Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Beyond My Deserts

I'm simply humbled by the generosity of so many around me; I don't feel like I deserve it, and I often have nothing to give in return, save for my gratitude. From the small things (birthday cards and phone calls, the anonymous person who cleaned the kitchen for me while I was out late tonight) to the big things (an unmerited place to stay while I searched for apartments, tickets to the San Francisco Ballet), I have been simply overwhelmed this year.

So (and no ordering scheme is at work here) to my parents, to Father Keyes, to Alice's parents, to Barbara, to the whole marvelous Price family, to my office mates, to Alice, to Kelsey, to Ida, to Katie, to Christoph, to everyone: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I only pray that I may give of myself so freely.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Keeping Myself Busy


Last Thursday: Gorgias Discussion at the Shrine of St. Francis. Deirdre invited me to this discussion group, for which I'm really grateful- arguing about justice and rhetoric and Socrates just gets me going. Reminded me of late night discussions in the Shoreland.

Tuesday: Math Music Night. Not coincidentally, three people chose to perform piano pieces by Bach. John showed us why he was considering a career in music (before a catastrophic broken finger diverted him to math).

Wednesday: House Night Out at Dona Thomas, whose carnitas lives up to its billing. Kudos to Erik K., food critic and St. Margaret Mary's parishioner, for the recommendation.

Thursday: Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Be there.

Friday Afternoon: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe- Deirdre and her family have organized a group of nearly 50 people seeing it en masse. I'm planning on dressing up as the wardrobe...

Friday Night: Birthday-ish Thing with Bianca and Cole. It's Cole's actual birthday and four days before mine, so the man is being generous and calling it a double party. Should be fun, though his main party idea gives me the jibblies.

Saturday Morning: Tridentine Mass of Confirmation- apparently the first in decades around these parts. Should be amazing.

Saturday Evening: Math Grad Student Potluck. This time, I mean business. And by business, I mean meatloaf. Oh, and there's a Secret Santa thing with the first-year grad students. I'm trying my best.

Sunday: Mass, and then Day of Rest. You better believe it.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Fittingly enough, tomorrow begins the new year in the liturgy.

I have received so many of God's blessings this year- gifts and talents, family and good friends, prosperity and success, grace and direction, growth and love. As the days get shorter, and the fallen leaves crumble beneath my feet, it is good to remember these things.

I've known for some time that I've been losing Alice. Now I have lost her. It would be improper for me to say much more here.

God is still good. And this minor drama has meaning, because it takes place in the great drama that is the redemption of the world. By the grace of God, there is joy even in suffering.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Return of the Memes: I Confess.

So, my recent policy of doing memes on my LiveJournal (which I opened simply in the hopes of getting access to my buddies' 'friends-only' posts) has become an abject failure. So now, I'm just going to pretend it never happened, and try out this "I Confess" meme that's been making its way though the Catholic blogosphere. So here goes my inner Augustine:

I confess that, despite my highest protestations to the contrary, I do want to be cool.

I confess that I don't know what other people see in Berlioz.

I confess that Berkeley weather has made me a wimp: I sleep in a sweatshirt every night, despite low temperatures that don't even crack 40º.

I confess that, while I'm not ordinarily a glutton, if you put candy within my reach while I'm doing math or otherwise thinking, I will consume it. All of it.

I confess that, unlike many bloggers I know, my personal library has yet to crack 100 books.

I confess I'm pretty sure that I've seen every cartoon on, and can recite the words to more than a few Strong Bad e-mails.

I confess that, several months into graduate school, tonight is the first time that I have legitimately cooked something other than a frozen dinner for myself. (I don't count the two times I made chili for the grad student potlucks; they made me do it!)

I further confess that, while cooking myself the quesadilla tonight, I triumphantly hummed the tune to "Thus Spoke Zarathustra".

I confess that I had to Google the instructions to make said quesadilla.

I confess that I really have no idea what might be the best and most moral strategy to confront homelessness, or crime, or militant Islam, or any other of a dozen major current issues.

I confess that I will probably still argue passionately with anyone who advances strong opinions on one of those subjects.

I confess that I take an absurd pride in admitting my personal faults on my blog.

Oh. Maybe that ought to be the last one, then.

UPDATE: I changed something here. It was necessary. Sorry.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Sports, Tribalism, Epics, and War

This is not a well-supported or well-edited blog post. (I've got to start somewhere.) Tell me what you think.

One thing I've been pondering of late is war, the ways that it's changed over the years. The expression "War is hell" is not immemorial, but came from the mouth of General William T. Sherman.

I'm certain that Alice (whose class on War in the Middle Ages sounds so awesome to me) is a lot more knowledgeable on this account than am I, but it just seems to me that the very nature of war has changed in the past century and a half. I think of it as once epic and heroic (recall the battle scenes from LOTR, or tales of chivalric battle, or of the Roman Legion).

I mean, it's not that the horrors of war were any less graphic or brutal then, nor that the danger of death was less. What really sets apart the past and the present in my imagination is that once, battles were occasional great struggles of a few hours or days, known in advance and prepared with courage. (Not that people didn't die outside of battles, but then, that was a constant no matter what they were doing in those centuries.) The majority of the time was spent training, marching, boasting, and drinking (and, er, other things). Nobility, glory, camaraderie and, yes, joy found time to flourish beneath the banners of old.

In recent times, war has been a prolonged state of anxiety and reflex, either in the months-long grapple for filthy trenches, or in the constant fear of snipers and ambushes.

Shakespeare had never heard of a phenomenon like post-traumatic stress disorder when he wrote the monologue to begin Henry V. The chroniclers of ancient war never described it; men of those days looked back with unalloyed pride on their earlier days of battle. From all that I've heard of the condition, you don't often get it from a battle of short duration for which you're prepared, but from a sudden attack or a prolonged state of fighting.

In fact, that which now resembles the passion and preparation of those noble tales of old is not warfare at all: it is sports. As war has become hell, we civilized societies have focused more and more on a substitute. Perhaps that is healthy; perhaps there is some part of the human temperament (for most people) that seeks out that outlet. (Of course, one can take it too far.)

Anyway, I was thinking all this when I came upon a really great essay in a place I least expected: the commentary pages of (OK, I admit, I was wasting time reading about the football games of last week and this week.) Bill Curry, a former college football coach, writes about his experience of sports rivalries, their connection to the concept of tribalism and to the larger world outside.

I realize that I've often mused about the larger relevance of sports on this blog. What can I say? Sports do matter to me, and so I think about them.

As regards war, I don't mean to excuse all wars of old- a just cause was still always necessary (as were the other conditions), and in most cases I can imagine, at least one side lacked a just cause for war. I'm just thinking that there was once a great nobility to warfare for a good cause, one that has evaporated as the methods of war have grown steadily more inhuman. It leads me to think that war should now be entered into, if at all, with a trepidation and caution beyond that exercised in any other age- not just because more lives may be lost, but because the methods of taking them are more barbaric, more remote and mechanical and revolting, than ever before. If the way that the Catholic Church speaks of war has changed its vocabulary, it reflects the change that war itself has undergone.

UPDATE: Before the comments box empties itself (they seem to have a shelf life of a few months), I'll note that I was convinced by my friends that the above is wrong, that I've been ovely influenced by romanticized accounts of war by those who never saw battle, and that grizzled reporters would have made Agincourt sound every bit as brutal as Okinawa. I leave it as a monument to a small piece of my naivete.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Karandish Watch- The End Of The Road

Sadly, Dave was let go by Martha Stewart after this week's show (the 6th week). I have to say that he acted with integrity throughout the show (unlike a number of his competitors); David worked himself to the limit on each task, didn't insult or blame others, and he refused to lie in the boardroom to get ahead. He represented himself (and my high school, FHC) admirably out there.

Of course, I had a sneaking suspicion that he was going to take the fall this week, when the Mark Burnett Editing Engine put its sights on David. The task was to arrange and auction off events with certain celebrities, and David stuck with taking notes while his teammates talked to the celebrities. (Merv Griffin made fun of David for silently typing notes on a laptop during the discussion, and the producers cued the dramatic music.) He was let go for 'not contributing enough', which was too bad.

But I don't think that this was David's one chance at success- he has a good career already in consulting for Web design. It was great to see him out there having fun and working hard, and I congratulate him on a successful and crazy summer.

(Now the only real reason to keep watching the show is to see how long the Dead Man Walking lasts- Jim has to be the only one unaware that Martha would be nuts to hire him. I bet the aforementioned Mark Burnett has just been begging Martha to keep Jim on each week, for the sake of ratings.)

P.S. I've been cheering for the White Sox over the last 3 seasons (you know, school on the South Side, the Cubs deserve their curse, etc.), so it's great to see them roll over Boston, Anaheim and Houston. Especially Houston.

The World Series games were exquisite, the most suspenseful four-game sweep you'll ever see. It had everything: late-inning comebacks, walk-off home runs, unlikely heroes (Geoff Blum), the electric (and wild) closer Billy Jenks, a 14-inning marathon where each team stranded multiple runners in extra innings, and finally a pitcher's duel of #4 starters that ended 1-0, the run scored in the eighth inning off of Houston's closer Brad Lidge, and a Series-ending play of milliseconds at first while the tying run crossed home.

The only predictable thing was the way that the commentary jinxed the action. The best timing of the Series was the play-by-play in Game 2, tied in the bottom of the ninth, Scott Podsednik at bat against Lidge. One announcer noted that Lidge's previous appearance was Game 5 of the NLCS, in which he gave up a massive game-winning home run to Albert Pujols.

Announcer 1: You think that Lidge might still have a bad taste in his mouth from that?
Announcer 2: Nah, I'm sure he's put it behind him.
Announcer 1: And it's a game-winning home run by Scott Podsednik!
Announcer 2: Maybe he hasn't put it behind him after all.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Linketh He To Blogs Strange and Various

The title alone of this post nearly made my morning: Jesus Rescued in Daring Commando Raid. Then the post itself actually made my morning. With all the back-and-forth rhetoric of "Who Would Jesus Vote For?", the author of The Medicine Box applies the missing perspective.

Lauren of Cnytr on why identifying yourself as a Neo-Cath- or, at any rate, a more "real" kind of Catholic than others- is vain and foolish.

Continuing to bat 1.000, Lauren also gives a pretty solid and pithy account of in what way the Church reads the Scriptures, in response to a piece of atrocious reporting in the London Times titled "Catholic Church no longer swears by truth of the Bible".

And I've meant to add Darwin Catholic to my blogroll for some weeks now. Darwin and Mrs. Darwin have quite impressed me with their insight and intellectual honesty.

UPDATE: In a much lighter vain, Kelsey has come up with the Ten Minute Measure For Measure (in two parts). Sample:

Lucio - Come with me now.
Isabel - What is your problem?
Lucio - Your brother's in the slammer.
Isabel - What is his problem?
Lucio - He slept with his girlfriend.
Isabel - Idiot.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


I have Internet.

Now here's what I wrote on Monday:

A Sports Addict And A Sports Fanatic

I deny neither, though I distinguish between the two. I am a sports addict because I can't get away from it, I can't go a weekend without watching football, I can't turn off a Cardinals game. I am a sports addict because I have learned the jersey numbers of most Rams players (#82, tight end Cam Cleeland, for example) and the explanation for the Infield Fly Rule (really, ask me any time).

I am, however, a sports fanatic because of the way that I act when watching sports. My housemate Thomas put it best. We had just been in the stands for a disappointing home loss to Oregon State, then I'd caught the final heartbreaking minutes of the USC-Notre Dame game in silent color on the stadium TV by the exit (so very very close to showing up those arrogant brutes). So I walked in sullen, stunned silence for the first half-mile of our journey home. Finally, I composed myself enough to mutter a half-hearted, "Well, it's only a game", Thomas laughed and said (picture his German accent):

"Ah, Patrick, it is amazing. Normally, you're pretty quiet- even shy- but when there's football on, you're suddenly all 'YEEAAAHHH... KILL HIM!!!' and everything... You know you would make an excellent hooligan, like the English."

And he's right. There's something about competition, either direct (did I ever tell you I punched someone over a game of Mario Kart? While I was in college?) or vicarious (yes, that was me shrieking tonight in an octave you'd never believe as Albert Pujols hit an unimaginable home run with two outs in the ninth inning to save the Cardinals' season), that just gets my blood pumping. I even think that I love arguing so much because it contains that competitive element of verbal sparring.

Other hints that this might be pretty pronounced for me:

1. Hearts. We've been playing Hearts most every day in the math department, as a break from the tension of doing proofs. Actually, I think I usually end up more tense than before I started- but I can never stay away from it. Invariably, I get beaten soundly (John's explanation: "Well, it's just so much more fun to see you lose; you take it so [expletive] seriously!"), but I'm always back the next day.

2. Revealing Conversations. Last week, Barbara and I watched a really excellent PBS documentary on the Palestinian intifada (I recommend watching it if you can find it), and follwed it up by talking till 2 AM about faith and politics and temperament and everything. One thing we touched on was anger- that there are some political figures at whom Barbara gets so furious it makes her ill. Now I don't tend to get that way at all about politicians or about people with whom I disagree. I was about to say "I just don't get that angry at anyone," and then I realized that I do: not when they advocate something I think to be evil, but when- darn it- they're beating me at RISK. So I realized that as regards anger, my temperament is as screwed up as anyone's. I'm sure that Erik, Josh, and others can testify to that.

3. Familial Witness. I mentioned the above conversation to Katie. Her reply: "Ya think!?!"

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


I upgraded my system this weekend. I don't have the proper driver to run the wireless peripheral in the new OS. So my home Internet is down until I figure out how to get the driver downloaded on another computer and transferred to my aging iMac.

I wrote something for the blog last night, but the computers here on campus only want to reformat my Mac-formatted floppy disks.

I tried to transfer my Facebook account to Berkeley, but the Powers That Be simply deleted it. Oh well.

UPDATE: Thanks to Thomas, downloaded the driver, but for some reason it's still not working right. And I saved my last post to a DOS-format disk, but the computers here call the files "inaccessible".

Thursday, October 13, 2005

I need a phone call,
I need a raincoat...

My driver's license-the replacement one I ordered after the original didn't arrive here- should have arrived here by now. Stupid DMV.

Once again, I have football tickets- they're free this time (Faculty and Staff Day includes grad students). I probably ought to buy a Cal T-shirt or something.

Speaking of football, remember the time I bet my hair on the Super Bowl and lost? No you don't, because you didn't know me my freshman year of high school. But anyway, I've bet John (the USC transfer to Chicago, now another Berkeley grad student) that the Trojans would not go undefeated this season. If I win, he has to buy a Cal shirt and wear it proudly for a week. If he wins, I have to change my name to Kevin DuBrow... er... rather, I would have to wear a USC shirt to a Cal athletic event.

So all I'm saying is... Go Fighting Irish!

OK, you got me. I have absolutely nothing interesting to say today. Come back this weekend.
Yet Another Irresistible Time-Waster

Look! It's me!

Results of the Mini-Mizer.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Man Who Blogged Thursday

I. The California Is A Jealous State

It's been a busy week since last Wednesday, when I found out that by dallying a few months in registering my car here in California, I was threatening to sabotage my application for California residency (and thus the university would make me pay next year's difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition). This would be a Very Bad Thing.

So I did just what you all expect: panicked. After successive adventures with
* FedEx (the title was at home),
* the smog test (the old car pulled through, Deo gratias),
* the DMV (no wait, but horribly confusing to me),
* City Hall (I got a blasted parking ticket in front of Barbara's house 1 week before I was eligible to park there in the day),
* AAA insurance (the easiest stop, but most costly of them all),
I am finally in compliance with The State Of All Mercy, May Its Name Be Ever Reverenced. Yeesh.

II. Last Weekend

Me: "Argh! How stupid of me, I didn't do anything last weekend!"

Alice: "Patrick, you went to a party, a football game, and a game night!"

Me: "Well, I mean besides that. Social stuff doesn't count!"

No, really, I meant I didn't get any math done. But yeah, Friday night I went to a dance party put on by the grad student Jeff; the theme was "Homecoming '92" (so I wore a suit with a purple dress shirt and a bad tie), so there was punch (spiked, naturally) and a long mix of early 90's pop (Ace of Base, where have you gone?). It was fun. And I ran into a Chicago alumna who, upon hearing that I was in Shoreland, asked if I knew Nick, whom she worked with on the literary magazine Aubade. So Nick, Monica says hi.

Then on Saturday, I saw my first college football game from the stands, as Cal beat the stuffing out of Arizona, 28-0. I brought Christoph and Thomas with me, and they even seemed to enjoy American football quite well.

After that, it was time to head over to Bianca's house (she's another math grad student) for the first Game Night. I was on a great team for Cranium, as we came back from the brink of defeat to win it all. Card games continued till past 2 in the morning.

No wonder that on Sunday, I found my voice embarrassingly raspy for the opening hymn of Mass. And that reminds me...

III. Why I Like The Tridentine Mass

I've been going to weekday Tridentine Masses at St. Margaret Mary's, a few times a week. It's run by the Institute of Christ the King, as is St. Gelasius in Chicago.

I'd never been to a Tridentine Mass before, and at first I was disconcerted by how distant, how silent, how alien it was to my expectations. Participation is of a different sort: rather than singing every few minutes, and reciting the major fixed prayers in unison, I am asked to simply follow along in the order of the Mass and to unite my prayer to it. For me, I find that it's much less distracting than the Novus Ordo Mass in that respect: I'm less tempted to be saying one thing and thinking another, less tempted to wander off into meditations and daydreams, more focused on the present moment of the worship.

And more importantly, the Consecration is somehow closer to me. All happens in silence, with the priest facing the Sacrament rather than the congregation, reciting a Canon of elegant and beautiful invocations of God (as I follow along in my missal). It is the same each time; there is no ad-libbing to make points, even good points: these are distractions from the very reality of God giving Himself to humanity in the Last Supper and on the Cross. Each time is precisely like the last, which is like the time before, which to me emphasizes that the Mass participates each time in that one Sacrifice at the nexus of history. I feel that I am a witness at the Last Supper itself.

When the priest raises the Body of Christ for the adoration of all, I have never failed to be moved. I find it a moment of excruciating truth and beauty, to the point that I don't really know what to say. Except, perhaps, "Lord, it is good that we are here."

Fr. Jim Tucker of Dappled Things, which I haven't been reading regularly, has recently written a very informative series on the liturgy of the Tridentine Mass, if I've just confused you.

And yet, on Sunday I go to the Novus Ordo (in Latin, yes) rather than the Tridentine. Why?

IV. Why I Like The Novus Ordo Mass

Because, for one thing, I do like the external participation of the faithful. I like to sing the Gloria, the Credo/Creed, the Pater Noster/Our Father. The structure and the responses are universal now, too: just as it was with the Old Mass before Vatican II, the New Mass has the property that if I walk into almost any Catholic parish around the world, I may not know the language but I'll know what is being said and done at each instant. It's a gift I ought not take for granted.

Most importantly, the Novus Ordo is home for me. I like to see the house cleaned up a bit (e.g. when the parish follows the rubrics), I even like to see the real wood floors even when linoleum is more popular (e.g. I enjoy the beauty of Latin in the Mass), but when it comes down to it, it's my home, and it's been very good to me.

And besides, I oughtn't let the Tridentine thing go to my head. Spiritual pride is something I already have too much of.

Though English grammar, it seems, is something of which I have too little.

V. Karandish Watch- Week 3

Well, after the first two Team Matchstick Project Managers fell on their respective swords, I was a bit worried to see David take the mantle. He led his team better, though, than either of his predecessors: he delegated much more than Jeff and worked much more than Chuck. Sadly, it still wasn't enough to win the challenge.

By the way, Mark Burnett (or whoever edits the tape for these shows) is downright evil about creating commercial-break cliffhangers, then only resolving them implicitly later on. He left us hanging on a possible $3000 sale, in a tension resolved only by the downcast faces on Matchstick members in the ensuing conference room scene.

The business team (Primarius) looks nigh invincible now, with good teamwork and 60% more manpower than Matchstick (now down to five members). I don't see Matchstick realistically winning another one of these challenges, so I'm wondering what the rules are. Is there a point where they'll redistribute team members, or would the producers let one team beat the other into the ground? That wouldn't make very good TV, so I'm holding out hope for a realignment before David falls victim to the attrition by default.

And maybe it was the editing, but it was clear to Barbara and I from our armchairs that Marcela had no part in the team's failure, so it was a shock to see David pick her as one of the two team members responsible. I realize it was a tougher pick than either Jeff or Chuck had to make, but in the end Martha had to overrule David and change the rules of the conference-room showdown. She brought back Shawn, Jim and Bethanny into the room, and fired Shawn (a choice which was certainly justified by the scenes shown, though of course the editing is always going to try and make Martha look good).

Well, David promised excitement (see the posts on the last Karandish Watch), and this week did deliver. Last week was like watching a train wreck; this week felt competitive until the end.

Good luck, David; may you survive until at least Sweeps Week!

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Best Movie Trailer Of The Year

If you ever liked Stanley Kubrick movies, you'll love this one. Trust me.

After watching it, check out this NYT article for more info.

Hat tip to Cnytr.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Tonight Was My First Kegger
I Had A Little Too Much And Behaved Badly

By which, I mean that I started a 3-hour-long debate on religious pluralism, the existence of God, the consistency of solipsism, the limits of reason, Occam's razor, theoretical vs. practical wisdom, evolution of the human mind, and Church history. Mea culpa; it's my one vice. OK, so I have multiple vices. But excessive disputation is certainly one of them.

No, that wasn't all I did at the party (which really did have a keg of Pabst Blue Ribbon) at John's house. I did get my clock cleaned in foosball by the combined forces of Christoph and Thomas. And it was revealed that I am, in fact, a choirboy.

Oh, and I found out after the fact that some U of C math majors had been doing cocaine while studying. One of them, it was recounted, stopped only after the effects included getting a B+ in Murthy's Commutative Algebra. (My response: "WHAT?!? I was clean and sober, and I got a B MINUS!!!")

Oh well. I'm really glad, all things considered, for my comfortable bubble of naiveté.

But arguing was certainly fun.

OK, I'm gonna check my blog when I get up tomorrow and see if this entry is as appropriate as I'm telling myself it is. I'm pretty sure that I'm in my right mind.

11 AM UPDATE: I'm keeping what I wrote last night- I still think it's funny. The "A Little Too Much" was for dramatic effect only (as my being awake and coherent now might indicate).

Also, I realize it was left far too ambiguous whether this was what most would consider to be "a party". Well, when I got into the conversation, it was a dozen mathematicians and physicists standing around talking. When the debate was interrupted an hour later (by someone asking if we wanted more beer), I looked around and realized with great surprise that there were now 50 people crowding the house, getting drunk, dancing to techno, and carrying on. Did I ever mention I tend to not notice things?

And so, of course, I went right back into the discussion. Because that's just the sort of "party person" Patrick is.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Aunt Elena recently wrote a beautiful and powerful meditation on motherhood and on care of the dying. The subject is a kind of tragedy that, Deus volens, won't befall many of us, and the proper response sounds so heartbreakingly difficult as to be almost heroic. Elena's been taking a lot of unfair abuse for counseling others to do what's right. It's not easy, but she insists on a difficult truth.
The Apprentice- Karandish Watch Week 1

Last night was the premiere of Martha Stewart's Apprentice, and I watched it together with Alice and Barbara and Christoph. (David invited me to his Premiere Party in St. Louis, but of course I was here in Berkeley.)

We saw David join the creatives in Team Matchstick, and then we didn't see much of him for a while (the TV focused on the team members who were having problems) except for his quote, "Everything we've done up till now has been great, but now it's up to the kids." (The assignment was to create a children's book in one week.) I recognized his just-finished-an-all-nighter hoarse voice. Poor kid.

But, after Team Primarius won the challenge, David comported himself very well in the conference with Martha. His remarks were simply honest (at least, they reflect perfectly the bits that the cameras showed us), not calculated or vindictive. Others in the conference room weren't half as classy.

Alice and I looked at some of the competitors and agreed: "Got To Go." See in particular Jeff the control freak (who was, in fact, booted), Carrie (or was it Dawna?), Jim, and Howie (whom we later agreed "Had To Go, but Not Yet" after he proved to be a most entertaining twit).

All in all, an interesting beginning to the show. Here's to David's success!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Long-Awaited Update

Or Rather, Long-Procrastinated Update...

I. My House

Barbara, who owns the house and lives here with her tenants, is just a fascinating woman- sharp as a tack, honest and caring. I've had many a great late-night talk with her about ideas of science and faith and experience. I'm the sort of person who always needs to have Ideas on the brain, or else I start getting really self-centered about my own worries, so it's wonderful to have that opportunity for honest sharing. It's like my late-night conversations with Erik and Nick in the Shoreland.

Three of the five tenants are German, and three of the five (not the same three) are physicists of some sort, so it's an interesting house.

Christoph is a visiting grad student in physics. He and I arrived here at the same time, and quickly bonded together (a beer-sharing policy is quite effective in that regard). Christoph's strangely obsessed with Nintendo: I recently knocked on his door to see if we could grab dinner together, and he said, "Oh yeah, food. I've just been reading through 770 comments on the Nintendo Revolution controller; I guess I should eat." Of course, I'm strangely obsessed with football, so when he saw Barbara and I watching Rams vs. 49ers and ascertained who was rooting for whom, he started cheering "Oh yeah! The Rams suck, the 49ers are clearly so much better!" It wouldn't have been quite so frustrating if the 49ers hadn't somehow won the game.

Falk is a postdoctoral candidate in microbiology with a bright research future. Recently, he came in with a stack of free East Bay Express newspapers and showed off the impressive cover story on finding bacteria in termite stomachs that could produce hydrogen for fuel cells. He has a quote on Page 1 and a picture (he's the guy on the left) on Page 2. (Of course, there's a downside to even a quality free newspaper: Falk was getting ready to send the article to his parents in Germany but lamented, "I've really got to cut out some of these ads so my parents don't see them!")

I don't know Yayu quite as well. He's a postdoc in physics, who lives in the unenviable situation of being 3000 miles from his wife, a postdoc in Connecticut. So, many weekends, he's simply gone. One weekend he was home, he did clean out Christoph and me at poker ("No, really, I've never played Hold 'Em before!"), but in general I haven't seen him that much.

And Thomas, the last student to arrive (also a visiting grad student in physics), is perhaps the most socially adjusted one of us. We mostly forgive him for that. Thomas learned a bit of Bay Area geography the hard way when he tried to bike to Marin County last weekend; we saw him again at nearly midnight, following several wrong turns, two flat tires, a ferry ride and a trip back on BART.

All in all, a pretty neat house, a good place for a math nerd to hang out.

II. My Classes

After the horrific attempt to take Symplectic Geometry (I found I lacked the background to even understand the lecture; I spent the last 45 minutes sitting in the first row staring blankly at a very frantic man writing incomprehensible arcana on the blackboard), I've settled on three classes.

Banach Algebras, with Dr. Rieffel, is both my favorite and my most intense course. I spent all day today trying to grasp exactly why it was that I hadn't proved both sides of a contradiction (don't worry, kids: I figured it out, so Mathematics is safe from collapse this time) in the spectrum of these shift operators. But dang, it's cool. And Rieffel is a good, helpful lecturer, very Mr. Rogers-esque in some intangible way (other than the obvious solid-color V-neck sweater, dress shirt and khakis correlation).

Partial Differential Equations, with Dr. Zworski, is also really interesting, although too often the manipulations still seem like magic (I mean, come on: is there really such a thing as the divergence theorem? Then why didn't Chicago ever tell me about it?). Zworski occasionally brings his dog to class with him: a huge, panting silver Husky named Kopi, who doesn't really see why his master has to keep messing with that little white rock on the big board instead of going for a walk.

Algebraic Topology, with Dr. Hutchings, is my second time around with Hatcher's textbook. It's going marginally better than the first time. I think I need this course, rather than want it.

Then, I'm also trying to sit in on math seminars. The professors encourage me by saying, "Don't worry- by the time you graduate, you'll be able to understand the first 15 minutes of one of these!" But nevertheless, they are cool to behold.

III. My Love

Ah, Alice is leaving for Chicago on Thursday, and I miss her already. It won't be easy being separated for months at a time, but then, we do have the Chicago relationship statistic on our side. Anyway, this looks like an exciting Quarter for her (she made me guess how she color-coded her notebooks to correspond to her classes), especially as she's staying at the Germanys'.

It's been a great time together this summer (we're always better to each other when we're not under simultaneous academic strain); we've seen my first Giants game, had our favorite dim sum thrice, caught another modern classical concert in Santa Cruz, tested a succulent Ox-Tail Soup recipe, taught me a bit about gardening, and more.

I'll get to see her tomorrow one more time, here in Berkeley. After that, I really will have license to miss her, won't I?

IV. Idea Blogs

I wrote something on pacifism and the Just War tradition, but on further review I overturned the original call. Maybe I'll get back around to that.

Also, all summer I've been burning up inside to write about different attitudes to religious experience, but I've never finished the post on it. I really ought to.

V. Disclaimer 3

I am not a representative of Catholicism at its best. I am a Bad Catholic. And I don't mean that in any hazy philosophical sense of "yes, we all fall short somewhat", but in its most direct sense. I have great faults, I keep injuring myself and others by them, I go and confess the same things each time, but to change my nature would be an act of God that He has not yet seen fit to perform.

I'm deathly afraid of what each of you really thinks of me. I want you all to believe that I have my life together, that I'm brilliant and unselfish and wise and humble and full of integrity. But really I'm a mess, and I worry all the time about whether I'm saying the right things and whether I've remembered all I ought to do to keep my life together.

I come across- or I try to come across- as completely certain of myself and of my conclusions, but I'm not. I fear uncertainty as much as anyone of my temperament, which is to say, I fear it more than I fear suffering. My faith isn't about giving me certainty; I would be just as dogmatic about my convictions no matter what those convictions were. It's a great temptation of mine.

What the Church does do is keep me in arm's reach of the Lord who made me. I know Him, even if He does not let me know for sure all the things I want to know for sure. And I know that in the Church, in the Sacraments, I can find Him where I empty myself. My sins never satisfy me, and my theologizing never satisfies me; Christ in the Eucharist does satisfy me.

I care for you all, all the people whom I know read this blog. I'm sorry I can be so full of myself; I'm probably a better writer when I'm not.

But God is good.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


As I mentioned over on Nick's blog, the math department at Berkeley was given a stack of free tickets to a sneak preview of Proof tonight- the movie set in the University of Chicago math department, filmed on campus in 2003. I took Alice with me (a date preceded by trying some excellent appetizer recipes she's posting to the Shoreland Recipes Blog and followed by dinner in Japantown, where the preview was shown at the Kabuki Theatre).

First off, the movie is excellent. I rank it with Mad Hot Ballroom as the two best movies I've seen this year. The acting is great (Anthony Hopkins certainly absorbed the lecture Paul Sally gave him on acting like a math professor; Gwyneth Paltrow and Jake Gyllenhaal get the U of C demeanor right, although Alice thinks Jake "looks too good to be a math grad student". Grumble grumble.), but the superb part is the script, which David Auburn helped adapt from his own play. David is a U of C grad himself, and he nails the delicate mix of cleverness and awkwardness that marks the university. The movie is genuinely funny, not with one-liners but with ingenious conversations and full characters. (Sadly from an economic standpoint, this means that it's hard to find self-contained three-second clips for a preview ad; the commercials for Proof had disappointed me.) The human drama is intense and completely believable, and you would not believe the amount of suspense they draw from the scenes. Ambiguity is used to incredible effect in so many interactions, particularly when tracing the fine line between genius and madness.

OK, enough raving. Just go see it if you like mathematics (Good Will Hunting and A Beautiful Mind were Hollywood stereotypes of mathematicians, Proof is the real deal), or if you know the University of Chicago at all, or if you just want to see a well-produced movie that avoids all the usual clichés of screenwriting.

And you had better see it if you know Ian, because he's sitting prominently two rows behind Gwyneth in Rockefeller Chapel. Alice and I "eek!"ed together when we saw him.

OK, I've got to sleep. Got to do some functional analysis tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Some New Blogs

Well, new to me, anyway.

I was very happy when Andy, the grad student at Chicago in computer science, dropped by and left the link to his blog. I know Andy and his wife Cheryl quite well from Calvert House; they're a good couple, and particularly funny to watch together. (Of course, you can't really do that via blog, but Alice will let me know when Cheryl comes up with some good ones this year.) Andy also has a speculative/philosophical blog called The Mathematical Catholic.

The oddly titled but interesting Catholic nerd blog Give Tongue is written by a pair of ladies who attend St. Margaret Mary's parish (where I've been going of late), but as yet I haven't met them.

Against the Grain is an excellent example of synthetic intellect in Catholic blogging. Er, that is, it connects current events with a great deal of links to other knowledge and worthy commentary.

And I've just discovered Noli Irritare Leones, a very ideaphoric Quaker blog not afraid of some controversy and disputation.

Finally, today I stumbled across Peeping Thomists, written by music students at St. John's University (their description of Seminar makes me pine for the days of Soc class). They made this list with the following one-sentence Iliad summary:

Achilleus: "My mother was a goddess and all I got was this lousy shield."

Happy surfing!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Scientific Method and the Inductive Principle

So, I've been more tempted of late to write about a bunch of other things, but I promised myself I'd say what I meant about the scientific method.

I think we've taken it too much for granted that there are these two 'spheres of knowledge', that Science tells us everything that happens in the physical world and that Philosophy or Theology are strictly concerned with nonphysical questions like meaning. Many people even think that "Science has proved that miracles don't happen" or something of the sort.

I think a modern problem is that the scientific method has produced so many good results that we've taken its efficacy for granted. We've ceased to really care about the philosophical assumptions that the scientific method rests on, the assumptions that determine the scope of the problems it can tackle and the results it can claim.

The most important assumption of the scientific method, as I see it, is the Principle of Induction (scientific, not mathematical)- that is, the assumption that the phenomenon you are studying is infinitely repeatable if the right conditions are in place, and that whatever happens the first N times (where N is a number assumed to be sufficiently large for the purposes of the experiment) is in fact what would happen in any trial under those same conditions.

It sounds rather innocuous, and in most circumstances it is. But what must be noted is that this is a significant assumption, and not one proven in advance. This assumption, in fact, asserts that there are no miracles, no unrepeatable violations of physical law.

Or rather, that's one of two main ways of understanding the Principle of Induction. The other is to say that it simply excludes such events from the scope of scientific study. There's nothing wrong with such an acknowledgment; it's rather like a linguist faced with a string of English characters produced by a malfunctioning computer, who then admits (the linguist, not the computer) it's not a problem for linguistics and hands it to the nearest programmer.

Either way, the notion that "science has proven that miracles don't happen" is mistaken. You can't demonstrate the fact you assumed, that's called circular argument. And you can't, in the other understanding, use the scientific method to answer a question you've defined to be outside the scope of the scientific method.

So we see that some questions of physical fact (e.g. whether Christ resurrected, whether Padre Pio bilocated) are philosophical/theological questions rather than scientific ones. Many would argue that neither could have happened, because they believe in philosophical principles that forbid such violations of physical law; but from a Catholic viewpoint (with the distinction that belief in Christ's resurrection is necessary, and that belief in the miracles of the saints is not necessary) there is nothing amiss with a God who will suspend the laws of the universe He created when it is for His glory and the good of souls.

So what should be taught to everyone, regarding the philosophy of science? Hmm. I'm not sure. I just think there's something too magical about the way it's referred to in high school classes, as if 'Science' were an infallible oracle rather than a collection of methods which picks out repeated patterns in the natural world. You know?

P.S. Am I less coherent in my musings than I was last year? Perhaps
my mind is going...

P.P.S. Is there a band called The Scientific Method? There should be.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


Continuing that tradition of unmerited good things happening to me, we give you the Berkeley Math Department Edition of "Beatus Nescius"...

(1) I was assigned a first-year advisor, who turned out to be Dr. Zworski, one of the professors who really impressed me when I visited Berkeley. He's been extraordinarily helpful in giving me an initial direction, recommending classes for me (even moving his own lecture because of a conflict with another class I wanted to take).

(2) The offer I accepted from Berkeley was to teach (lead two discussion sections of a large calculus class) in return for my tuition and stipend. I do like teaching, but that teaching load has a time commitment of about 25-30 hours per week on top of my own studies. (Thus they used to give the first-year grad students all non-teaching stipends, until the state school budget got slashed.) C'est la vie, right?

Well, I went to look up my teaching assignment last week, couldn't find myself on the list, and panicked a bit. Did they lose me in the system? Am I not going to get a stipend? I asked the coordinator, who told me that I'd just been awarded a non-teaching fellowship that day. Turns out that the graduate chair of the department had an extra non-teaching fellowship (since his thesis student needed teaching experience). He gave it to me, not because I deserved it in any special way, but because in my initial conversation with him, I'd mentioned my interest in working with the analysis group (to which he belongs). Now I can take some tougher classes, catch some seminars, do an additional reading course, etc... Wow.

(3) And today, I attended the State of the Department lecture (which most graduate students skipped), where it was announced that we grad students had all been given a 25% raise for this coming year! I celebrated today by adding a CD (Chicago II) to my Amazon order (The Analysis of Partial Differential Operators I, Lars Hörmander).

II. And now, my neuroses of late... I am, after all, a mathematician, and it's not so bad when I compare myself with Nash or Erdös or that wacko who proved the Poincaré Conjecture...

(1) You know, I don't mind bugs in general. It's flying things that bother me, as I admitted last winter about a bird loose in the house. Today it was a moth that got stuck flitting about my room. I just have a sort of 'visual gag reflex' that makes me freak out when anything begins to fly toward my face. Argh.

(2) I don't know what it is about sleeping here, but suddenly I remember my dreams almost every night (which I almost never did before). And now they're all of the same sort: a wild adventure, with my very life threatened by a specific sort of antagonist, but I am unafraid in the dream (because, thus far, I've always had the power to evade death in the dream).

First, the dream where I sat at my kitchen table in St. Charles, then realized a crazy old man with a rifle was trying to shoot me from his psychedelic van parked across the street. I had a tough time explaining the situation to a cop, but it seemed to work out.

Then, I was Goliath from Gargoyles, which I watched every day in middle school. Specifically, I was clawing my way out of a booby-trapped elevator while being watched by a mad genius.

The next time, I was Indiana Jones. Oddly enough, I didn't start out as him, but as a contributor to the commentary track of The Last Crusade, talking about the symbolism of fleeing the gold-encrusted temple with just a tin cup. Then, somehow, I became Dr. Jones, dealing with an airplane full of Nazis on the African plain.

And last night, I was just a kid touring a vast amusement park. After climbing a mountain and watching an orca leap majestically from the water (and planning to tell my sister about it), I found my way to the island of the dinosaurs, where I was cornered by a Velociraptor. Then the dream's visual style abruptly changed from 'realistic' to 'anime', for no discernable reason.

So, I'm crazy, right?

III. Look what I found in my blogsurfing...

(1) I honestly laughed out loud at the Thomism Blues. Seriously, press the "play" button before you start reading. Via Disputations.

(2) I stumbled across this quote and thought that it stood on its own as a really Chestertonian line:

"People who readily embrace the Jesus whose teaching was so shocking to those who heard it in person often can't accept that what He taught might still be shocking to people today."
-Paul, commenting on From the Back Pew.

IV. Good night.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005




Have you seen this man before?


I just found out that a high school buddy of mine, Dave Karandish, is a candidate on the new Apprentice show with Martha Stewart. This show just became must-see, in part because he's a good man and brilliant and tenacious and deserves such an opportunity, but also (and I cannot stress this enough) he is just going to be That Entertaining.

Karandish was always a magnet for the craziest things in high school. There was the dentist's X-ray malfunction that almost killed him. The currency loophole scheme. The act of arson he witnessed in a Grandpa's Retail Store, replete with a senile greeter yelping repeatedly, "There's a fire!" (This story, incidentally, our English teacher accused him of fabricating. Then the next day, he brought in the news clipping.) And I still don't know what the heck happened with the convent and the guard dogs.

And boy, if any person was made for reality TV (in a wholesome and unselfconscious sense), it was David. He's wackier than Ian, folks. Trust me.

I'm going to watch every episode he's on, and for once, I heartily encourage all of you to do the same.


Sunday, August 28, 2005

Back to Idea Blogging: Intelligent Design and Science

I am not a creationist, nor a proponent of Intelligent Design. And yet I marvel at how rare it is to find a reasonably intelligent piece on the subject in the media. For one thing, too often the two beliefs are often confuted- young earth creationism and ID- with the aim of dismissing ID out of hand as a purely sectarian critique*. While the vast majority (not all) of ID proponents are in fact creationists, and while ID is often used as a sort of scientific justification for belief in creationism, the arguments must still be confronted; for though I do think it is reasonable to doubt a statement based on the motivations of those who believe it, we cannot in all honesty reject the validity of an argument for simply that reason. (That, for example, would be like rejecting an argument that poverty is too rampant in the United States, for the sole reason that the postulator is a Communist.) And many outraged commentators have done precisely that to ID. Rather than arguing that the evidence for it has been tried and found wanting, many editorial pages have charged that we should treat the arguments of Dembski et al as without merit from the outset because they are a smokescreen for creationism.

The argument for Intelligent Design is, in my limited understanding, that there are many features of Earthly life so complex that the chance of them arising from a long process of mutation and natural selection is practically nil (the weak anthropomorphic principle aside). Thus, the argument goes, the evolutionary mechanisms and blind chance cannot by themselves lead to the world we know; there is either some kind of directed impulse governing evolution in such a way that it causes these features to arise, or there is some process entirely different from natural selection accounting for the natural world we see today.

Of course, there are at least five questions of significance:
(1) Is this argument correct?
(2) Is this argument compelling for a reasonable person (given current knowledge)?
(3) Is it reasonable to believe this argument (given current knowledge)?
(4) Is this a scientific theory?
(5) Is ID fit to be taught alongside evolution in public school science classes?

I'll concentrate on the last four, as (1) is a question of another kind. By "compelling" I mean that it would be intellectually dishonest to disbelieve such an argument, for one who can understand it and has the amount of evidence presumed. By "reasonable" I mean that such a person may believe the argument and be intellectually honest, under the aforementioned conditions. I think it is clear that Yeses to (2) and (4) together imply a Yes to (5), and also that a No to (3) or (4) implies No to (5).

An article in today's New York Times by Daniel Dennett argues a No to (4), that ID fails to properly make testable scientific predictions, is not a scientific theory, and ought not be taught in science classes. And Dennett, whose work I have respect for, does in fact confront ID as it really is, and I agree with his conclusion. ID thus far has made no claims of what we ought to find in further research, nothing that would empirically distinguish its interpretation from that of natural selection. Evolutionary theory has made several predictions that were later verified in certain cases: that mutations happen in reproduction, natural selection works to bring out traits (look up the "peppered moth" in this context), and that the fossil record would provide examples of "missing links" between species (e.g. the many gradations between the coelurosaurs and the birds). If in the future, the Discovery Institute published serious papers demonstrating the unlikelihood of certain features evolving randomly, taking into account all possible chains of intermediate stages (though I have no idea how this could be done in an empirical manner), then perhaps ID could be a scientific theory. At present, it is simply not a scientific theory as we understand the term; it is rather a philosophical assertion about a scientific theory, an interpretation of observed reality.

However, a No to (4) does not imply a No to (3). The last sentence of my previous paragraph can quite honestly be applied to many theoretical frameworks within the humanities and the social sciences. (NOTE: I am not putting ID on par with these others. Cool your jets.) We simply don't require everything we believe to be the consequence of a scientific theory, and for good reason. Not only are some subjects of inquiry (like history) not amenable to completely reproducible experimental conditions, but the very assumptions of the scientific method are not themselves scientific theories. I'll explain later, I hope. I just wanted to point out that although, again, I do not subscribe to ID, I believe that a reasonable person could accept the Intelligent Design argument, even given our current state of evidentiary support for evolution. (I don't see what hermeneutic of Scripture the semi-creationist account reflects, in which God goes right up to the point of letting the Universe unfold according to the physical laws He ordains, then changes His mind and mucks about directly with the DNA. If He was going to let nature run its course in most things, why not in natural selection? If He was going to suspend physical law anyway, why not just make Genesis 1 literal? But that's another matter.)

My answers, in short, are that:
(1) I don't think so.
(2) No.
(3) Yes.
(4) Not yet, at least; perhaps never.
(5) No.

However, there is a place in public education where we ought to confront such matters: a discussion of the philosophical principles underlying the scientific method. By all rights, this should be taught, but it rarely is; most moderns aren't even aware that there are such principles (foremost among them the inductive principle), which cannot be themselves demonstrated by scientific experiment but are philosophical postulates. They were widely discussed in the era of Bacon and Galileo, but I fear that with the many useful goods science has provided us, we've forgotten to keep considering the most fundamental questions: What is the scope of science? What do we mean by the 'scientific method'? What assumptions are necessary to apply the scientific method?

Later, I want to get to these questions. But I've already written a lot, and classes start tomorrow. Eesh.

*This is the idea underpinning the Flying Spaghetti Monster satire, which would be spot on if the Kansas School Board had mandated teaching creationism.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Woo Hoo!

I passed the prelim!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

I. Well, the prelim exam is finished. I didn't do so well the first day, but I felt really good on today's problems. I'm not sure I'll pass this time, but I'm confident I can pass it next semester if I fail now.

Alice and I celebrated the end of this first hurdle with a picnic on the quads, and later this evening I'll be going to a restaurant called Raleigh's with the other new graduate students for the same purpose. We won't know how we did till Friday.

II. This Sunday, I went to Saint Margaret Mary's Latin Mass (Novus Ordo), as recommended to me by Mary in the comments. I thought the chanted responses and prayers were particularly beautiful- the organ accompaniment gives the Gloria a quiet joy and the Memorial Acclamation a genuinely sorrowful tinge. Of course my Latin will have to improve as I try to follow those prayers that vary, but in the main I can do quite well by matching partial translation with my knowledge of the liturgy in English. That, and they have the English and Latin on facing pages in the missals.

I mean, of course a Latin Mass isn't for everyone, but I find it beautiful, and I find that it helps rather than hurts my participation in the prayer. My mind is forced to be active in following the Mass; I am compelled to keep my thoughts on what is taking place in the Consecration rather than on my private meditations.

III. Now I've finished moving into the room in Barbara's house, I thought I'd give you a peek. Only seven and a half by eleven feet, but as you can see, there's enough space for all my stuff...

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Nota Bene:

I know perfectly well what is meant by "the Christ of faith" and "the Jesus of history". I have staked the purpose of my life, my very existence, on the proposition that the two are identical.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

Monday, August 15, 2005

A Link Post

If you’ve ever read or admired Augustine, check out this hilarity. Confessions to the tune of "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)". Thanks to the Holy Whapping crew.

Now to the seriously good stuff.

Pontifications cites a really fascinating take on Vatican II and the papacy of John Paul II. Excerpt:
The new Christian humanism proposed by the council and John Paul II is the only possible solution to the crisis within the Church. The modern world wants “freedom.” The rebels within the Church want “freedom.” Complaints about the Church are mainly about its moral teachings, which are perceived as putting a lid on everyone’s freedom. This problem isn’t going to be solved by a further insistence on the rules, but rather by a call to holiness and a positive vision of the human person and the uses of his freedom.
This is what the pontificate of John Paul II has been all about. Those who view him as an authoritarian who keeps tightening the screws are not paying attention. This papacy is all about freedom. But the pope insists that authentic freedom is based on the truth about the human person; otherwise, it will be a counterfeit and make us unhappy. Building on the council, he has proposed a sweeping vision of the human person that invites us into depths barely touched by the old scholastic casuistry. Right now, those in the Church who are shaping its future are busy unpacking these teachings...

The same blog also has the best quote I've seen in a while: And Jesus said unto them, “And whom do you say that I am?” His disciples replied, “You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the ontological foundation of the context of our very selfhood revealed.” And Jesus replied, “What?”

And Zippy has a pair of excellent posts targeting consequentialism, that most tempting of moral philosophies for our age. Although it's not quite the central tenet of Catholic ethics, it's probably the best place to begin explaining it to an outsider: the principle that one can never do something intrinsically wrong to achieve a good end. No matter what the consequences are.

P.S. On a personal note, I finally cut up my contract with the Devil Citibank card. It feels so good.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

I. I've joined the study workshop for grad students preparing to take the prelim exam, which will consist of half analysis and half algebra. Yonathan, who's been leading the analysis sessions, had this to say about the test:

"The way the test is set up, if you're decent in both analysis and algebra, you pass. If you're really good in one and sort of crappy in the other, they think you still ought to pass.


"So I'm hoping you're all just awesome in algebra."

II. I signed the lease on the room I mentioned last time; I'm quite happy. I'll be moving my stuff next week.

III. I intended to have an actual idea blog today, but it's not gonna happen.

IV. I had no idea that the requirements for residency in the People's Republic of California were so draconian. I've been told it 'looks bad' to leave the state for more than four days at a time. Screw that. I'm gonna be home for Christmas, and if Schwarzenegger has a problem with that, [comment deleted for containing predictable movie quotation].

Friday, August 05, 2005

A Busy Week

I've got my student ID at Berkeley (I'm not ready yet to call it Cal), set up my computer account (though not my Berkeley e-mail account), changed my cell phone to the 510 area code (e-mail me, I'll tell you what it is now), asked after student health insurance, figured out public transit from Newark to Berkeley (see below), signed up for the school rentals listings, visited the libraries and circuited the hilly campus, called after about nine listed rooms and set up appointments for four (see below), checked out my options for daily Mass near campus (the Newman Center is better than its fifties-ish architecture indicates), and joined the study group for the preliminary exam (a six-hour written exam covering undergraduate preparation in analysis and algebra). Oh, and I took Wednesday off to visit Alice in San Francisco, where we strolled around North Beach and the Embarcadero. It's been a good week, but...

A Costly Lesson

Tuesday, I didn't make it up to Berkeley. See, I tried to catch the BART train (thinking that this would be more convenient), but I got lost on the way there, trying to remember the directions from the time that Alice and I visited Saint Edward Parish in April. After finding my way back to the parish and printing out directions, I proceeded there to find half the parking lot closed for resurfacing. Every remaining spot was taken, and twenty or so other cars circled like vultures for the three or four people who would come back in the middle of the day. I tried to find another available parking lot, but they all warned against using their spaces for BART overflow. So I turned back in dejection (OK, in conniptions), and promptly got incredibly lost (eventually circling the one-way streets of Niles, California). The morning was a total wash.

Not a costly lesson, you say? Well, that wasn't it. I'm tricky like that. The real costly lesson about BART was learned on Thursday, when I finally arranged everything to take the BART to Berkeley. I stayed there that evening to see a room for rent, then met the other new math grad students later for some beers at Three Rocks Brewery. We argued about the culture of math (whether we make too much of the story of Galois), the funding of math (whether the NSF grant program is really worth it), and tried in vain to stop talking shop.

It was 12:45 when I finally left for the BART station, where I discovered I had missed the last southbound train. I did not want to be transferring between buses until 3 AM, so I took a cab.

My costly lesson was twofold: (1) know when the last train leaves if you plan on taking it late, and (2) don't take a cab 30 miles without first checking its rate. That lesson, I'm humiliated to say, cost me $90 in the end. Thus it supplants my previous Most Costly Lesson.

A New Hope

At the same time as all this, I have been looking for a place to rent. Actually, I've secretly been hoping that something great will just fall into my lap, as it has before. The greatest blessings in my life, it seems, are the good things I wasn't even looking for. When I was applying to colleges, the University of Chicago wasn't even on my radar until the head of the math department at MIT named it as one of the country's four best mathematics schools. I was offered the great summer job at Midtown without asking; the next year, I was offered a spot housesitting for the Bevingtons without asking; the next year, the Cal Poly REU offered me a fantastic deal for room, board, travel and stipend which was much better than I expected. And then, of course, I wasn't lonely or looking for a girlfriend when Alice came along; I had in fact decided to forgo dating for studying that quarter. My plans went agley, and for the better.

Anyway, back to the housing search. I saw my first room on Thursday, then two more today.

Place #1 required walking 40 minutes from campus, past abandoned/bulldozed lots and a scene with police questioning a city block full of people. The house and room were pretty good, but the couple who owned it were sort of averse to contact with others. Well, the husband was; the wife might have been friendlier if she and I had a language in common. And the rent was above my ideal range. Eh.

Place #2 was in a good neighborhood, at least. But when I looked through the dwelling, I noticed that someone had already moved in. The landlady was showing me a room she had agreed to rent, "in case the check didn't clear". Great.

After spending a total of 15 minutes inside the first two places, my expectations were lowered a bit for the third. But boy, third time was the charm! Great neighborhood (Elmwood, south of campus), a bit of a walk to Berkeley but not as much as Place #1. It is a big old house with several rooms being let out to grad students and postdocs (so far, all in the sciences this year), and the room is going for a great rate with biweekly cleaning thrown in. But the best part is really the owner, Barbara.

We'd talked a bit about the housing arrangements, then wandered off into real conversation- about movies, my family, her sequence of careers and hobby of ballroom dancing. When I let on that I was a devout Catholic, she exclaimed, "Oh, good! I'd hoped that you were" (I'd mentioned in our phone conversation that I was staying at a church), and mentioned how she loved Gregorian Chant. Though she's a Quaker herself, she's thought highly of her previous Catholic renters (though part of that was the joy of watching her tenants Paul and Mary meet, fall in love and marry). She's picky about what people she wants to stay in her home, and I seemed to pass the test. Of course, to satisfy Dad's standards of shopping around, I'll see the fourth place on Monday and try to catch a fifth. But I'm excited, because I think this is the one.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

My father and I arrived Saturday evening in Newark, California, after a trip of 2100 miles in three days of driving (plus a day spent in Salt Lake City with Uncle John and Aunt Shan).


* The Rocky Mountains in general, with some absolutely staggering landscapes opening out before our car. I-80 from Cheyenne to Salt Lake City is a landscape painter's smorgasbord. Special awe, though, goes out to the Denver sunset which we were lucky enough to catch. It glistened out from the mountains to the west and illuminated the high clouds for minutes after setting.

* Dad's sensible policy of picking restaurants in small towns: noticing how the locals vote with their wheels. Choosing the more highly frequented offerings led us to Cappy's, which is in all likelihood the best restaurant in Rawlins, Wyoming.

* Red Butte Gardens in Salt Lake City, a bountiful botanical, um, bonanza connected with the University of Utah. Hey, there's even a great natural duck pond!


* Approximately 120 fl. oz. of caffeinated soda (deceased), drank by me for the purpose of staying alert while driving. I don't do coffee, see. No casualty report on my teeth as of yet.

* My new iPod (wounded), which started going sporadically haywire a day into the trip, and finally refused to acknowledge the existence of any music files. We're now trying to nurse poor Podraig back to health.

* The left front tire on the car (deceased), which had a tire track separation in the middle of Nevada, causing the car to shudder and pull to the right. We limped along to the next exit a mile away (Fernley, Nevada), where we saw a giant Goodyear sign on a repair shop. We were back on the road within an hour. So, we can only thank God that it happened right there (rather than five miles from any exit in the Nevada desert, or atop Donner Pass).

Now I'm staying here at Saint Edward Parish and looking for an apartment in Berkeley, for less than $500 a month (more possible than it sounds; think rent control), in a good neighborhood, with roommates who will get along with me. It's been exciting and frustrating so far, but I'm glad to say I have a few leads already.

And many thanks to Father Keyes and the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, whose charism includes hospitality and who invited me to stay here in the guest room while I am looking. And Saint Edward is a great parish to behold; they have good Masses in several languages, and the people keep coming!

P.S. Okay, I admit it. I haven't really been calling my iPod "Podraig". I only came up with the idea just now. But don't you think it's clever?

That's me on the Salt Flats of Utah. Yes, I look like a dork. It's still a cool picture.

Friday, July 22, 2005

1. Just so you know, Wednesday's the big day. I'm driving out with my dad from here to the Bay Area. We'll stop in Salt Lake to stay with my Uncle John and Aunt Shan, then arrive on Saturday (I think) in Newark, California. I'll be staying in the guest room at St. Edwards, very generously offered by Father Keyes, while I'm looking for an apartment in Berkeley.

2. I have opened a LiveJournal account for the purpose of seeing my friends' non-public posts. Now I've thought of a use for it. Quizzes and memes. I feel weird posting the "What Element Are You?" test on the same page as my theological musings, so I shall use the other site. Hmmm. This does make more of a hassle for you guys out there, though. Do you have a problem with it?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Book Reports

Though it's been a short summer, I've had the opportunity to read a bit. For one thing, with my house interior being painted last week ("malted milk", but honestly pink), that was all I could do at home. Anyhow:

A Good Man Is Hard To Find and Other Stories, Flannery O'Connor

The Flannery O'Connor bug finally bit me, and I checked out this short story collection. For me, it varied quite a bit in impact. Perhaps her best-known, the title story, didn't leave me with much, but I was really moved by "A Temple of the Holy Ghost". I just don't have much to say, as the format of short story is less one of intellectual concepts than what St. Ignatius would call "movements". Anyhow, I give the collection seven out of ten.

The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco

I started this one, then put it down about 150 pages in. Cnytr's review gets it pretty much right. With all his expertise on the Middle Ages and impressive imitation of medieval style, Eco misses a great chance to write a truly medieval novel (which was, I think, his aim). He just keeps everything at arm's length, far enough to scoff at ancient superstition with modern irony. This distance made it impossible for me to truly enter the story. That, and his characters barely rise to the level of stereotypes (good and bad ones). It's like reading an Isaac Asimov novel: the ideas (science-fiction speculation or Middle Ages knowledge) are great, but if those particular subjects aren't your thing, it's just not a great read for any other reason. Those who love medieval history and culture have every right to love this book, but I just lost interest. (Ditto with Baudolino, though Foucault's Pendulum is still one of my favorite novels; it's a far different book in setting and scope than the other two, though.) Two out of ten.

The Riemann Hypothesis, Karl Sabbagh

A pretty good report on the history of the problem, with a lot of good stories and amusing mathematician anecdotes, and an intriguing portrayal of a clever but flawed professor who has presented several mistaken proofs to the conjecture. It's obvious that Sabbagh knows quite little about mathematics (it's particularly funny for me to watch him throw his hands up in the air at taking complex powers), but he does well at observing the culture of mathematicians. I liked it. Six out of ten.

The Advent of the Algorithm, David Berlinski

Oh man, we come to the worst of all the books I read. Nonfiction books on the history of mathematics most emphatically do not need postmodern gimmicks sprinkled throughout. You can't tell what facts actually happened, and what Berlinski just made up, except that the latter aren't very interesting at all. I put it down in disgust at about the point where Berlinski's cats were attacking Liebnitz's wig. A big fat zero.

Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot

Wow. My friend James introduced me to Eliot by having me read "Little Giddy", but I hadn't revisited the Quartets since until the last eve of the retreat. Simply staggering. It's probably useless for me to try writing about poetry (it's been compared to "dancing about architecture"), and for once I won't try. Ten out of ten.

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

Ah, now The Brothers K has some real competition for best novel of my life. Really, the English and Americans need to do some catching up to the Russian novelists. Even in translation, this book is absolutely profound, authentic, rapturous, and even funny (and this particular translation, by Constance Garnett, was superb). Even if the most famous particular of the ending has been spoiled for you in advance (as it was for me), the book is suspenseful and more engrossing than books a third its length.

One thing that I loved about it was that Tolstoy gets the tiniest details of human interaction precisely right. Dostoyevsky, for all of his greatness, has the habit of abandoning the form of real conversations so as to get the concepts presented just right. In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy never loses track of his characters' limitations, habits and views, and he takes note of the difference between how they appear to themselves and how they appear to others. Characters do the little human things, like convincing themselves that they "always knew" something that they just discovered, or getting caught up in one grand Idea after another because they abandon each one at the first failure, or letting the decisions that mark their lives be altered by simple embarrassment in conversation. His characters are real human beings with lives of their own: no major character can be "summed up" in a paragraph. And what questions they struggle with! I can't imagine a novel more ambitious (though I haven't read War and Peace), and this book delivers on it.

If you read one novel this lifetime, Anna Karenina would not be a bad choice. Eleven out of ten.

The Broom of the System, David Foster Wallace

From the sublime, we finally descend to the strange and fascinating. This is less a novel than a game (the game being, unquestionably, Chutes and Ladders), but it's an intriguing and disturbing game of fiction and metafiction. (I caught hold of one of the ladders in Chapter 8a. Yes, 8a.) Neurosis is what David Foster Wallace does best, and he portrays/exhibits a lot of it here. All things considered, I liked his essay collection (A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again) better than this, but it still makes me want to read his Infinite Jest. Seven out of ten.

Boy, I think I like doing criticism a bit too much for my own good.
I've come back from an incredible retreat at the White House, the Jesuit retreat center in St. Louis. The retreat was entirely silent except for prayers (rosary, Mass, etc.) and conferences with the spiritual directors. About 60 men (they do women's retreats separately) came to participate in a series of meditations based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. The retreat starts with God's blessings and our gratitude, then sin and a decimated world, then follows the life of Christ through the Passion and Resurrection.

As powerful as those meditations were, my own retreat was really based around the book I checked out from their library for my spare moments: Story of a Soul, by St. Therese of Lisieux. It is odd how great an affinity I felt for this 19th-Century Carmelite nun, but I saw in her distractions and doubts an image of my own troubles, and in her "little way" the inspiration to rid myself of the doubleness, or duplicity, that gives me problems. I can't really explain that well, but I have hope that God will work with me in a way I haven't let Him before; that I can turn distraction, or failure, or sin, right back to the love of God and not let myself stray further. Really, for so long I've been trying to do it all on my own, and my character just won't suffice to act the way I want to.

And the reason I came on the retreat- a particular discernment- just emerged from that grace of God, and I have been rejoicing.

Forgive me if I don't make much sense.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Going on an Ignatian silent retreat. Pray for me.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

I Fought the Pod, and the Pod Won

Stupid technology. My brand new iPod isn't on speaking terms with my trusty (somewhat dusty) iMac. So much for bringing my music to Michigan.

Oh, did I mention I'm doing the family reunion thing again? Remember what happened two summers ago? Well, I'm not falling for it this time.

No blogging till next week.

UPDATE: iPod works, huzzah! Apparently, the folks at Apple are disappointed in me for not upgrading my Mac OS for the last four years. I had to use a different connection to make the white silhouette communicate with my translucent friend.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Hiatus over.

Hawaii was a great and salutary chance to unwind, but as a consequence, the entire vacation has stuck together in my mind like the pages of a paperback in a coffee spill. Snorkeling was fantastic, in particular. After studying a reef ecosystem, we turned to the lairs of the sea turtles.

We were told to look for them surfacing occasionally, and that we should not get too close because approaching figures keep them from coming up to breathe. I noticed occasional bubbles rising from a cave, and took up a nearby position. After about five minutes of inactivity, I turned to the surface to check that my group was still out there, adjusted my goggles, and went back to the water. While I had been doing all this, the turtle had surfaced ten feet from my oblivious body. It must have been five feet across, and its shell bore the scars of a lunar landscape. I held still as the ancient reptile filled its lungs, drifted to an arm's length of me, then plunged back to its spot in the rock.

As I mentioned before, I returned to Saint Charles just a few days before Alice arrived for her visit. Ours was a low-stress itinerary (modulo two unavoidable parties): walking through Old Saint Charles, reading, cross-stitching, watching Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, meeting Kelsey and Scott, going to a Cardinals game with Katie and her visiting boyfriend Danny (whom I met for the first time, and of whom I now approve). Then Alice and I were off to visit her grandparents in Iowa. They were great, the country was pleasant, and Alice is indeed wonderful.

I fear that I have been dragged into the digital age, much as I resisted. My parents gave me for graduation an iPod and a cell phone (the latter of which I'm still somewhat embarrassed to carry). E-mail me if you desire the phone number.

Speaking of e-mail, my Uchicago account will be changing to an alumni account. So my e-mail begins with the same handle as before, but ends with "" rather than "". Just telling you.

Go and see Mad Hot Ballroom, the documentary about 5th graders in New York public schools and their citywide competition. It's the funniest, most joyful movie- documentary or not- that I've seen in a long time.

If I'm good, you'll see immediately subsequent posts on my summer reading thus far, and on more of my philosophical thoughts. If I'm lazy, I'll be sitting in front of the TV cheering for the Cardinals.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Saturday, June 18, 2005


Oh well. Now on Maui, with a rare window for Internet access. I find that it is nigh impossible to think critically in this weather. Perhaps this is a good thing for me.

Partial exemption to the thinking moratorium for my reading: Anna Karenina (I procrastinated, but the airport bookstore was significantly better than I'd feared). Once again, the Russian novel astounds me.

I have found that my family, like Alice's, contains highly divergent vacation styles, between my dad ("Oh! A scenic point? Can we stop here and take more pictures?") and my sister ("WHY are we in the car and not on the beach?!?"). I am content to be slowly forgetting the epsilon-neighborhood theorem.

Belated congratulations to Aunt Ellie and Uncle Peter, whose newborn daughter Rosie is absolutely adorable.

I shall be back in Missouri on Tuesday night.

Now, the luau.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Not Part III

I'd continue the series today as planned, but I'm running on four hours of sleep, so I'm not quite up to it. Instead, behold the state of my life.

My Finals: Since I'm graduating, my finals are earlier than the usual Finals Week, so the professors can grade them in time. I already took Analysis; I have both Differentiable Manifolds and Algebraic Curves on Thursday. I was uncharacteristically anxious about the Analysis final: I can't remember the last time before this that I felt queasy over a test. (I'm lucky in that respect, I know.) Maybe my nervousness had something to do with Kenig's threat to fail me. I think he was just trying to shock me into doing more work. I hope. Berkeley would not be happy.

My Summer Schedule: After I take my finals, I hang around for Senior Week (Finals Week for the non-graduating students), and finally cross the stage on June 11th. I go home on the 12th, and after a few days I'm traveling with my family to sunny Hawaii. It's our first real vacation together since 2000, so I'm excited. We return home on the 21st, Alice and Danny (Katie's boyfriend) come to St. Louis for a week, and in late July I will drive out to Berkeley. I'm planning to take Father Keyes up on his offer to rent the St. Edwards guest room while I'm looking for someplace to live in Berkeley. And, God willing, I'll be ready for the preliminary exams in August.

My Weekend: Memorial Day weekend is, again, quite eventful. Friday evening was Religious Appreciation Night, a potluck supper to which we students invited the priests and religious who have helped out at Calvert this past year. Yesterday I went and saw Episode III with Alice, Erik and Katherine, then returned home to Ian's birthday party. I'll leave it to him to describe the party as he wishes; it was quite fun and not terribly unwholesome. Anyhow, this should explain my four hours of sleep.

Today, our Mass was followed by a Eucharistic procession across the quads, the congregation chanting the Pange Lingua before the respectful landscapers and the befuddled wanderers. Then I went with a group to eat and to watch "The Cardinal", a three-hour 1963 film tracing the life of a fictional American cleric from 1916 through 1944, bringing him face-to-face with well-known personalities and the main issues of the day (as seen through a 1963 American Catholic lens); it was commented that it's "like a Catholic Forrest Gump. While it ultimately wasn't really epic, it was not bad; while it didn't really capture anything too poignant about Catholicism (save for the old liturgy, which seen now is stunningly beautiful), it illuminated the ideas of obedience and vocation in a way that modern Hollywood is loath to do. It was the better of the two movies I saw this weekend.

And tomorrow, Memorial Day, I'm going to see some old buddies at the Midtown Center Barbecue. I worked there in summer 2002, as a counselor for middle-school students in their summer program. It was a good summer for me; I stayed in the building with seven other counselors (we called ourselves the 8-Pac, went on trips up to Lake Geneva, argued literature and philosophy and the like). It's a program run by Opus Dei, an organization whose spirituality I don't fully agree with but which I do respect. Anyway, this should be a good completion to this weekend.

Episode III: Oh yeah, that other movie I saw this weekend. It was a gut-wrenching two hours of disappointment for me. Now, upon reflection, I won't say that a smart person can't enjoy this movie. It's just that it fell into so many of my personal plot and dialogue pet peeves; that every time I was getting ready to suspend disbelief, something came across that revolted my inner critic. So I spend the entire movie in a huff about how it could have been done so much better if George Lucas' ego had let him give the script to anyone else.

Let me explain why. The following examples are not really spoilers of the important parts of the movie. But be forewarned nonetheless.

1. George Lucas draws heavily from the "List of Clichéd Lines That Should Never Be Used At A Dramatic Point In A Movie." Transliterating them into Yoda-speak does not help. When Darth Sidious talks about taking over the galaxy, Yoda replies, "Not if anything to say about it I have!" Disappointing.

2. The Star Trek habit of inventing new technology as lazy plot advancement. The Jedi are about to leave the spaceship, when out of nowhere a blue glow surrounds them. "Ray shields!", obviously impervious to Jedi countermeasures. Well gee, why didn't anyone use or mention THAT handy invention in ANY OF THE OTHER MOVIES? Disappointing, especially since the Jedi could have been captured here in any number of other ways.

3. The inability to step back and ask, "Would any half-sane character really do this?" This has been more glaring in Episodes I through III than in the originals, because we knew that the Resistance was desperate. But the side of the Republic, which clearly has the upper hand, is not going to stake all its hopes on a half-assed rescue attempt that involves (1) two lone Jedi against a battlecruiser full of robots, (2) these Jedi intentionally walking into what they suspect to be a trap designed specifically for them, (3) these Jedi counting on a lone, barely-armed droid to bail them out at the crucial moment, and (4) these Jedi starting a close-quarters battle with lightsabers and guns blazing in the immediate vicinity of the unarmed and vulnerable hostage. Disappointing.

4. Dialogue that is so bad an eight-year-old could do it better. I think that I sum up the singular craptacularity of this script in the following line: "Hold me, Anikin; hold me like you did by the lake on Naboo!" Disappointing fails to express what I felt. I felt like I had just taken a verbal lightsaber to the gut.

If you can look past all that, there were exciting fight scenes, neat landscapes and the answers to many questions in the Star Wars pantheon. But I couldn't look past it.