me: (even more nervously) "but... ah... am I employed?"
SRF: (BIG smile) "Certainly, I thought that was obvious."
me: (still nervous, not really able to belive it) "Oh? OK, then."
SRF: (smiling and nodding happily) "Good bye, young man. See you tomorrow."

And it was soon even more clear that this was an unusual place: a week or so later Sam announced "we're having 'Lunch in' today because it is Elaine's birthday..." During this lunch, he read a poem he had written for her. We had, ah, Chestertonian beverages. It was a good time!

And it was. When my birthday came around, Sam wrote a poem for me, and I had to look up what "peripatetic" meant.

Later I wrote poems for Sam's birthday, and even lyrics for something I called an "opera" titled "Frankeletto" (Oh, yes, I can be dangerous with a keyboard!)

I worked for FEL for over six years, during which I finished my B.S. and also learned to spell NP as well as NC.

"We love you Samuel, oh yes we do.
We don't love anyone as much as you.
When we're without you, we're blue...
Oh Samuel we love you!"
-- from "Frankeletto"

Sam, at your funeral, I counted the lights in the synagogue - I knew you would approve. (I can hear you laughing - yes, I remembered that!) I did: there were 16 around the sides (four on each wall), and 13 above the platform (five, three, three, two). Some of the FEL gang was there: Tom, Rick, Kevin, Marcy, Marcia, Skip... and the peripatetic frenetic "Doctor Thursday"...

But Sam, the most amazing part was when the Rabbi read "The Lord is my shepherd" and "I will lift up my eyes" in Hebrew, of which the only word I could recognize was "Adonai" - and then I realized that Jesus had heard and used those very words...

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Octave of the Blogg

Today is the octave day of this Blogg. It is also Fat Thursday, so here is today's entry:

For fatness itself is a valuable quality. While it creates admiration in the onlookers, it creates modesty in the possessor. If there is anything on which I differ from the monastic institutions of the past, it is that they sometimes sought to achieve humility by means of emaciation. It may be that the thin monks were holy, but I am sure it was the fat monks who were humble. Falstaff said that to be fat is not to be hated, but it certainly is to be laughed at, and that is a more wholesome experience for the soul of man.
GKC, The Uses of Diversity 100-101

In tribute to Sam Frankel, I did not post here yesterday, and I hope to report on things more fully a little later. In particular, I hope to write a little about Sam, and if you would like some background, you can find it here.

However, I did some commenting over on Nancy's wonderful "Flying Stars" page, and somewhere I used the term "e-cosmos" for this little world of ours - so now I need to give the reference, so here it is:

My great ambition is to give a party at which everybody should meet everybody else and like them very much.

Mr. Gilbert Chesterton
requests the pleasure
Of humanity's company
to tea on Dec. 25th 1896.
Humanity Esq., The Earth, Cosmos E.

[Maisie Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 61]

So there it is. Cosmos E or e-cosmos... Actually in another place I have argued that this E stands for Ens which is that almost untranslatable Latin word from Scholastic Philosophy - it means "Being"... GKC calls it that, becausethis is the Cosmos that IS.