Sunday, December 28, 2008

Toy Po Doy

What is "Toy Po Doy"? Well, you'll have to read Joe the Control Room Guy if you really want to know. Though you may get a clue from the illustration for one of the recent chapters:

That is, if you can read Greek, or have a Greek/English dictionary. (We recommend Liddell and Scott.)

You will find out its real meaning in a future installment. Let's just say it appears that your lunatic host is not the only one who likes to play with verbal puns and such. Can you spell Sub Rosa? No? Oh, well. You'll find out soon enough. Hee hee.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas - thanks to St. Paul

Merry Christmas!

Just a short note, no time to set up the references or give a prolonged argument, but I had to get it out onto the air. Er. Out to the E-cosmos. You know what I mean.

As I heard the epistle today from St. Paul to Titus, it struck me that we really have to thank St. Paul for Christmas. After all, St. Luke was St. Paul's sidekick, writing stuff up all the time (see the last half of Acts of the Apostles!) and it is said (I think I read it in Fr. Ricciotti's book on St. Paul) that it was the gospel as preached by St. Paul which St. Luke put down on parchment...

So whenever we hear any of St. Paul's readings, we ought to remember that it was most likely he who first told people about the Annunciation, about the Visitation, and especially about the journey to Bethlehem, and the manger, and the shepherds, and the angels...

Thanks, St. Paul!

God bless you all on this great feast!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Your Christmas Present

Nothing to unpack, no batteries, no wrapping paper to throw out. Just a short story...

Joe the Control Room Guy in....
Another Christmas Eve

Advent 2008 - December 24 - Christmas Eve (Vigil)

Tomorrow is Christmas! ("It's practically here," as the Grinch remarked.)

Hodie scietis, quia veniet Dominus, et salvabit nos, et mane videbitis gloriam ejus. Domni est terra, et plenitudo ejus, orbis terrarum, et universi qui habitant in eo. Gloria Patri. Hodie.

This day you shall know that the Lord will come, and save us: and in the morning you shall see His glory. The Lord's are the earth and its fullness; the world and those who dwell in it. Glory be. This day.
[Tr. St. Joseph Daily Missal

That, of course, is the introit for today's Mass. It is so exciting. I am busy today, and I am sure you are also, but I will just add a few more titles to our collection of Christmas books and shows for our consideration.

In at least two cases, a famous Christmas song appears in a movie which is otherwise not about Christmas. Both are delightful, meditative, and give the strong home-sense which is what Christmas is all about.

1. In "Mame" we hear that "We Need a Little Christmas" - right this very minute. In a difficult time of their lives, they get out all the Christmas trappings and renew the spirit. How like the Whos! How like the Church, who says the Angelus three times every day, remembering the greatest of all messages and the greatest event in all history!

2. In "Meet Me In St. Louis" we are told to "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"... this movie recalls the famous World's Fair of 1904 in St. Louis Missouri. (Some other day I will tell you a little more about that Fair.)

There are more books I ought to mention, but I will limit myself to just one.

The Christmas Bower seems to be about a young boy, a professor of ornithology, some rare birds, and a big department store, but happens to contain a couple of choice references and excellent hints about "the birthday of a boy who would one day save the world". Almost the last words of the book were by Dr. Kubicek: when his great-nephew says "this is the best Christmas ever!" he replies "How about the first Christmas ever?" These grand words have renewed the dignity of ornithologists and indeed of all scientists, at leaast in fiction. It is really a wonderful book.

And so, we finish off Advent. It's not too late to say a prayer, and remember "the first Christmas ever". Have a merry little Christmas, - we sure need it now.

God bless you and your family and friends, at Christmas and always!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Advent 2008 - December 23 - O Emmanuel

Come O Emmanuel!

December 23 Two more days: O Emmanuel (O "God-with-us"!)

O Emmanuel,
Rex et legifer noster,
expectatio Gentium,
et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domini, Deus noster.

(translation from Fr. Britt)
O Emmanuel, our king and lawgiver, the expectation of all nations and their Savior: COME and save us, O Lord our God.

(another version)
O Emmanuel,
king and lawgiver,
desire of the nations,
Savior of all people,
come and set us free, Lord our God.

Today, the last of the "Greater Feria", and the last of the O antiphons, we shall examine the most important of all Christmas stories, and one of the great gemstones of all human literature: Dickens' A Christmas Carol. This year, as more than a century and a half, the ghosts parade past us... Past and Present and Yet-To-Come, Marley, and those who are something more than ghosts: the lad who sings carols at the door, the two portly gentlemen, the charwoman, the laundress, the undertaker - and the pawnbroker, Scrooge's nephew and his niece by marriage and their guests, Belle, the entire Cratchet clan, and of course our hero, who if he were real would be by now one of the greater saints in the Canon: Ebenezer Scrooge.

Yes, for his conversion ranks with those of people like St. Paul or St. Augustine... I often wonder: was it perhaps that Marley had converted, and perhaps was given this sentence of haunting? Or what? But we have no time to explain the heavenly economy. Enough for us that someone prayed for dear Ebby - perhaps it was Belle - perhaps it was Tiny Tim - perhaps it was Bob? But like Stephen praying for Saul [Acts 7:59], someone must have prayed very hard for Ebby. And the graces won were not won in vain: explain the four "ghosts" as you will, the Ebenezer Scrooge of Christmas and after was clearly something converted from his pre-Christmas state: "...amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." [Mt 18:3] And so, rather than a negative epithet or curse, like "Grinch", the name "Scrooge" is a title of honour! Let us, please God, turn and be like dear Ebby, and keep Christmas, all the days of our life.

Perhaps I ought to end there. But there's some more to say.

Dickens himself grasped that particular idea of the gospels - the need to convert and become like a little child - and framed it in a most important way:
for it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself.
[Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Stave 3]
But Dickens - and Christmas - call us to a greater conversion indeed - one that smacks of (dare I say it) Scholastic insights into (shh!) angels. Yes, for it is hinted that our heavenly role somehow involves our replacing those spirits who once fell. But that can only occur if we are able to... Well - you know the rest. Don't you?

Let me just repeat Scrooge's famous canticle of joy, and see if we do not hear a Chestertonian tune:
"I don't know what to do." cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoön of himself with his stockings. "I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody. A happy New Year to all the world. Hallo here. Whoop. Hallo."
[Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Stave 5, emphasis added]
Here is not simply a conversion to a little child, but something exceedingly greater. Indeed, for haven't we all heard something about angels and taking one's self lightly? Hee hee!

But let us go back to the grand introduction, which ought to be the introduction to any Life of Christ - and no literary composition could be more magnificent in emphasizing the truth of our Lord's life and death. Indeed, it is not simply artistic, it is strongly reasoned - so much so that it might be given as a Scholastic reference in an argument about the Crucifixion. What do I mean? I mean the simple truth of why our Lord became man:
the life of Jesus went as swift and straight as a thunderbolt. It was above all things dramatic; it did above all things consist in doing something that had to be done. It emphatically would not have been done, if Jesus had walked about the world forever doing nothing except tell the truth. And even the external movement of it must not be described as a wandering in the sense of forgetting that it was a journey. This is where it was a fulfilment of the myths rather than of the philosophies; it is a journey with a goal and an object, like Jason going to find the Golden Fleece, or Hercules the golden apples of the Hesperides. The gold that he was seeking was death. The primary thing that he was going to do was to die. [see Mt 16:21, Lk 12:49-50] He was going to do other things equally definite and objective; we might almost say equally external and material. But from first to last the most definite fact is that he is going to die.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:339]
Yes. Hear again what Dickens says:
Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. ... Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail. ... There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.
[Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Stave 1]
Exactly! We must understand, as we understand the sun in the daytime sky, that Jesus was dead. We must throw out, as purest drivel, the whine of the "bible scholars" and such who explain it. In some sense, St. Paul has it wrong - that is he doesn't quite go as far as Dickens. It's not just the Resurrection in which we must believe, but also the Crucifixion. (To begin with, as Dickens says!)

Or truly, nothing wonderful can come of the story which the Gospels relate.

There are so many other little things - the warmth of the Weasley - (ahem!) I mean the Cratchit family. The horrid villainous mode of the pre-Christmas Scrooge. The delights seen in so many glimpses of Christmases past and Christmas present...

And does the Christmas-yet-to-come lie? No. In some sense, it does not even "sponge away the writing on the stone"... death still awaits. But what does happen is that a writing of a far more permanent character, and a far more eternal consequence is not simply sponged away, but made TO NO LONGER EXIST. So indeed is the power of sorrow, and purpose of amendment.

Oh dear Emmanuel, make us sorrowful - and then make us light and little - make us be true Christmas Scrooges, and worthily sing the great canticle of joy! Amen.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Advent 2008 - December 22 - O King of Nations

Come O King of Nations!

December 22 Three more days: O Rex Gentium (O King of Nations)

O Rex Gentium,
et desideratus earum lapisque angularis,
qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

(translation from Fr. Britt)

O King of the Gentiles, yea, and the desire thereof, the Corner-stone that makest both one: COME and save man, whom Thou has made out of the slime of the earth.

(another version)

O King of all the nations,
the only joy of every human heart;
O Keystone of the mighty arch of man,
come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

Today, I will consider a movie that has a Christmas title, though it is not really about Christmas at all: "Come To the Stable".

One knows from the very beginning that it is a very Chestertonian movie, full of the remarkable twists that GKC delighted in, and especially that "anachronism" which true artists (the common man, not the overstuffed artistocrats) of all ages have enacted:
We all know that the popular presentation of this popular story, in so many miracle plays and carols, has given to the shepherds the costume, the language, and the landscape of the separate English and European countrysides. We all know that one shepherd will talk in a Somerset dialect or another talk of driving his sheep from Conway towards the Clyde. Most of us know by this time how true is that error, how wise, how artistic, how intensely Christian and Catholic is that anachronism.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:307]
For it begins with a night scene of snow and two nuns in regular habits peering at a signpost with "Bethlehem" and other such Biblical towns... I like that because there is a Nazareth and a Bethlehem in eastern Pennsylvania, and also an Emmaus - yes, there's even a road to Emmaus! Ahem.

The next scene - as seen by the nuns - shows the regulation nativity - very beautiful and heart-rending - except for the child with a winged harness hanging by a robe... the scene opens wider to reveal a woman at an easel, painting a canvas with that very scene! From there, things rapidly change, and a whole complex plot is revealed. Well, it's not that complex, but I won't spoil it further for you.

Again in this as in so many of the other Christmas shows and stories I have examined so far, we see the power and drama of prayer... how persistence and steadfastness and hope and faith and trust play out in ways that no one - least of all the petitioners - might expect. But there are plenty of tricks, of odd twists, so much that it inspires even a dull computer scientist who likes to dabble in story design and implementation. For in this story we shall see a gangster donating land, a nun playing tennis, a former fire dog named "Arson", the invasion of a small quiet New England village by a veritable convent of French nuns (and their chaplain), a miraculous fountain of water, a dramatic and totally unexpected use of Gregorian Chant, a bishop who can be serious - and yet humble, a nun driving a jeep, and some other very amazing miracles... It is startling, and lovely, and very Christmassy...

It may seem very contrived... but unless you come to the stable as a little child, with eyes of wonder and of joy, you shall not enter. The door is small.

I have some other stories (books, not movies) to mention which have Christmas in them, though they are not primarily about the feast. All are worth reading for their own merits... perhaps at some future time I will give larger studies of them.

1. Mrs. Coverlet's Magicians - yes, how horrid, it involves magic. A curious and remarkable family (who also appear in While Mrs. Coverlet Was Away). It is fun, funny, and very interesting. But it ends with Christmas - and perhaps with a miracle of the authentic kind.

2. Little Women - you must read this wonderful classic anyway, but it has the most touching and pathetic and generous and lovely Christmas scene, and so I must mention it here.

3. SOS at Midnight is the first of the great "ham" adventure novels of Walter Tompkins. You do not need to know anything about amateur radio to grasp and to appreciate the adventure. The version I read in grade school is by now dated in its technology, and the whole radio thing has changed a lot - so has cable TV, as I have said elsewhere... But it happens near Christmas, and I have always felt the power of its message, whether in Morse (that's called CW, and this time I don't mean "Collected Works"!) or in any other means.

There are more, but I will stop here for today.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Advent 2008 - December 21 - O Rising Dawn

Come O Rising Dawn!

December 21 (the winter solstice) Four more days: O Oriens (O Rising Dawn)

O Oriens,
splendor lucis aeternae,
et sol iustitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris,
et umbra mortis.

(translation from Fr. Britt)

O Orient, Splendor of the Eternal Light, and Sun of Justice: COME and enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

(another version)

O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light,
sun of justice:
come, shine on those who dwell
in darkness and the shadow of death.

Today is the winter solstice, and it is quite appropriate to have the Rising Dawn as the symbol of our Lord today. No wonder that St. Francis puts the Sun first in his great Canticle of the Creatures, calling him "Sir Brother" and says this:
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
What a gift - think about it. We have been given a star for our use... and GKC echoes St. Francis in strange and touching words:
There was a stranger who was also a friend; a mysterious benefactor who had been before them and built up the woods and hills for their coming, and had kindled the sunrise against their rising, as a servant kindles a fire.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:396]
Hard to imagine, God getting up early, way before any of us are awake, and stoking the nuclear furnace with some nice fresh hydrogens - but that is what He does... it is OURS for our use... A big ball, just burning away... So, so, so generous is God!

Yes, and so let us consider something very illuminating today: let us turn to the famous story called "It's a Wonderful Life" - which I am sure you already know by heart.

You can tell this is a serious story since the first words are a prayer - "Joseph, Jesus, and Mary".... I was surprised to learn that according to the "script" the two heavenly voices are not supposed to be God (the Father) and St. Joseph, but that's too bad for the script writer, since no other names make any sense anyway. I always thought it quite natural that God would not call any of His court "Saint", and that St. Joseph would call him "Sir"... There is a curious bit of speculation about angels "earning" their wings, except that this does agree with the general sense of authentic writers of angels: they did have to undergo a test, as we do. We have no time today to go into that, though it might be fitting to mention that the best guess seems to be that they were required to adore God the Word, the second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, who "emptied Himself" [Philippians 2:7] incarnate as the single-cell God-Man Jesus, within the virginal womb of Mary.... Satan refused, and so the story plays out, much as it does for Clarence, who has to make a choice as well. Very interesting.

It would be lots of fun to explore this movie from a Chestertonian perspective, but it was done some years ago in "Gilbert!" magazine by Dale Ahlquist (or so I seem to recall...) But there are a couple of things to mention which might be overlooked (if Dale mentioned them I cannot recall, but it is worth exploring again...)

First, the line about "Anytime a bell rings, an angel gets his wings" - this might be right out of Dante. (You know, there are TWO OTHER parts to his Divine Comedy and they are much, MUCH better than the part everybody reads!) Yes, in the second section on Purgatory, we learn that a thrill goes through all of the mountain every time someone makes it to the top, and finishes his sentence... it is SO fitting, and so lovely - and so biblical: "I say to you that even so there shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just who need not penance." [Lk 15:7] As Dante reveals, the mountain shakes, and all stop what they are doing, and chant the great Te Deum of praise and thanks to God - indeed, all creation rejoices, though we in our fallen state hear nothing of it. It is far too loud for us to hear, alas. But the angels and saints - and yes, even the other penitents - they hear, and rejoice. Yes, George Bailey, that's quite true, and we can imagine a modern Aquinas quoting this movie in his explanations of this truth.

Second, the grand, GRAND scene at the end, which recalls all the characters - yes, we even see "Potter" (NOT Harry! Harry is George's brother, hee hee) for a moment, as George runs by his bank and raps on the window and wishes his antagonist a Merry Christmas - yes, even to Mr. Potter! But in the warm old Bailey home all the good characters gather, and each puts in his contribution, much as the King collects the talents in the parable. We find absolution - not emphasized, but strongly assumed, as George and his family are reconciled after his rancor earlier in the evening. We find song and friendly talk - the "natural noisiness at a great moment" that GKC states is fitting for Christ, based on His own words about the racket on Palm Sunday! We find laughter - for the Bailey Benefactors (like Clarence) can take themselves lightly. We find all the warmth and delight of GKC's "Inn at the End of the World"... "Mr. Martini - how about some wine?" Of course: for thou hast kept the Good Wine until now. [Jn 2:10] And the sheriff tears up the warrant, and even the bank examiner puts in an offering... and there is a delight of laughter and song and warmth and light, as the town rejoices in the good works of George Bailey.

We even find Zu-Zu's petals.

That's important, because yo9u see it proves that the promise of the "new heaven and a new earth" [Rev/Apo 21:1] is real, and means this earth, as much as the wounds in our Lord's risen body persisted... we've got to know for sure that it's real. The restoration shall be a renewal, not a replacement!

Only Potter is not renewed. He has George's eight thousand dollars, and so by his own choice he is left outside - in the cold and silence and darkness. (And so is his servant - remember, his servant could have told the truth about the money, and refused to do so.)

Today, as we swing around perihelion on our annual journey, close to the Sun yet tilted away from it, let us recall that our judgement is only upon our works, done for the least of our brethren - we have our Lord's word for that, repeated in words beyond any doubt of intention. [Mt 25:31-46] If we are to live that way, we need His light and warmth - and the assistance of angels and our fellow men. O Sun of Justice, O Rising Dawn, O Light of the World, give us Thy light!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Advent 2008 - December 20 - O Key of David

Come O Clavis David!

December 20: Five more days: O Clavis David (O Key of David)

O clavis David,
et sceptrum domus Israel,
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

(translation from Fr. Britt)

O Key of David, and Scepter of the House of Israel; who openest, and no man shutteth; who shuttest, and no man openeth; COME and lead the captive from the prison-house, and him that sitteth in darkness and in the shadow of death.

(another version)

O Key of David,
O royal Power of Israel
controlling at your will the gate of heaven:
come, break down the prison walls of death
for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death;
and lead your captive people into freedom.

Today we shall take a quick glance at "The Bishop's Wife"... which may sound a bit odd to a Roman Catholic, but there are good lessons here - but I am not going to discuss the matter of celibacy. The lessons are rather larger, and perhaps more relevant to laity than to clergy.

First we come to the issue of prayer. Who is Dudley? Why is he there? One must pay attention to lots of details in order to understand both Dudley's place in the hierarchy of being, and also the mechanism that brought him to assist the Bishop. This is extremely important. We may never really know if - after our honest and sincere prayer - if God really DID send us an angel to assist. This can happen, and the fact that in some cases the humanity of the interceder is shown beyond all doubt only strengthens the chance - angels can work invisibly when necessary. Those wings ain't just for flying - don't you recall how when Isaias saw the seraphim, each had six wings, and two were used to cover its face??? [Is 6:2] Yes. Stealth wings. Very high tech, and talk about fast!

Next, we see the professor. Again, one of the best scenes is where Dudley and the Bishop's wife visit him... and they talk about some rather silly things, as well as ancient things, which is good to do at Christmas. Notice how they laugh! And how Dudley makes them laugh! It is good. And then, there's that very cool thing that is done with the drinks. It's right out of 3 Kings 17, how the bottle would not go empty! The liquour replenishes itself, in the glasses and in the jug. This is a famous trick in fairy tales, and even "Run Around" by Blues Traveler has something about drinking and it will always be full... it is the clue to remind us that God is not outdone in generosity. How else can we explain those six big water vats suddenly full of good wine?

At a crucial moment, Dudley opens a locked box. This is a great clue for all fiction and fantasy writers about magic and its true nature, but of course it gets lost in the translation. Clearly it is about authority: he is authorized to open the box - and it opens, key or no key. There is no "spell" required in such a case; likewise if he was not authorized, no spell, not even the key, would suffice. (I am sure you would like to know more about this - but at present I will only say that I am working on a way of explaining this, and someday it will be in print, here or elsewhere.) But it is that mystic ability to open what needs to be opened and close what needs to be closed that is the talent of the Key of David, Who is also King of all Angels. (This too is in Isaias, who we might call the prophet of Advent.)

There is also the subtle re-direction of wills - never forced, never coerced, never tricked, but simply urged by the presenting of something of greater delight, something warmer, kinder, more lovely... this too is angelic work, and yet it is not out of our own reach.

And that is the lesson of the famous "dictation to the typewriter" sermon which Dudley gives to the Bishop. To remember what we are here for, why we have the gifts we do have, and what we ought to be doing with them.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Advent 2008 - December 19 - O Root of Jesse

Come O Radix Jesse!

December 19: Six more days: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)

O radix Iesse,
qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardare.

(translation from Fr. Britt)

O Root of Jesse, who standest as the ensign of the people, before whom kings shall not open their lips; to whom the Gentiles shall pray: COME and deliver us, tarry now no more.

(another version)

O Flower of Jesse's stem,
you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you.
Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

Today I will consider two stories, neither of which is strictly about Christmas, but each of which has a famous Christmas scene.

As a computer scientist, I have seen "Tron" and "Electric Dreams" and enjoyed them very much, but they are both fairy tales. "Desk Set" might be such a story also, but there are parts of it which are lots more real than either of those others. I am not concerned today with the Tracey/Hepburn hilarity, or the delights of the Reference Department, or of the invasion of EMORAC. (Boop-boop-be-DOOP to you too.) But there is a wonderful scene of their office Christmas party, which reminds me of the good parties I have been to at work, and also of the larger and Chestertonian truths we expect to see in such things. For one, there is the water-cooler with the jug of - something. Was it wine or punch? It doesn't matter. But really - shades of Humphrey Pump and the Flying Inn! Talk about our Lord converting six gigantic water jugs into wine! Wow. That's a party! And the free, friendly open doors - "Let's go over to Legal and see how their party is..." borrowing a piano labelled "Do Not Remove From Studio Two" (or whatever) and singing silly songs (not just carols - there's a place for silliness). People giving each other champagne - and bongo drums - or big stuffed rabbits containing (yes!) bottles of champagne. (Dickens and Chesterton would completely understand!) Gifts for co-workers. A Christmas Tree - in a reference library for a television station! (Why does that sound so familiar?)

Then (to vary the metaphor) we have the stupendous book The Miracle of the Bells, which I have no time to do justice today. There is a movie version too, which falls far short of the power of the book - but even the movie version contains the critical scene - the late Christmas Eve dinner of Bill "White Spats" Dunnigan and the mysterious Olga Treskovna in a small midwest town, all closed up for Christmas - except for Ming Gow's Chinese restaurant. The book gives the grand menu they ate, which no real restaurant could ever match, for it was designed and cooked and served not according to the menu, but from the heart of Ming Gow. From the rising to the setting of the sun [Mal 1:11] the Wise Men came, from the East and from the West... And the mystery of this dinner - though it was just Olga and Bill, a man and a woman - was about the much larger kind of love which is not the simple form - dare I say not the natural form of love? I do not mean something evil - no, I mean something transcendently good. It was not natural love, because it was supernatural love. It was a chance encounter for the hero and the heroine, who were to spend so little time together... yes, like the famous "King and I" the story contains a death, but unlike that musical, "Miracle" is centered on the death, indeed, is much more about what happens after that death than about anything else... all the good that comes about by divine power but conditioned by an unfailing trust of a mere human, by a weak, but hopeful man...

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Advent 2008 - December 18 - O Adonai

Come O Adonai!

December 18: Seven more days: O Adonai (O Lord of Israel)

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in braccio extento.

(translation from Fr. Britt)

O Adonai, and Leader of the house of Israel, who didst appear unto Moses in the burning bush, and gavest to him the Law on Sinai: COME and redeem us by Thy outstretched arm.

(another version)

O sacred Lord of ancient Israel,
who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush,
who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain:
come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

Today, let's consider another of my Christmas favourite shows, "White Christmas". It may strike you as a marvel - that a Jewish composer could render Christmas with such dignity - but Irving Berlin had a very sensitive, indeed, quite sensible, approach to Christmas, and in this musical adventure there are several interesting things to mention. Far more than the Grinch, it speaks about Christmas by emotion and by deep chords of the human heart: of the intense longing for home, of love (even if separated for a time, or even somehow perceived as betrayed), of restoration, of mystery in the winter night - and of snow.

There is the very touching opening scene - in an "advanced area" of the European Theater of World War II - a stage, a tiny band, a couple of performers, and a homely backdrop of a winter-frosted town... but this would have been just as powerful if the rest of the scene had been in the South Pacific - and it is most Chestertonian. GKC points out the powerful attraction of Christmas which abolishes simple and mundane matters like chronology and geography, and puts us immediately "at home"...
We all know that the popular presentation of this popular story, [the Nativity] in so many miracle plays and carols, has given to the shepherds the costume, the language, and the landscape of the separate English and European countrysides. We all know that one shepherd will talk in a Somerset dialect or another talk of driving his sheep from Conway towards the Clyde. Most of us know by this time how true is that error, how wise, how artistic, how intensely Christian and Catholic is that anachronism.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:307]
I know there are only faint hints of the deeper reality of Christmas in that show, but they are there, and in the hands of a powerful artist such as Berlin, even a hint can evoke a much larger view.

We see that again in the next scene - the late Advent hilarity in south Florida where the two guy stars meet the two girl stars, which shortly transits into one of my favourite scenes - the meeting on the train in the club car: "Vermont ought to be beautiful this time of year - all that snow." Some wise-guy bible scholars whine about how the first Christmas could not have been in winter, and most certainly did not involve snow... But! When Chesterton visited the Holy Land in 1920, no sooner did he get to Jerusalem than it began to snow. [The New Jerusalem CW20:238]

Then the two couples come to the Pine Tree Lodge - run by a former general who was their commanding officer. And they put on their show... moved not so much by money or even by "show-biz" - but by a certain reverence for him. One thing leads to another - I'm not going to summarise the plot here. But they manage to get a bunch of their former comrades to come and show their support... does television substitute for a star, an old grist-mill-turned-ski-lodge for a cave in the hills by Bethlehem? I do not suggest this is any sort of analogy. But just as a painter can make you think you see one colour by the cunning use of others, or a musician can make you think you hear notes or melodies which are not actually sounding on any instrument.... so too there is a larger view and a warmer tone and a grander harmony to this show.

There is, too, at the very end, the restoration - at least in Betty's eyes - of her "fallen white knight"... and so we hear those most ancient notes of the Protoevangelion... for on Christmas the True White Knight is born. No pun intended.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Advent 2008 - December 17 - O Wisdom

Today, sa you know, begins the "Greater Feria" - the grand countdown to Christmas!
Back in 2005, I posted some comments about these, which I shall not repeat now.
But I will give the text, and then something else. Ah, but what else?

I had to think a little about what I might write for you this year, since my food thing is just not quite cooked sufficiently, and now I am almost out of time anyway.

So I thought I might give just a few thoughts on several famous Christmas stories. I only need seven - or eight. That ought to be possible.

Come, O Wisdom!

December 17: Eight more days: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

(translation from Fr. Britt)

O Wisdom, that proceedest from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end mightily, and sweetly disposing all things, COME and teach us the way of prudence.

(another version)

Wisdom, O holy Word of God,
you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care.
Come and show your people the way to salvation.

Today, let's look at the Grinch. The one who stole Christmas. I mean the cartoon, not the book, not the "human-based" movie.

There are lots of interesting things about the cartoon. The first is what my mother always said was "Who-Latin". I don't know what they really said, and I don't want to be told what the printed lyrics were. To me they were singing the Gloria, whcih of course was in Who-Latin. It sure sounds like they say: La-WHO-damus = the Who form of laudamus = "we praise". This is one of the Five Great Verbs of the Gloria, about which I hope to write one day.

The second is the strange anatomical flaw in the Grinch. His heart was "two sizes too small". Yes. In the end (as St. Paul tells us) it is charity that will last, and it is the driving power which enables us to do God's will. If one's heart is too small, there is no room for God or neighbor - actually, the only love most people think they have in such cases is love-of-self. But really that's not there either. It is this required and triune love which explains the reason for his heart to grow three sizes when he converts. (There is also the strange allusion to the strength he gains at that moment - the strength of "ten grinches plus two" - 12 for the twelve days, but also for the 12 Apostles and 12 tribes of Israel?)

The third is the very Chestertonian paradox of the Grinch as Santa-Who-Steals. I cannot go into this at length, since it would spoil an excellent puzzle, but you need to read (or re-read) GKC's Manalive in order to understand.

The fourth is the very Chestertonian chaos of the Who Christmas. They decorate everything - every blessed window and every blessed door, ceilings and floors and Uncles and Aunts (Gilberts and Franceses) and with the most bizarre and grand and unique and not-used-for-anything-else kind of things. Bissledinks and Wugs. Pan-phunas. Pang-tookas. Who-foo-fluff. Koo-goo-who bricks. No one knows what those things are, but they do. And that is how we ought to decorate!

(Hey! Why not schedule some Who-Christmas decoration time and make some of your own? It's as Chestertonian as Gype.)

Then there is the music - the noise, noise, noise, noise - and the most WONDERFUL musical instruments - gar-dinkas, trum-tookas and slew-slonkas... some played by whole bands of Whos... Wow. Can you say polyphony, Mr. Geisel? (hee hee!) Chestertonians remember how GKC delighted in this:
I remember a debate in which I had praised militant music in ritual, and some one asked me if I could imagine Christ walking down the street before a brass band. I said I could imagine it with the greatest ease; for Christ definitely approved a natural noisiness at a great moment. When the street children shouted too loud, certain priggish disciples did begin to rebuke them in the name of good taste. He said: "If these were silent the very stones would cry out." [GKC "The Tower" in Tremendous Trifles quoting Luke 19:40]
A natural noisiness at a great moment - Indeed!

Then there was a grand dinner... oh my. The banquet at the End of the World. Blessed are those WHO are called to the wedding-supper of the Lamb! [Apo/Rev 19:9] With seven servants, like the Russian nesting dolls which I used to teach recursion at college - yes, seven, just to serve a single perfect strawberry to a little girl-Who. Wonderful. So heavenly.

Ah... there are many other hints and glimpses, more than I can now recall - the whole Grinchy thing is so Chestertonian in so many ways.

Finally, the mystical and most O-antiphonic scene when "at a quarter of dawn... he paused and the Grinch put a hand to his ear"... (Perhaps I ought to have saved this for December 21!) It passes very quickly, but the dark night sky gives way to rose and yellow and white light as the Whos begin their Morning Canticle of Praise (La-Who-damus Te!) - and He who is Light from Light [Nicene Creed; cf Jn 1:4 and 8:12] is even seen in a mystic stellar blaze, much as how the Wise Men saw Him beckoning from afar...

The Whos began to sing - like true Christians, because of the Day of Jesus' Birth, not for any other reason at all. Because He is the Gift (and sends us the Gift) which cannot ever be taken away (that's also in St. Paul). The most we can do is throw it away, but once we have it, no one can take it from us. Indeed, no Grinch, no Communist, no Pagan, no Enemy has been able - or will be able - to steal Christmas - because we have THEE, o Lord. O Wisdom, help us, and enlighten us that we may praise Thee, even as the Whos down in Who-ville!

Welcome, Wisdom, bring Thy light.
Welcome in earth's cold dark night.
Welcome Wisdom, while we stand,
Heart to heart and hand in hand. [Cf Acts 4:32]

PS. I must add that this year I am feeling particularly Grinch, since I am seeing my 53rd Christmas. "Why for fifty-three years I've put up with it now..."

But please God I am the post-dawn Grinch, and not the other one... For I wish to eat some of their mystical Roast Beast which never diminishes. (That is right out of Aquinas, you know.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Advent 2008 December 15

Well, it looks like I am too far behind this year, and don't expect to catch up. I ought to have picked something simpler - or done a better preliminary design. And I did get side-tracked, as usual, and went too deep too quickly.

But I will try to keep going, at least for those of you who may already be interested.

Let us get back to the central idea. Food is necessary for life. This means that food brings something into us which we need, and since we know from experience that we need different foods, and that trying to live from one single food is probably not healthy, we must have various kinds of needs - that is, there are different purposes to our food. I mean, apart from the obvious one of satisfying our hunger.

What are those purposes?

In order to answer that question, we can come at it from two directions: (1) What is food, and what does it contain? (2) What are our bodies made of, and what is it they "use up" or require in order to stay alive?

Just for a change, let's start with the second way.

This human body is a material structure. It is built out of various components. In order to grow it needs more of those components. In order to do things, it needs energy. These two needs account for most of what we eat - but there are a few other things besides that we need and some of them are perhaps a little startling.

1. We need the main building blocks: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, potassium, calcium, and a handful of others. These have to come in a form that the body can handle - we cannot eat coal or diamonds, or get our nitrogen from the air - and some (like sodium, phosphorus, and chlorine) are deadly poisons in their pure forms.
2. We need fuel - something which can supply energy. We're not a fireplace or an internal combustion engine (like a car engine) so the fuel is not "burnt" in the dramatic way a fire burns wood or oil - but the fuel is truly burned in the sense of being combined with oxygen, because it produces the usual result of fires: carbon dioxide (that's what we breathe out).
3. We need certain things - not simple components like sulfur, but actual compounds - to come in a directly useful form - some things which our bodies cannot make for themselves. This must sound rather odd, but it is a simple fact. One gets sick if one does not eat certain things in the right proportion.
4. We also need material to help in getting rid of the material we eat that we cannot use. This sounds even more odd, but then except for water and salt and sugar, there aren't any other materials that we can actually consume that we can use in their pure forms! And since we have to eat things in their natural form (like fruits or vegetables), or in a form that we process according to a huge variety of traditional methods (we use the term "cooking" as a general verb for this), or we may unintentionally eat things we don't really need, like dust, bugs, dirt on baked potatoes, burnt corners of toast, and so forth - but also stuff we cannot really avoid, like certain pigments in fruits - all these we need to get rid of, and so we need something which (like the water in our blood) can serve as a "transport". (We're getting to some delicate matters here, I know.)
5. There is something else, which is rather on the mystic side, but I don't mean in a religious or supernatural sense, like a sacrament. Not yet, anyway. But there is another need which arises from our humanity which does not arise from any biochemical reaction. I will talk about this later, and we can argue about it then.

How do our meals satisfy these needs? Let us go through them, and give the simple answers, and perhaps in coming days I will write more.

1. Building blocks: The primary answer is protein This supplies all of the basic CHONPS needs of the elements - well, all but the P, but since we almost always eat complete cells, we get DNA and RNA as well as protein, and that has P (but no S).
2. Fuel: There are three answers: fats, starches, and sugars. Some people say "carbohydrates" for starches and sugars. All of these are "burned" - that is combined with oxygen - to produce energy to run the body and do things like move and talk and think.
3. Other special things: There are several components for living which our bodies cannot make, such as vitamins and various other biochemicals. We must get them from something whih has already made them - and we must be sure that we do not destroy them when we cook or store them.
4. Waste: The often-heard term "fiber" is the answer - but we also need water in any of its forms, like beer or wine or milk.
5. The mystic thing: that need we shall hear more about in the future. For now, all I will say is that there is a difference between (say) a plant in the sun, or a dog eating, or a car's gas tank being filled - and any human meal, even the simplest.

And we shall proceed again later, as time may permit.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Advent 2008: Week Two Tuesday

Let's continue with just a little more, about Carbon before we proceed to the larger issues of our study. I want to give you some technical comments from a reference work, not to overwhelm you with science, but to hint at larger topics, to be addressed when I or someone else has more time:
Carbon is unique among the elements in the number and variety of the compounds which it can form. Over a quarter of a million have already been isolated and described [1950] but this gives a very imperfect idea of its powers, since it is the basis of all forms of living matter. Moreover, it is the only element which could occupy such a position. We know enough now to be sure that the idea of a world in which silicon should take the place of carbon as the basis of life is impossible; the silicon compounds have not the stability of those of carbon, and in particular it is not possible to form stable compounds with long chains of silicon atoms. If our theory of the relation of atomic structure to properties is sound, it must give reasons for the unique position which carbon occupies.
These reasons are essentially two. In the first place, the typical 4-covalent state of the carbon atom is one in which all the formal elements of stability are combined. It has an octet, a fully shared octet, an inert gas number, and in addition, unlike all the other elements in the group [below it in the Periodic Table] an octet which cannot increase beyond 8, since 4 is the maximum covalency possible for carbon. Hence the saturated carbon atom cannot co-ordinate either as donor or as acceptor, and since by far the commonest method of reaction is through co-ordination, carbon is necessarily very slow to react, and even in a thermodynamically unstable molecule may actually persist for a long time unchanged. More than 50 years ago Victor Meyer drew attention to the characteristic "inertness" (Trägheit) of carbon in its compounds, and there can be no doubt that this is its main cause.
There is, however, another reason for the multiplicity of carbon compounds, and this is that the affinity of carbon for the most diverse elements, and especially for itself, for hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and the halogens, does not differ very greatly: so that even the most diverse derivatives need not vary much in energy content, that is, thermodynamic stability.
[Sidgwick, The Chemical Elements and Their Compounds, 490]
It would seem that the word "catholic" or "universal" applies to carbon in some strange sense, just as it applies to water.

Now, as I mentioned last time, there are several important classes of compounds which are studied in the "interdiscipline" known as "biochemistry" , sitting halfway between biology and chemistry and having its own sub-speicializations like molecular biology and so forth - but having practical branches in medicine and phamacology, and also in food and cooking.

Chief among these important classes of compounds are the proteins. But before you start to feel overwhelmed with the gigantic numbers of possible organic compounds alluded to above, I must point out that proteins are actually quite simple, at least when they are formed. Much as Maria Von Trapp taught the "Do-Re-Mi" of music, you will only need to learn "alphabet" of proteins in order to sing along.

For proteins are polymers - chains or strings of simple compounds, just as words are strings of letters, and melodies are chains of notes. There are other polymers we shall meet later, and you may already know of plastics with names like polystyrene or polyethylene (which are polymers of all one thing, like styrene or ethylene) but for proteins, the simple "mer" (Greek for "part") the building block is an amino acid, of which there are 20. And unlike those plastics, the proteins are made of what will appear as arbitrary sequences of these amino acids - as arbitrary as the letters of a word, or words of a sentence. But before we can talk about proteins, we need to talk about amino acids, and in doing so we shall see the central importance of carbon!

An amino acid has one central carbon, and all four of its bonds are connected to different things. One is just the lowly hydrogen. The second connects to something written as -NH2, which is called an "amine" group - this is why they are amino acids. The third connects to a something written as -COOH, which is called a "carboxylic acid" group - this is why they are amino acids. The fourth is connected to something else - 20 different something elses - which give us the 20 different amino acids. (Actually there are others, but these 20 are the primary ones.)
The something can be as simple as one more hydrogen - this one is called glycine:

Or it could be as complex as the phenyl group as in tyrosine:

For convenience, chemists call this "different" part (the thing on the fourth carbon bond) the "R" group: it's the one that makes the specific amino acid. If you want to see all twenty, you can use my index.

Next you need to know how these amino acids join together. It works rather like railroad cars, with a coupler at either end. I have to digress a little, but it is quite relevant. Here is one of those elegant facts (which very few people ever notice) about letters, unless one is a computer scientist, or has studied other languages like Chinese or ancient Egyptian that use pictograms of various kinds. A letter (like an amino acid in a protein, or like a railroad car) actually has two couplers: it connects on the left and on the right. (Unless one is playing Scrabble or doing crosswords or such gmaes, then we pretend.) Now for an amino acid, the "left connector" is the amino group, and the "right connector" is the carboxylic acid group. They are joined by taking off one of the hydrogens from the amino group, and the -OH from the acid group, and linking the nitrogen in the amino group to the carbon in the acid group. This new bond is called a peptide bond.

How is that done? There's a vast piece of machinery called the "ribosome" - it's so big we can see it in a microscope. It builds the protein, one amino acid at a time, like the conveyor belt in a little factory. (In a future post I will tell you about how it knows which one to add next!)

Why are there proteins? Since the are rather like words, and words have all kinds of differnt uses, the same is true for proteins. Proteins do most of the work - the machinery - of the living cell, in particular the special kinds called enzymes, which are able to convert one chemical into another. But they are important in larger organisms too: proteins are the main components of muscles. And remember that I said the machine called the ribosome is what makes proteins? The ribosome contains several dozen proteins. (Yes, if this sounds complicated, it is. That is another one of the great examples of why biology and computer science are so intimately related! It's like using a copier to run off copies of the design plans for that copier!)

But here we have to stop for today.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Advent 2008: Week Two Monday

(Yes, I am terribly behind but shall plod ahead anyway.)

Having explored a little about water, we shall now begin the main part of our study of food. There are two "elementary" views we can take, depending on whether we start from the strictly chemical, or from the physiological - but we shall find them twined together anyway. What are the elementary aspects of food? Do we mean what precise chemical elements are in them? Or do we mean what does food do for the living thing: what elementary functions or duties does it accomplish? Why do we need food anyway?

And it has to be food - something edible in two ways, not just one. There is a hidden mystery in our Lord's words about His Father's goodness:
And which of you, if he ask his father bread, will he give him a stone? Or a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? [Lk 11:11]
What we eat must be functionally edible - something we can digest, as we can digest an egg, but not a stone. But it must also be "humanly" edible, too: we eat fish, but not serpents. (Yes, I know some people do eat rattlesnake, and they say "it tastes like chicken" - but such things were forbidden by Jewish ritual, and few people, being sensible folks, will find the idea appetising in any case!) There is also this odd little hint from Chesterton showing the stupidity of some people in these matters:
... he died through his faith in a hygienic mixture of chalk and water as a substitute for milk, which beverage he regarded as barbaric, and as involving cruelty to the cow.
[GKC The Man Who Was Thursday CW6:497]
Well. When Jesus faced the devil in the desert in the famous duel of Scripture Quotes (Lk 4) He said: "it is written that Man liveth not by bread alone, but by every word of God." [Lk 4:4 quoting Deut 8:3] Clearly we cannot live on water alone - and why? We can drink water. We can also eat salt - at least a little bit of it - but we cannot live on salt alone either. Why?

Because though we are more than half water, we are made of other things besides water - and those things get used up. And like fire, we need fuel, and our fuel gets used up.

What are we made of? What do we use for fuel? And how does food answer these questions?

These questions provide our topic for the next few days.

A rock song by Rush, as I mentioned elsewhere, states that we are made "from the dust of the stars" - and that is true. After the hydrogen and oxygen of water, the next elements which our bodies contain are these:
(Note: I am listing them in a certain pedagogical way, not in precise order of composition.)

These six - Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Sulfur - CHONPS - are the critical building blocks of the non-water parts of our bodies. And chief among these is Carbon.

Carbon is part of one of the "energy reactions" of stars, as are Oxygen and Nitrogen, but it is both fuel and ash, being regenerated as the Hydrogens are consumed and energy is produced. But in stars, the carbon exists in that strange form called "plasma" which is something beyond gas and even beyond flame. On earth, Carbon can be found in its elemental state, more or less pure - you most likely have some in your house. It has three strange and wonderful forms, perhaps to dignify its great and mystic character:

1. the amorphous (shapeless) form, which you may have as coal for your furnace, or as charcoal (either for art or for barbeque).
2. the "planar" form, which is graphite - it is used as a dry lubricant, or mixed with some clay to make it hard enough to use, it is found in pencils (The pencil "lead" is not the metal element "lead"!)
3. the crystalline form, which is diamond - it is used for cutting and drilling, but also as a jewel, since it is hard and also beautiful. (Only a diamond can cut a diamond, so hard it is.)

Another mystic insight is that Carbon has what we might call an "apostolic" core: its nucleus contains twelve baryons (six protons, six neutrons). I shall not make much of the numerous (and sometimes gaudy) appearances of numbers within Scripture, but that one I cannot help but delight in. Moreover, the four chemical bonds of carbon follow the same tetrahedral arrangement as the dipoles of water:

Which means that like water, Carbon also has a cruciform character. Also like water, Carbon is strange and unique and marvellous as an element. No other element forms so many compounds! Again, one might write a whole book just about this element, but we have no time to go into all its wonderful chemistry - there is a whole special and very large branch of chemistry devoted to carbon compounds: the discipline called "organic" chemistry.

It is "organic" because for a very long time, as the subject of chemistry was slowly forming, it was thought that the substances of life were somehow "different" from those of non-living things - this view (which sounds so odd to us these days, or should sound odd!) parallels the ancient view that things in the "heavens" (meaning stars and planets, sun and moon, and even the sky) obeyed different rules from things on earth! All that was abolished beyond argument in 1829 when a German chemist named Wöhler produced the organic compound called "urea" (yes, the stuff in urine) in the laboratory from non-living substances! (There is a lot about this in chapter 2 or Fr. Jaki's The Relevance of Physics, and it is very interesting reading.)

While there are many organic compounds which are important and useful (think of all the various plastics and textiles and dyes and other such things), the truly organic organics - that is the carbon compounds of living things - can be roughly classified into several groups, and those are the ones we need to examine further. Their names will sound familiar, since we hear them a lot these days:
1. Proteins
2. Carbohydrates
3. Fats (also called lipids)

There many others, which scientists divide based on their shapes or their detailed compositions, or their purpose in the living organism, and some of them will matter to us. For now I will just mention a few, classing them for my own purposes into these:
4. nucleotides (this means DNA among other things)
5. enzymes
6. vitamins
7. wastes (this includes urea)

So where is the food? We hear about "fat" all the time - and yes, butter and lard and oil are pure (or all but pure) fats. We hear about "carbohydrates" all the time - and yes, sugar is pure carbohydrate - indeed white sugar is one of the purest substances one can buy in a supermarket! And one can also buy vitamins (though these are almost never pure, they are mixed with other stuff as "carrier", because the pure amount would be too small to handle easily.

Obviously we cannot buy - or eat - the raw elements, or even the raw "organics" (except in a few cases). But we do eat bread, or cheese, or all the many other foods in all the thousands or millions of combinations.

We shall go further next time.

Monday, December 08, 2008

How I Got in Trouble in Grad School Making Christmas Decorations

No, not because they were religious. And not, like Calvin drawing his famous "stegosaurs in spaceships", because I was drawing them during class.

Here's what happened. And yes, this is part of my Advent postings, even though I was going to do it yesterday, and (due to unexpected complications) I was not able to get very far with things. It is just a little more on water, tied rather curiously to my observation that we might just as readily call the new "Luminous" Mysteries the "Mysteries of Water" because of the important role water has in each of them. Now you will of course easily see how water relates to the Baptism, to the Miracle at the Wedding-feast of Cana, to innumerable episodes of the Gospel grouped under the "Proclamation of the Kingdom", and to the Eucharist.

Yes, but even in the Transfiguration water has a mystic role and a secret appearance: for both Matthew and Mark tell us that our Lord's garments became "as white as snow" [Mt 17:2, Mk 9:2] We know, of course, that snow is water, and "water has no color of its own" [Wendon Blake, Oil Landscapes Step By Step]. Water, or rather snow, as usual displays its "transcendental" colour, as Chesterton terms it: Water, like " is a very beautiful thing, like diamonds; and transparency is a sort of transcendental colour." [GKC "The Crime of Gabriel Gale", The Poet and the Lunatics] Water, like glass, has what a friend calls the mystical "colour of the nearby" - indeed, the two transcendental colours are "clear" and "reflection"...

I would like to talk some more about this, But as I am late, and this is really yesterday's post, I ought to proceed. Besides, I wrote for a whole week about water, and I have to proceed to the main topic next. But that will be either later today or more likely tomorrow.

For today's post (I mean what I intended to post yesterday) is a "how-to". For the crime of Dr. Thursday in Grad School was to get in deep trouble by making seven-pointed snowflakes to help decorate the computer science office.

Yes, you read that correctly. Snowflakes with seven points.

But let us proceed, and you can make them too.

Here's what you need:
1. White paper.
2. Circle drawing tool (compass, big dish (hee hee), or something else round).
3. Protractor.
4. Pencil.
5. Scissors.
6. Ruler.

1. Use your circle drawing tool to draw a nice big circle on your white paper - however big a snowflake you want.

2. Cut along the circle, so you will have a nice round piece of paper. You can save the scraps for making Who-ville style zam-zoogles or pamfunals for on your floor or your Christmas Tree, or for writing notes, or chopping into confetti for New Year's or whatever other decoration you may need.

3. Take your round paper and fold it in half.

(Yes, it's kind of like a Greek "Phi". And if I put in a triangle we'd have the "deathly hallows" if you know what that is. But this is an even more fantastic use of magic.)

4. Lay the half-circle down with the flat side towards you. Then, using your protractor, mark off six ticks, each 25 and 5/7th degrees apart. But it's hard to be that precise so make ticks at
25.7 degrees
51.4 degrees
77.1 degrees
102.8 degrees
128.5 degrees
154.3 degrees
or as close as you can get. (You can probably estimate it by hand - you have to space six ticks evenly along the edge of the half-circle.)

I've opened it back, and turned it a little, but it ought to look like this now:

5. Using the ruler, draw very faint lines from each tick to the center.

6. Now, this is the tricky part. You have to fold your half-circle into a kind of fan, along each of those six lines you have just drawn. BUT! You have to fold each successive line the opposite way from the previous fold, so you'll get a kind of fan - it will look like this:

Try it, it's not hard. You're almost there.

7. Now, make it nice and flat, so it looks like a long isosceles triangle with a curved base:

8. Using the scissors and clip out little triangles or other shapes along all the sides. I often trim off the point at a nicely skewed angle...

9. Now you will have a strange looking triangle full of holes, sort of like Charlie Brown's "ghost" costume. Here's what it will look like, still folded up:

10. Now for the fun part. Open it up, and lay it flat. Wow. You have a snowflake with seven points! Wow.

I won't show you, because you need to have the fun of doing it for yourself. No one will believe you, and if you are careful not to let your pencil marks show, no one will guess how you did it.

Here's what I did. I hung mine up in the office and waited for one of my friends to come by. Then I said, "Hey what do you think of the snowflake I made?"
The friend, who found it hard to believe someone as old as me, who was working on a doctorate, would be bothered to make such a childish thing - but being courteous, would say, "Well, it's nice."
Then I'd say, "Oh, dear. Look at what happened. I made it with seven points, not six!"
The friend would look - then look again, and count the points carefully, then say, "Whadya know! Sure it has seven! Howdya do that?"
To which I'd reply, "Oh I must have folded it wrong or something..."

Of course some can tell right away, but others are glad to learn yet another cunning application of science... Hee hee.

Oh yes, there's a secret, which you may be able to figure out, even if you are not a grad student. But I am not going to tell you, or permit comments that reveal the answer, since it is rather obvious.

And tomorrow I will resume our exploration of food...

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Advent 2008: Week One Saturday

Today we shall summarize a few facts about water, some of which we have not mentioned in our discussion.

I. Water.

A. Biblical Quotes:

1. "I thirst." [Jn 19:28]

2. Jesus answered and said to her: Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but he that shall drink of the water that I will give him shall not thirst for ever. [Jn 4:13]

3. ...the spirit of God moved over the waters. [Gn 1:2]

4. And it shall come to pass in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem: half of them to the east sea, and half of them to the last sea: they shall be in summer and in winter. [Zc 14:8]

5. He that believeth in me, as the scripture saith: Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. [Jn 7:38]

B. Chesterton Quotes:

1. One of the profound philosophical truths which are almost confined to infants is this love of things, not for their use or origin, but for their own inherent characteristics, the child's love of the toughness of wood, the wetness of water, the magnificent soapiness of soap.
["The Position of Sir Walter Scott" in Varied Types]

2. I like the Cyclostyle ink; it is so inky. I do not think there is anyone who takes quite such a fierce pleasure in things being themselves as I do. The startling wetness of water excites and intoxicates me: the fieriness of fire, the steeliness of steel, the unutterable muddiness of mud. It is just the same with people.... When we call a man "manly" or a woman "womanly" we touch the deepest philosophy.
[GKC's letter to his fiance July 8, 1899 in Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 108-9]

C. Other sources

1. [Gandlaf said,] "I cannot burn snow" JRRT, The Lord of the Rings

2. "Water has no color of its own." Wendon Blake, Oil Landscapes Step By Step

3. Water is the phantom ingredient in much Italian cooking. One of my students once protested, "When you add water, you add nothing!" But that is precisely why we use it. Italian cooking is theart of giving expression to the undisguised flavors of its ingredients. In many circumstances, an over-indulgence in stock, wine, or other flavored liquids whould tinge the complexion of a dish with an artificial glow. That is why some recipes will direct that if the quantity of broth used is not sufficient, you should continue cooking with water, as needed. We sometimes use water for deglazing, because it lasts justlong enough to help scrape loose the cooking residues stuck to the pan, and then evaporates without a trace. Whenever broth or wine has a part in developing the flavor of a dish, it is in the recipe. Otherwise use water. Marcella Hazan, The Classic Italian Cookbook

D. Basic Scientific facts
1. Composition: H2O
2. Its structure is an "L" or "V" shape at an angle of 104.5° with 0.099nm between the O and the H. (nm means "namometers", one billionth of a meter, or 0.00000003937 inches).
3. Water has a partial dipole charge of +0.41 on each hydrogen, and -0.82 on the oxygen, divided in two lobes; these partial charges point (approximately) to the corners of a tetrahedron.
4. The "hydrogen bonds" (size 0.26 nm) formed between water molecules due to this partial dipole charge accounts for a number of water's remarkable properties: (a) ice floats (water gets less dense as it freezes), (b) its high heat of vaporization and heat of fusion, (c) its abnormally high specific heat (d) it is liquid at ordinary temperatures and pressures, where related compounds are gases.
5. In pure water, only 1 of every 10,000,000 molecules are ionized - this is pH 7.0; pure water is not a good conductor: its electrical conductivity is 0.04E-6 mhos at 18°C [
6. I have to put this in because it sounds so odd. One can actually compute the concentration of water. It is 55.6M.
7. Water has one of the highest known dielectric constants: about 80 at 20°C.
8. Water is stable: Stability of water: "Even at very high temperature, heat decomposes water only slightly. At 1500°C, less than 0.2 percent of the water vapor is decoposed nuder conditions of equilibrum... even at 2000°C only about 11 percent is decomposed. Water is therefore a relatively stable compound, and we may conclude that both hydrogen-oxygen bonds of the molecule are at least fairly strong. [College Chemistry 187]
9. A vast array of compounds are soluble in water.
10. The human body is average 57 percent water (40 liters in a 70 kg 154 lb. man)

E. What water does for life
1. makes proteins and lipids take on their required shapes
2. serves as a work area
3. maintains temperature
4. reactive, but unreactive medium (another paradox!)
5. transport system: small-scale, by osmosis; large-scale, by circulation (blood)

Now that we have gotten a taste (hee hee) of what is going on with water, we shall proceed into our main topic of food on Monday.

Finally, for your enlightenment, I should mention what will go on the title page:
Jesus said to them: I am the bread of life. He that cometh to me shall not hunger: and he that believeth in me shall never thirst. [Jn 6:35]

Some references:
Rawn, Biochemistry
Guyton, Textbook of Medical Physiology
McGee, On Food and Cooking
Wells, Structural Inorganic Chemistry
Sidgwick, Chemical Elements and Their Compounds
Darnell, Lodish, Baltimore, Molecular Cell Biology
Van Nostrand's Scientific Encyclopedia
CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics

Friday, December 05, 2008

Advent 2008: Week One Friday

We are still considering water as the elementary step to our study of food. Today, Friday, it is well that ponder the sacrificial character of our subject - and so we shall hear about two extreme aspects of water - its origin and its use.

In order to talk about the origin of water, we need to touch a little on atomic physics, but I hardly have time or space (hee hee) to deal with that subject very well. Instead let us hear a line from a rock song:
I am made from the dust of the stars, and the ocean runs in my veins....
[Rush, "Presto"]
Yes, indeed, since the human body is mostly water. (We shall hear more about its other constituents as we proceed.) As you may know, most stars are mostly hydrogen:
Twinkle twinkle little star:
We know much of what you are!

Atomic fusion makes you shine,
Giving us your light so fine...
Twinkle twinkle little star:
We know much of what you are.

Now to you our eyes we lift,
Thanking God for His great gift,
Twinkle twinkle little star:
We know much of what you are.
[from "Stellar Mechanics for Kids" one of my many unpublished works.]
Ahem. And in 1783 the great French chemist Lavoisier named it "water-former" from the Greek for "that which gives birth (gen) to water (hydor). But hydrogen is a simple thing, as elementary an element as there is - just a proton, and an electron.

Yes, the stars "burn" hydrogen as fuel - it is an atomic reaction, not a chemical one; there is no "flame" as we have on earth - and they form "ashes" which are other elements. The usual "ash" is helium, which is named the "sun's element", but there are three others which are so very important we shall hear more about them next week: carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. So, in a most appropriate way for Chestertonians, we see that water is a paradoxical joining of stellar fuel (hydrogen) with stellar ash (oxygen) - that means (as hard as it will be to believe) water is the result of a sacrifice. In all cultures, from most ancient times, sacrifice is a ritual destruction of something as a religious act - we burn candles in church, partly for light, partly for symbolic reasons (Jesus said "I am the light of the world" [Jn9:5]) but also as sacrifice. No human "intends" the destruction of hydrogen within stars as a sacrifice, but it is so - they are fused together in an atomic reaction, and become helium, lithium, beryllium, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and others. But the sacrifice only begins in the stars, which we only know like the Magi, from afar by their light. But we have plenty of water on earth to play with.

Our water on earth is essential to life. (Some will want to know why I do not add here "as we know it" - but you shall learn why as you continue into our study.) As I mentioned, the human body is mostly water, and so are most other living things. The machinery of life requires water for its very existence, and for the performance of its "work" - again, more of which we shall hear about in the next week. But for today, when we recall that Friday when Jesus said "I thirst" [Jn 19:28] let us ponder how we humans use it. The quickest summary I know is a verse of a famous Hobbit bathing poem:
O! Water cool we may pour at need
Down a thirsty throat and be glad indeed;
But better is Beer, if drink we lack,
And water hot poured down the back.
[JRRT The Lord of the Rings]
Having mentioned that detail about water being star-fuel plus star-ash, I feel I ought to mention Gandalf's famous line from somewhat later in that same text:
"I cannot burn snow."
Which is as true for living things as it is for wizards. It is true that oxygen can be "burnt" in certain stellar reactions, but water (for all its importance) is cannot be used as fuel by living things. Much silliness is spoken about the eating of living things - after all, this book is about food as sacrifice - but there are only three non-living things we can safely ingest, or will appear in the typical kitchen: water, salt (sodium chloride), and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). But we need to have more water all the time, even if we drink it as milk, coffee, tea, beer or wine - which suggests another important verse for our guidance:
Feast on wine or fast on water
And your honour shall stand sure,
God Almighty's son and daughter
He the valiant, she the pure;
If an angel out of heaven
Brings you other things to drink,
Thank him for his kind attentions,
Go and pour them down the sink.
[GKC, in The Flying Inn and CW10:475]
Since I have dragged Chesterton in as a reference, we also ought to hear this very important dictum:
...we should thank God for beer and Burgundy by not drinking too much of them.
[GKC, Orthodoxy CW1:268]
Why do we need to have water all the time? Because it gets "lost" in various ways. Water is used in certain reactions, but water evaporates as we sweat, and it is used in removing certain waste products - let us not get uncomfortable here; the kidneys and related plumbing are very important, and we must learn their dignity as St. Paul tells us:
Yea, much, more those that seem to be the more feeble members of the body are more necessary. And such as we think to be the less houourable members of the body, about these we put more abundant honour: and those that are our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. [1 Cor 12:22-23]
We have already mentioned that water is the essential matter for the sacrament of baptism: the Greek root of which refers to bathing, or washing, and we think of this in our usual way as we wash our hands or take baths or showers to cleanse our bodies. But there is a far more mystical, if far more hidden truth in the other uses of water within our body, and we shall just hint at a larger discussion for now:
1. Blood is mostly water, and it brings the body into a unity (the blood is a communion of the body!)
2. By evaporating as we sweat, it cools us. (There are hints of this in the famous "Golden Sequence" of Pentecost.)
3. By transporting deadly wastes out of the blood (in the kidneys, and thence out of the body)

But, as we heard in that line from Rush's "Presto", it is the ocean that runs through our blood vessels. And not just the mere salts of the ocean, for there are many other things, both good (the components of food, our nourishment) and bad (the waste, broken or useless things), which travel there.

Tomorrow we shall conclude by summarizing our study of water; next week we shall begin to see what those components are.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Advent 2008: Week One Thursday

Yes, it's Thursday and we have audience participation. Fun stuff today!

First, here is the picture I ought to have shown yesterday, with the five water molecules:Remember this is really to be thought of as three-dimensional. Someday I will get it drawn with shadows and stuff to give you a better clue (yes I can spell perspective, but have a tough time drawing it with this little round mouse thing. Sorry.)

The next time you pour yourself a glass of water, take a good look at it. You won't see what I am going to tell you about today, but you'll need to remember it as we proceed. Let's make a tinylittle box, a cube one centimeter on each side - that's about the width of the fingernail of an adult's little finger, or about two and a half in one inch. Now, take that box and take your sharpest knife and cut it into ten million little slices, take one of those slices and cut it into ten million little strips, and take that strip and cut it into ten million little very little cubes. Each of those cubes (you would have 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 if you cut up your whole little original cube) has enough room to fit about 33 water molecules.

Now I know that is a rather tough exercise in imagination, and it is about to get even tougher.

You see, as hard as it is to imagine these bunches of really tiny little balls in the first place, you have also to remember that they are not just little balls. They attract and repel and stick and bounce around. The stick and bounce because they have that "partial dipole" - the fractional charges which make them act like magnets to each other. They move because they are warm. Yes, the startling fact for the outsider to understand when you go into the submicroscopic (molecular) world, or come back out to our "macroscopic" world, is that what we call "heat" up here is called "motion" down there.

And these things are hauling. Assuming I did both the physics and the math correctly, the average (actually the "RMS" velocity) for water at body temperature (98.6°F or 37°C or 310°K) is about 657 meters per second, or over 1460 miles per hour! Now, not all are going that fast, but some might go faster; also, not all of the energy is translational (more on that in a moment). Also they don't go very far, since there are lots of other water molecules around for them to bump into, and they will bounce like pool balls off the bumpers.

I said that not all the energy is "translational" - translation in this context means moving from place to place. There are two other forms: they rotate, and they vibrate. The bond from the oxygen to the hydrogen (the -OH bond) is kind of like a spring, and the balls can "wobble" a little. Not very far, of course, and yes, the H can come off, but in pure water only one of every ten million will be that way. (They usually don't come apart unless you do something nasty like send electricity through it - no, not even heating will do it.) Ah, you now know the secret of your microwave - like the singer who shatters the goblet, the device in a microwave oven "sings" the radio frequency which matches the -OH bond, and makes it wobble. Remember, motion in the tiny world is heat in ours? Yes. So that's how it works.

What does all this mean? I needed to tell you this so I could explain a little about that word "osmosis" I used last time. Things are moving around down there, and unless something is "tied down" somehow, it will get shifted all over the place. You can demonstrate this very easily. Time for an experiment!

Go away from home (or one room) for a while, and come back, and bring a lemon and a knife and a dish. Close all the windows and doors, and turn off any fans or heaters or things that make the air move mechanically. Go into one corner of that room and cut open the lemon, carefully, so you don't get any juice on yourself, and put the lemon and knife on the dish, and sit the dish in that corner. Don't let anyone meddle with it - if there are others around, they ought to sit quietly and help you. Then go into another corner, and wait. (You might pray or otherwise be useful in the meantime.) Soon you will smell the lemon. This is called "dispersion of a fragrance", but it works because the air is in motion, even without a fan. (Ah citrus things smell SO good!)

Here's another, maybe even more fun. You'll need the biggest bowl or jar you have - glass if possible - and a bottle of blue food colour. (Don't use ink, and DO NOT use the bathtub! I remember a Calvin and Hobbes comic... Ahem.) Fill your glass vessel with water, and sit it somewhere where it won't get shooken, while you relax and do something else (maybe pray, we need prayer!) for a while, until the water isn't visibly sloshing around. OK, now go over to it, very carefully, (DON'T BUMP THE TABLE) come VERY close to the water and GENTLY ONE SINGLE DROP of the blue into the water - then stand back.

If you have some time, you may sit and watch (why not pray as you watch, like Jesus told the apostles in the garden of Gethsemani?) Watch as slowly the blue seeps all over - and soon the whole vat is completely coloured. Amazing. No stirring!

That's also diffusion... and osmosis is (in a simple sense) the same thing. At normal temperatures, stuff seeps through fluid or gaseous mediums like air or water.

That's how many one-celled creatures get their nourishment. (There are a few who have other tricks to get their food.) It's fine, very easy for tiny things, but as soon as we have a somewhat bigger organism, we need to use those other tricks. Which means eating, if we are talking about food. But you have to remember, that each cell needs food, not "the organism". What good is a steak to a bacterium? Or to your toe? Or your left ventricle or your brain? (Hee hee. Ah,but do you hear St. Paul? The eye cannot say to the hand... [see 1:Cor 12] But hush, we'll do that someday.) Now when we were one-celled, and for a few days after, we got all our nourishment by osmosis. There's always "edible" matter floating around living beings - one of the lesser-known systems of the body, the "lymphatic" system, is in charge of managing the stuff that seeps out and would get out of control otherwise. And as hard as it may be to believe, for those who have a problem with that line in the gospel about the poor we will always have (Jn 12:8) there are "poor" cells in our bodies who literally make their living by osmosis from their neighbours: those in the cornea and lens of the eye, which have no blood vessels!

But as we heard last time, osmosis won't do the trick for organisms of any significant size. (Or rather, there has to be an arrangement to permit osmosis for every tiny bit of the organism!) So the first system that is built by every growing "large" organism is a "transport" system. In plants there are various "vascular" arrangements; in insects, birds, fish, animals and Man, there is one or another form of circulation. There is also (usually built a bit later on) some arrangement for handling food, known as the digestive system; how food is managed before it is ready is yet another part of the cunning plans. If you find this stunning, try finding out how a computer starts running. Unless you work for one of the big companies, you will probably not ever get to see the code, but at least it is somewhere, maybe locked up in a vault. (I've seen it for an old computer, and I also know the principles involved). God doesn't show His source code, but after a century of serious work we have some idea of how it is done.

Here, you may understand, is a hint to myself: someday I will have to talk about embryology and development as it is tied to computer science. All software is a matter of plan and design, and the more complex the system, the more details must be specified in the designs. It is as futile for a biologist to avoid computing nowadays as it would be to avoid chemistry! But let us get back to the water. Er. Next time.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Advent 2008: Week One Wednesday

We resume our study of water, as the first step of our larger study of food. Lest you think I have gone too far away, let me remind you that water enters into both of the Eucharistic species: a drop of water is added to the wine during the Offertory (with a special prayer said as this is done!), and the flour of wheat cannot become bread except for the addition of water - the only other substance permitted in its making. I do not know if any prayer is said when the Eucharistic breads are actually made - it is a curious question. But let us see that prayer from the Offertory:
Deus, qui humanae substantia dignitatem mirabiliter condidisti, et mirabilius reformasti: da nobis per hujus aquae et vini mysterium, ejus divinitatis esse consortes, qui humanitatis nostrae fieri dignatus est particeps, Jesus Christus Filius tuus Dominus noster: Qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti Deus: per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen.
[Missale Romanum]

O God, Who established the nature of man in wondrous dignity, and still more admirably restored it, grant that through the mystery of this water and wine, we may be made partakers of His Divinity, Who has condescended to become partaker of our humanit, Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, Who with You lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God world without end. Amen.
[Tr. St. Joseph Daily Missal]
Now, there is a lot to say about that "mystery" but I cannot go into it here. You can start with St. John [Jn 19:34, 1Jn 5:6-8] if you wish.

But water plays a role in both bread and wine, and in both we are strongly reminded of the idea of union of a making-whole. This not some simple poetic or theological notion - but is borne out by the very details of the physical chemistry of the substance! Behold:
The fact that water is liquid at ordinary temperatures whereas all the hydrides CH4, NH3, HF, PH3, SH2, and HCl of elements near to oxygen in the Periodic Table are gases, indicates interaction of an exceptional kind between neighbouring molecules. That these interactions are definitely directed towards a small number of neighbours is shown by the low density of the liquid compared with the value (1.84) calculated for a close-packed liquid with molecules of similar size, assuming a radius of 1.38 Å as in ice.
[Wells, Structural Inorganic Chemistry, 567; emphasis added]
Again, we might talk about the topic of "neighbour" here, and make allusions, but you can do that for yourself. For now, we need to see another aspect of this mysterious water, though one which arises beause of the fact that water is liquid at most ordinary temperatures of our Earth. In order to see it, we need to ascend the scale of dimension, and see water as a liquid - that is, very large quantities of molecules, and not simply one, or even five as they mostly will be:
The idea that water is in a general sense structurally similar to ice allowing of course, for greater disorder in the liquid than in the solid, is confirmed by the X-ray diffraction studies. ... at 1.5°C mean [average] number of nearest neighbours [is] 4.4 ... at 83°C [it is] 4.9.
The first thing to notice - the thing that delights little children - is that water flows. Because we are on Earth (and not in interstellar space!) our water is subject to gravity and as St. Francis remarked, our Sister is "humble" (or lowly) - She seeks the lowest place! Such a property opens the whole topic of hydraulics - the various uses of water, not as a chemical, but as a means of transport.

I do not mean ocean-going vessels, or even rowboats. What I do mean ought to be hinted at by the allusions to the Mass I gave earlier. I mean blood. In mentioning this I do not wish to begin a shoehorning into some other planned work, but because I am trying to get something done, even haphazardly, I find I have to anticipate a future discussion of anatomy and development. You see, the question comes down to this: Why is there blood at all? Some people will try to get evolutionary and say it has to do with the "primeval sea" but that's not a reason. Any real engineer would understand, just from my mentioning the word "hydraulics"! And the poets might have guessed, because of my mentioning of neighbours - and of transport. There's a matter of scale, and the whole point of having blood is to permit growth beyond the microscopic size! (In my printed text, I might have to put insomething about what "osmosis" is, and how it works, but I am skipping that for today.) Growth? You mean - like - in the womb? Yes, for that is where it starts, and those developmental anatomists have learned what is going on:
As a mammalian embryo advances through the stages characterized by cleavage, morula, blastocyst and germ layers, it satisfies all its metabolic needs by simple, diffusive interchanges with the fluid medium in which it is immersed. But as the embryo continues to gain size and begins to take form, a functioning circulatory system becomes necessary in order to make use of the required food and oxygen obtainable from the mother's blood. Hence it is that the heart and blood vessels are the first organ system to reach a functional state. [Arey, Developmental Anatomy 375]

The mammalian embryo, having practically no yolk available as food, is dependent for its survival and growth on the prompt establishment of relations with the circulation of its mother.
[Patten, Foundations of Embryology, 289]
All this is made possible because water is a liquid, and because there is that interaction of an exceptional kind between neighbours, due to that partial dipole in the mystic molecular cross called H2O.