Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Yes, audacious traveller - it is the 28th of June - but alas, I am not in Iceland to begin that greatest journey of all science fiction - the Journey to the Center of the Earth.

It is well worth our fixing this day in our calendars - there are plenty of science fiction stories, plenty of mysteries. People may recall March 25 as a most holy and grand day, the day of the downfall of the Powers of Darkness - the day the Ring went into the fires of Orodruin - Oh, you mean that date is Something Else too, celebrating an even greater triumph of an even smaller person over an even greater darkness? Why yes, that is the day on which the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity came to dwell among us as a single-celled human male cell, and over time grow into adulthood. (For only God can make Adam's "No" as fruitful as Frodo's.)

Or they may recall the birthday of the famous Boy Who Lived, July 31, which is also the great feast day of the "Fire Man" of the Faith: the soldier of Loyola who gave up - not his soldiering, but his entire life - for the Greater Glory of God.

Yes, there are plenty of important dates in fiction - though too many science fiction stories use French-Devolution style dates, which no one could possibly celebrate. When's the 10th of Messidor, anyway? Or Stardate 5762.6? It's "Once Upon a Time" or "Long long ago in a Galaxy far far away". At least some of us know what A.U.C. means, or A.M., or even A.H., if one sets one's calendars by such markers. From my studies, it appears we're not too sure about the starting date for the Long Count of the Maya, a detail I've taken advantage of by using as part X of From Darkness Into Light. (That's part of my Saga, if you really want to know.)

Really, it's fine to have alternative calendars. One of Chesterton's more insightful lines was in connection with such things:
A feeling touching the nature of things does not only make men feel that there are certain proper things to say; it makes them feel that there are certain proper things to do. The more agreeable of these consist of dancing, building temples, and shouting very loud; the less agreeable, of wearing green carnations and burning other philosophers alive. But everywhere the religious dance came before the religious hymn, and man was a ritualist before he could speak. If Comtism had spread the world would have been converted, not by the Comtist philosophy, but by the Comtist calendar. By discouraging what they conceive to be the weakness of their master, the English Positivists have broken the strength of their religion. A man who has faith must be prepared not only to be a martyr, but to be a fool. It is absurd to say that a man is ready to toil and die for his convictions when he is not even ready to wear a wreath round his head for them. I myself, to take a corpus vile, am very certain that I would not read the works of Comte through for any consideration whatever. But I can easily imagine myself with the greatest enthusiasm lighting a bonfire on Darwin Day.
[GKC Heretics CW1:87]
More on this some other time.

Fiction is a handy tool, and never more handy when the reference books give you convenient details all ripe and ready to combine... It was too tidy when I read this:
Whoever put in order this computation of katuns, if it was the devil, he did it, as he usually does, ordaining it for his own glory.
[Friar Diego de Landa, first bishop of Mérida, quoted in Von Hagen, World of the Maya 169]
And we know how Dante put his journey to the center of the spherical earth to culminate on the night of Holy Saturday of 1300. (Yeah, he was writing in 1320 or so, demonstrating that people knew this truth long before Columbus. Actually the Greeks knew; sometimes I think it's the Media who don't know.)

A personal aside. Like Dante, I saw the Southern Cross at midnight between Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday... it was a profoundly moving moment.

But while we do not know exactly where Dante descended - and few may wish to follow him where he led, despite the far better 2/3s of his work which follows his Hell - we DO know where Arne Sakneussemm descended, and the date, which was June 28... and we ought to recall it as a great day, and celebrate with appropriate festivities. (For more on Verne's story, see here.)

June 28 is also Frances Blogg's birthday - the dear wife of G. K. Chesterton - she of course was his favourite Blogg, which accounts for... for something. And it was also the day they got married, so perhaps it is suitable to think about difficult journeys and great real-life adventures which are stranger than fiction.

Finally, tomorrow is the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul - on which we shall begin our special novena, which ends on the Nones of July. Please join us in prayer, as there are many needs and difficulties and turmoils in our world, and we need to unite in prayer, whether we work in the depths of the earth or interstellar space...

As Hans the guide said: Forüt!!! Forward! Let us be audax - audacious - for our life is an adventure, and with prayer we may hope for a great and good ending.

Monday, June 20, 2011

From Darkness Into Light (just a taste...)

I decided to provide just a taste of what has been going on here, in case you think I sit around all day doing nothing and watching my computer look for prime palindromes. Hee hee! See what you think.
--Dr. Thursday

"Right now, there's just two things that I'm wondering about," Bernie said, still sitting by the window with his eyes closed.
Now Marty turned. "What, Bernie?"
"First, whether you really can see through that tunnel. And second, just what happened with old Davey-Jack Ludlow and this Vatican Treasure."
"Oh yeah."
John had also turned. "We'll have to stop in the library tomorrow – they have a copy of Dr. Greene's dissertation. That might give us some clue – I wasn't able to learn much from the web. But I can tell you this. If you meet me at the campus gate tomorrow about 4, we'll try to find out about that tunnel. And, unless you guys are too tired for a story, I can tell you the little I know about Davey-Jack."
Marty nodded with glee. "Oh yeah! A pirate story!"
Bernie rummaged in a drawer and pulled out a pouch. "Hey, I'll make some popcorn..."
John grimaced as he went back to his chair by the window. "None for me, thanks; I'll just have some water."

Bernie soon had the popcorn ready; all three had bottles of water. John brought out his dumbbells so he could do some lifting.
"All right. Here's the picture. We've known the Ludlow name in our family for a long time. They've been wealthy for generations, but they always had a certain – let's call it a kind of shadow – on their character. I dunno if there was something odd that happened long ago: maybe one of them was doing some counter-espionage during the Revolution, something like that. Somehow 'Ludlow' came to be linked with 'Chander' – like the black pieces and the white pieces in chess. And you've already heard how Chandler fits in: the founder of Howell, the railroad man..." He broke off somewhat uneasily.
"Sure; he and Fisher... people say a lot of 19th-century American engineering should be credited to them."
"That's one way of putting it, I guess," John said, even more uneasily. "But anyway, Ludlow. He..."
Marty interrupted. "You know, he was the one who did that ASP a few years back; he left a lot of money to our town hospital, and huge chunks of it to a group of students – including Bernie's brother Steve. The two of us might not be going here except for him."
"The ASP? That was Ray – F. Ralston Ludlow, as I recall. Yeah, he was the 'white sheep' of the family. There's others around, but I better not go into that current stuff now, it's risky." He gulped some water. "Anyway, Davey-Jack Ludlow. He was born sometime in the mid 1820s, I guess, since he was in his mid-30s when the War Between the States began, and yes, he was a sea-captain. He had been on a voyage to Europe when South Carolina seceded... and supposedly that was when this theft (or whatever it was) occurred, when he got this treasure. The story I heard said that he stole it from other thieves."
John paused for moment, pumping iron slowly as he considered his next words. "According to the story, his mother was a serious, reverent Catholic; one of her sons had entered the priesthood. But Davey-Jack had been away from her for too long, learning his ropes on one of his uncle's ships. On those sea voyages, this uncle had been dabbling into the works of some distorted philosophers – writers from the period a friend of mine calls 'the Endarkenment' – and this must have infected his nephew..."
John pumped iron violently for another interval. (Bernie felt John's last sentence was incomplete, and he noted how John was biting his lip.) Finally, he set the dumbbells down, took another swallow of water, and continued.
"Even so, Davey-Jack retained some respect for some things, if only as a form of superstition. The story said that he was in a little tavern in an Italian port when he heard two men talking about the theft: it was not just the value which tempted him, or the idea of doing these crooks out of their gains. He had heard them bragging that it was the Church's gold, and they had gotten relics as well as gold. They figured on selling them..." he hesitated. "Uh, they would sell them somewhere for a nice amount, since there were people who did dark things..." He shivered and blessed himself.
Impressed, Bernie and Marty did the same. "I start to see why St. Michael is so important to you," Marty said, indicating John's icon of St. Michael on the wall over his desk.
John smiled with delight. "You do? Oh, yeah. It's nice, isn't it? ... There may be another way of looking at it: Davey-Jack hadn't quite lost his religion; he merely ignored the parts of it he found inconvenient. And more importantly, he knew... uh, the sort of thing that was practiced by some people, especially in, uh, certain parts of Europe. They liked to get relics and sacred vessels..." He stopped and sighed. "Anyway, he managed to con the thieves, and he got their booty. But, instead of returning the treasure, or at least its sacred portion, he finished his business there, and headed back across the Atlantic."
He had been pumping his dumbbells again, but irregularly; now he put them down and sucked down most of his water. "I've seen a letter from him. And this is why I – why anyone would have some doubt about his true stature in history. The rumors always call him 'pirate' – but it might be that he should be called 'naval hero'. I'm sure you know the story of Dunkirk during the early days of World War II, how the little people of England set out in their little boats across the Channel, to rescue their army. There are others who were in the Merchant Marines who did other sorts of service for America... I wonder if, despite his failings, his undoubted greed, that he did not somehow do a like service, perhaps an even greater one, and not just for a single country."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because he kept sacred things out of the hands of men far more evil than he was."
Bernie nodded grimly. "Yeah, that's true. I've heard about some of those dark things – things that still happen in some dark corners."
John twitched at those words, but said nothing.
Bernie paused to drink some water, then asked, "So what happened to the relics? You started to say something about a letter you had seen."
"Oh, yes. The letter was to Joseph Chandler."
Their eyes were wide. "Really?"
"Yes. Part of it was missing – the part with the date – but since it mentions Howell, we know it's from after 1866. It was rambling, what some call 'sophomoric' – Davey-Jack was a widely travelled man, fluent in several languages, and with a good deal of worldly experience, but he did not have a literary mind, and his writing was often, ah, salty. He was very happy with Chandler's founding of the school, and he hoped his son would attend there once he was old enough."
"His son!"
"Sure; he married soon after his return to America – it was his second marriage. His son was named Brian Jonathan, but they called him Jonny. He... uh, but let me finish the letter, then I'll tell you more about Jonny. The important bit of the letter was the P.S., and I will quote that for you verbatim:
My dear Chandler. I write this much later. Since I wrote the above, a man we both know has come. You know the office he holds. He requests my services and my ship, for pay – and as you know I am not in a position to refuse. I have told you about my last European adventure, and what came from it, and where it went. There was a part, by far the more valuable, which I retain. I am sending it to you by the man who brings you this letter. We had spoken of such things once and I know you are the right man to deal with them. If Jonny is brought up right, perhaps he will not fall as I have. Perhaps he will follow his uncle to something higher. You must determine what to do in his case. I am also sending wherewithal so you can make provision for him. But let Rose have the roses, when she is old enough to hear the story. And pray for me.
Your servant. D. J. L."

John was silent for a short interval. Then he sighed and shook his head. He picked up the dumbbells again and began to pump vigorously.
"Where did he go?"
"On another voyage. He never came back."
Bernie let out his breath, and nodded. "Yeah, that's what I figured you were going to say."
"Sure; and that's why the further details of the story are lost."

[from my From Darkness Into Light: Part I Bernie and Marty Go To Howell. Copyright © 2010 by Dr. Thursday; all rights reserved.]

Friday, June 17, 2011

Does a Hobbit weigh a hobbit?

Ah, words - as King Azaz sighed in The Phantom Tollbooth.

As I was paging through Black's Law Dictionary I was astounded to spot this:
HOBBIT. A measure of weight in use in Wales, equal to 168 pounds, being made up of four Welsh pecks of 42 pounds each. Hughes v. Humphreys, 26 Eng. L. & Eq. 132.
[BLD 864]
Amazing. I guess a hobbit who weighed a hobbit would be a fairly chunky one.

Also, speaking of strange units to be discussed at the next meeting of the ISO:
RASUS. In old English law. A rase: a measure of onions, containing 20 flones, and each flone is 25 heads. Fleta, lib. 2, c. 12 § 12.
[BLD 1427]
So a Rase is 500 onions. I guess we'll soon speak of a megarase as 500,000,000 onions, and so forth; a centirase is just 5, and 2 millirases is a single onion. I feel so happy to know these units: flone, rase, hobbit. It is a good thing.

Question for homework: would a rase weigh a hobbit?

I know there was other stuff to tell, but the papers got away. And besides all my other stuff, I have to get back to Quayment - or Stirling. I forget which. Bye.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Driving to Quayment

Dr. Thursday drove to Quayment? Huh? Sort of like J. K. Rowling taking a train to Hogwarts, or J. R. R. Tolkien sailing to Middle Earth?

Well, no. I didn't drive to an imaginary town from my Saga. I am not quite that far gone. Not yet. But I did drive into Another State, and in the general direction of the region where Quayment lies - actually I guess I was somewhere in the area of Blueville, if you know where that is, just a way up the Hardystone from Quayment, which of course is on the Atlantic, somewhere south of Philadelphia. And I did see a sign that said "Bay Bridge" and had some other experiences which reminded me of the Saga.

Also last weekend, I decided to spend a little time in building a family tree program to handle all my characters. Here's just a sample:
Lots of fun. (If you are wondering who those "Z" people are, they are sort of place-holders for characters whom I have not yet been introduced to!)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Guides and Searches

Every so often people tell me to "goggle" something or other... which verb apparently has become synonymous with "search" - as in "over/through/by means of the INTERNET". I rarely do; the so-called free tools provided are poor and almost never work - they respond with items that do not match, or repeat multiples of items that are identical. Of course the basis of such searches is inappropriate, not to say blatantly disorganized - one might as well "search" for a phone number in the Bible. Oh my. I find all this quite sad, since "searching" is one of the things I do - or have done. However, they are trying - I don't know what they are trying, but they are trying. I often wonder if they ever studied automata theory! Hee hee. But there is another problem, which we might consider - and find not something annoying, but something reassuring.

The problem, as Chesterton perceived, is not that one cannot search by hand (or eye)... but that one may be searching for something which abounds in the storehouse being explored. It is dangerous to search for a single whisp of hay in a haystack - to say nothing of a barn full of haystacks.

BUT! This is not a bad thing. Sometimes, it is a very good thing. (I might take advantage of this opportunity to do a critique of Gobble, but I have no time, and I would want payment, since that is my profession.)

For example, just consider this from Chesterton:
...it is the test of a good encyclopaedia that it does two rather different things at once. The man consulting it finds the thing he wants; he also finds how many thousand things there are that he does not want.
[GKC "Consulting the Encyclopaedia" in The Common Man]
Now, in my never-ending search for Something Good To Read, I have often fallen back on cookbooks - which can be a lot of fun. Or, to take the advice of the great Christopher Morley:
One who loves the English Language can have a lot of fun with a Latin Dictionary.
[C. Morley. The Haunted Bookshop]
You better believe it. I could produce a daily blogg-entry if I had the time, just taking snips from Lewis and Short about the amazing links from Latin to English. But there's more.

Recently I had recourse to the Fourth Edition of Black's Law Dictionary, a huge tome nearly of the size of the great Liddell and Scott Greek Lexicon. Ah, fascinating. Among other things it has a number of excellent legal maxims, most in Latin, which are well worth our consideration, and perhaps I will tell you some later. One is so good I have surmounted it on the title page of the next installment of my Saga, but I must not spill the beans now! Hee hee.

But there were two words I happened to notice which are worth mentioning. One was "MUGGLE":
MUGGLE; MUGGLE HEADS. Marihuana is popularly known among the criminal element as "muggles" or "mooter," and addicts are commonly known as "muggle heads." State v. Navaro, 83 Utah, 6, 26 P.2d 955
Very interesting. I found another word which linked Rowling to Tolkien, but I have misplaced the reference so will defer it for today.

But there was one which rather leaped out: a word akin to those used in the famous chimney song in "Mary Poppins". Actually there were three words, all related: "Chimin. Chiminage. Chiminus." The last was defined as "the way by which the king and all his subjects and all under his protection have a right to pass..." Of course this has an amazing ramifiction into Chesterton and other such matters. Let me just give you two references as a starting point for meditation:
Then I remembered what it was that made me connect such topsy-turvy trespass with ideas quite opposite to the idea of crime. Christmas Eve, of course, and Santa Claus coming down the chimney.
[GKC Manalive "The Two Curates; or, The Burglary Charge"]
The chimney is indeed a chiminus, the royal road:
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]
Quite simply amazing what these lawyers come up with - Mary Poppins, and the royal road that leads down from heaven into the home of the Common Man. As Bert the chimney sweep says, "It's a doorway to a plyce of enchantment..." Ah.

Another day I will tell you some more interesting things that I found which I did not want... they are as amazing as that incredible sequence of three machine instructions that made no sense to me which I found when I was disassembling something back in college... it was a fantastic discovery, and maybe I will tell you that also. Serendipity is yet another one of the signatures of God.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Just for fun: a TWEET little sonnet

I was thinking about stupid modern things, and people who don't like reasonably generous size stories or other forms of literature, and a Certain Magazine which thinks Brevity is the Sole of Wit - or something. Of course this problem is around 800 years old, as we know "Gaudent Moderni Brevitate" = "The moderns rejoice in brevity" which was the beginning of a famous discussion of music from 1325. (De Handlo, I think, is the author's name.)

Anyway, as you know, my Saga is NOT brief. But then I do not like that goofy playrite named Slopskeer either. (Not only could he not rite, he couldn't spel. Hee hee.) Ahem. So, just for fun, I asked a friend about this "twit" thing, and how many characters were permitted, and I was told, 140. So I guess we have a new quantity-word: a "twit" (or "tweet") is four less than a gross. Eau que! I can handle that. I guess eventually we'll see the ISO add it to the universal constants, if they can ever get to an agreement... I wonder what the metric version will be, and whether there will be a platinum-iridium reference Twit in a sealed glass case over in Paris... oh my the fertility of the fun! Another day for that.

Well, since that goofy playwright wrote sonnets too, I decided to try to produce a sonnet which could fit into a Twit. Obviously, I could not abide by the usual beats-per-line thing, but then no real poems have that, just as it is not a poem if it does not rhyme. (I call those other things "poem-like substances" - as in Homer and the Roman dudes, etc. Too bad, they might have been famous if their stuff had rhymed. (hee hee!) But those gaggy modern things I simply use and then flush.) But this post is not a comment about poems. It is a laugh. I did manage to make a little something, and unless I counted wrong, there's just 139 characters here. See what you think. I give it twice: once in the twit-condensed form, and again with some white space tomake it readable. You know, leaving white space out is not very modern at all, the Greeks and Romans and even the ancient Egyptians did that. Oh my. Anyway, here's a tweetable sonnet for your amusement:

They exhort/TWEET:/Short/& sweet./A word/Misplaced/Unheard/Disgraced/Sad/Empty gigs/Bad/Dead twigs./Thank God for fitter/Pens than TWITTER.

[Dr. Thursday June 5 2011]

They exhort
& sweet.

A word

Empty gigs
Dead twigs.

Thank God for fitter
Pens than TWITTER.

[Dr. Thursday June 5 2011]
And... if you think it horrid, just take it as a challenge... try it yourself.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Science and the Ascension

I had a debate as to whether to post this on the Duhem Society blogg or here. It is cases like this when we can thank God for George Boole, and so we can say "YES" to such "or" types of questions. Hee hee. (That's the famous trick we computer scientist use when asked if we want ice cream or cake. We reply, "Yes".)

Anyway, this is just a short excerpt but it is intense as usual. So read it and think about it, and get busy.
Now the whole of the rationalistic doubt about the Palestinian legends, from its rise in the early eighteenth century out of the last movements of the Renascence, was founded on the fixity of facts. Miracles were monstrosities because they were against natural law, which was necessarily immutable law. The prodigies of the Old Testament or the mighty works of the New were extravagances because they were exceptions; and they were exceptions because there was a rule, and that an immutable rule. In short, there was no rose-tree growing out of the carpet of a trim and tidy bedroom; because rose-trees do not grow out of carpets in trim and tidy bedrooms. So far it seemed reasonable enough. But it left out one possibility; that a man can dream about a room as well as a rose; and that a man can doubt about a rule as well as an exception.

As soon as the men of science began to doubt the rules of the game, the game was up. They could no longer rule out all the old marvels as impossible, in face of the new marvels which they had to admit as possible. They were themselves dealing now with a number of unknown quantities; what is the power of mind over matter; when is matter an illusion of mind; what is identity, what is individuality, is there a limit to logic in the last extremes of mathematics? They knew by a hundred hints that their non-miraculous world was no longer water-tight; that floods were coming in from somewhere in which they were already out of their depth, and down among very fantastical deep-sea fishes. They could hardly feel certain even about the fish that swallowed Jonah, when they had no test except the very true one that there are more fish in the sea than ever came out of it. Logically they would find it quite as hard to draw the line at the miraculous draught of fishes. I do not mean that they, or even I, need here depend on those particular stories; I mean that the difficulty now is to draw a line, and a new line, after the obliteration of an old and much more obvious line. Any one can draw it for himself, as a matter of mere taste in probability; but we have not made a philosophy until we can draw it for others. And the modern men of science cannot draw it for others. Men could easily mark the contrast between the force of gravity and the fable of the Ascension. They cannot all be made to see any such contrast between the levitation that is now discussed as a possibility and the ascension which is still derided as a miracle. I do not even say that there is not a great difference between them; I say that science is now plunged too deep in new doubts and possibilities to have authority to define the difference. I say the more it knows of what seems to have happened, or what is said to have happened, in many modern drawing-rooms, the less it knows what did or did not happen on that lofty and legendary hill, where a spire rises over Jerusalem and can be seen beyond Jordan.
[GKC The New Jerusalem CW20:315-6]

AND please remember: tomorrow begins the Great Novena, the one made at the express direction of Jesus Himself... please join us in prayer, as there are many problems and difficulties which so desperately need the aid which only the Holy Spirit can give!