Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Joining the Universe in the Middle

Scene: the kitchen table, interior, night. Some kids are sitting around the table playing "dungeons and dragons". A younger boy named Elliot comes up and stands anxiously by the table.

Elliot: Hey, guys, can I play now? You said I could play.

Big kid: No way - you can't just join a universe in the middle.

[From "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial"]

Well, of course you can join a universe in the middle. We all do, on the day we're born:
The best way that a man could test his readiness to encounter the common variety of mankind would be to climb down a chimney into any house at random, and get on as well as possible with the people inside. And that is essentially what each one of us did on the day that he was born.
[GKC, Heretics CW1:142]
And, speaking of being born, that may be the solution to a rather unfortunate problem I have heard about recently.

The problem is: certain people find Chesterton's The Everlasting Man difficult to read. They pick it up and open it and try to read it, and they get lost.

Here is the solution:
Begin with the chapter called "The God in the Cave". I strongly suggest that you (1) dim any unnecessary lights, and light a candle or two if you have them; also (2) have a beverage handy. Chesterton would not approve of hot chocolate, but you may; he'd go for some wine, as long as it was "country wine" and not some esoteric varietal. But of course the beverage is not necessary.

But if you have had problems, please do try starting with this chapter. It is the Christmas Story, told in a completely different manner. Not modern-different, not scholar-different, not antiChrist-different. It's as if you went into your attic and found a box you had never seen before, full of old ornaments which looked strangely familiar, and reminded you of your childhood, and people whom you have not seen for a long time... and there they are... It's everything you already know, but told as if you were hearing it for the first time.

Note: If you HAVE tried this and find that chapter difficult, please call our 800 number (it should be scrolling across the top of your screen) and let us know. Your copy may be defective. We'll rush our special GKC-service trucks to your home, crammed full of all kinds of good things to eat and drink... they've never failed yet. Call today!

The fine print: This approach to reading Chesterton's The Everlasting Man has been approved by the President of the American Chesterton Society. If you do not have a copy, click here for more information.

(This message does not appear in fine print due to technical limits beyond our control. Yes, yes - I know I said it was fine print, but that's what it is, not how it's printed. Oy.)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Trillions of Planets Are Simply A Waste

The Trillions of Planets Are Simply a Waste
"Now that I think of it, Chesterton probably would not have penned a discursive rebuttal. Instead he would have written a rollicking satirical verse..."
John Peterson, The Midwest Chesterton News, May 1997

The scientist bows down before the scope,
While stars above are processed by its chips.
For universal truth he once did hope
Yet a greater lure his mind now grips,
Applying for a grant this thought he skips:
Ought he apply more wisdom and less haste?
But Darwin's dogma mumbles from his lips...
"And the trillions of planets are simply a waste."

For federal grants his publications grope
And lecture tours and media tech-news blips,
Like self-spun physics from an anchor-dope
While cosmic comic graphics past him zips;
Then he gives some caring, moral tips,
Keeping truth well-hidden, work untraced –
"Science speaks, the dogmatist just yips,
And the trillions of planets are simply a waste."

While human life rolls down the cold smooth slope
Retinas are seen but grass just slips,
Authority in all authors but the Pope,
And primitives built saucer landing strips,
But never could make trans-Atlantic trips.
Yet once a town on earth with light was graced,
While angels sang the end of God's eclipse...
"And the trillions of planets are simply a waste."

Oh human aliens, please beam off your ships!
Drink some wine while Christmas turkeys baste
The home fire glows while outside winter whips...
And the trillions of planets are simply a waste.

[Made April 25, 1997; printed elsewhere; used cum auctore auctoritas.]

Another View of My Favourite Quote

Not too long ago I posted my favourite Chesterton quote, from his stupendous The Everlasting Man. The quote refers to the moment which is the pivot of all history, and the strange news of a God who dwelt with us.

There are some works of historical fiction - books like Ben Hur and Dear and Glorious Physician - which are set in that time period, and I wonder why there aren't more which explore this era from the Roman side.

(I'd be interested in any recommendations if you have any, or perhaps you're working on a new story? Let me know.)

Anyhow, recently I found the following excerpt which hints at this most dramatic revelation. Coming as it does from a writer who is both a theologian and a nuclear physicist, but who works as a historian of science, it may give a variant view of the same picture.
--Dr. Thursday

All systems, indeed all fixed ideas, are so many witnesses to this natural urge in man. In the middle of the second century B. C. the Roman playwright, Terence, could still think that his dictum, homo sum; humani nil alienum puto, [I am man (human) - human [things] I reckon not as alien.] could raise no questions about the completeness of humanism. There must have been a great appeal to the view that man as a microcosmos was a condensation of the macrocosmos and therefore human nature comprised everything and was wholly sufficient to itself.

When about that time the Romans first made an official contact with a small and strange people off the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean, they did not suspect how differently that people, or at least some of them, kept thinking of nature, including human nature. It must have appeared enormously strange that the Maccabees refused to fight at the end of the week as they counted it. But even stranger had to appear their reason for doing so. The reason was an experience which by then the Jews had shared for over a millennium, an experience utterly transcendental to all humanism. They were convinced that they, or rather their forefathers, had been exposed to something really supernatural. It burst the framework of what is merely human and natural.

This experience, which kept the Jews in its grip, received an even more powerful manifestation in those whom the Romans first took for a Jewish sect. At the time they were still Jews in great numbers, but the other Jews had already disavowed them in no uncertain terms. What could not be ignored, either by the Jews or by the Romans, was that members of that sect, whose supreme allegiance was to a Jew, Jesus the Christ, displayed even more concretely and persuasively the grip of the supernatural. By the time of Decius the Roman Empire itself felt threatened by the growth of the Christian Church, and within another two generations the Empire capitulated, without knowing what that outcome was really about.

But almost exactly at that point, at the Council of Nicaea, the Church itself was forced, by an internal dissension within it, to take stock of what that supernatural was ultimately about. It meant nothing less than that the heavenly Father effected a most spectacular entry of the supernatural into the natural by sending His only Son in the form of man among men in the fullness of time. However human, the Son remained what He always was, consubstantial with the Father, having joined a human nature to a divine nature in one single divine person.

The dogma defined at Nicaea was therefore, among other things, also a thorough corrective to the humanist perspective as capsulized in Terence's dictum. There was now on hand a human experience that demanded a rewriting of that dictum. In order to do justice to the completeness of his experience man henceforth had to say: homo sum; humani divinique nil alienum puto. [I am man (human); human and divine [things] I reckon not as alien.]

[S. L. Jaki, A Mind's Matter: an intellectual autobiography viii-ix]

Monday, May 29, 2006

GKC's birthday

Today we say
Happy Birthday
to our dear Uncle Gilbert!

To help you celebrate, here are two excerpts of GKC on the topic.

--Dr. Thursday

Bowing down in blind credulity, as is my custom, before mere authority and the tradition of the elders, superstitiously swallowing a story I could not test at the time by experiment or private judgment, I am firmly of opinion that I was born on the 29th of May, 1874, on Campden Hill, Kensington; and 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.
Nevertheless, the great Waterworks Tower was destined to play its part in my life, as I shall narrate on a subsequent page; but that story is connected with my own experiences, whereas my birth (as I have said) is an incident which I accept, like some poor ignorant peasant, only because it has been handed down to me by oral tradition. And before we come to any of my own experiences, it will be well to devote this brief chapter to a few of the other facts of my family and environment which I hold equally precariously on mere hearsay evidence. Of course what many call hearsay evidence, or what I call human evidence, might be questioned in theory, as in the Baconian controversy or a good deal of the Higher Criticism. The story of my birth might be untrue. I might be the long-lost heir of The Holy Roman Empire, or an infant left by ruffians from Limehouse on a door-step in Kensington, to develop in later life a hideous criminal heredity. Some of the sceptical methods applied to the world's origin might be applied to my origin, and a grave and earnest enquirer come to the conclusion that I was never born at all. But I prefer to believe that common sense is something that my readers and I have in common; and that they will have patience with a dull summary of the facts.

[GKC, Autobiography CW16:21]

When people asked Bernard Shaw to attend the Stratford Tercentenary, he wrote back with I characteristic contempt: "I do not keep my own birthday, and I cannot see why I should keep Shakespeare's." I think that if Mr. Shaw had always kept his own birthday he would be better able to understand Shakespeare's birthday - and Shakespeare's poetry. ... Shaw should not talk about the fairy tales; for he does not feel them from the inside. As I have said, on all this side of historic and domestic traditions Bernard Shaw is weak and deficient. He does not approach them as fairy tales, as if he were four, but as "folklore" as if he were forty. And he makes a big mistake about them which he would never have made if he had kept his birthday and hung up his stocking, and generally kept alive inside him the firelight of a home. ... A man should be always tied to his mother's apron-strings; he should always have a hold on his childhood, and be ready at intervals to start anew from a childish standpoint. Theologically the thing is best expressed by saying "You must be born again." Secularly it is best expressed by saying "You must keep your birthday." Even if you will not be born again, at least remind yourself occasionally that you were born once.

[GKC, George Bernard Shaw CW11:440]

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Monday - GKC is 132

Just a reminder to all the nieces and nephews of our Aunt Frances and Uncle Gilbert:

Monday May 29 is G. K. Chesterton's 132nd birthday.

Please be sure you have enough bacon and beer in case you... I mean - er - any visitors stop in and they are hungry or thirsty.

Just to help you prepare I have posted a really great essay, chock full of all the typical Chesterton things. (Actually this was instigated by Nancy over at Flying Stars who was talking about words and their meaning. If I had some time I would jump in on this topic, which is lots of fun, being a computer scientist, and a Chestertonian... But even though it's the weekend, I have a lot to do today. Perhaps I will have some more for you on Monday.

Chesterton about language

An absolutely hilarious, interesting, serious essay by our Uncle Gilbert, posted because Nancy at Flying Stars has brought up some questions about language and grammar.

--Dr. Thursday

Our Note-Book by G. K. Chesterton
from the Illustrated London News for April 8, 1911 CW29:65-70

I love Americans, but I shall never understand them: sometimes I think they are too old-fashioned to be understood. But I know at least enough about their wild virtues, vices, and ignorances to know that it is not quite safe to believe everything that is written in an American interview, even when it is an interview with an American. A great many years ago, I remember being interviewed by a very attractive American. With the loyal simplicity of his people, he sent me the exact text of my remarks before he published them, and asked me to correct them. It was just like asking me to correct a translation of my complete works into Chinese. He had apparently reported my opinions quite fairly, but he had made me talk in a particular manner, for which my family would have locked me up. Suppose I said, for instance, "The greatest artist, in the strict sense of art, that America ever produced was Nathaniel Hawthorne," it came out in the American interview something like this: "For sweet, clean, bright-eyed, man-elevating Art, Hawthorne is your smartest man." Suppose I said, "The most sincere and original force in American literature was Walt Whitman, " it came out in the American paper in this sort of way: "See here, Walt Whitman was your one real red-blooded man, and don't you forget it." It did not very much matter. No one who knows me, no one who knows England, can suppose for a moment that I talk like that. He might as well suppose that I talk Yiddish or Pigeon English. But that is just the amusing thing. If a Chinaman translated me into Pigeon English he would know it was a translation. If a Jew translated me into Yiddish he would know it was Yiddish. But this American seemed honestly unaware that he was changing what I said at all. He actually knew so little of the English language that he thought it was the same as the
American language.

At the outset, I allow for this in criticising any interview by, with, or from an American. I allow for the fact that the subject of the interview may be talking this mysterious tongue; I also allow for the fact that the interviewer may be turning it into a confusion of tongues. But when all these allowances have been made, I do really think that the interview with the celebrated Mr. Edison in Nash's Magazine is a perfect prodigy of the preposterous. As the thing is stated in this interview, the scientist reveals the total collapse of his own science. The essence of science is precision. It may or may not be true that three feet make a yard. It is a point that I have never found it necessary to examine. But I have no doubt that if they do not, the surveying of land will become a very false and fantastic experiment. Now Mr. Edison (in this interview) obviously has not even the faintest notion of what exactitude means. Suppose I say I have measured a tree from the root to the topmost twig just outside my door, and it comes to just 30 feet. Then you might (possibly) believe me. Suppose I then said, "A tree which will shortly grow about two miles from St. Petersburg will also grow to the exact height of 30 feet," you would conclude that I was either an inspired prophet, in the second case, or an extraordinarily reckless witness, in the first. Yet this is exactly what Mr. Edison does. He will use such a number as "30" about things that he does understand and which I do not in the least understand; and if he says that he can provide a sheet of nickel 30 feet long or 30,000 feet long, I am quite willing to believe him, for he speaks with authority. But a little further on I find him saying, "All furniture will soon be made of steel. The steel required for a given piece of furniture costs only one-fifth as much as the wood would cost for the same piece of furniture... The babies of the next generation will sit in steel high chairs and eat from steel tables. They
will not know what wooden furniture is."

All this fanaticism is so remote from real life that, when I first read it, I was not even quite sure what "eat from steel tables" meant. For a moment I fancied that the exact mind of Mr. Edison had really discovered that one could eat a steel table. This is improbable; but it is not really more improbable that one should admire a steel table. Mr. Edison, as I understood him, went on to argue that one should pass from brick to steel in building because it was cheaper, and to pass from steel to concrete because it is cheaper still. It did not seem to occur to him, as it has occurred to the philosophers from the beginning of the world, that it is cheaper still not to build at all. If you can do without the house you want, do without it. Live in a tent, or workhouse, or a social settlement. But if you want a wooden house, there is no conceivable argument in the whole range of human thought to induce you to accept a steel one. If Mr. Edison merely says, "Why have wooden chairs when steel ones are cheaper?" the very simple answer is, that clear-headed people look at what they are buying, as well as what they are paying for it. You might just as well say, "Why have wooden violins when you can have tin whistles so much cheaper?" I know no reply calculated to penetrate an exact mind like Mr. Edison's, except the reply that some people want violins.

All that, however, is not what I originally wished to point out about this Edisonian philosophy. I wish to point out that this scientific precision, even when it is right, is utterly invalidated by the fact that it is also used when it is clearly wrong. Men like Mr. Edison are not exact. They have no sense of accuracy. He will, as I have said, claim to make a sheet of nickel thirty feet long. I have no doubt he is right. But a few paragraphs further on I find him saying, with exactly the same arithmetical certainty: "Within thirty years all construction will be of reinforced concrete, from the finest mansions to the tallest office buildings. " Within thirty years! Might not our inexact minds even ask for thirty-one years, or for thirty-one and a half years? All construction! The next temple in China will be built of reinforced concrete. The next mud cabin in Ireland will be built of reinforced concrete. No cathedral will remain, no country house will continue, that is not made of concrete instead of stone, and lined (I suppose) with steel instead of oak. Now, when a man uses the simple arithmetical term "30" with this profligate degree of nonsense, I merely begin to doubt his original statement about the 30 or 300 feet of nickel. That is the only effect he has had on my mind; I perceive him to be vitally incapable of exact thought. For let it be remembered that it is only in scientific truth that Mr. Edison fails. In a sort of hazy romantic instinct he may be more or less right. If he had simply said that steel being cheaper than wood would make a good many people buy more steel, he would be sensible enough. It is when he suggests that the oak panels in an English college or country house must become steel, that he obviously has no notion of the meaning of words. If he had said that within the next century or so we shall probably see a great use of concrete, he would have been talking like a sensible man. When he prefers to say that within thirty years everyone will build with concrete, he talks like a maniac out of Hanwell; and his exactitude is strictly the exactitude of the maniac. Mr. Edison is an eminent electrician: I know no more about electricity than he knows about history and literature. The only difference is that I know what I don't know. But when he tries to be exact about anything else except electricity, he talks such raving nonsense that I am almost inclined to think that a training in history and literature may be the broader of the two. Mr. Edison further prophesies that poverty will also disappear within a quite specified number of years. I doubt this love of arithmetic which is so obviously a love of false arithmetic. When people speak so wildly of the things I do know, I have some doubt of their precision about the things that I don't know. But, then, again, I have some doubt about the interview and the interviewer.

It is by no means impossible, if men of science go on talking like this, that a popular reaction may set in some day against the sober and solid things that they have really established. I do not doubt that the ears of the African elephant are larger than those of the Indian elephant, as the naturalist has always told me. But if the naturalist begins to tell me that his own great-grandchild will have ears a yard long, or that his great-grandnephew will certainly have no ears at all - then I begin to think that he is a very poor aurist, as the doctors say. It is he that has, on this occasion, the long ears: it is I that have no ears at all. I had ears and heard when he was precise about something I could not know: but I begin to doubt it when he is equally precise about something that nobody can know. Scientists must not risk their past victories with these vain and visionary raids into the future. I believe that the earth goes round the sun; but I shall not believe it if Mr. Edison positively affirms that steel and concrete will very soon go round the earth. If you deny what men do know in the light of what they don't, they will simply resist science altogether; and the really great work of the nineteenth century will be lost for centuries.

PS: If you want to know more, technical and philosophical implications of the highly important topic of words and precision and meaning can be found in Fr. Jaki's Numbers Decide and Means to Message.
--Dr. Thursday.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Fun with Latin at Work and Home

Visitors to our company are usually surprised by the size of our offices. Also by things like the "Chart of Metabolic Processes" which hangs by my desk, and the Latin Dictionary and the anatomy books and the Chesterton books on the shelf. We explain that about seven years ago we started using "thirteenth century metaphysics" and "subsidiarity" in order to get things done, and they put this off as jargon for the latest tech fad - but then they see our monitors with the Latin slogans in the corner... One customer doesn't quite believe any of this is real, but I am told they are pleased with the results, so they just shrug and put some more sugar in their coffee.

Anyway, yesterday my boss came up with a new witty slogan for me to translate into Latin to put into our main monitoring software (yes, we use Latin at our high-tech company - don't you?) - so when I got home last night I got out the very handy 501 Latin Verbs to check an ending (I'm a computer scientist, after all, et paucos verbos Latinorum teneo... but I do what I can with some good books!) Anyway, as is usually the case with most books, I sat for a while and looked through it, marvelling at all the thousands of things I was not looking for (as GKC says about encyclopedias in The Common Man 240). And I had to laugh at some of the first-person singular present active indicatives, certain of which I had seen before, but in English. Some are quite funny, so I am posting them here for your amusement.

ago - I do
audio - I hear
condo - I establish
demo - I take away
disco - I learn
do - I give
fido - I trust
for - I talk
gusto - I taste
intro - I enter
labor - I slip, glide
lego - I choose, read
loco - I place
minor - I threaten
no - I swim
oleo - I smell
radio - I furnish with spokes
repo - I creep
sector - I keep following
sum - I am
sumo - I take up
video - I see
volvo - I roll

This smells like a poem, so I might try that after I finish upgrading our software with the new slogan. (If you want to know it, however, you'll probably have to schedule a visit our company... hee hee)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

31,536,000 seconds (or once around the Sun)

Our Uncle Gilbert once wrote, "If there was a dragon, he had a grandmother." [GKC, Tremendous Trifles 82] I mention this because it was part of his argument against an unfortunate man who did not believe in fairy tales. For I want to tell you a fairy tale.

Once there was a rather silly man, a wizard, who was quite fat and liked to read. He played with computers and sometimes was paid for doing so. He drank beer (and coffee, and wine, not at the same time, you understand) and ate bread or cheese or meat (sometimes hot wings! oh boy), and prayed, and did Catholic things. Sometimes he wrote poems or stories or essays. But he did not get paid for that, though his friends were happy when there was something good to read.

One day he was reading a magazine - no, it was NOT a wizard magazine! - it had some complicated electromagnetic title like "Gilbert!" which he rendered into English as "ten over four pi ampere-turns factorial." In it he saw a cartoon he liked a lot. This led to a place called SmallPax. And it led to another place called Flying Stars.

And there were new friends, but he called them e-friends because he had never met any of these people before. And because when Chesterton invited the world to a Christmas party, he sent the invitation to "Cosmos E" which must have been a misprint for "E-cosmos". (Yes he did. I can show where it says. Academics call that attribution; that's a vocabulary word, write it down.)

So the silly fat wizard decided he would join the e-cosmos as well. But, because he had read a book on medieval metallurgy, he decided to pray first, so as to invoke the assistance of God, and reject the demons...

After praying, he got out his great books of lore and SEARCHed for the ritual which would open the PORT to the e-cosmos. He spoke with the Child-Like Empress, to whom he gave yet another name. He went through the Looking Glass with the young lady whose name is TRUTH in Greek. He spoke to Dumbledore at Hogwarts, and Gandalf in the Farthest West, and Merlin in the castle of Uther Pendragon. He wrote complex ciphers to Sherlock Holmes, to Gabriel Gale and Gabriel Syme, to Father J. Brown, to Lord Peter Wimsey and Dr. Fell and Nero Wolfe (whose reply was the single word "pfui!") Alas, none of these lore-masters were able to help.

So he went to his other books of lore, beginning with Knuth, and consulted the mysterious symbols of automata and algorithms... Finally, after lengthy study, he incanted many packets in the form known to lore-masters as "UDP". In the past, he had marked these packets with the Ignatian symbol AmDg to verify their correctness, and sent them out through interstellar space out into the Field and back again to Home, and so had governed the work of hundreds of machines as they performed their work hour by hour, day by day... but alas, these packets had no power to open the PORT.

And so, after whole seconds and even minutes of experimentation, he found that none of his magical spells had the power - despite the fact that he had the right to the ancient Roman title "Doctor" and the wearing of the robe-with-the-triple-stripes, conferred with all the authority of the school-which-must-not-be-named (for they can pay for advertising if they want it.) He pounded upon the keys with his wand, using all the words of power he had learned in the schools of the West. (West of the Atlantic, that is.) Yes, and I am sorry to say, many of the words were 32 bits long, which the vulgar call "four letter words".

Finally, in desperation, he picked up the strange little rodent which had long rested patiently near his keys. Standing within one of the gateways which had already been opened by his e-friends, he chanted the trivial spell known to even non-magicians as "Double Click"... (All know, of course, it is when and where one uses this spell which is the key to its power!)

And behold, the PORT opened.

Quickly, while this Window to the e-cosmos was open, he gave it a name, seeking to honor both a great author and his dear wife, while deftly acknowledging the power of the PORT itself in the proper punning method used by all such wizards... He locked it with a mystic word that can only be pronounced by wizards who have learned the ancient tongue known to initiates as Ahskey, and bound it to his service - but in the moment of its formation, the PORT was known to others throughout the e-cosmos, and from then onwards, it began its work of joining others to the wizard, just as the wizard had joined others by their own PORTs.

Now (as he glances at his watch) the wizard has travelled over half a billion miles on his wobbly perch, busy with - er - wizardly things, like work, sleep, prayer, beer, books, laughing, and other matters of importance. But with the little rodent which sleeps by his keys, he maintained the power over his own PORT to the e-cosmos, having converse and hobnob with others who are - uh - out there too.

This posting, then, marks the point in time when our terrestial globe has returned to the same stellar arrangement as existed when the wizard opened the port for the first time, 05/25/05...

And the wizard has been grateful for such a delightful toy, or tool, which the PORT has given him, and the many friends he has come to know around the e-cosmos by use of this PORT, which other call a "blog" but he calls a "blogg" because of the pun I mentioned earlier.

And since, as GKC said, "I have often thanked God for the telephone" - and God knows he often thanked God for his Blogg - THEREFORE, I should also say, I thank God for this blogg. And for my friends of the E-cosmos.

Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro.
Dignum et justum est.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Jaki on "Jaki on Chesterton"

Jaki's Chesterton a Seer of Science is a cardinal book for learning more about GKC and about the idea of a university as Newman puts it - and for discovering that Chesterton is catholic as well as Catholic.

--Dr. Thursday
In my book on Chesterton I dealt strictly with the richness of his reflections on science, which would have done credit to any accomplished philosopher and historian of science. The chapters of that book came from lectures delivered at the University of Notre Dame, to the dismay of some professors there who found it intolerable that so many "conservatives" came to hear me. Liberals once more displayed their illiberality as well as their shallowness of mind, which resorts to easy categorizations instead of serious appraisals of the matter on hand. One of those professors dismissed Chesterton as a "mere journalist." He did not take note when I personally called his attention to Gilson's testimony about Chesterton's greatness as a philosopher.

Chesterton was also a Catholic who never tried to conceal that he was a Catholic. He knew that concealment in that respect is its most counterproductive form. For it is an ageless truth that man is a religious being and those prove this best who use philosophy to show that they are not. Man is a being who lives by religion whether he admits this or not. By trying to live without religion man can all too readily succeed in turning into an animal, a fact which philosophers have the primary duty to consider, unless they care only for their own ideas. Increasingly they do not care for matters that weigh most heavily on men's minds.

[Jaki, A Mind's Matter: an intellectual autobiography 197-8]

Attention! the Great Novena is about to begin!

Tomorrow, Thursday May 25, is the feast of the Ascension - which means the next day begins the Great Novena to the Holy Spirit. The nine days of prayer, first kept by the Apostles as explicitly commanded by Jesus Himself, are still being performed by Christians almost 2 millennia later.

As you may recall, we have had a number of novenas here, and made special note of the Great O Antiphons, and other times and seasons. But now, for the first time on this blogg, we are celebrating this very special and holy nine days!

Please join me and others all around the world in nine days of special prayer, in particular that Holy Spirit will strengthen His seven powerful Gifts within us.

I don't have a link to recommend - there are a number of forms, traditional, formal, and also personal, which you can use. But most importantly, we ought to beg God for His help: "Sin is the result of ignorance, weakness, and indifference. The Holy Spirit is the source of LIGHT, of STRENGTH and of LOVE. We ought to invoke Him daily..."

Monday, May 22, 2006

An impossible thankgiving

Today is the feast of St. Rita, and my parents' 52nd wedding anniversary - no doubt they are celebrating with St. Rita as we speak!

So I will post something to express impossible thanksgiving - which means I will post from the ancient archives of our Uncle Gilbert Chesterton, commonly known as Collected Works volume 14....
--Dr. Thursday

One thing only could Marjory recognise of the poet she had known. He misbehaved himself like a schoolboy; he cut capers like an acrobat, he talked nonsense like a clown, but through all, while his limbs were going like a jumpingjack, his blue eyes had the same unfathomable solemnity. They were stiller than of old: the look of strife had gone out of them, and there was nothing but a look of unutterably grave surprise, which she had seen somewhere else, though it was graver than any poet or scientist she had ever seen. Had she remembered it, it was the look in the eyes of children at about two years old. She might then perhaps have understood that this man had gained the child's secret: he enjoyed everything because he took
everything seriously.

"You'll hardly believe it," he said, slapping the table, as they sat at tea, "but it's five weeks since I've had a game at Hunt-the-Slipper."

"I shall believe with comparatively little effort," said Norman, "in my case it is about fifteen years."

"Then let's have one after tea," said Petersen, beaming and addressing Willis Hope, who nearly fell off his chair.

"Better have Oranges and Lemons," said Muriel Hope, taking the matter as a joke.

"Pardon me," said Petersen, turning upon her, "I do not think the comparison can be maintained. Oranges and Lemons is ceremonial in its nature: it does not give the many-coloured excitement: the comedy of personalities, the thrilling stratagems, the unexpected escapes of Hunt-the-Slipper. A still stronger case, of course, is to be
found in Hide and Seek, a pure game of adventure, in which every hiding-place is a poem, a legend of the old Earth who is always the ally of the crafty, and whose never-ending fairy-tale, of Ulysses and Brer Rabbit, gains a new page with every game."

There was a silence. Petersen imagined himself surrounded with a ring of the offended adherents of Oranges and Lemons. Addressing himself to Willis Hope, apparently the chief priest of the pastime, he added:

"Do not mistake me. I have no desire to underrate the noble ritual of Oranges and Lemons, a pageant as beautiful as its orchard name. Those really do it harm who seek unwisely to force upon it a comparison that it will not bear. Hunt-the-Slipper is essentially dramatic."

"I think a clergyman might be better employed," said Marion, acidly.

"Miss Dent," said Petersen, turning upon her with a flush, "it was probably the rules of Hunt-the-Slipper that the child taught the wise men in the Temple."

Marion was speechless.

Marjory was watching him keenly: she had just had a gleam of hope. His eyes were slowly filling with the pale blue fire she knew well: it was so he used to look when she read him a poem, or when the sunset grew red and gold over the wooded hill. At such moments he would say something which she couldn't understand.

At length the words came, with a kind of timid radiance.

"May I have jam?"

"Certainly," she said, raising her eyebrows wearily.

He only smiled ravenously, but she felt sure that if any earthly chair had been high enough he would have kicked his legs. There was another silence.

"Some fellows like butter and jam," said the religious enthusiast of the morning's conversation. "I think that's beastly."

"The main benefit of existence," said Marjory bitterly, "seems to be eating."

"Hardly the main benefit surely," said Petersen calmly, "though I agree with you that it is a neglected branch of the poetry of daily life. The song of birds, the sight of stars, the scent of flowers, all these weak. admit are a divine revelation, why not the taste of jam?"

"Not very poetical to my fancy," said Marjory, scornfully.

"It is uncultivated," said Petersen, "but a time may come when it will be elaborated into an art as rich and varied as music or painting. People will say, 'There is an undercurrent of pathos in this gravy, despite its frivolity,' or 'Have you tasted that passionate rebellious pudding? Ethically I think it's dangerous.' After all, eating has a grander basis than the arts of the others senses, for it is absolutely necessary to existence: it is the bricks and mortar of the Temple of the Spirit."

And he took a large bite out of the bread and jam.

[GKC CW14:785-7]

Friday, May 19, 2006

An Important Announcement

Since I have noticed that the web page for Real View Books has recently been updated, I am now able to post something important about a forthcoming book.

As you may have read here, from time to time I quote from the works of Father Stanley L. Jaki (most of which are available from Real View Books). These rank as some of the most important publications of recent time, primarily because they deal with both science and religion - and other than our Uncle Gilbert Chesterton, there really aren't very many people who write that way. The chief example is Jaki's book on Chesterton: it contains only four chapters, but quotes from perhaps four dozen books by Chesterton and another dozen of books about Chesterton. But that's just the beginning.

Jaki's books include wide-scope ones such as The Relevance of Physics; narrow ones such as The Paradox of Olbers' Paradox (just why is the sky dark at night?) and collections of essays, all meticulously referenced and detailed. Then there are the trio of books concerning the great French thermodynamicist, hiker, artist, Catholic, and historian of science - Pierre Duhem. As time permits, I will address these works in future postings.

But Father Jaki also has some very good books on more specifically religious topics, some of which are even more surprising than his works on science. For example, there are two rather small books which treat the topic of the Papacy under two specific symbols: the Rock and the Key... then there are even smaller books which review the mysteries of the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, and the litanies of St. Joseph and Mary (Loreto).

And this brings me to the announcement: Fr. Jaki's new book treating the Litany of the Sacred Heart is about to appear!

Why is this important?

Because it is perhaps the very best way in which we can try to become more practical in implementing Pope Benedict's Deus Caritas Est!

Clearly we need to have a better understanding of our fellow human neighbors (hence our GKC on "Man is" postings!) but we also need to have a better sense of the way in which God is love. And the Sacred Heart is an "icon" of the mystery of God's love - as incarnate in Jesus Christ.

The book is both a miniature history, a contemplation, and a meditation, all in a pocket-sized volume - it is no exaggeration to see this as an important book for our times - if not one of the most important.

So check out the RVB site and be ready... and in order to prepare for this, you may want to get out that litany and try it out yourself. It may surprise you.

To whet your appetite, I have an additional comment from our Uncle Gilbert himself:
We have all heard people say a hundred times over, for they seem never to tire of saying it, that the Jesus of the New Testament is indeed a most merciful and humane lover of humanity, but that the Church has hidden this human character in repellent dogmas and stiffened it with ecclesiastical terrors till it has taken on an inhuman character. This is, I venture to repeat, very nearly the reverse of the truth. The truth is that it is the image of Christ in the churches that is almost entirely mild and merciful. It is the image of Christ in the Gospels that is a good many other things as well. The figure in the Gospels does indeed utter in words of almost heart-breaking beauty his pity for our broken hearts. But they are very far from being the only sort of words that he utters. Nevertheless they are almost the only kind of words that the Church in its popular imagery ever represents him as uttering. That popular imagery is inspired by a perfectly sound popular instinct. The mass of the poor are broken, and the mass of the people are poor, and for the mass of mankind the main thing is to carry the conviction of the incredible compassion of God.
[GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:319]
So keep an eye on their web site... or at least keep an eye on this blogg.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

More of GKC on Man

A beetle may or may not be inferior to a man - the matter awaits demonstration; but if he were inferior by ten thousand fathoms, the fact remains that there is probably a beetle view of things of which a man is entirely ignorant. If he wishes to conceive that point of view, he will scarcely reach it by persistently revelling in the fact that he is not a beetle. The most brilliant exponent of the egoistic school, Nietszche, with deadly and honourable logic, admitted that the philosophy of self-satisfaction led to looking down upon the weak, the cowardly, and the ignorant. Looking down on things may be a delightful experience, only there is nothing, from a mountain to a cabbage, that is really seen when it is seen from a balloon. The philosopher of the ego sees everything, no doubt, from a high and ratified heaven; only he sees everything foreshortened or deformed.
[GKC, The Defendant 101]

A man is almost always wrong when he sets about to prove the unreality and
uselessness of anything: he is almost invariably right when he sets about to prove the reality and value of anything.
[GKC, Thomas Carlyle CW18:32]

Whenever a man says to another, "Prove your case; defend your faith," he is assuming the infallibility of language: that is to say, he is assuming that a man has a word for every reality in earth, or heaven, or hell. He knows that there are in the soul tints more bewildering, more numberless, and more nameless than the colours of an autumn forest; he knows that there are abroad in the world and doing strange and terrible service in it crimes that have never been condemned and virtues that have never been christened. Yet he seriously believes that these things can every one of them, in all their tones and semi-tones, in all their blends and unions, be accurately represented by an arbitrary system of grunts and squeals. He believes that an ordinary civilized stockbroker can really produce out of his own inside noises which denote all the mysteries of memory and all the agonies of desire. Whenever, on the other hand, a man rebels faintly or vaguely against this way of speaking, whenever a man says that he cannot explain what he means, and that he hates argument, that his enemy is misrepresenting him, but he cannot explain how; that man is a true sage, and has seen into the heart of the real nature of language. Whenever a man refuses to be caught by some dilemma about reason and passion, or about reason and faith, or about fate and free-will, he has seen the truth. Whenever a man declines to be cornered as an egotist, or an altruist, or any such modern monster, he has seen the truth. For the truth is that language is not a scientific thing at all, but wholly an artistic thing, a thing invented by hunters, and killers, and such artists long before science was dreamed of. The truth is simply that - that the tongue is not a reliable instrument, like a theodolite or a camera. The tongue is most truly an unruly member, as the wise saint has called it? a thing poetic and dangerous, like music or fire.
[GKC, G. F. Watts 44]

Whence came this extraordinary theory that a man is always speaking most truly when he is speaking most coarsely? The truth about oneself is a very difficult thing to express, and coarse speaking will seldom do it.
[GKC, Robert Browning 199]

...a man is angry at a libel because it is false, but at a satire because it is true.

...a living man is far more dramatic than a dead one.

...the most real part of a man is in his dreams.

Men are very much too ready to speak of men's work being ordinary, when we consider that, properly considered, every man is extraordinary. The average man is a tribal fable, like the Man-Wolf or the Wise Man of the Stoics. In every man's heart there is a revolution; how much more in every poet's? The supreme business of criticism is to discover that part of a man's work which is his and to ignore that part which belongs to others. Why should any critic of poetry spend time and attention on that part of a man's work which is unpoetical? Why should any man be interested in aspects which are uninteresting? The business of a critic is to discover the importance of men and not their crimes. It is true that the Greek word critic carries with it the meaning of a judge, and up to this point of history judges have had to do with the valuation of men's sins, and not with the valuation of their virtues.
[GKC, Varied Types 53, 152, 185, 251-252]

Chesterton the Anthropologist

I beg to submit a comment before today's selection.

It would be easy to fill a small book with all the sentences GKC wrote which begin "Man is...". Some are so powerful and insightful, though perhaps argumentative, that they ought to be studied by anyone who is trying to find out more about this curious human species... Hee hee. (Ahem!) This reminds me of one of the very best opening sentences of any book I have ever read: "The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children's games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up. " [GKC, The Napoleon of Notting Hill CW6:220]

People occasionally wonder how I as a scientist (yes, I can spell DNA, and can even make a computer spell it!) deal with Chesterton the literary guy, the historian-without-dates, the untrained super-philosopher, the lover of things divine and human, the artist, the comic, the mystery-writer (and revealer!) the poet, and so on. And I simply laugh and remind them that Chesterton knew there was really only one subject, and that all subjects must somehow be related to that subject - see the banner at the top of my blogg for more details!

But actually Chesterton dealt with science as well. And there is no more excellent - and succinct - study of Chesterton on Science than the little volume called Chesterton a Seer of Science by S. L. Jaki.

There's a problem, however. Chesterton is often tasty in one-line quips, though one needs to read more if one wishes the full argument. But Jaki's book, being almost in the nature of a review, is so short and chock-full of quotes ... it's hard to isolate a quotable fragment. You see, it's so good, and already condensed, I don't want to break it in chunks then make it longer by explaining...

See what I mean? Look how long this is - and this is just my introduction... Sheesh. So. From time to time, then, I will try to give excerpts from CASOS, but if you are a scientist and want to know more about Chesterton, you ought to read this book.

After all, as Chesterton said, "The rebuilding of this bridge between science and human nature is one of the greatest needs of mankind." [GKC, The Defendant, 75]

Dr. Jaki has given us Chesterton's blueprint. We have the know-how. Now we need to get busy. We need that bridge!

--Dr. Thursday.

The best known and most restrained form of Chesterton's judgement on Darwinism is in his Everlasting Man, one of his great masterworks if not the greatest. Sections of it should long ago have entered anthologies on anthropology and evolutionary theory. Compilers of such books shy away from Chesterton, though he is not a completely unknown entity to them. In fact, in a recent and prestigious textbook on prehistoric anthropology, the chapter on the origins of culture is headed by a Chestertonian parody of the much vaunted transition, also called missing link, from animals to man: "Man is an exception, whatever else he is. If it is not true that a divine being fell, then we can only say that one of the animals went entirely off its head." [GKC ILN Apr 20, 1907 CW27:445, quoted in Wenke, Patterns in Prehistory: Mankind's First Three Million Years, 79]

[Jaki, Chesterton A Seer of Science 56]

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Night Watcher

Night Watcher

She made her choice, she turned the key -
Locked in so that she could be free.
And while the clock past midnight creeps
She watches while the city sleeps.

She sees the truckers on the pikes,
The busses, cars and motorbikes,
She asks for safety on the road,
And please that no one need be towed.

The hospitals she visits next,
Nurses, doctors tired, vexed...
She asks that all not be in vain:
The fear and suffering and pain.

The airplanes go far overhead
(While many people are in bed)
For the cockpits and the tower
Protection begs with all her power.

Police (with sirens) on a chase,
May they win their deadly race,
Their thankless job - so very hard -
"May Michael's sword be their sure guard."

Across the mountain wires run,
Where they bottled up the sun -
Meter watchers check the amps...
"Lord, they light our city's lamps!"

Four floors above the printing press
They just typeset the mayor's address -
The editor's blood-pressure climbs...
(One hour until they print the Times.)

All those at work and those who rest,
She tells of to her waiting Guest:
"They have no time in sweat or sleep,
So for them I will sigh and weep."

She sees the homes, hears quiet streets,
(A candle flame, and her heartbeats).
The mother touching her child's face.
"Have pity on the human race!"

And eastward turns her mind in thought
One third earth's width, to where is wrought
The ultimate in human act
Anointed hands now reenact.

She sees her nothingness so frail
But trusting that her words won't fail.
"May God have mercy, may He hear
My poor prayer." And then a tear.

And in the Hall of Endless Day -
A smile... the tear then wiped away.

[Made March 8, 1993]

[Note: At midnight, it will be 8AM local time "1/3 earth's width" to the east. Daily Mass is often said at 8AM, at least where I live.]

Monday, May 15, 2006

Book with introduction by Jaki to be on TV tonight

According to the TV listings, the "National Geographic" channel will have a special on "Freemasonry" tonight at 9PM (Eastern).

I have it on good authority that one of the reference works to be mentioned is Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism by Augustin Barruel, reprinted by Real View Books.

While any of these items, "Freemasonry" or Barruel or Jacobinism or Real View Books are interesting in themselves, I mention this particularly because this reprint has an introduction by Fr. Stanley L. Jaki, the theologian/nuclear physicist, a prolific writer and expert in the history of science.

See here for more about this book.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

O Generous Queen

O Generous Queen

1. With noble words and praise now let us sing
Her majesty the mother of the King.
To Bethlehem and Calvary she went,
With the Twelve prayed that the Spirit be sent.

Chorus: O Generous Queen, Mary, God's mother,
Show us, poor exiles, Jesus our Brother;
You are the woman who broke Eden's curse,
Our mother the Queen of the Universe.

2. Perfect Reflector to science unknown
Mystical mine of the True Cornerstone
Chosen loom which wove everlasting thread
Still and silent air where the Word was said.

3. You said "I am the handmaid of the Lord"
Though your heart would be pierced by the sword,
"Do whatever He tells you" you did say,
And you were the first to follow His way.

4. Holy Mother of God, to you we fly;
Despise not our prayers when to you we cry;
From all dangers always deliver us,
O Virgin generous and glorious.

Made Jan 3, 1995, revised Jan 5 1995

Frat Man

Yes, I am now a frat man. I have my certificate of membership dated May 13, 2006.

Well, actually I'm a conFRATernity man... that's the Confraternity of the Rosary.

It's interestingly different from the usual college "Greek-letter" organizations - oh, yes, I know about them, having been initiated into one (no, I'm not going to say which) and I even had some - uh - literary involvement - with it as well. But that was long ago, when colleges still had something to do with what Cardinal Newman called "the cultivation of the intellect". (Oy, talk about a forbidden book! One of these days I'll review it.)

You see, the Confraternity to which I now belong is a much older thing, and has a far more profound purpose than such merely human organizations, even the best and most honorable - for it is about God as well as Man.

It's about prayer. And about dedication to prayer. And making a difference for the world by means of prayer.

Pope St. Pius V credited the victory in 1571 over the Turks at Lepanto to the praying of the Rosary - which was in particular the job of the Confraternity of the Rosary. I am not enough of a historian to compare today's situation with that era - but it's fairly clear that there are LOTS of things for us to be concerned about, not just in our families and local areas, but in the world.

So - don't you want to stop worrying and do something about it? And incidentally, there are no dues, no initiation, and very little in the way of duties - except for praying 15 (or 20) mysteries of the Rosary every week - so what are you waiting for?

Here is the link: You can even sign up on-line! That's what I did. You don't even need a code number or secret handshake... Go for it! We need your help!

(Note: the Confraternity is for both men and women; my allusion to college Greek societies was just in the nature of a pun.)

Call Before You Dig

You see it here and there, on posts at the side of the road:
Call before you dig.
Sometimes, as I mentioned so very long ago, now nearing one whole orbit around the sun, we ought to call upon God as we begin a new work, whether it be digging in the ground, or digging in history.

One of the most amazing digs made by humans has been the on-going exploration of the universe by the discipline we call "science". It is strongly linked to this idea of God - a topic rarely touched upon by theologians or by scientists - but well worth the time and energy for our consideration - especially by Chestertonians!

But some great scientists have pondered their own discipline, and the wise among them were able to recognize the possibilities of danger. They could read the sign along the road. For example, Vannevar Bush said:
Much is spoken today about the power of science, and rightly. It is awesome. But little is said about the inherent limitations of science, and both sides of the coin need equal scrutiny.
And the great Maxwell was even more strict:
One of the severest tests of a scientific mind is to discern the limits of the legitimate application of scientific methods. ... there are many things in heaven and earth which, by the selection of our scientific methods, have been excluded from our philosophy.
[Both these quotes are from Jaki's The Purpose of It All, p. 145]

Sometimes, unfortunately, scientists did NOT call before they dug. Sometimes, they didn't even bother looking to see if they were anywhere near the road!

Science can be studied in more than one way. Besides systematic, theoretical investigation, there is the experimental approach. In addition to admiration of the latest results, there is also the fascination of the long series of steps that precedes the crowning achievements. The survey of the road of advance offers, however, more than enthralling intellectual entertainment. The study of the past contains vital lessons as well that can be ignored only at a grave cultural risk. As human culture is increasingly influenced by science it becomes imperative to take a long look at science, at its potentialities and limitations, and last but not least, at the attitudes, qualities and shortcomings of its practitioners.
[Jaki, The Paradox of Olbers' Paradox vii]
What - you never heard of Olbers' Paradox? Here's the short form:

"Why is the sky dark at night?"

Well, Dr. Jaki's book tells the story of what happened when the astronomers refused to call. Or perhaps refused to dig - in their history! They forgot about Olbers.

Not satisfied? Sorry, you'll have to read the book.

The moral of the book is put right at the beginning, in the excerpt I just quoted. But the short version is even simpler: "Call before you dig."

Monday, May 08, 2006

A Picture from Notre Dame - and GKC

Some friends over at the Shrine of the Holy Whapping have made a very interesting and Chestertonian picture which I thought you might like to see. They are also hoping to write a novel about the school - I look forward to reading it, for it has the possibility of being very Chestertonian...

Chesterton lectured at Notre Dame, and went to see one of the - uh - sporting events there. He wrote a poem about it, which is somehow like this picture. It is one of his great works, and deserves study, though it may be just as well to yell it while you're having a cold one... (Hey, what a GOOD idea! Blogging is thirsty work.)

--Dr. Thursday
The Arena
by G. K. Chesterton.
Causa Nostrae Laetitae
Dedicated to the University of Notre Dame, Indiana

There uprose a golden giant
On the gilded house of Nero
Even his far-flung flaming shadow and his image swollen large
Looking down on the dry whirlpool
Of the round Arena Spinning
As a chariot-wheel goes spinning; and the chariots at the charge.

And the molten monstrous visage
Saw the pageants. saw the torments.
Down the golden dust undazzled saw the gladiators go,
Heard the cry in the closed desert,
Te salutant morituri,
As the slaves of doom went stumbling, shuddering, to the shades below.

"Lord of Life, of lyres and laughter,
Those about to die salute thee,
At thy godlike fancy feeding men with bread and beasts with men,
But for us the Fates point deathward
In a thousand thumbs thrust downward,
And the Dog of Hell is roaring through the lions in their den."

I have seen, where a strange country
Opened its secret plains about me,
One great golden dome stand lonely with its golden image, one
Seen afar, in strange fulfillment,
Through the sunlit Indian summer
That Apocalyptic portent that has clothed her with the Sun.

She too looks on the Arena,
Sees the gladiators in grapple,
She whose names are Seven Sorrows and the Cause of All Our Joy,
Sees the pit that stank with slaughter
Scoured to make the courts of morning
For the cheers of jesting kindred and the scampering of a boy.

"Queen of Death and deadly weeping Those about to live salute thee,
Youth untroubled; youth untortured; hateless war and harmless mirth
And the New Lord's larger largesse
Holier bread and happier circus,
Since the Queen of Sevenfold Sorrow has brought joy upon the earth."

Burns above the broad arena
Where the whirling centuries circle,
Burns the Sun-clothed on the summit, golden-sheeted, golden shod,
Like a sun-burst on the mountains,
Like the flames upon the forest
Of the sunbeams of the sword-blades of the Gladiators of God.

And I saw them shock the whirlwind
Of the World of dust and dazzle:
And thrice they stamped, a thunderclap; and thrice the sand-wheel swirled;
And thrice they cried like thunder
On Our Lady of the Victories,
The Mother of the Master of the Masterers of the World.

"Queen of Death and Life undying
Those about to live salute thee;
Not the crawlers with the cattle; looking deathward with the swine,
But the shout upon the mountains
Of the men that live for ever
Who are free of all things living but a Child; and He was thine."

This can be found in CW10:108-9, available from The American Chesterton Society. The footnote to this poem reads: In 1930 Chesterton lectured at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. Two of the things that impressed him were the football games and the golden-domed church of the Blessed Virgin on the campus.

A Hero at Work: the Encoding Monkey

My recent post dealing with the classic "three monkeys aphorism" suggested something to one of this blogg's astute readers, whose comment alludes to two kinds of hard-working primates - encoding monkeys and trunk monkeys.

However, while I am familiar with both types, this allusion may unfortunately leave some other readers outside, looking in.

At present I have no data on any of the trunk monkeys, but the encoding monkey positions came to an abrupt end last year, in a transition I mentioned at that time...

But I do have a snapshot of one of these hard-working encoding monkeys, and just to clarify the discussion, I present it here.

The Encoding Monkey At Work: See Spot. Bad Spot. Bad.

In the above photograph we see our hard-working primate friend in the regulation green shirt, sitting in front of an encoding station at ... uh ... a certain company that no longer exists. His job is to take video tapes (the professional kind) which contain "spots" - that is, the 30-second-long advertising commercials made for television - and encode them. Encoding is the process of converting such spots to a digital form. It is, as I wrote elsewhere,
Encoding has got to be one of the most boring, mind-numbing tasks ever invented ... Two or three or ten slightly different versions of the same inane actors mouthing nonsensical praises of a useless product - or some shady business - or another dozen glorifications of "preowned" vehicles...
Attention had to be paid to ensure that these spots didn't contain something illicit, and certain technical elements of the spot had to be checked: various video and audio levels had to be within acceptable limits, and other things. Once the spot was encoded, I had to send it to the sites needing it - according to Subsidiarity, and that's why I'm working on that book! Ahem. I mean my software sent it out... (If you've ever seen "Tron" you'd understand.) The wrench seen in the foreground was used to pry recalcitrant tapes out from a stubborn VTR; it was NOT used in any monkey tricks.

Actually the monkeys had a lot of fun there, and provided some much-needed humor for the human employees.

(Note: the monkey shown in the above photograph is now employed as a special assistant at a different company. I see him infrequently, but he's happy to be on day shift again.)

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Opening a Window on Lepanto

Chestertonians (and perhaps even some historians) have long known of the famous naval battle called "Lepanto" wherein the forces of the West under the command of Don John of Austria defeated the Turks on October 7, 1571.

Butler's Lives of the Saints states that the Pope at that time, Saint Pius V, had requested the praying of the Rosary, and indeed at the very hour of the battle, the "prayers and processions of the rosary confraternities" were being made. In commemoration of this victory, St. Pius instituted the feast we celebrate annually on October 7 as "Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary".

Butler's also tells the story that the Pope had "opened a window" (do you think he "double-clicked"?) and had a vision of the victory, which GKC sketched in these lines:
The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke,
(Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke.)
The hidden room in a man's house where God sits all the year,
The secret window whence the world looks small and very dear.
He sees as in a mirror on the monstrous twilight sea
The crescent of his cruel ships whose name is mystery...
which is from one of his most famous poems called (what else?) "Lepanto". It is available in an annotated form from The American Chesterton Society. It's a wonderful poem, and in this day and age when such histories are ignored, it is a useful reference.

But I have something even more amazing to tell you about. For that "confraternity" of the Rosary still exists!

In case you are interested, here is the link for more information.

Finally, the analysis of the "three monkeys" joke

Yes, I did hint that there was, somewhere or other, some kind of discussion of the "three monkeys" joke. And it is in this essay by Fr. Thomas. It's not as detailed as I recalled, but it will help.
--Dr. Thursday

Humor and Its Basis in Reason
Father A. Thomas, O.P.

In perusing the recent issue of Archaeology of Aphorism, I came across a letter mentioning the elephant example I considered last week. This letter, written by a scholar named Reynolds from the Northwest United States (I believe the state is one of several called "Dakota") proposed a scheme which might be termed "orthogonal" to that devised by Blücher. It groups the very famous transiting avian with the elephant one, as well as with a host of others, some extremely rare and unusual, including a subgroup which have been known since before Blucher's time as the "Crustacean" category. I had not planned on addressing any of these in the near future, as they have been thoroughly documented in a monograph not presently available to me, and as several of them, even in that monograph, are completely lacking in referents. But rather than leave the reader at a loss in this topic which has appeal only for the academics, I will quote three, just to give a hint of their complexity. The first is the one which has given rise to the name of the category:
"Crustacean means you can wear your bones on the outside."
Then there is this, which the careless reader would group as a classic example of the "double dictionary entry", but over which scholars are still divided:
"You should always say octopi when there are two or more octopuses."
Finally, the one which Reynolds mentioned as singularly classed with the elephant and avian examples:
"Some scientists say the oceans were formed six hundred million years ago. Six hundred million is larger than the largest known whale."
As is well-known in the literature, Blücher claims to group by function, or (as argued by Mme. Durochet) by verb. The orthogonal approach suggested by Reynolds groups by noun, and brings together all those on stars, on ions, on natural forces, on supernatural forces, and on animals. I am not sure that he has correctly closed the set of things, or at least provided the exhaustive list in his letter, but then the typography in that journal has suffered in recent years. However, without attempting to enter the debate here, I would like to give another example of the "animal" group, which may serve to introduce another approach to our main topic: the rational struture underlying humor of all kinds.

This one clearly dates to very recent times, though again the difficulties of translation seem gratuitously overlooked by all authors. But it does appear in Blücher's lists, and was examined by him in Archaeology of Aphorism, No. 59a (Special Memorial Issue):
Q. Why did the monkey fall out of the tree?
A. Because it was dead.
Q. Why did the second monkey fall out of the tree?
A. Because it was dead.
Q. Why did the third monkey fall out of the tree?
A. Peer pressure.
As a guide to the complexities of dating, I should point out that the cavalier mention of death clearly provides a reliable dating to sometime in the second millennium A.D. However the use of the term "monkey" is still being debated.
The machinery of humor here has been claimed upon three differing grounds, not unusual in such a multi-line aphorism. The first ground arises from the technique we have recently considered: that of "assertion of the obvious." A dead monkey will fall out of a tree, but that in itself is not funny at all. It relies upon the expectation of the unexpectable - which of course is the entire premise of the Hebrew Scriptures.
(One day while we were studying in Roma, we heard it whispered that the supreme joke of eternity consists of two parts - a question and an answer, like all the classic aphorisms - the two parts of course being the Old and New Testaments.)
The second ground centers on the dissonant rhythm of the answer of the third query. This dissonance, unlike that of music, is curiously satisfying, and is so well-known and ancient as to appear in the liturgy: consider the dramatic change in the response to the third Agnus Dei. [For those of you reading this after Vatican II, these words mean "Lamb of God." Eds.]
Finally, the third ground, and perhaps the least well-defended, is the fact that there are three questions, and not two or four. The importance of three has been coupled with a vast number of things ranging from the Trinity to the triples of nucleic acids which encode the building blocks of proteins.

Having treated this complex aphorism at length, let us conclude this portion of our study with simpler one, also mentioned by Reynolds:
Q. How do you get down off an elephant?
A. You don't get down off an elephant. You get down off a duck.
While we will not postulate how one might get onto the duck in the first place, the reader will readily grasp that this is a classic example of the double dictionary entry.

Reprinted with permission from
Something Good To Read
Vol. CXIV No. 230 (Feb. 11, 1998)

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Ron's Puzzle: Linking, Shifting and a Latin Root

So, after a long week, with work and humor and other matters, it is now time to turn back to some relaxing mathematics. In particular, we're going to examine the secret working inside a puzzle posted by my friend Ron at A Wing and a Prayer. Here is the statement of the puzzle:
I heard this on a local radio station. Follow the directions:

1. Start with the first three digits of your telephone number.
2. Multiply by 80.
3. Add 1.
4. Multiply by 250.
5. Add the last four numbers of your telephone number.
6. Repeat Step 5.
7. Subtract 250.
8. Divide by 2.

The answer? You should be very familiar with it.
Now what is going on here?

First I will have to remind you of some background information.

Well, some time ago I called your attention to the strange property called commutivity, which does not have to do with driving to work. Commutativity is the property that makes 2+3 the exact same thing as 3+2 - or, as we math guys say, "addition over the integers commutes".

The fun thing is that not all operations commute! And as an example, I called your attention to the word "live" which is NOT the same thing as the word "evil", and wondered if you might see the hidden something which stands between the letters of those words.

You see, English words are read from left to right. And except for the few palindromes like "noon" or "radar", one cannot just reverse a word and get the SAME thing from right to left! So there is a certain something which links letters together, kind of like railroad cars, which can only couple at their ends, and never on their sides or top or bottom, or corner - AND more importantly, that linker has a handedness or chirality, like people, or sugar (what Latin root does "dextrose" contain?), and some other things. Which means this linking thing does NOT commute. (It walks to work. Hee hee hee. Or maybe I should say it works at home.)

What is that linking thing? Computer people call it the concatenation operator - which comes from a Latin root catena which means "chain". Hence the link. (Don't you just love these puns?) So when we make a word out of letters, we "concatenate" them, which I will write with the "~" sign:
"l"~"i"~"v"~"e" = "live"
"e"~"v"~"i"~"l" = "evil"
which is not the same, because "a"~"b" is NOT "b"~"a". Hurray.

Now how does that relate to Ron's puzzle? Well, as I hinted in my comment on his blogg, the puzzle depends on the fact that multiplication by the radix has the effect of a shift. OK, that's jargon, but it is simple to understand. Here's an example:

As I am a computer guy, I will use the computer symbol for multiply, which is "*".
When one multiplies 2 by 10, that is 2*10, the answer is 20.
When one multiplies 20 by 10, that is 20*10, the answer is 200.
When one multiplies 200 by 10, that is 200*10, the answer is 2000.
When one multiplies 2000 by 10, that is 2000*10, the answer is 20000.

You see how the two shifts to the left? Each multiplication by TEN moves it one place - ten is what we call the radix (another Latin word, meaning "root") or base of our number-notation scheme.

Now for the secret the mathematicians don't want me to tell, and which will make the philosophers cheer (if they are still awake.)

You see, those things which most of us call "numbers" like 2000 aren't REALLY numbers. They are notations for numbers. (Ah! Now you see! This is why I spent so much time talking about concatenation!) For inside a computer, the numbers are "kind of" like the way the math people talk - or maybe think - about them... but in order to SEE the numbers, we computer guys have to PRINT or display them - and that means we have to write them in a given notation. In case you think this is somehow a computer trick, it isn't. All this is just the same if we were just talking about numbers, or writing them in a book, or posting them in a blogg.

Sure, we could just as well write them in an old way, like Roman numerals, which is awkward, or in a new way, like "hexadecimal" or "octal" or "binary" which are closer to the way the computer holds a number, which may be even more awkward. But to write a number for MOST of us normal humans means writing it in base ten, or decimal, which is the usual way of doing things with numbers.

So that means anything where we multiply something by ten will just shove that something to the left. And multiplying by ten thousand will shove that something FOUR places to the left. That's the secret to Ron's puzzle. Now I will go over it, step by step.

First, let's say your telephone number is "abc-defg", and each of these seven letters stands for a DIGIT - that is, for one of the SYMBOLS for a number between zero and nine: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Here, you see we are just writing digits next to each other...

[A warning to attentive philosophers and computer scientists: I am skipping a step here! I'll explain in another post. Hint: the secret is 48.]

... so if we wanted to have the actual number p (the number, NOT the notation) which is written as "abc", we'd have to compute this:
p = a*100 + b*10 + c
and if we wanted the number q which is written as "defg" we compute this:
q = d*1000 + e*100 + f*10 + g
But we cannot just put two things down next to each other in math, and get them to "stick together" (to concatenate - not in MATH, though in computers, but that's a longer story!) Otherwise two added to two would be twenty-two, hee hee. So the original number, as a number isn't pq, but something a little more tricky.

In fact, the complete number, AS A NUMBER, would be n=p*10000+q... but this may be confusing, so I will give you an example.

If your number is "789-4321" since you are a human, you can EASILY see that this is seven million, eight hundred ninety four thousand, three hundred twenty one. but it's NOT easy for a computer, which is stupid. So we have to compute it in pieces. The top number p which is written "789" is the number seven hundred eighty nine, and we compute it as
p = 7*100 + 8*10 + 9
which comes out to 789, just as we said. But the difference is that one was DIGITS sitting next to each other (or, as we say, "concatenated") and the other is the actual number, but written in base ten.

Also, if we write q which is "4321" as 4*1000+3*100+2*10+1, we simply have q=4321.

But we are not allowed in MATH to write p beside q, and have that mean something (except when it means multiplying). So if we want to get back our telephone number, we're going to have to SHIFT p over by four, and then add in q, which means multiplying by ten thousand. So our complete number is 789*10000+4321, which is 7894321, as we said.

Now that I have pointed out this important and trivial difference, we'll do the puzzle.

1. Start with the first three digits of your telephone number.
That's our p.

2. Multiply by 80.
So we have 80*p

3. Add 1.
That's 80*p + 1

4. Multiply by 250.
OK, we'll write it as
which means we have to "distribute" (is that Chestertonian?)
250*80*p + 250
20000*p + 250

5. Add the last four numbers of your telephone number.
which means we add in our q:
20000*p + 250 + q

6. Repeat Step 5.
So we add q again:
20000*p + 250 +q+q
but I will write that as:
20000*p + 2*q + 250

7. Subtract 250.
Now things are getting simpler:
20000*p + 2*q

8. Divide by 2.
And behold:
10000*p + q

which is the formula I showed you that sticks the top and the bottom together as a complete number! So all this puzzle accomplishes is to take your phone number apart as two "numbers", then re-unite it by doing the appropriate "radix shift", as I said.

Whew. I hope this helps. It is kind of long to write out, and would probably be a lot easier if we were together, and had a blackboard. But it may be fun to work through with your own phone number!

Please note: this is perhaps a little tedious, and requires attention to detail. But it is not really complex. Computer programmers have to deal with all kinds of little tricks like this just to do the simplest kinds of work - and we have to know how to do the work ourselves, or we could not instruct the machinery to accomplish it.

If you have any questions, please see me after class (or post a comment).

OK, then - time for recess!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

GKC: The Conscript and the Crisis

It was requested by Mrs. Darwin that I post this essay by GKC, which, despite having been written about 10 years before his conversion, has a significant bearing on the Catholic liturgy.

Somewhere else I have mentioned that during my doctoral work, I learned that the modern Greek term for the computer science course on "operating systems" is called something like leitourgika - so there is a very suggestive link here, which I had hoped to address further someday... until I found that Chesterton already had spoke about this.

Speaking with all solemnity as a computer scientist and a Catholic, I find this particular essay to have the most profound and penetrating vision into the reality of the high technology which IS the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass - truly something which is "going on all the time" - a "perpetual process" and a "mystical inn" where, as GKC notes (CW6:371), "the good wine is poured in the inn at the end of the world"... where the Good Wine is kept until now. (see Jn 2:10).

--Dr. Thursday

The Conscript and the Crisis
by G. K. Chesterton
(excerpted from A Miscellany of Men; bold emphasis is added. The book is available through the American Chesterton Society.)

Very few of us ever see the history of our time happening. And I think the best service a modern journalist can do to society is to record as plainly as ever he can exactly what impression was produced on his mind by anything he has actually seen and heard on the outskirts of any modern problem or campaign. Though all he saw of a railway strike was a flat meadow in Essex in which a train was becalmed for an hour or two, he will probably throw more light on the strike by describing this which he has seen than by describing the steely kings of commerce and the bloody leaders of the mob whom he has never seen - nor any one else either. If he comes a day too late for the battle of Waterloo (as happened to a friend of my grandfather) he should still remember that a true account of the day after Waterloo would be a most valuable thing to have. Though he was on the wrong side of the door when Rizzio was being murdered, we should still like to have the wrong side described in the right way. Upon this principle I, who know nothing of diplomacy or military arrangements, and have only held my breath like the rest of the world while France and Germany were bargaining, will tell quite truthfully of a small scene I saw, one of the thousand scenes that were, so to speak, the anterooms of that inmost chamber of debate.

In the course of a certain morning I came into one of the quiet squares of a small French town and found its cathedral. It was one of those grey and rainy days which rather suit the Gothic. The clouds were leaden, like the solid blue-grey lead of the spires and the jewelled windows; the sloping roofs and high-shouldered arches looked like cloaks drooping with damp; and the stiff gargoyles that stood out round the walls were scoured with old rains and new. I went into the round, deep porch with many doors and found two grubby children playing there out of the rain. I also found a notice of services, etc., and among these I found the announcement that at 11.30 (that is about half an hour later) there would be a special service for the Conscripts, that is to say, the draft of young men who were being taken from their homes in that little town and sent to serve in the French Army; sent (as it happened) at an awful moment, when the French Army was encamped at a parting of the ways. There were already a great many people there when I entered, not only of all kinds, but in all attitudes, kneeling, sitting, or standing about. And there was that general sense that strikes every man from a Protestant country, whether he dislikes the Catholic atmosphere or likes it; I mean, the general sense that the thing was "going on all the time"; that it was not an occasion, but a perpetual process, as if it were a sort of mystical inn.

Several tricolours were hung quite near to the altar, and the young men, when they came in, filed up the church and sat right at the front. They were, of course, of every imaginable social grade; for the French conscription is really strict and universal. Some looked like young criminals, some like young priests, some like both. Some were so obviously prosperous and polished that a barrack-room must seem to them like hell; others (by the look of them) had hardly ever been in so decent a place. But it was not so much the mere class variety that most sharply caught an Englishman's eye. It was the presence of just those one or two kinds of men who would never have become soldiers in any other way.

There are many reasons for becoming a soldier. It may be a matter of hereditary luck or abject hunger or heroic virtue or fugitive vice; it may be an interest in the work or a lack of interest in any other work. But there would always be two or three kinds of people who would never tend to soldiering; all those kinds of people were there. A lad with red hair, large ears, and very careful clothing, somehow conveyed across the church that he had always taken care of his health, not even from thinking about it, but simply because he was told, and that he was one of those who pass from childhood to manhood without any shock of being a man. In the row in front of him there was a very slight and vivid little Jew, of the sort that is a tailor and a Socialist. By one of those accidents that make real life so unlike anything else, he was the one of the company who seemed especially devout. Behind these stiff or sensitive boys were ranged the ranks of their mothers and fathers, with knots and bunches of their little brothers and sisters.

The children kicked their little legs, wriggled about the seats, and gaped at the arched roof while their mothers were on their knees praying their own prayers, and here and there crying. The grey clouds of rain outside gathered, I suppose, more and more; for the deep church continuously darkened. The lads in front began to sing a military hymn in odd, rather strained voices; I could not disentangle the words, but only one perpetual refrain; so that it sounded like
Sacrarterumbrrar pour la patrie,
Valdarkararump pour la patrie.
Then this ceased; and silence continue, the coloured windows growing gloomier and gloomier with the clouds. In the dead stillness a child started crying suddenly and incoherently. In a city far to the north a French diplomatist and a German aristocrat were talking.

I will not make any commentary on the thing that could blur the outline of its almost cruel actuality. I will not talk nor allow any one else to talk about "clericalism" and "militarism." Those who talk like that are made of the same mud as those who call all the angers of the unfortunate "Socialism." The women who were calling in the gloom around me on God and the Mother of God were not "clericalists"; or, if they were, they had forgotten it. And I will bet my boots the young men were not "militarists" - quite the other way just then. The priest made a short speech; he did not utter any priestly dogmas (whatever they are), he uttered platitudes. In such circumstances platitudes are the only possible things to say; because they are true. He began by saying that he supposed a large number of them would be uncommonly glad not to go. They seemed to assent to this particular priestly dogma with even more than their alleged superstitious credulity. He said that war was hateful, and that we all hated it; but that "in all things reasonable" the law of one's commonwealth was the voice of God. He spoke about Joan of Arc; and how she had managed to be a bold and successful soldier while still preserving her virtue and practising her religion; then he gave them each a little paper book. To which they replied (after a brief interval for reflection):
Pongprongperesklang pour la patrie,
Tambraugtararronc pour la patrie.
which I feel sure was the best and most pointed reply.

While all this was happening feelings quite indescribable crowded about my own darkening brain, as the clouds crowded above the darkening church. They were so entirely of the elements and the passions that I cannot utter them in an idea, but only in an image. It seemed to me that we were barricaded in this church, but we could not tell what was happening outside the church. The monstrous and terrible jewels of the windows darkened or glistened under moving shadow or light, but the nature of that light and the shapes of those shadows we did not know and hardly dared to guess. The dream began, I think, with a dim fancy that enemies were already in the town, and that the enormous oaken doors were groaning under their hammers. Then I seemed to suppose that the town itself had been destroyed by fire, and effaced, as it may be thousands of years hence, and that if I opened the door I should come out on a wilderness as flat and sterile as the sea. Then the vision behind the veil of stone and slate grew wilder with earthquakes. I seemed to see chasms cloven to the foundations of all things, and letting up an infernal dawn. Huge things happily hidden from us had climbed out of the abyss, and were striding about taller than the clouds. And when the darkness crept from the sapphires of Mary to the sanguine garments of St. John I fancied that some hideous giant was walking round the church and looking in at each window in turn.

Sometimes, again, I thought of that church with coloured windows as a ship carrying many lanterns struggling in a high sea at night. Sometimes I thought of it as a great coloured lantern itself, hung on an iron chain out of heaven and tossed and swung to and fro by strong wings, the wings of the princes of the air. But I never thought of it or the young men inside it save as something precious and in peril, or of the things outside but as something barbaric and enormous.

I know there are some who cannot sympathise with such sentiments of limitation; I know there are some who would feel no touch of the heroic tenderness if some day a young man with red hair, large ears, and his mother's lozenges in his pocket, were found dead in uniform in the passes of the Vosges. But on this subject I have heard many philosophies and thought a good deal for myself; and the conclusion I have come to is Sacrarterumbrrar pour la Patrie, and it is not likely that I shall alter it now.

But when I came out of the church there were none of these things, but only a lot of shops, including a paper-shop, on which the posters announced that the negotiations were proceeding satisfactorily.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

On Love and God and the understanding of the world

The following incredibly dramatic and important excerpt is from pages 50 & 51 of Bible and Science by S. L. Jaki.
-- Dr. Thursday
This dynamic mental grasp by both the learned and the simple of an all far beyond human enumeration witnesses the eminently philosophical, that is, metaphysical, acumen of the human mind. But in the case of the Hebrews that acumen rested on grounds that, in addition to being human, were godly as well. Such is, above all, the insistence in Genesis 1 that the all made by God is good, and indeed very good. That goodness meant much more than, say, the stability of an edifice. It carried the broader meaning which is celebrated, for instance, in Psalm 136, where the assertion of God's goodness is introductory to the repeated assertion that "his great love is without end."

That God does indeed love and can in turn be loved is that most godly ground upon which rests the Hebrew (biblical) understanding of the world. It is a ground that sets that understanding wholly apart from the Babylonian as well as the Egyptian world views, although in its grasp of purely physical details it does not differ from them. There is still to be found a clay tablet to the effect that man is loved by any of the deities comprising the Babylonian or the Egyptian pantheon, or by any of the countless Baals of the Canaanites, and that therefore man has to love them. Moreover, that biblical understanding of the world, as rooted in God's love for his creatures, is the supreme protection against the temptation to assume that behind the all too numerous physical and moral catastrophes there is an evil principle equal in dignity and power to God.

The barring of such a principle (another aspect of the absolute sovereignty of God) assures that nothing can, in independence of him, influence any event or process in heaven or on earth.

More on Reason and Humour

Since at least one of my readers has commented that he finds interesting these scholarly and sometimes confusing essays, I am happy to add a little more to the confusion with the next installment from Fr. Thomas. According to my archives this series is rather unaccountably incomplete - moreover, I cannot seem to find its starting point. But then I cannot even guess how many of these back issues I may be missing. Well, we can be grateful for what we have. There were rumours that Father was going to put all this together into a book, but there were some kind of international copyright issues to be resolved. And we all know how he was called to Roma some years ago, so many of his projects were probably suspended.

But, along with DNA, computers, Chesterton, Jaki, Duhem, science, Catholicism, cooking, painting, music, and all the other interesting topics, I am also interested in humour, and have done some studies, yes, even of the transiting avian. (You ought to see what that looks like when you express it in the formalisms of automata theory! Wow.)

And hey - is there really any such thing as an uninteresting topic? No way - not to a Chestertonian! One of the boldest, but most accurate phrases in all of Fr. Jaki's writing is a chapter title from his Chesterton a Seer of Science, where he calls GKC the "Champion of the Universe". (So it's little wonder the American Chesterton Society publishes the "Chesterton University Student Handbook"!)

-- Dr. Thursday
Humor and Its Basis in Reason
by Father A. Thomas, O.P.

In our previous column, we discussed certain variations of the principle of humor known as the "Double Dictionary Entry." Let us consider another example, which might be classed as a municipal entry, along with highways and sewage. Blücher again classes it as one of the avian/aviator form, though again this may be due to errors in translation. We give it as it appears in the May issue of Chronicles of the Metaphysical Municipality:
Q: What is big and yellow, has four wheels, and flies?
A: A garbage truck.
By now, the Blücher approach will be obvious, but when this aphorism was discussed in a number of papers in subsequent issues of Archaeology of Aphorism, the debate centered on Blücher's suggestion that the operative word is not wheels but rather yellow.
This aphorism was thus proposed as one of the very interesting subclasses of the "Double Dictionary Entry" - those which takes advantage of color. The subclass itself has a multitude of variations, each of which has given rise to proposed rules of aphorism or humor, though each has also been fiercely debated as well. Let us pass, however, from examples of the Blücher style, to those analyzed with such care by Flemington-Richardson: the "black-and-white" category. The first one is:
Q: What is black and white and red all over?
A: A newspaper.
The difficulties attendant upon translation of this classic aphorism proved too much for Blücher, which is why it does not appear in his otherwise complete collection. He also omits this one, which is a clerical derivative:
Q: What is black and white, black and white, black and white?
A: A nun rolling down a hill.
This aphorism clearly dates before 1962, and it has been the subject to censure and severe condemnation by some ecclesiastics, as it excludes those orders which use brown or blue in their habits, or those whose Rule forbids rolling on the ground (which are now quite few, thank God!)
The third of these appears in a little-known monograph by J. Gilson (not E. Gilson!), which is an obvious derivative of the above.
Q: What's black and white, black and white, black and white, and green?
A: Three skunks fighting over a pickle.
Several authors class this as one of the more elegant derivatives in the long history of aphorisms, and I think it speaks for itself.
Let us, then, conclude this week's consideration of colors with this remarkable example, which invokes what Chesterton considered the most transcendental color of all.
Q: What is gray on the inside and clear on the inside?
A: An elephant in a baggie.
We are not certain which part of this is the most interesting: attempting to find such a large plastic bag, attempting to insert the pachyderm into the bag, or the events subsequent to its insertion. However, I have no intention of trying it. I never bought live poultry and took them to the highway. Perhaps this was Blücher's downfall.

Reprinted with permission from
Something Good To Read
Vol. CXIV No. 229 (Feb. 4, 1998)

A note: I think Father's reference to GKC is the phrase "transparency is a sort of transcendental colour" from The Poet and the Lunatics.