Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water

In my parents' arms, fifty years ago
The humble useful water then did flow
July the last was sunny, warm
The formless took the cross's form
As proteins by which life does run -
(The twenty writ by three-in-one
From three-gig excerpts) - shapes-to-be
Which love and hate the boundless sea,
Yet on their own cannot attain
Their end, till God does pour His rain.

As once the Jordan did rejoice
And was heard the Father's voice
At flood-end did the Dove rehearse
As John submitted to reverse
By baptizing Baptism's Lord:
On Hydro-Gen was water poured -
Thus water a new shape was laid
All fountains then were holy made,
A death to end death, Adam's cure,
To give a shape which can endure:

And so the water poured on me
And gave a shape no one can see
Though voiceless others spoke for me
And each Easter I do agree

To renounce Satan and his works
To run from sin which near me lurks;
Attest the Father and His Son
Mary's child, by His cross won;
Spirit from the Two proceeding;
One holy Church, to Him leading,
And the rest which that Church teaches,
Through the grave this pathway reaches.

Now half a century has passed,
The dark and light, the slow and fast,
What more I must yet sow or reap
God help me in that shape to keep.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us.
St. Peter Canisius, pray for us.
St. Joseph, pray for us.
Oh Mary,
cause of our joy,
seat of wisdom,
help of Christians,
queen of the universe,
pray for us.

July 31 (my baptismal day) 2005


Prayer about Cheese

I saw this over at The Shrine of the Holy Whapping. It is simply amazing, and is one of the most significant postings I have ever seen.

Prayer Composed Whilst Eating a Piece of Cheese

I'm being dead serious here.

Almighty God, let my tasting of this, Thy creature cheese, be a participation, however distant and frail, in the goodness of Thy ineffable nature in which all good things come from and in which all good things partake. Let my enjoyment of the goodness of Thy creation be always the enjoyment of the fruits of Thy divine labor, and a participation, however shadowy and distant, in Thyself mirrored in the beauties of Thy handiwork, the world's frame. Deliver me from gluttony, from false love and false beauty, and let always my senses be portals for Thy holy works and inspiration. Through Christ, from whom all good things come. Amen.

Posted by: Matthew / 6:04 PM
Shrine of the Holy Whapping July 29, 2005

I hope there will be more such new reverent and relevant prayers. Superb. Please keep it up.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Sumit unus, sumunt mille

An observation on the mathematics of the Most Holy Eucharist

Chesterton was struck, as anyone with intelligence would be, by the remarkable poetry composed by St. Thomas Aquinas. For so much of Aquinas can seem dry if not mechanical, as he carefully goes through point by subpoint, and piles detail upon detail and argument upon counter-argument. Then, like a waterfall in a dry, rocky desert,one finds his compositions which he wrote to adorn the feast of Corpus Christi, about which he had done some of his most complex and careful work:
The Corpus Christi Office is like some old musical instrument, quaintly and carefully inlaid with many coloured stones and metals; the author has gathered remote texts about pasture and fruition like rare herbs; there is a notable lack of the loud and obvious in the harmony; and the whole is strung with two strong Latin lyrics. Father John O'Connor has translated them with an almost miraculous aptitude; but a good translator will be the first to agree that no translation is good; or, at any rate, good enough. How are we to find eight short English words which actually stand for "Sumit unus, sumunt mille; quantum isti, tantum ille"?
[GKC, St. Thomas Aquinas CW2:509]

No, I have not found those eight English words. Let me first show you the complete stanza:

A sumente non concisus
Non confractus, non divisus,
Integer accipitur.
Sumit unus, sumunt mille:
Quantum isti, tantum ille:
Nec sumptus consumitur.
[St. Thomas Aquinas, Lauda Sion, Sequence for the feast of Corpus Christi]

Here is one translation:
Whoso eateth It can never
Break the Body, rend or sever
Christ entire our hearts doth fill:
Thousands eat the Bread of Heaven,
Yes as much to one is given:
Christ, though eaten, bideth still.
[tr. Msgr. Henry, quoted in Britt, Hymns of the Breviary and Missal 179]

From the same book, a more literal translation:

By the recipient the whole (Christ) is received; He is neither cut, broken, nor divided. One receives Him, a thousand receive Him; as much as the thousand receive, so much does the one receive; though eaten He is not diminished.
[Ibid. 182]

Rather, I would like to explore the idea which Aquinas sets forth within these words, suggested by the actual Latin itself.

For, it is well-known to mathematicians that there is something which can be divided into an infinite number of pieces, each piece infinitely large, and yet still not exhausting the original.

That something is the whole numbers or counting numbers, also called the integers: 1, 2, 3, and so forth. (We don't need zero or the negatives for this particular discussion.) We call this set I.

Note: if you missed the pun, look at the first word of the third line in the Latin: Integer = "the whole".

Here are the assumptions we shall need in order to show this mathematical truth:

1. Two sets A and B are considered the same "size" when each member of A has one and only one corresponding member in B, and vice versa. (We use this way of defining "size" so that we can talk about "infinitely large" sets.)

2. A "prime number" is an integer (whole number) has no factors other than itself and one.

3. It can be proven that for any given number n, there is ALWAYS a bigger number which is prime. This means the set of prime numbers P which is 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, etc has an infinite number of members.

4. I use the symbol ^ to mean "raised to the power of" - so 2^3 means two times two times two (which is eight).

OK. Now, consider the set of the powers of two: 2, 2^2, 2^3, 2^4, 2^5, etc. which we'll call D.

Here is the first amazing thing: the set D is the same size as I.

Now, you (my opponent) will say: "but but but there are fewer things in D than there are in I! For I has 3 and 5 and 7, but T doesn't have them."

And I say, no, according to our first assumption they are the SAME size, for each member 2^i in D corresponds to ONE AND ONLY ONE member i in I. Hence they are the same size.

You will note, therefore, that I have just broken the integers I into one set, infinitely large, called D, and "everything else" left over. But I am not done.

I will NOW make another set, just like D, but I will call it T - it will have the powers of three: 3, 3^2, 3^3, 3^4, 3^5, etc. You will note that none of these members are in D. Again, this set is the same size as I and the same size as D.

So now I have D and T, and I still have "everything else" in I left over.

OK. NOw! Remember we assumed that we can always find prime numbers which are bigger than a given number. So for any member p in P the set of primes, I can construct a "power set" from that number: p, p^2, p^3, p^4, p^5, etc. which we shall call p*. Notice that D is 2* and T is 3*.

Now this is where it gets amazing: Each power set has an infinite number of members - it is the SAME SIZE as I, for there is one and only one member p^i in p* for each member i in I. However, there are an INFINITE number of these power sets, for there are an infinite number of primes in P.

AND YET THERE ARE STILL numbers "left over", numbers which are pairs of primes like 6, 10, 14, 15, and so forth - and each of those numbers forms power sets which themselves are infinite.... And there are STILL more, which are triples of primes, like 30 and 42, etc, each of which have... etc...

What does any of this have to do with the Eucharist? Not a lot. But there is a tiny hint of something here. And we have not even starting talking about things like stars or rocks or trees ... or people.

To put it into non-mathematics: any mother will tell you that she multiplies her love as her children increase in number.

Oh, well, I didn't explain it at all well, I guess. But it means something like "Love one another as I have loved you." St. John has more details in his gospel (see chapter six).


In memory of my mother who died three years ago today.

Requiem aeternum dona ei, et lux perpetua luceat ei.
Anima ejus et animae omnium fidelium defunctorum
per misericordiam Dei requiescant in pace. Amen.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The "Little Novena"

There are NINE days between St. Ignatius (July 31) and St. Dominic (August 8) - which might be called a "little" novena. The Great Novena is the oldest - the nine days of prayer (as Jesus ordered the Apostles to perform) between the Ascension and Pentecost.

July 31 is also the day on which I became Catholic, and so this year I will be making a novena of thanksgiving. And I am sure if you think a little, you will find some things to be thankful for, in which case this is a nice time to be thankful.

The two saints who are the "bookends" of this period were both fighters for God and both had massive intellects, so they knew how important it is to be thankful. After all, "Thanks are the highest form of thought." [G. K. Chesterton, A Short History of England]


Please remember the parents of "Holy Fool" in your prayers. (Link to his page at right.) Also my family, and my co-workers. And I will be remembering all who e-join in this novena, or who may read this posting.

Second update, July 30:

Eloise, the young daughter of a dear friend, needs some special medical tests next week.

(Note: if it seems excessive to add intention upon intention, there is no danger of overload. See my posting above, regarding infinity and the Eucharist.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

B, B flat, B natural

A little history on the B flat...

Considering the admirable variety of tonal realms afforded by the eight-mode system on a strictly diatonic basis (a variety much greater than the major-minor system was able to elicit from the much fuller material afforded by the chromatic scale), one cannot help pondering about the reasons that led to the addition of the b-flat, the single "black sheep," as it were, amond the "pure-white" flock of the Gregorian pitches... Whatever answer may be given to this question - the most obvious one being that it was added in order to avoid the tritone above f - it is interesting to notice that the b-flat is not officially recognized in the earliest treatises containing information about the tonal material of the chant. This appears most clearly from a consideration of the various sytems of letter designations advicated by the theorists of the ninth century...
The first indication of the recognition of the b-flat occurs in the Divisio monochordi ... adding the letter R for the b-flat. The tenth-century Dialogus de musica generally ascribed to Oddo of Cluny is the earliest treatise to distinguish the b-flat from the b-natural by the use of two shapes of the letter b, the b rotundum (round b) for the former, and the b durum (hard, angular b) for the latter, forms which persist in our present-day signs [flat] and [natural].

[excerpted from Gregorian Chant by Willi Apel, page 152]

The word flat (as used in music) is translated Be in German, Bémol in French, Bemolle in Italian. The sign originally came from the letter b, as its shape and its foreign names indicate. ... The flat was the first chromatic sign in music,, and was used to indicate the position of a single note - B - which was sometimes sounded as B, and often "softened" into B flat (ca. 1000 A.D.) ... The round b, called b rotundum, was b-flat, the square b, called b quadratum was b-natural. In Germany, the note b-flat is still called B, and as the square b was mistaken for an h (of the German print) it was called "H" and is called so to-day, a clerical error that has been perpetuated nearly a thousand years. After some time the two b's were used as chromatic signs (the square b became the natural sign).

[excerpted from Elson's Music Dictionary, page 112 and 58]

Short Wednesday: GKC on Laws

A vast amount of nonsense is talked against negative and destructive things. The silliest sort of progressive complains of negative morality, and compares it unfavourably with positive morality. The silliest sort of conservative complains of destructive reform and compares it unfavourably with constructive reform. Both the progressive and the conservative entirely neglect to consider the very meaning of the words "yes" and "no". To give the answer "yes" to one question is to imply the answer "no" to another question; and to desire the construction of something is to desire the destruction of whatever prevents its construction. This is particularly plain in the fuss about "negative morality," or what may be described as the campaign against the Ten Commandments. The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted; precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden. An optimist who insisted on a purely positive morality would have to begin (supposing he knew where to begin) by telling a man that he might pick dandelions on a common, and go on for months before he came to the fact that he might throw pebbles into the sea; and then resume his untiring efforts by issuing a general permission to sneeze, to make snowballs, to blow bubbles, to play marbles, to make toy aeroplanes, to travel on Tooting trams, and
everything else he could think of, without ever coming to an end. In comparison with this positive morality, the Ten Commandments rather shine in that brevity which is the soul of wit. It is better to tell a man not to steal than to try to tell him the thousand things that he can enjoy without stealing; especially as he can generally be pretty well trusted to enjoy them.
[GKC, ILN Jan 3, 1920 CW32:17-18]

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

God's Grandparents

Today (July 26) is the feast of Sts. Joachim and Ann - the parents of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

They are God's grandparents...

Yes, it is thought (I have heard?) that they both died before the birth of Jesus... well, what of it... my mother's father died before my birth... but he's still my grandfather.

Sts. Joachim and Ann, pray for us here in the e-cosmos, and for all grandchildren throughout the world. We need so badly that touch which only grandparents can give!

The Division of the Waters (Part 4)

The Division of the Waters (Part 4)

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

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Chesterton's most famous detective, Father Brown, established the identity of a murderer when he picked up a piece of paper and observed that it "was the wrong shape." ["The Wrong Shape" in The Father Brown Omnibus, 132] Life, at its most fundamental level, is a matter of molecules having the right shape. It seems fantastic and even mystical, but water is responsible for the "right shape" of the machinery of life:
The very shapes of proteins and nucleic acids and the structure of biological membranes are a consequence of their interaction with water.
[Rawn, Biochemistry, 27]
Anyone who has made salad dressing knows that water and oil do not mix. At the molecular level, "water-water interactions are stronger than water-hydrocarbon interactions. Because of the stronger water-water interactions, water molecules force nonpolar hydrocarbons together and surround them. This phenomenon is called the hydrophobic effect. Conversely, molecules that readily dissolve in water are called hydrophilic."[Rawn, Biochemistry, 36]

Much of the machinery of the living cell is made of proteins. Protein molecules are chains of amino acids, some of which are hydrophobic (or non-polar) and some of which are hydrophilic (or polar). Lipids, the building blocks of cell membranes, are molecules which have a hydrophobic body and a polar head. Thus, the polar nature of water makes proteins and lipids take on their correct shapes, producing a molecular division and separating the polar parts from the non-polar parts of the molecules.

The many and various uses of water

The "Canticle of the Sun" by St. Francis of Assisi is perhaps the best-known poetic praise-by-enumeration of God after the various biblical lists of the components of creation. Here is the verse in which St. Francis tells about water:
Praised be my Lord for our sister water, who is very serviceable to us, and humble and precious and clean. [from the Poetry Appendix in the Liturgy of the Hours]
Each of these terms - sister, serviceable, humble, precious, clean - is remarkable for the exceeding insight into the reality of water.

Water is humble: it seeks the lowest places. Water is clean; perhaps this means it can render things clean. Water dissolves many substances, and soaps and detergents help dissolve many others. Large quantities of water can even wash rocks away by sheer physical action. Also, water is easy to purify - the atmosphere is doing this constantly. Sunlight evaporates water from lakes and oceans, and once the vapor cools, nearly pure water falls to the earth as rain or snow. Various human uses often require higher levels of purity, notably by the destruction of all microorganisms it contains. Distilled water is a mechanical version of rain, and the result is quite pure, but it does not taste like water, since there are no dissolved minerals to give it the "flavor" of water.

Water is precious, not because it is rare, but because it has so many remarkable properties. It is the perfect example of the Chestertonian paradox of something common which is simultaneously very unusual. And because water has so many remarkable properties, and is so very common, it is serviceable. That is, we use it for many purposes.

The most obvious use of water is the quenching of thirst, closely followed by washing. In a humorous moment, J. R. R. Tolkien has the hobbits sing a happy bath-time song:
O! Water cold we may pour at need
down a thirsty throat and be glad indeed;
but better is Beer, if drink we lack,
and Water Hot poured down the back.
[The Fellowship of the Ring, 145]
Of course, milk, coffee, tea, beer, and wine (those excellent beverages) are mostly water. Their flavors are a matter of individual preference, but their thirst-quenching power resides in water itself.

There are many other uses for water. In the industrial realm, water is preeminent as a mediator of energy. We speak of the "Age of Steam" - when we began to use water to take energy from burning fuel and convert it into motion. After steam trains and ships came the internal combustion engine, but this device develops large amounts of heat, and requires cooling. Water (usually with various additives) is pumped through the engine block and through a radiator, sending the excess heat into the air. All kinds of machines grouped together under the term "hydraulics" take advantage of the great incompressibility of water, and although other liquids can be used, the term pays Greek tribute to hydor, water. Even nuclear reactors require
large amounts of water: it transfers heat energy and also plays a role in controlling the nuclear reaction.

We have already discoursed at length on the importance of water for life. It is hard to know how far to carry the mystical notion that water is life, especially since human bodies are 60 percent water and some plants are as high as 95 percent[McGee, On Food and Cooking 577] On first thought, the description of water as our sister is something only a poet (or a lunatic) might say, but then again, maybe it's only a mystical term for a simple scientific fact. After all, we've got a lot in common with lakes and rivers - like them, we're full of water, and we would both be gone if it was all dried up.

Let us not overlook the most important term to describe water - a word which St. Francis implies by saying that praise is due to the Lord because of water. That word is "gift":
You care for the earth, give it water,
you fill it with riches.
Your river in heaven brims over
to provide its grain.

And thus you provide for the earth;
you drench its furrows,
you level it, soften it with showers,
you bless its growth.
[Ps 65 Morning Prayer Tue Week II emphasis added]

Baptism is a division by water

The Church uses water as the great symbol of life, and especially of the beginning of Christian life in baptism. It is the baptismal water which divides the new life with Christ from the earlier Christ-less life. All the other ritual uses of holy water are meant to recall these dividing waters of baptism. Water even has its place in the Holy Eucharist: water is added to wheat flour to make bread, and a drop of water is added to the wine before it is offered.

It is well-known that the baptismal waters symbolize death and life. As we have seen, science reveals water's wonderful imagery of triangles and crosses, of unusual properties, of incompressibility, of constancy of temperature, of humility, of marvelous utility, of mediation of energy, of the ability to produce the shapes of life by virtue of its ability to divide. Water indeed reveals a Chestertonian wonder in the commonplace.

Chesterton was a very large man, and he began his autobiography by stating that he "was baptised according to the formularies of the Church of England in the little Church of St. George opposite the large Waterworks Tower that dominated that ridge. I do not allege any significance in the relation of the two buildings; and I indignantly deny that the church was chosen because it needed the whole water-power of West London to turn me into a Christian." [Autobiography CW16:21] This water tower played an important role in his story The Napoleon of Notting Hill, but even more important to him was the role of baptism: "I know only one scheme that has proved its solidity, bestriding lands and ages with its gigantic arches, and carrying everywhere the high river of baptism upon an aqueduct of Rome."[The Thing CW3:156]

(to be concluded)

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Only Begotten

"The Only Begotten"

...there trailed through the bewildered imagination some sort of fantastic procession of the funeral of God, at which the sun turned black, but which ended with the dead omnipotence breaking out of the tomb and rising again like the sun.
GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:296

To call a being, who was also a flesh and blood human being, monogenes or unigenitus was not something trivial in classical pagan context. There, the writings of Plato, Cicero, and Plutarch are a proof, the universe ... was also called monogenes or unigenitus. ... He was faced with the alternative: either Christ or the universe was "the only son."
S. L. Jaki, Christ and Science 19

Akhen-Aten was a pharoah
Ruled the Nile long ago
Many thought him very odd
For he worshiped just one god.

To see this god no one might dare,
His glory which no eye can bear,
Though blinding, yet he gives all sight;
His death was wept for every night.

Egyptian, Hindu, Aztec, Greek,
For world-truth some did seek;
But trapped within its cyclic line
Thought all above must be divine:

The perfect sky, from night to morn
Monogenes, the "Only-Born":
A god itself or god's true sending,
The kosmos - perfect world unending.

So they thought and they called "fool"
To bind heaven to Earth's rule.
Then Virgil sung, "A little while:
Know His mother by her smile."

Till one tax day, tall and brave
A man stood guard outside a cave,
And the Cause of all our Joy
Gave the world her little Boy...

The Child grew up, then as a Man
Was put to death by Roman plan
Nailed upon a wooden rack,
Funeral where the sun turned black

Friday night a second cave
Was this dead Man's stone-sealed grave.
Not stone nor guards nor three dead days
Could hold the new Sun's rising rays.

They follow still the Man Who died
Who promised with them to abide,
And an Advocate did leave
Thus "God from God" they must believe.

Now if this Man is God's own Son,
The Kosmos cannot be the One,
The sole-begotten, they concede;
Thus the sky's from godhood freed.

An apple's fall the truth displayed:
The skies above earth's rule obeyed.
So the Faith did Science breed,
Born within the Christian Creed.

July 24, 2005

Saturday, July 23, 2005

A Visit From An Organist

Last night a friend came to visit - he is the organist at the cathedral of a certain midwestern diocese. He comes east once a year or so to see his parents who still live where they did when we were both in high school - back when he was playing the pipe organ and I built one (a story for another posting!)

As usual we had a lot of laughs, and a number of things to catch up on. One of the things I mentioned was a recent web datum reporting how someone had... well, in order to understand the story, I will have to give you some background first.

Back in the long ago days, my organist friend would play a certain rather modern and very mysterious piece called "The Celestial Banquet" by a French organ composer named Olivier Messiaen, who was then living but has since gone on - please God - to the celestial banquet.

Ah, French organs, French organ music... Here, the name Aristide Cavaillé-Coll looms vast in our history... And, as any organ music person will know, there is a extremely awesome piece which is popularly called "THE WIDOR" and is actually the Tocatta - the 5th movement - from Widor's Fifth Organ Symphony. It has 75 measures each with thirty-two 16th notes in arpeggiating chords, totalling 2400 notes (not counting the final chords), and of course is just a fantastic piece, as is the whole Fifth Symphony - and the rest of Widor... And it was things like this which tended to make a young organ-techhie more interested in French organ music.

Then as this organ-tecchie also became a computer-tecchie - so nice that both use the powers of two! - there was an added excitement when my organist friend told me that Messiaen had invented something called "Communicable Language" - a system which mapped all the letters of the alphabet into musical notes. Of course everyone knows we start with C, D, E, F, G, A, B... and that brings us back to Do! Some more Baroque (or German) individuals will know that B is not really B, but B-flat, since the B-natural is written H. (It is this which gave Bach his little chromatic theme, hee hee. Try it and see: B-flat, A, C, B-natural, all next to each other...)

But! Because "Communicable Language" covered the WHOLE alphabet, one could convert other words into music (not just BACH or CAGE or FACE...) And this is what Olivier did. Even more surprising, he very often used liturgical or biblical phrases, and built his works upon them.

OK, so now you know (in a rough, vague fashion) some of the knowledge which my friend and I had in common regarding this organist Messiaen.

So, as I started to say, one of the things I mentioned was a recent web datum reporting how someone had been led to CONVERT to Catholicism through the music of Messiaen - my friend had not heard about this, and of course I was not able to recall anything else about it, nor even where it was that I had read this.

But today, a little research found it, and herewith I include the link for your consideration.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

For Best Results, Set the Volume to Max

For Best Results, Set The Volume To Max

For best results, play at maximum volume.
[On the back of "Rush," the first album from Rush.]

Some one asked me if I could imagine Christ walking down the street before a brass band. I said I could imagine it with the greatest ease; for Christ definitely approved a natural noisiness at a great moment.
[GKC, Tremendous Trifles]

When Jesus walked the earth, He liked to sing
Those psalms which still so many pray.
They didn't know of rock or fugues or swing,
But the Temple's horns would blast and bray
The Roman tuba also cleared the way.
The strings of David's harp were never lax
Though "cithara" is now "guitar" they say...
For best results set the volume to max.

One Sunday as the palms waved for a King:
The crowd - so quick to crown, so quick to slay -
Happy, loud "Hosannas" from them did spring,
Alarmed, the legal loudmouths ordered "Nay!
Keep them quiet! Their shouts the walls would sway..."
Said the Word, Whose horns caused Jericho's cracks:
"If they don't sing, these rocks their debt would pay."
For best results set the volume to max.

The faithful people still with joy will ring
For, just like them, their King in death did lay,
But the Way out of the grave He did bring
If His commands they would only obey.
And so, restored, this useless bit of clay
With keys of words and notes and whites and blacks
Works hard to shine of Truth another ray
For best results set the volume to max.

Practice well, you who sing the Song, and play
Your CDs, organs, tapes, guitars or sax;
Await the concert of Unending Day...
For best results set the volume to max.

(July 29, 1998)

Monday, July 18, 2005


There is no relation (other than our common Uncle and Aunt) between myself and a new writer in the e-cosmos, Michael Vooris, who publishes "Thursday" (subtitled "For all those chasing after Sunday on this sometimes absurd adventure" - a superb insight!).

Recently he has posted a reply to GKC's comment about the mysterious silence of poets regarding cheese (quoted from Alarms and Discursions, 70). The next line is quite witty also, and I repeat it for your enjoyment: "Virgil, if I remember right, refers to it several times, but with too much Roman restraint. He does not let himself go on cheese."

You should go here and read it...

And since I once wrote something on this same subject, I will also post it in the hope of stimulating others to write...

"Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese."
- G. K. Chesterton

A rhyme on cheese to all would seem absurd;
Wasted paper, kindling for a fire.
Cheese, but in cooking, not an oft-used word -
Poets wise ought seek for topics higher.
Hungry worker, of much beer a buyer,
Who calls for bread and cheddar "if you please!"
Well-read barkeep comments in some ire:
"How strangely silent poets are on cheese!"

A mystery of heated milk - the curd
Draining on a mesh of cloth and wire;
Some sit quiet, some are ever stirred
While it slowly gets to be much drier.
Some becomes a fill for sandwich fryer,
Some may be a sauce for eggs or peas.
Eat it daily, it will not inspire:
How strangely silent poets are on cheese!

O fruit of science, fruit of bovine herd!
Fresh and creamy; molten on a pyre;
So bold and strong, or else by flavors blurred;
Simple snack; at need, the meal entire;
Treasure food whose greatness I admire
When local-born or brought beyond the seas -
Literati I would prove a liar:
How strangely silent poets are on cheese!

O Chesterton, I fill your desire
By writing cheesy verses such as these
Not sung by earth or by heaven's choir:
How strangely silent poets are on cheese!

(October 1, 1994 - wow, that was nearly 11 years ago!)

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Santa's Backup Plan

An amazing post from the One And Only authentic Father Christmas himself - revealing his own personal selection for backup should he ever require such...

You can find it here.

Guess who he picks! (No, not me...)

Hee hee. It's great.

Prayer Requests

I have just learned that Annalise, the five-year-old niece of a co-worker has a serious medical problem. I also have several other intentions which are best left untyped.

I will certainly remember in my prayers you who read this.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

God, random chance, and programming

In 1837, Charles Babbage, who invented a programmable mechanical computer, wrote an essay called The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise. In general he wanted to show that "the power and knowledge of the great Creator of matter and mind are unlimited." It was also his determination to combat a recurring prejudice, that "the pursuits of science are unfavorable to religion," a prejudice which he believed "to have been long eradicated from every cultivated mind."

More specifically, he wanted to show that the computer has certain characteristics that might effectively be exploited in constructing a new and most powerful proof of the existence of a Creator. To use the modern terminology, Babbage described the Creator as an infinitely skilled programmer, "whose mind, intimately cognizant of the remotest consequences of the present as welll as of all other laws, decreed existence to that one alone, which should comprehend within its grasp the completion of its destiny - which should require no future intervention to meet events unanticipated by its author, in whose omniscient mind we can conceive no infrimity of purpose - no change of intention!" It was in that perspective that Babbage defended such cardinal points in natural theology as the possibility and reality of miracles, of providence, or freedom of will, of future punishments and rewards.

Babbage's machine was in fact the embodiment of hierarchically ordered instructions or laws. As such, Babbage argued, it was but a modest replica of nature... it constituted a most telling analogy. By studying its sturcture and mode of operation, one could form, as Babbage emphasized, "a faint estimate of the magnitude of that lowest step in the chain of reasoning, which leads us to Nature's God."
[excerpted from Jaki's Brain, Mind, and Computers 43-45, quoting Babbage's Ninth Bridgewater Treatise]

Yes, and we have gotten quite a bit (hee hee) further into this since Babbage. Or we could, except for the problems Cardinal Newman discussed at length in The Idea of a University, of the wars between the various departments when one is excluded...

In 1828 Wöhler synthesized urea from inorganic chemicals - over time, this led to the birth of biochemistry as a branch uniting chemistry and biology. Now is the time for computing and biology to also unite...

But without the assistance (the consolation?) of philosophy, this unity will be dangerous.

That is why a new department ought to be founded at Catholic universities, which (as Cardinal Newman hinted!) would unite computing, philosophy, and biology...

Just a bit on "chance"

"If chance is defined as an outcome of random influence, produced by no sequence of causes, I am sure that there is no such thing as chance, and I consider that it is but an empty word, beyond showing the meaning of the matter which we have in hand. For what place can be left for anything happening at random, so long as God controls everything in order? ... We may define chance as an unexpected result from the coincidence of certain causes in mattes where there was another purpose. The order of the universe, advancing with its inevitable sequences, brings about this coincidence of causes. This order itself emanates from its source, which is Providence, and disposes all things in their proper time and place."

[Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy 101-102 (tr. W. V. Cooper)]

Just a bit on random things

There has been a lot on other sites about "random" in connection with evolution and God. I wanted to give just a little about the idea of "random," and went to look it up, and found that it will be HARD to say just a little, and be precise. The word can be given a precise meaning in mathematics, but it is neither easy to write in ASCII (so I cannot post it) nor easy to explain (so I will not post it). Another part of the problem with this word is that we have an "intuitive" sense of its meaning which may not agree with an actual sample...

In computing, there are tricks which we can use to make "random" numbers (they use timers, or Geiger tubes, or something dealing with physical phenomena) But the usual way most software libraries use is called a "random number generator" - which is pseudo-random - that is, it is NOT random at all, but computed using a rather strange function. Since it is computed, it can be predicted! But unless this is the function they use for making the lottery numbers, there is not really any reason to predict the next value from a given generator. (They have very interesting uses, which I cannot take the time to explain just now!) The nice thing about them is their results "look" random to the "casual" or "untrained" eye...

If you have a library nearby and want a starting point to see a little more, check for Knuth's The Art of Computer Programming, Volume II: Semi-numerical Algorithms, page 142-166. Even just to do the math, or to set up a program to make "pseudo-random" values, will be seen to take quite a lot of orderly effort...

The sounds of Latin

Last Saturday I spent a couple of hours reading a very interesting book I got at Loome in June.

There has been some discussion elsewhere on the pronunciation of Latin, so I thought I would show you a little of what I was reading:

The sources for our knowledge of the pronunciation of Latin in ancient times include the following:
(a) The direct statements of ancient grammarians and phoneticians.
(b) The evidence of the meters of poetry, which show the quantities of vowels in open initial and medial syllables and in final syllables.
(c) Ancient puns, old etymologies, representations of animal cries, and the like.
(d) The spellings in inscriptions where variations are especially valuable
(e) The spellings in manuscripts
(f) The spellings used in Latin for words borrowed and transliterated from other languages, and those used in other languages for words borrowed and transliterated from Latin.
(g) The pronunciation of Vulgar Latin and of the ROmance dialects.
(h) The value of sounds as shown by comparative grammar.
[Roland G. Kent, The Sounds of Latin §28. Linguistic Society of America, 1945]

So that is how they explain the "classical" pronunciations - as compared to the "ecclesiastical" - and how the work on other ancient tongues is accomplished.

(Not: I am not a linguist or philologist, and for all I know in 60 years perhaps Kent has been ostracised; - but his points seem sensible!)

Kent deals with the change to T (becoming SH before i/e plus vowel) and C (becoming S before i/e):

(§ 45)This change occurred even earlier in country dialects: Marsian (a minor dialect of central Italy) MARTSES = Latin Martiis


(§47 II) "'MVNDICIEI'" for munditiei in an inscription of 136 A.D. is perhaps the earliest example of the confusion.

So perhaps is not all that unbelievable that the Roman centurion who gave us "Domine non sum dignus sounded more like an Italian at Mass than a scholar in the library...

Sunday, July 10, 2005


I did have a very nice 50th birthday, so I thought I would say THANKS here for those of my family, friends, co-workers, and you of the e-cosmos who aided in making it so.

One usually can only be fifty once in a lifetime. A half-century sounds long - though it isn't very long at all - just a little more than pi over two gigaseconds for those of you tecchies out there - but who's counting! Hee hee.

But (as my father would say) we keep celebrating.

Here Is Why

Two thousand years ago (or there about)
The cosmos was turned inside out
The pagan despair was defeated
And pagan hope was far exceeded
The Roman calends downward counted
And Magi on their camels mounted
Starting Virgil's "Golden Age" -
God's new chapter, God's new page:
A fortiori was His style,
"How much more" then was His trial,
Threefold darkness - "It is Done";
Then the quake and Rising Son...
A week of weeks, then wind and fire:
Seven Gifts: go deeper, higher!
The years and centuries go on,
The Darkness followed by the Dawn,
Rome split into many nations,
Still bound by their four conjugations
Going therefore East and West,
Saying "Ite missa est":
News of Word-made-flesh does run
Round the earth and round the sun.
Good news of a lasting birth
Fills the cosmos, fills the earth,
Let all that know, then, find their voice
For even in sorrow, we still rejoice.

A Drawing and a Photograph

If you really want to see what I look like, as well as an approximation of what I look like, then you can go here and have a laugh.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Miss Blogg: Dearest Sweetheart or Eternal Enemy?

It's raining here, and as usual I am trying to do four or five things at once, at least one of which is waiting for a machine to finish its work. Meanwhile, I will look into a question Nancy had asked...

Well, well, well...

You know how people say you can find anything in Chesterton's writing if you look hard enough?

I was looking for something else (as usual) and found something which made me wonder just how GKC really DID feel about Frances Blogg. It is quite suitable for the weather outside, and makes me want to go have some of yesterday's birthday cake... was not for a baby that [GKC] had written Greybeards: it was for Frances' young cousin Rhoda Bastable, and the Fish poem in that book was part of a comic campaign carried on by the two of them against Frances. Gilbert loved clouds and showers, Frances blazing sun. He and Rhoda founded a Society for the Encouragement of Rain. Membership cards were inscribed, President Rhoda Bastable, Secretary G. K. Chesterton, Eternal Enemy Miss Blogg. Meetings were held "on Salisbury Plain," where under the sign of an umbrella members were invited to partake of cakes and coffee in the rain.
[Maisie Ward, Return To Chesterton 99, emphasis added]

Yes, isn't it funny how one can take things out of context? Of course you already knew that the Bible says there is no God! (It does, in Psalm 52(53) verse 1)

And speaking about being out of context, this strongly urges me to review one of the truely GREAT books - The Phantom Tollbooth - next Wednesday. Of course that is such a wonderful book I could probably not handle it in the space constraints... well, we'll see.

Common Sense

Nancy at Flying Stars asks about common sense. She is working on a book.

I asked AMBER for the references to "common sense" and got over 500. There is one which has something to do with women that I thought would be useful for her, but of course I could not find it, even with the help of amber. (Look up the etymology of "electricity" if you find this confusing...

But AMBER nearly always shows me something Chesterton wrote which I have forgotten about. Here are some which are very interesting...

The deadly and divine cleavage between the sexes has compelled every woman and every man, age after age, to believe without understanding; to have faith without any knowledge.
Upon the same principle it is a good thing for any man to have to review a book which he cannot review. It is a good thing for his agnosticism and his humility to consider a book which may be much better than he can ever understand. It is good for a man who has seen many books which he could not review because they were so silly, to review one book which he cannot review because it is so wise. For wisdom, first and last, is the characteristic of women. They are often silly, they are always wise. Commonsense is uncommon among men; but commonsense is really and literally a common sense among women. And the sagacity of women, like the sagacity of saints, or that of donkeys, is something outside all questions of ordinary cleverness and ambition.
[GKC from The Nation, 1907, reprinted as "Louisa Alcott" in A Handful of Authors 163-164]

Of course she looms big in my memory: the author of the trilogy Little Women, Little Men, and Jo's Boys, and a number of other touching stories of families in America of the late 1800s.

The general attitude of St. Francis, like that of his Master, embodied a kind of terrible common sense. The famous remark of the Caterpillar in "Alice in Wonderland " - "Why not?" impresses us as his general motto. He could not see why he should not be on good terms with all things. The pomp of war and ambition, the great empire of the Middle Ages, and all its fellows begin to look tawdry and top-heavy, under the rationality of that innocent stare. His questions were blasting and devastating, like the questions of a child. He would not have been afraid even of the nightmares of cosmogony, for be had no fear in him. To him the world was small, not because he had any views as to its size, but for the reason that gossiping ladies find it small, because so many relatives were to be found in it. If you had taken him to the loneliest star that the madness of an astronomer can conceive, be would have only beheld in it the features of a new friend.
[GKC, Varied Types 69-70]

One more, from the same book...

Carlyle was, as we have suggested, a mystic, and mysticism was with him, as with all its genuine professors, only a transcendent form of common sense. Mysticism and common sense alike consist in a sense of the dominance of certain truths and tendencies which cannot be formally demonstrated or even formally named. Mysticism and common sense are alike appeals to realities that we all know to be real, but which have no place in argument except as postulates.
[GKC, Varied Types 116-117]

Perhaps these will help.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Thursday's Riddle

Exactly one year ago today - July 7, 2004 - I had the distinct pleasure of having lunch with Father Stanley L. Jaki, OSB, author of some 50 books.

During that meeting, we spoke of a number of things, and he happened to ask how old I was.

I said, "It's a riddle: On my last birthday I was 48. On my next birthday I will be 50."

He replied, "How is this possible?"

I could almost see the wheels turning (probably translating it into Hungarian, or Latin, or French...)


Then he said, "Ah! Happy birthday!"

Yes, and the calender this year is the same as it was in the year I was born. This is not a riddle, but an answer - it answers the question "Why Doctor Thursday?" (And here you thought it had something to do with a Chesterton book! Hee hee.)

Yes, today I am one half century. Thanks, Mom and Dad. Thank You, God. Please help me always to do Your will. Amen.

And now it's time to go to Holy Mass, at which I will remember all those who happen to read this - and even those who don't!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The QWERTY Parable

The QWERTY Parable

The Spirit comes, some days in wind, some days in breeze;
Sometimes (still air) I sit, staring at the keys.

This great device, of low things made, of rather lower make;
Its plain outside hides a profound, etched, sandy flake.

From "Esc" (Escape) to "Enter," "SHIFT" and "ALT" are there,
The twenty-seven common keys, numbers and more rare;

Function keys - their use arranged by programs planned;
Quotes and brackets, slashes and the famous ampersand.

In classroom, home and factory and lab
The fingers pound the backspace and the tab.

Newfangled like the horseless carriage, now a car
The QWERTY board spread high-tech near and far.

These keys - a shovel, plow, or broom - tool of the mind -
But then like a new asterisk a strange key I did find.

A parable, a mystic sign well-recognized and known,
A horrid death One died for all, stark and alone.

The math of Genesis Tom Jefferson did quote[1];
The Spirit pouring out on Greeks the Jews did note[2].

The human family, varied, vast, no two the same;
On that hill of pain was seen through but one frame:

For us a key was bought - Death defeated[3] by Life's loss;
The key of Calvary: we're equal beneath the cross.

(April 21, 1995)


[1] "We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal"
[2] See Acts 10:45: "Jewish believers who had accompanied Peter were all astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit should be poured out on the pagans too."
[3] "The cross cannot be defeated, for it is Defeat." G.K. Chesterton, The Ball and the Cross, 207

(Yes, people have already complained about my putting footnotes in poetry!)

Long words for Short Wednesday (2005/07/06)

According to AMBER, here are the longest words in the current collection of GKC books.

These are perhaps cheating, as they are merely hyphenated...


So here are the non-hyphenated longest words...


Monsignor Knox on GKC

The other day I found an interesting bit of commentary on GKC:

Mr. Chesterton ... is like Johnson's friend who tried to be a philosopher, but cheerfulness would keep on coming in. The net effect of his works is serious, as it is meant to be, but his fairy-like imagination is for ever defeating its own object in matters of detail. But indeed, Mr. Chesterton is beyond our present scope; for he is rash enough to combine humour not merely with satire but with serious writing; and that, it is well known, is a thing which the public will not stand.
[Ronald A. Knox: "Introduction: on Humour and Satire" in Essays in Satire]

This book (which I purchased at that literary treasure-house called Loome!) also has that choice essay wherein Msgr. Knox applies the well-known methods of "Bible Scholarship" to the Sherlock Holmes canon: considering such apparent conflicts as Mrs. Watson calling him "James" when he stated his name was "John H. Watson" - the explanation for which Knox finds in "Backnecke's theory of the Deutero-Watson"...

Oh, it's funny. I may have to post more of it later. Meanwhile I will be busy laughing.

An aside: every time I hear about deutero-somebody (like in a homily on Semitic verbs) I see those characters from "Newhart" saying "I'm Larry, this is my brother Darryl, and my other brother Darryl..."

SWQR: Triple Trouble For Rupert

Triple Trouble For Rupert by Ethelyn M. Parkinson (1960) Scholastic. Location: Important Fiction

This book is a collection of 11 short stories about Rupert Piper, a sixth-grade student. They are very nice, funny stories, believeable, realistic and homely, which use some very interesting words. One character is named "Trowbridge" but called "Doodleberries" or "Dood" for short. Another word which I really like is "worky." Here is how Rupert uses it when he is trying to earn some money to buy his mother a present:
"Mom," I said that night, "what can I do to help?"
"To - help?" Mom looked at me. "Rupert Piper, where do you hurt?"
"I don't hurt, Mom," I said. "I feel good and strong and worky, so I'd like some job to do."
There are other charming word-paintings, such as how "old gravity was there" to pull jam off Rupert's toast, or when the girls propose a hobby show for the class:
Behind me Clayte moaned. I moaned back.
Some days (when I feel worky) I strive to imitate GKC. But other days (when old gravity is around) I moan and wish I could write books as excellent as this.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

A Chestertonian Friend - or Enemy?

Today a friend of mine told me he had perused the very unusual book called Platitudes Undone which is a facsimile edition of Platitudes in the Making - a copy of which its author, Holbrook Jackson, signed and presented to GKC, and into which GKC wrote a number of comments and replies in GREEN PENCIL.

Let me explain this, as it is a little tricky, and I want you to understand.

1. Holbrook Jackson wrote a book, Platitudes in the Making. It is small, slim volume, consisting of a collection of Jackson's epigrams, or short pithy sayings.

2. Jackson signed a copy of it and presented it to GKC.

3. At some later time, GKC went through it, and scribbled notes or replies in GREEN PENCIL by nearly every on eof Jackson's quips. GKC mentioned the book in one of his essays, and indicates one or two of his replies, but in no way hinted that he had commented on nearly every line of Jackson.

4. Sometime between then and about 1990, the book escaped from GKC's library, and was found (I believe) in California... (I will have to look up the story, which is rather interesting!)

5. Ignatius Press reprinted this book in a facsimile edition - the book looks almost exactly like Jackson's original, and GKC's comments are in his own GREEN handwriting.

6. I gave a copy to the library in our Control Room at work, and one of my friends there borrowed it, read it, and toldme about it today.

OK. Now... got it? Here is in essence what he said: "Very interesting - but I cannot tell whether Jackson was one of Chesterton's best friends or worst enemies."

Indeed! This is a most succinct and penetrating evaluation of Chesterton! As usual, I waxed eloquent - well, not quite that gaudy - I talked a lot about Chesterton (we were waiting for our lunch to arrive) and I told him that this is a primary characteristic of GKC. Even his most bitter opponents (such as George Bernard Shaw) were treated as his dear friends - but even his good friends could expect a strong, quick rebuttal if GKC detected some definite error in reasoning.

Certainly this is a topic for a long discussion, and since we were at work, and there was no beer available, we had to defer additional discussion - also, the food arrived!

But I did promise him that I would report on the published link that there is between Jackson and Chesterton. It is the conclusion of one of his ILN essays:

I see on my table a book of aphorisms by a young Socialist writer, Mr. Holbrook Jackson; it is called "Platitudes in the Making," and curiously illustrates this difference between the paradox that starts thought and the paradox that prevents thought. Of course, the writer has read too much Nietzsche and Shaw, and too little of less groping and more gripping thinkers. But he says many really good things of his own, and they illustrate perfectly what I mean here about the suggestive and the destructive nonsense.
Thus in one place he says, "Suffer fools gladly: they may be right." That strikes me as good; but here I mean specially that it strikes me as fruitful and free. You can do something with the idea; it opens an avenue. One can go searching among one's more solid acquaintances and relatives for the fires of a concealed infallibility. One may fancy one sees the star of immortal youth in the somewhat empty eye of Uncle George; one may faintly follow some deep rhythm of nature in the endless repetitions with which Miss Bootle tells a story; and in the grunts and gasps of the Major next door may hear, as it were, the cry of a strangled god. It can never narrow our minds, it can never arrest our life, to suppose that a particular fool is not such a fool as he looks. It must be all to the increase of charity, and charity is the
imagination of the heart.
I turn the next page, and come on what I call the barren paradox. Under the head of "Advices," Mr. Jackson writes, "Don't think - do." This is exactly like saying "Don't eat - digest." All doing that is not mechanical or accidental involves thinking; only the modern world seems to have forgotten that there can be such a thing as decisive and dramatic thinking. Everything that comes from the will must pass through the mind, though it may pass quickly. The only sort of thing the strong man can "do" without thinking is something like falling over a doormat. This is not even making the mind jump; it is simply making it stop. I take another couple of cases at random. "The object of life is life." That affects me as ultimately true; always presuming the author is liberal enough to include eternal life. But even if it is nonsense, it is thoughtful nonsense.
On another page I read, "Truth is one's own conception of things." That is thoughtless nonsense. A man would never have had any conception of things at all unless he had thought they were things and there was some truth about them. Here we have the black nonsense, like black magic, that shuts down the brain. "A lie is that which you do not believe." That is a lie; so perhaps Mr. Jackson does not believe it.
[GKC, Illustrated London News March 11, 1911, CW29:53-54]

The Division of the Waters (Part 3)

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

At nearly the very beginning of Genesis, we read: "God said, `Let there be a vault in the waters to divide the waters in two.'" [Genesis 1:6] I will resist temptation: I will not speculate on what reality this corresponds to in nature. Certainly, for anyone who has seen the ocean, this description conveys an image of the sheer power and authority of God. Much more subtle is this placing of water in second place after light; it is now "organized" water - water which has been divinely divided, and not "primeval chaos" of the waters above which the Spirit hovered. And science pays homage to this primacy: most of the known matter of the universe is hydrogen, which is Greek for "that which gives birth to water." Even more subtle, water has been assigned a purpose - a purpose associated with God's power and authority to divide. Finally, this divided water is a symbol of the beginning of something.

There is another division of waters, and though on a much smaller scale, it also is the beginning of something, and powerful act of a divine purpose. This division is described in Exodus 14:19-22, though the arguments continue as to what body of water was affected. It was the culmination of that great event which "is to stand at the head of your calendar" - the Passover - the escape of the People of Israel from their slavery under the Egyptians. Awesome descriptions of this event appear in the Psalms, and echo in the many praises of God's power in the wonder of water:

The waters saw you, O God,
the waters saw you and trembled;
the depths were moved with terror.
The clouds poured down rain,
the skies sent forth their voice;
your arrows flashed to and fro.

Your thunder rolled round the sky,
your flashes lighted up the world.
The earth was moved and trembled
when your way led through the sea,
your path through the mighty waters,
and no one saw your footprints. [Psalm 77 from Morning Prayer of Wednesday Week II]

(Note: there are several other psalms which I quoted here originally: 93, 42, 147, 29, 74)

Perhaps there is nothing more amazing about God's division of the waters than the fact that water itself is a divider. Naturally, the idea of being divided by water suggests the ocean or a river. But even as a substance, water has a power of division. Water has many other properties, and the scientific knowledge about this ordinary marvel will indicate the cleverness with which it was planned.

H2O - the isosceles triangle

Chesterton's curious poet (or lunatic) named Gabriel Gale stared at a fishbowl and asked: "Were you ever an isosceles triangle?" [The Poet and the Lunatics,39] If he had taken about 18 grams (a little more than half an ounce) of water from that fishbowl, he would have about 600,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 very tiny isosceles triangles, each one an individual water molecule [The number 6.023e23, the number of things in a mole, is called Avogadro's number.].

One water molecule would fit into a box about 0.4 nanometers, or about 16 billionths of an inch, on a side. It is formed of three atoms: two hydrogens (H) and one oxygen (O). The three atoms are arranged in an isosceles triangle, with an angle of 104.5 degrees between the O-H bonds, which are 0.099 nanometers long (about 4 billionths of an inch). The bonds between the hydrogen and oxygen are "covalent" which means there is a sharing of electrons between the two atoms. But because of the stronger attraction of the oxygen, the electrons which are shared in the bonds of the water molecule tend to stay closer to the oxygen. This means that water is a dipole: it has a positive end (the two hydrogens) and a negative end (the oxygen), and is thus similar to a magnet.

This polarization is responsible for the various unusual properties of water. The positive ends of one water molecule attracts the negative end of another water molecule. Though this attraction between two separate molecules (which is known as hydrogen bonding) is not as strong as the attraction within one molecule, it is strong enough to have important effects. The most well-known of these is the fact that water expands when it freezes, and thus ice floats on water.

To explain this, it is well to remind ourselves that the water molecule exists in three dimensions. One should imagine a tetrahedron - a pyramid with a triangular base - with the oxygen in the center, the two positively charged hydrogens at two corners and two negatively charged electron pairs (in what are called sp3 hybrid orbitals) at the other two corners. One molecule of water thus has two positive corners and two negative corners, and can form the weaker hydrogen bonds with four other molecules of water. A mystic or a poet might here remark that the four arms of water (if viewed from the edge of the tetrahedron) would appear in the form of a cross, and its power of attraction might bring to mind the words of Christ: "And when I am lifted up [on the cross] from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself."[John 12:32]

As water is cooled, the molecules move slower and slower, and so they are more able to bond to each other. As they bond, they form regular crystalline shapes which occupy more space than when they are moving and not bonded. Thus, ice takes up more volume, more room than the same amount of liquid water, and so it is lighter and floats. These hydrogen bonds are also the reason why water requires so much heat before it will boil, since additional energy is required to break those bonds before the molecules are able to move freely.

The cruciform dipole of water and its ability to form hydrogen bonds gives it thermal properties which are unusual, or even, according to Harold McGee, "peculiar." The following comments on these properties are worth pondering:

The consequences of this peculiarity are considerable. It makes it possible for living organisms, which are from 50 to 95% water, to moderate the effect of sudden environmental temperature changes. Our bodies can absorb or lose substantial amounts of energy without becoming dangerously hot or cold.[On Food and Cooking 581]

Water's heat of vaporization, that is, the amount of heat required to convert water from a liquid to a gas at its boiling point (100 degrees C) is much larger than that of other liquids of comparable molecular weight. A large amount of heat is required to vaporize water even at its boiling point because on the average three hydrogen bonds must be broken before a water molecule escapes from the liquid into the gas phase.[Biochemistry 32-34]

Water requires a large exchange of heat to change its temperature and its state [state here means solid, liquid or gas]. Since water is a major component of all cells, its constancy of temperature minimizes temperature fluctuations within cells. This is of critical biological significance because important biochemical reactions occur only within a narrow temperature range. [Biochemistry 34]

Water has an abnormally high specific heat, the amount of energy required to raise its temperature by a given amount. That is, water will absorb quite a bit of energy before its temperature rises. For example, it takes 10 times the energy to heat an ounce of water 1 degree as it does to heat an ounce of iron 1 degree. In the time it
takes to get an iron pan too hot to handle on the stove, water will have gotten only tepid. One natural substance has a higher specific heat than water, and that is liquid ammonia.[On Food and Cooking 580-581]

(to be continued)

Monday, July 04, 2005

Our 229th Birthday - God Bless America

It is very difficult to adequately express in ASCII here in this e-cosmos the solemn thanks and love and honor which I feel - and which we should all feel - on this day when we recall the birth of our freedom in this country. But I went to Holy Mass this morning and remembered our country and my fellow citizens, for that is the superlative honor and love and thanks.

One of the reasons why it is hard to write about such things nowadays is that there those who wish to destroy words (for they hate the Word!) Just as cancer arises when spelling errors occur in critical phrases of DNA within a human cell, the same happens in human society... Look and see! Do we, does any American honestly say "We hold these truths to be self-evident"? (Do you even know what those truths are?) Could any of us subscribe to such a declaration now? Would our lawyers permit it? Would Congress allow it? Would the Supreme Court? But the truths, like our flag, are still there.

Well, thank God, a group of men did subscribe, exactly 229 years ago about 2PM today. (My mother told me this!) Those brave men put their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor on the line for this idea - for this faith. And they won! And it is still here - and despite its shortcomings, there is still hope.

And yes, Chesterton wrote about America, and yes, I will quote a relevant passage from a book every American ought to read... in just another minute, as I have one other thing to mention.

My cousin told me a story about my grandparents coming to America, and the thrill my grandmother had when she saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time. It is funny how the modern iconoclasts permit that idol, so fitting, so emblematic of America's genius... Thinking of this idol-that-is-not-an-idol reminds me of something GKC indicated (in The Everlasting Man) about how a real human society might erect statutes, permanently veiled, to "the man who first found fire", or the woman who invented cheese. But this statue is not veiled, her torch shines for the world - but we must supply her with fuel.

Now, Chesterton on America:

America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just. It certainly does condemn anarchism, and it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from whom these equal rights are derived. Nobody expects a modern political system to proceed logically in the application of such dogmas, and in the matter of God and government it is naturally God whose claim is taken more lightly. The point is that there is a creed, if not about divine, at least about human things.
Now a creed is at once the broadest and the narrowest thing in the world. In its nature it is as broad as its scheme for a brotherhood of all men. In its nature it is limited by its definition of the nature of all men. This was true of the Christian Church, which was truly said to exclude neither Jew nor Greek, but which did definitely substitute something else for Jewish religion or Greek philosophy. It was truly said to be a net drawing in of all kinds; but a net of a certain pattern, the pattern of Peter the Fisherman. ... Now in a much vaguer and more evolutionary fashion, there is something of the same idea at the back of the great American experiment; the experiment of a democracy of diverse races which has been compared to a melting-pot. But even that metaphor implies that the pot itself is of a certain shape and a certain substance; a pretty solid substance. The melting-pot must not melt. The original shape was traced on the lines of Jeffersonian democracy; and it will remain in that shape until it becomes shapeless. America invites all men to become citizens; but it implies the dogma that there is such a thing as citizenship. Only, so far as its primary ideal is concerned, its exclusiveness is religious because it is not racial.
[GKC, What I Saw In America CW21:41-42]

Credo. I believe.

God bless America!
Happy 229!
Keep the Fire burning!

Friday, July 01, 2005

A Wonderful Tolkien Poem

It was not until I was 23 that I read The Lord of the Rings, though it made such an impression on me that I now try to read it every year during Lent. (I will explain this in detail next year at the proper time, God willing.)

However: as wonderful as the tales of Tolkien's Middle-Earth is, I would claim that he has another, and far more important work, much less frequently mentioned. It is the essay called "On Fairy Stories" reprinted in A Tolkien Reader. Besides quoting Chesterton and having a distinctly Chestertonian, uh, character? quality? well, we're not analyzing it here and if I did I would want payment, or at least another degree for it... AHEM! Sorry. As I was saying! Besides quoting Chesterton, this story deals with two very important ideas: ideas which are so important that no one had really ever given them names before. So of course Tolkien did. He calls them "subcreation" and "eucatastrophe." Tolkien, along with the magnificent Dorothy L. Sayers in her The Mind of the Maker and GKC in his The Everlasting Man, has done important work in the "science of story writing." And these two words are fundamental to the Christian character of "story" as it now exists in this Anno Domini.

As time permits, I will explore these terms further. But for now, I will begin by reprinting Tolkien's poetic rebuttal to a gentleman who considered fairy-tales to be "breathing a lie through silver"....

"Dear Sir," I said - "Although now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not de-throned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned:
Man, Subcreator, the refracted Light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons - 'twas our right
(used or misused). That right has not decayed:
we make still by the law in which we're made."

The thesis amounts to this: We are made in the image of One Who makes, and therefore also make, according to our place in the universe. (Now it is true that husband and wife do this in the most perfect fashion, but that is one of the secrets everyone knows....) It is in literature - and only relatively recent literature at that - that this fact has begun to be noticed, and appreciated. Perhaps this is why Christmas stories are so popular...

A Topic For a Debate

With the recent delights of the Chesterton Conference fresh in our memories (well, fresh in mine... er, well, slowly melting from mine!) and also the 104th anniverary of Gilbert and Frances just passed, I think it may be a good thing to broach a nice debatable topic. I am not the orignal proposer - it has been under discussion for some time. But it may be fun to bring it up here and see what thoughts people have.

(Hmm. Note to me: another time I have to post something about the real anture of debates and arguments, which may help a lot of the silliness out here in the e-cosmos...)

The topic: the cause for sainthood for both Gilbert AND Frances Chesterton.

I could give a number of items in favour of GKC - and yes, I am told that the topic has already been brought to the attention of the relevant bishop, at least in GKC's case. (Moreover, there is also a cause started for Bishop Sheen, and from my casual glance, GKC's work plays a significant part in Sheen's writing...) But as I ponder this more and more, I think it quite in keeping with some ideas of John Paul II about examples of holy marriages...

Anyhow, this is a "audience perspiration" number (as the Beach Boys once phrased it!) So think a while, then grab the mouse, click on the comments button, and type something about your thoughts...

More on the Heretics Conference

It would he hard for me to give good commentaries on the talks which I attended, as I did not take notes (a habit I acquired during my doctoral work) and I have not trained myself in "Kim's Game" or its aural equivalent. (Kim's Game is a memory training technique appearing in Kipling's Kim.) The "tape-recording memory" (if the term be allowed; the aural parallel to the visual "photographic memory") is hinted as having been part of the training of the Jewish scholars and priests in ancient days, and credited with St. John's preservation of the "priestly prayer" of Jesus at the Last Supper. And mystery story lovers will recall that it is one of the skills of Rex Stout's amazing "Archie Goodwin" in the Nero Wolfe stories. Anyhow, I cannot do that - especially at the Chesterton Conference, where I spend much of my time laughing. Thank God there is a tape recorder, and one can get the tapes as I mentioned elsewhere (there is a button for the American Chesterton Society - ask them!)

As usual, I also like to hang out with some of my friends. Greg, who usually handles the refreshments, and also sells used books, and his children; Mark, who has a large used-book selection, and brings his children, cousins, and friends; other local Chestertonians like Sue and Mary; Patty from Real View Books (who do Fr. Jaki's books); and many others, including the Ahlquists. It was sheer delight to meet the youngest Ahlquist: Gabriel Benedict, attending his first Chesterton Conference (though I did not see him at many lectures!)

One of the topics which comes up in discussion is whether any of the talks will be available in a book form. The ACS released the talks from 2000 under the title The Gift of Wonder and I have heard that various speakers have published their talks in academic journals. But there have not been any collections since 2000. Part of the difficulty, of course, is the cost of printing. Another complexity is the time required to edit the talks - not everyone is an academic, and not everyone uses footnotes - GKC himself included! but it is part of good style to have these things annotated properly, and does increase the value for academics. Then there is the question of demand... Now the typical academic conference may require its speakers to submit a version of the talk for publication (which may or may not be the same as the talk given!) but as you ought to have guessed by now, this is definitely NOT an academic conference, nor are the speakers necessarily academics. So the question of publishing a "proceedings" or volume of talks is, for the moment, deferred. Unless there would be a demand, or some resolution to the editing/printing complications is achieved.

But the talks - whether in audio form, or in what Dale calls the "tactile" or printed form, hich is quite acceptable, though lacks the laughter and crowd noises! - can only go so far. There is just so much more to it. Certainly there are events of singular value: meeting Fr. Jaki in person; hearing Mark Shea chuckle at his own jokes; the Lepanto recitation; - or in another year, the Chesterton-Shaw debate! These do not translate well to the tactile form. Nor does the Petta wine. The late night talks about anything and everything. Hurrying to morning Mass in the chapel at the other end of the campus. The Mass on Saturday afternoon (anticipating the Sunday following), often with a Chestertonian priest (this year there were four concelebrants, including Fr. Schall and Fr. Jaki!) together with so many Chestertonians... No, they are NOT anticipating a canonization Mass! However that is something I need to discuss in a future posting.

And of course, best of all, sitting with other Chestertonians in the dining hall, eating - well, it doesn't matter what we are eating, but what we are drinking tastes of the "good wine" ... the good wine which He is keeping for us, to be poured in its fullness in the Inn at the End of the World. It is a foretaste and a promise, of the time when we will be together and have unbounded time to talk, heart to heart, mind to mind, soul to soul.