Thursday, December 28, 2006

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Adeste, fideles,

laeti triumphantes;
Venite, venite in Bethlehem.
Natum videte Regem angelorum.

Venite adoremus, venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus, Dominum!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Veni veni, Emmanuel

captivum solve Israel,
qui gemit in exsilio,
privatus Dei Filio.

Gaude! Gaude!
nascetur pro te, Israel!

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
shall come to thee, O Israel!

Tonight our cousin Aaron, his wife Kara and their new baby Dana are staying here, on their way from Houston to visit family in Michigan. Dana is still tiny, and a mind-bogglingly cute pugilist:

After a day and a half of driving, she was completely obliging to my entire family, who hardly let Aaron or Kara have her all day. She even tolerated my clumsy cradling (with sister Katie standing watch to make sure I don't lose her):

Friday, December 22, 2006

Veni, veni, Rex Gentium,

veni, Redemptor omnium,
ut salvas tuos famulos
peccati sibi conscios.

Gaude! Gaude!
nascetur pro te, Israel.

O come, Desire of the nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid every strife and quarrel cease
and fill the world with heaven's peace.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Veni, veni O Oriens,

solare nos adveniens,
noctis depelle nebulas,
dirasque mortis tenebras.

Gaude! Gaude!
nascetur pro te, Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death's dark shadow put to flight.

Speaking of YouTube:

‘Twas brillig, and the 30S-ribosome did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy was mRNA, that colored message unit array…


Words alone cannot describe this video. I mean, by the end I was expecting an Amino Acid to be locked inside a giant Wicker Man.

Thanks to Joel, who claims that the T-Factor (dressed, of course, like Christopher Lee) was his high school physics teacher…

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Veni, Clavis Davidica,

regna reclude caelica,
fac iter tutum superum,
et claude vias inferum.

Gaude! Gaude!
nascetur pro te, Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heav'nly home,
make safe the way that leads on high,
that we no more have cause to sigh.

Safe and sound and sleepy in St. Louis. I have to admit that my sister and I just binged on YouTube, since neither of us can manage streaming video on our respective coasts. I also have to admit that, while the song by itself is forgettable, this OK Go treadmill video is brilliant:

I also have to admit that in the last several days, I've consumed the entire archive of Sam and Fuzzy, a serial comic with a twisted Bill Watterson vibe.

I... I have poor impulse control.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Veni, O Iesse virgula,

ex hostis tuos ungula,
de spectu tuos tartari
educ et antro barathri.

Gaude! Gaude!
nacetur pro te, Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse's stem,
from ev'ry foe deliver them
that trust Thy mighty power to save,
and give them vict'ry o'er the grave.

My students' final was held in Haas Pavilion, the basketball arena. I thought that meant there were classrooms tucked away, but no, it meant that 300 students were doing linear algebra on the basketball court, with over a thousand empty seats watching from above. I barely resisted the urge to grab the microphone Dr. V was using and say:


Oh wait. Come to think of it, I actually succumbed to that temptation. No, seriously. Check that one off my list.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Veni, veni, Adonai,

qui populo in Sinai
legem dedisti vertice
in maiestate gloriae.

Gaude! Gaude!
nascetur pro te Israel!

O come, o come, Thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai's height
in ancient times did give the law,
in cloud, and majesty, and awe.

I am the worst grad student ever. I now live in an 8x8 pile of clutter, in which I fail to make progress on the project I hoped to have done weeks ago, and now hope to finish in St. Louis. God has been trying to teach me either discipline or humility. If it's the latter, He has had a bit of success.

P.S. I do know that the original "O Antiphons" predate the hymn settings by about 800 years. But I love the chant version, and I'm sticking with it here.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Veni, O Sapientia,

quae hic disponis omnia,
veni, viam prudentiae
ut doceas et gloriae.

Gaude! Gaude!
nascetur pro te Israel!

O come, Thou Wisdom, from on high,
and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Note to self:

Yes, it's true that it's better to drink the higher-proof stuff first, and beer later; there are biological reasons behind the "beer before liquor/liquor before beer" ditty. However, that does not imply that I was obligated to follow up that last scotch with that last pint of PBR. That was drunk-logic speaking.

Well, I'm fine. Just a bit disappointed in my liver. Or perhaps my brain. But the birthday, in its entirety, was a thing of beauty.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006



So I am three and twenty today. It will be quite a day; I plan on going to morning Mass, visiting Caelius and Alice in San Francisco, then there's a house dinner (plus Justine), and I'll wind up at a bar with the other mathematicians. This whole week has been a gauntlet of fun, and it looks to continue as such.

And I just want to say, wow, there are a lot of great comments on the "why can't we be gods" point, though I have an issue with the following

Claim: God is uncreated Being; we are created beings. This has the strong point of being true, but it doesn't help much as an objection to Mormon theology since they simply deny that God is uncreated. Ditto for the "we depend on God for our very being" argument, since they believe He depends on another for His very being.

(I know, I know, we could then trace the Uncaused Cause argument back further, apply Zorn's Lemma if we're mathematicians, and conclude that there is some uncreated God behind any such schema of created gods. But I don't know whether that's the most fruitful path in argumentation.)

The notion of aseity has a lot going for it, though I wonder whether we could demonstrate the absolute necessity of God (rather than just His necessity for this universe) in actual argument with such a Moroni's Advocate.

Well, that's all for tonight!

P.S: In fact, that wasn't all for tonight. It's almost 2 and I really need to sleep now, but I had to link to Zippy's most recent post. He clarifies what is meant by the 'object' of a moral act in a way that illuminates many things in Catholic moral philosophy for me. To oversimplify the distinction he drew: X is the object of my act if I personally did X. I can be morally responsible for X in other cases, for example if I hire someone to do X. But in that case the object of my act isn't X, but 'hiring someone to do X'.

If that doesn't seem right to you (and it didn't at first to me), I encourage you to read through the fruitful comment section on the post.

Friday, December 08, 2006

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike at your head,
while you strike at his heel.

Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception! (No, not the Annunciation. It's a Catholic thing, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, free from original sin as is fitting for the mother of the Lord.)

I'm raising my head out of the miasma of semester-end stress (all fully deserved, dear Reader; I've been procrastinating on this mathematical paper for months) to say that I really have not much to say, not on an intellectual level at least. Personally, God continues to bless me far beyond my deserts.

But in the realm of ideas, despite all my readings of Socrates, it has taken me until this year to truly acknowledge that I know nothing. I admire the brilliant points made by the men and women whose blogs I visit, but I can't help but feel that I have precious little to contribute. Believe me, my pretentious arrogance continues unabated in person, but in print when I have time to reflect, I feel rather abashed about my attempts to articulate quite anything.

So I rather solicit ideas from you on something that stumped me- or rather, I should say, that I know but found myself entirely unable to explain. Recently I had the occasion (on a flight with a stop in Salt Lake City) for a genuinely interesting religious conversation with a Mormon. I tried, but utterly failed, to explain why it would be metaphysically impossible for a creature to become a god, as the Mormons believe the best souls will. (More precisely, if I were to 'become' the Creator of a universe and not simply a sub-creator, making from what already is, that entity would not be me, however much it resembled me.) I said a bunch of things about how creaturedom is essential to our nature, but my interlocutor was unsatisfied with the attempt, and so was I. What do you say?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

In Case You Forgot I Was In Berkeley

From The Berkeley Voice, without irony:

[Mayor Tom] Bates' victory was the result of a centrist campaign that gained the unprecedented endorsements of both sides of the Berkeley political divide – the Berkeley Democratic Club, home of the city's "moderate" faction, and its rival, the "progressive" Berkeley Citizens Action.



Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Democracy smells like chlorine.

Finished figuring out who and what to vote for tomorrow, and I'm reasonably certain I'm not just choosing the lesser of evils. As in 2004, I've determined that there's no shame in going third-party or even abstaining on some of the offices*. Either action sends the message that there are votes out there to be won in 2008, and the third-party vote even sends a signal about how to earn that vote in the future. I can even grant the third-party candidates a little more leeway on the issues, because it's not like they're actually going to win.

I was almost willing to cut one candidate a pass on his "Eliminate the IRS and the Dept. of Education" wackiness, on account of his stated opposition to abortion, the war in Iraq, and torture. But then I checked out his campaign site, and I'm afraid I have to draw the line at "paranoid delusional". I am not going to give a vote to a person whose website is devoted to explaining how the Federal Reserve was behind the assassination of Robert Kennedy. Call it the LaRouche Corollary. Or call it California.

Just remember, whether you're voting or not, to say a prayer for the U.S. tomorrow. We're a foolish and flawed people, and we get the politicians we deserve, but there's always hope for us.

* Of course, I was able to go more mainstream for the more local races, since not every issue matters for every office: Iraq ceases to be a factor in statewide elections, for example.

P.S. Kudos to the nonpartisan Project Vote Smart, which was a pretty convenient way to access the vital info on candidates: their responses to a position questionnaire (usually neglected by the main-party types, but there's enough info on them already), their recent speeches, and links to their campaign sites. I've gotta remember this site in '08.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

I've got sand in my socks.

I've got The Smile. The world is strange, God is stranger.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov

My Halloween costume, from Crime and Punishment:

Don't worry, I don't consider myself one of those... "extraordinary men".

Thursday, October 26, 2006

At the Buffet, Water is on the House!

I awoke this morning, as usual, to KFOG on my radio alarm clock. The second song was a John Mayer cover of Jimi Hendrix's Bold As Love, in which he simply duplicated every note of the original on his usual guitar. And I just thought, "Did nobody tell him what it means to cover a song?"

I mean, if you do a decent job just copying the original, then good for you: you've proved that you belong in a Jimi Hendrix tribute band. Covers are supposed to bring something new to the song, the way Jimi famously did to Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower", or as Eric Clapton and Duane Allman did to Hendrix's "Little Wing"- not imitating Jimi's free-tempo jamming, but using the material to bring in their own strengths.

I mean, this isn't the first "tribute band"-style cover I've heard in recent years (the other ones escape my memory, but there was one in particular which is pretty difficult to distinguish from the original). They just make me ask, "Why? What's the point, aside from making money?"

Plus, I was treated to four minutes of Mr. Marblemouth singing "AND IT'S AWL, AWL BAWLD AS LAWWWVE..."

Oh well. Doesn't irritate me as much as those commercials that use a montage of Vietnam, Martin Luther King, and Hurricane Katrina to sell a Chevy truck. I mean, seriously, do they have working consciences at that ad agency?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

This Probability homework is killing me.

I mean, I feel like I've been Poissoned.

OK, pun's over, you can come out of hiding. I am kind of serious, I worked on it from 3:30 till 9:00 with just a half-hour break, and I still keep realizing that I'm doing it all wrong. I'm learning a lot (more than I did on the problem sets I've finished), but with 14 hours to go and only one question actually answered, it's not looking so good.

Martyrdom by Probability Theory, hmmm. I'd hate to become a statistic.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Win an argument, lose a soul.

When will I learn? People are more important than communicating ideas (though I dare not say more important than the Truth). It's hard; this was one of the few things in politics I know, among all the things I have opinions on. I'm still a little jittery and agitated, but by God's grace I didn't kill a friendship.

In other news, I took down the "Catholic Culture and Whining About How I Was Raised" post- not just because I was wrong (I've left up mistaken posts before as testaments to my naivete), but because it was ungrateful and unfitting to criticize my parents in that way. I'm rather awful about realizing the effects of my words.

Other than that, one of the better weekends since I've moved out here. I mean that.

Saturday, October 21, 2006



Yesterday, Deirdre and I were discussing some of the more outlandish martyrdoms found in the Roman Canon (personal favorite: the saint who was supposedly 'thrown to the dolphins'- maybe it was the apocryphal Thecla), and I was suddenly inspired to rate possible martyrdoms, a la The Book of Ratings (now dormant). Of course, I'm not expecting to face martyrdom; but if I'm so called, I just have a few preferences about how I'd like to go.

Firing Squad

Firing Squad Goya Style
Meh. While Graham Greene's whiskey priest faced it with style, I find it hard to get excited about such an impersonal kind of death. Technology shouldn't push people farther apart, it should bring them together. B-


Impaled Becket Style
Pretty simple, pretty quick when you think about it. Only possible downside: in all sacred art, I'd have to hold my instrument of martyrdom. That might not be too bad if it were, say, a kitana, but what if I were stabbed with a spork? That would make for one weaksauce icon, holding up a fast-food utensil with a sheepish look on my face. People would think I died from eating too much mashed potatoes at KFC. C

Burned Alive

Burned Alive
Not bad, really, to share the spotlight with the Christians who made up Nero's lighting system for night games in the Coliseum. But I really couldn't top St. Lawrence's line: "I am done on this side! Turn me over and eat." I mean, that's how you get to be patron saint of cooks. Hard core. B+

Fed to Animals

Fed to Animals
Another oldie but goodie, with lots and lots of room for uniqueness. My first idea was "martyred by cute little puppies and kitties- with poison-tipped claws", which would definitely get me a lot of intercessory prayers from girls, but that only takes second place. The real thing to aim for: eaten by cloned dinosaurs. I mean, not only would every boy take "St. Patrick of Orthonormal Basis" as his confirmation saint, not only would I fulfill my lifelong dream in another way by becoming patron saint of paleontology, but I'd be depicted in stained glass windows riding a dinosaur. High fives all around in Paradisum! A+

I Disagree

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.

I assess the power of a will by how much resistance, pain, torture it endures and knows how to turn to its advantage.

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

The Nietzsche Family Circus Generator. Pass it on. Thanks to the Shrine.

This is the greatest day of my life.

I feel like a few dollars.

Well, I've been laid low with a virus of some sort; I couldn't even read yesterday. But I'm doing better today.

The Sufjan Stevens concert Wednesday night was pretty awesome. He's adapted his delicate music remarkably well to a more energetic concert setting. Jacksonville added a nice bluesy touch to the guitar line, and I can't say enough good things about the beautiful/intense rendition of The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us!, culminating in a burst of almost-melodic cacophony that held our enrapt attention for seeming eternities.

Other notes:

*Orchestral accompaniment was great, and the Pacific Mozart Ensemble came in to sing with him- adding a lot more power than the speak-singing backup on his albums.

*It's pretty plain that Sufjan feels completely awkward on stage except when he's playing music; that's a winning stage demeanor.

*The hipsters were out in force for the concert; they were dressed like snowflakes, no two alike.

*Sufjan drew heavily, more than I expected, from his more spiritual album Seven Swans, which I really have to go and get now.

*It's especially interesting how his overt Christianity doesn't turn off the Berkeley audience; I couldn't imagine this crowd so enthusiastic about a direct retelling of the Transfiguration in any other context. I'd spout theories about this, but I don't have any.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Short Note On Vicarious Competition

Huzzah! Team Evil is done for the year, the Cardinals survived a late scare and walloped the Padres, and there's an outside chance for the ultimate LaRussa Series (which means I'd be able to see the Redbirds in the World Series! Here!), so sorry Tigers, I'm going against you on this one.

And with all due respect to the great prose around such concepts as The Football Gods and the Levels of Losing, I'm afraid that concepts like "momentum" tossed around by sports broadcasters in the course of a playoff series are simply bunk. In sports, destiny is all retroactive. Of course it doesn't seem that way to the spectator, just as little kids think there's some magic to winning and losing at the card game War. But in reality, a team's "momentum" is a fiction that lasts until the next significant event, whereupon it "swings" or it doesn't. Streaks happen from regular old probability. Yes, the psychology of the players matters, perhaps even the psychology of the crowd, but people exaggerate this way too much. Announcers treated a talented Cards team, which would have had almost a 90-win season if not for two fluky weeks to end it, as if it were postseason roadkill. Guess what? "Momentum" doesn't win games; players win games. OK, and luck.

Now I will give back the soapbox.

P.S. Go Rams! Go Cal Bears!

It's a fun season.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

"Can one love everyone, all human beings, all one's neighbours? I have often asked myself that question. Of course not, and it would even be unnatural. In an abstract love of humanity it is nearly always only oneself whom one loves."

-Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot

N.B. By quoting this, I don't mean to say that a saintly love of humanity is impossible, just that it consists not in a general idea of love toward all but a concrete love toward each. Or something of the sort, you know what I mean.

P.S. Yeah- I'm with beards over babies too!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

And I knew that I'd never be any good

And never wear a hard hat and do things like that.

So I joined the police force.

No, there's no real post here. I'm just enjoying that song.

P.S. It's amazing how much better my mind works when I'm motivated but not worried. Watch out, math!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

$85.49: The exact value of a broken heart.

I thought I should share this with you: Ten Rules for Handling Disagreement Like A Christian, advice that shocked me with its good sense and which is routinely disregarded all over the Catholic blogosphere. It's not the most academic prose, but why need it be? (Favorite line: "This rule is sometimes referred to as the 'Darth Vader Axiom.'")

And it was written by Oakland's own Bishop Vigneron, a man doing well in a sometimes-impossible post. He could use some prayers, incidentally, haven broken his arm and wrist in a fall.

Speaking of Michigan (His Excellency was bishop in Detroit and Sault Ste. Marie before being sent to the Left Coast), Sufjan Stevens' album of that name is also excellent, though the repetition of certain melodic structures in Michigan and Illinois has me wondering whether he could expand his musical range. Still, "Vito's Ordination Song" alone is worth getting the album.

It was a heck of a week; as the quarterback from Duke quipped after finishing a 36-0 loss to Virginia Tech, "I'm lucky to come out in one piece." I made the mistake of taking a weekend off from doing math, and I paid for it dearly. But there's excitement ahead, including the establishment of the Lepanto League at Cal!

Current mood: kingly
There is a direct path from Francis Bacon, who said, "Knowledge is Power," that the value of all knowing lies in the provision of human life with new discoveries and helps, to Descartes, who in his Discourse on Method explicitly formulated the polemical program to replace the old "theoretical" philosophy with a new "practical" one, through which we could make ourselves "the Lords and Masters of nature" – from there the road leads directly into the well-known saying of Karl Marx, that up until his time philosophy saw its task as one of interpreting the world, but now its task was to change the world...

Meanwhile, our thesis... maintains that true philosophy rests upon the belief that the real wealth of man lies not in the satisfaction of his pleasures, nor, again, in "becoming lords and masters of nature," but rather in being able to understand what is – the whole of what is. Ancient philosophy says that this is the utmost fulfillment to which we can attain: that the whole order of real things be registered in our soul – a conception which in the Christian tradition was taken up into the concept of the beatific vision: "What do they not see, who look upon Him, Who sees all?"

-Josef Pieper, Leisure, the Basis of Culture

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Idleness, for the older code of behavior, meant especially this: that the human being had given up on the very responsibility that comes with his dignity: that he does not want to be what God wants him to be, and that means that he does not want to be what he is really, and in the ultimate sense, is. Acedia is the "despair of weakness", of which Kierkegaard said that it consists in someone "despairingly" not wanting "to be oneself". The metaphysical-theological concept of idleness means, then, that behind all his energetic activity, he is not at one with himself; that, as the Middle Ages expressed it, sadness has seized him in the face of the divine Goodness that lives within him – and this sadness is that "sadness of the world" spoken of in the Bible.

-Josef Pieper, Leisure, the Basis of Culture

Sunday, September 10, 2006

It's Been A Good 168 Hours.

Highlights by day:

Monday (Labor Day): Lunch and ice cream with Alice, who's been so affected by her summer in Wales that she's now using the Welsh double negative in English. Also, she's finally a beer drinker, which is a positive stage in any friend's life.

Tuesday: I completed a project I first dreamed up in June: a series of informative T-shirts that express the inner me:

You ought to see Hapless and Pretentious!

Wednesday: One of my officemates came in and said, "Who wants to go to a whiskey-tasting event?"

A few hours (and a Mission District burrito) later, I was touring the distillery within one of the country's first and finest microbreweries. My friend's whiskey-tasting club had, it seems, finagled a free tour and tasting (led by an avuncular white-haired maestro who'd worked there since 1971) as a sort of cheap marketing for the company (I think it worked). The Anchor Brewing company has started distilling a bevy of historically-faithful American whiskeys; my favorite was this authentic eighteenth-century rye whiskey, whose taste I won't try to describe because it's just silly to apply personality adjectives to 120-proof alcohol.

Thursday: I learned to use Mathematica for my Quantum Mechanics class; by entering the spherical-wave solution to the Schrödinger equation and making a contour map, I was able to see the interference pattern from the famous two-slit experiment!


So far, graduate-level Quantum Mechanics is all about math that I know; I bet it'll get harder as the semester progresses, but for now, it rocks to be the guy who's understanding quantum physics. Next, THE WORLD!

Friday: St. Anthony of Padua Philosophy Seminar, with Dierdre; we finished off the Nicomachean Ethics and finally had a Plato-Aristotle intellectual death-match! (I wore my Pretentious T-shirt, naturally.)

EDIT: I Almost Forgot... Earlier Friday, as we grad students were waiting for Dr. Christ (no, it's pronounced with a short 'i', but it's still noteworthy to have Christ the Teacher) to arrive for Harmonic Analysis, we somehow started talking about male-female dynamics. (Don't ask me how it started; it was a weird segue from algebraic geometry.)

Anyhow, some first-year grad student made a remark about how we couldn't allow women to manipulate us with their wiles. It was interrupted by a booming chuckle from Maxim, a 250-lb Ukrainian bulldozer of a mathematician. (Put on your best imaginary Soviet accent for what follows, and keep in mind that Maxim could break the first-year if he chose.)

Maxim: "Ha, ha, you only say this because you are unmarried. You get married for one year, you will talk differently. The wife always wins."
First-year: "But why should you let her win?"
Maxim: "I do not want to sleep on couch, you know?"
First-year: "Why doesn't she sleep on the couch?"
Maxim: "Ha! Ha! It does not work like that."

It was amazing. I can only wonder what kind of woman Maxim's wife is.

Saturday: It was Faculty and Staff Day: free football tickets for grad students and others! After Cal's embarrassment at Tennessee, worries were afloat at the home opener against Minnesota. We gave up a quick touchdown, then another on a kickoff return. But once the Golden Bears settled down, Nate Longshore finally proved that he was not, in fact, Joe Ayoob by firing four beautiful TD passes, Marshawn Lynch did his thing, and the defense held the power-running Gophers to almost nothing the rest of the way. The 42-17 rout was a blast. I even did my part, explaining the football rules to my German housemate Marcel who came along, and then making so much noise that Minnesota false-started on 4th and 1. (I may have had some help with the latter.)

Sunday: First, the Eucharist. It's always a good week when you can partake of it.

Then, Cheryl and Andy finally convinced me to go biking with them in Tilden Park, along the ridge of the Berkeley Hills. Despite the fearless Texans pausing to wait for me, gasping and wheezing, after every mile, a good time was had by all (even the livestock grazing by the bike path). It's too bad they're heading back to gloomy Chicago.

Then I watched football, had pizza and beer with my housemates, and wrote a narcissistic and conceited blog post. (I swear, I have ideas worth writing every now and then!) Oh, maybe I shouldn't be so honest. Well, still, it's been Quite. A. Week.

Monday, September 04, 2006

That ys ynogh!

I haue hadde it wyth thes cursed by Seynt George snakes on this cursed by Seynt George shippe!

HOLY MOSES. YOU HAVE GOT TO READ THIS. "Serpentes on a Shippe", by Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog.


When I read about Steve Irwin in the paper this morning, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry (and I immediately called Katie to talk about it). The man had survived ridiculously unnecessary danger so many times before (with incredible enthusiasm throughout) that I thought he'd made a deal with the Grim Reaper. I suppose not. As someone on the Intarwubs put it, "On a positive note, that has to be one of the most hardcore ways to die ever." I mean, stabbed directly in the heart by a poisonous stingray. Damn.

In all seriousness, requiescat in pacem, Steve; you may have earned a rather silly image, but your work showing so many animals to the world (and not from a distance) was beautiful through and through.

Monday, August 28, 2006

New Semester.

I'm too sleepy to be nervous.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Dear Pluto:

The Saddest Dwarf

Don't cry your icy tears, little buddy. You'll always be a real planet where it matters most: in your heart.

Remember: Vanity Causes Snakebites.

Other vices (lust, intemperance, irascibility) also get you killed in any disaster movie worth watching. You may survive, though, if your character defects are amusing/redeemable.

Yes, I've just seen "Snakes on a Plane" and I had a great time. Say what you will about the weird B-movie hype, it put us all in exactly the right mood to react to the movie. (Everybody cheered and hollered when Samuel L. Jackson delivered The Line. You'll know which one.) But, um, this film is definitely not for everyone, and arguably its value as entertainment didn't excuse its gratuitous nature, for me or for anyone. So I suppose I can't quite recommend it.

Speaking of Things I Can't Recommend:

I've been wanting to connect with more Catholics here at Berkeley, so I finally braved the bad architecture and went to the Newman Center for daily Mass (usually the best barometer of a Catholic center). It was practically empty before Mass, the ladies at the front desk (the secretary and a nun in sweats) didn't bother to acknowledge my presence, and I was one of only three or four attendees under the age of 50. You'd think a campus ministry that prides itself on being 'welcoming' would try to be more welcoming. That, and Father was fond of 'customizing' the words and gestures of the Mass (valid, fortunately; but I can't pray the Mass very well when I've got to vet the consecration for validity). Grrr.

So I think I'll be trying other ways to find the Catholic community at Cal. Newman Center seems kind of a hopeless case.

Nuns Should Have Habits And Trebuchets

This provides the segue to my minor reorganization of links. "On The Good", "On The Beautiful" and "On The True" have been joined by "Humorous", containing the webcomics that have drawn me into their orbits, and "Dormant", containing the sleeping blogs for which I still carry a torch. (Is that the wrong expression? Maybe something about tying a ribbon?) Anyway, their archives are still worth perusing. And no, I don't plan to make a pun about letting sleeping blogs lie. Oh. I'm sorry.

Also, I've removed a few links (it's not you, really; it's me) and added some new ones. I started reading dotCommonweal out of respect for Peter Nixon (whose dormant blog, Sursum Corda, is a template for any writer who wishes to address faith, spirituality and politics without abandoning humility, civility or fidelity). But I've also been impressed by the writing of Cathleen Kavenny and others, who bear out my point that there are intelligent and faithful Catholics across the political spectrum.

This isn't to deny that there are truths of the faith which do have clear political consequences; there is no liberty to believe that abortion is a human right, nor that a war of aggression is licit. In my experience, there are many Catholic progressives who have sold their birthright (love of God, faith in the Church, and all that flows from those) for a mess of pottage (a bunch of policies without reference to man as more than an economic being). And they have their counterparts on the Right, who place allegiance to a particular nation (a laudatory thing in its place) above the allegiance to moral truth. But fools and boors on both sides do not prove anything about the proper political decisions.

Uh, I'm out of ramble for the night. Time for lighter fare!

Quote Meme:

I've seen this one on Darwin Catholic and elsewhere. Go to the Random Quote Generator and go through the quotes until you've collected five that you identify with (the criterion is sort of vague).
I can win an argument on any topic, against any opponent. People know this, and steer clear of me at parties. Often, as a sign of their great respect, they don't even invite me.
Dave Barry (1947 - )

Love is the difficult realization that something other than oneself is real.
Iris Murdoch (1919 - 1999)

When a man's knowledge is sufficient to attain, and his virtue is not sufficient to enable him to hold, whatever he may have gained, he will lose again.
Confucius (551 BC - 479 BC)

In mathematics you don't understand things. You just get used to them.
Johann von Neumann (1903 - 1957)

Thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative.
Kurt Vonnegut (1922 - )

P.S. Wikipedia ruins everything.
P.P.S. Physical exercise is only tolerable if there's a competitive element to it. Doesn't matter if I'm the worst player on the field (and I often am); I love Ultimate Frisbee.

Monday, August 21, 2006

More Things That Make Me Happy:

*Philosophical discussion. Doubly so when I can get an interlocutor to concede that a relativist position on religion is really silly and more than a little intellectually dishonest.

*Beer (esp. in conjunction with the above).

*The new Woody Allen movie, Scoop. It was the most fun I've had at a new movie since I don't know when. It's clever, yes, it's brilliantly acted, but there are two things in particular that elevate it: Woody Allen's perfection in the supporting role (honestly, if he'd been willing to step aside from the main roles more often, he'd have some Best Supporting Actor awards under his belt) and the perfect tension the movie maintains throughout. The suspense of the murder-mystery plot is heightened by the fact that none of his characters ever seem to be in control of the situation.

*A new calculator. (I mean, c'mon, it's pretty awesome for a non-graphing machine...)

*Dostoyevsky. At this moment, The Idiot is distracting me from Don Quixote (sorry!).

*Paying off the smaller of my two student loans completely!

*The Incredibles, but everybody else already knew how great that was. I loved the cleverness of the action sequences, with well-thought-out escapades that were never gimmicky. Speaking of brilliant movies I'd never seen before, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure was a surprisingly... um... excellent comedy. Dierdre and her family have greatly rectified my dearth of such filmic touchstones this summer. Next up: Kung Fu Hustle, or possibly Time Bandits.

*Meeting a very nice and intelligent girl at Mass in San Francisco, then realizing during our introductions that I already know her through the intarwubs and her fine blog, Basia Me, Catholica Sum. 'Tis a small blogosphere.

*Peach cobbler, pork chops, the first batch of chili for the autumn. (The first two were the doing of landlady/good friend Barbara, in order to send off another of the tenants with some great meals before he leaves for Ontario. The last was my contribution from my mother's Illinois recipe; I was pleased to have found that my housemates devoured all but two bowls of my double batch, leaving just enough for some fantastic reheated-chili lunch.)

*Laudatory adjectives, apparently. I seem to be reusing them quite a bit here. Mayhap I should go back and change some of them to words like 'scintillating' and 'frabjous'. Nah.

Friday, August 18, 2006

I walked up the lane of the street they call Straight,

Cursing myself 'cause I got there too late.

Well, I'm done with teaching for the summer. Since the professors like to enjoy their breaks, they have graduate students teaching the math classes for Berkeley Summer Sessions. Mine was Math 16A, Calculus for Non-Scientists.

As I said before, teaching is hard. Rather, teaching is great, but lesson planning is arduous and dangerous. In retrospect, I should have altered my focus for the course from understanding math to applying math. Next time I teach 16A, more word problems and 'cheat sheets' and extrinsic motivation, fewer 'come on! isn't this awesome?' moments.

My students seem to think I did all right, notwithstanding my hellish exams (to my chagrin, one student dropped immediately after the midterm, presumably because she thought she'd failed it; she earned a B on the test). More importantly, they definitely learned a great deal in a few short weeks. But there's a long way for me to go as a teacher.

Also, I figured out my taste in music: Pretentious! First, bands who mess with rhythmic/tonal weirdness are more interesting to my ear than bands whose melodic lines I can memorize quickly. If your song is about your life, or some relationship, or anything particular and common, your lyrics/arrangement/guitar solo has to be pretty good to catch my ear. But if your song is about the dehumanizing effects of technology, or time travel in the shadow of Vesuvius, or the challenge of facing God in a suffering world, or if your song sounds like it could be symbolic of something greater, you might have me hooked. It takes me a while to establish the nakedness of a particular emperor in folk/rock music.

So, um, it might be unwise to trust my taste in music. Nevertheless, I've been listening to a few albums lately that make my weird heart go pitter-pat: Blueberry Boat by The Fiery Furnaces, The Soft Bulletin by The Flaming Lips, Illinois by Sufjan Stevens, and Castaways and Cutouts by The Decemberists (all of which account for my nonstandard post titles of late).


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I say your uncle was a crooked French Canadian

And he was gut-shot running gin.

The Book Meme has finally found me, courtesy of Zippy.

1. One book that changed your life: The Brothers Karamazov. Before I read that (on winter break of my freshman year in college), I didn't even believe that fiction had anything to say that couldn't be said better in nonfiction; I thought of novels as mere entertainment. The Brothers K. transformed me from the kid who already knew everything to the young man who wanted to understand everything for the first time.

2. One book that you've read more than once: The Republic; on the third reading, I've finally disabused myself of the illusion that I'm cleverer than Socrates. Honorable Mention to Gödel, Escher, Bach, which unfortunately has become less brilliant over time as I've grown up. Its thesis is silly when you comprehend it, but there's a lot of good material along the way and an infectious spirit of wonder that's not bad in any context.

3. One book you'd want on a desert island: Not counting Sacred Scripture? The collected poems of T.S. Eliot. Honorable Mention for any book that explains how to survive on a desert island.

4. One book that made you laugh: There's no topping the the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books, folks. Thanks for playing. If I had to choose one of the series, I'd go with Life, the Universe and Everything, just for the joy of the Agrajag interlude.

5. One book that made you cry: Uh, shucks. Cry? I don't tend to express my sadness by crying. One book that left me shattered, though, was The Trial, which I would like to never read again, thank you very much.

6. One book that you wish had been written: OK, I Admit That Algebraic Geometry Is A Hoax, by Robin Hartshorne.

7. One book that you wish had never been written: Hey, I don't want to let go of my Nietzsche; let's go instead with something ridiculous, vapid and embarrassingly bad. My predecessors in this meme have already covered The Da Vinci Code, so I'll select the Left Behind series.

8. One book you're currently reading: Just one? OK, Confessions, which I ought to have read long ago. Also Don Quixote and Dostoyevsky's The Idiot, among others.

9. One book you've been meaning to read: Might as well admit it again, I haven't read Lord of the Rings yet. Please don't excommunicate me!

OK, not enough invitations to go around. Three just won't do. I'm confident that Dierdre, Geoff, Vanessa, Andy, Kelsey, Alice, and Nick can do a better job on this than I did.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Theodicy: Not "Tales of Brave Ulysses"

I was reading a post by my friend Cory a few weeks ago, on the occasion of Kenneth Lay's sudden death. Cory noted that because of this, there could be no reparations forced from Lay's widow and family. Ken Lay himself 'avoided' the prison time that he deserved for his crimes. It would be an entirely unjust outcome if our earthly lives were the end, and as such it posed a problem for atheists: could they live with a cosmos that is fundamentally unfair? It is not enough that the just are rewarded and the unjust punished most of the time, were even that true. Without reparations after death, it is an unthinkable universe.

I've been dissatisfied with this line of argument for two reasons. First, it already takes an assumption that external goods are the only ones worth the name. Atheists are as capable as we are of adopting an Aristotelian theory of virtue, for example; in such a scheme there is not the same unfairness, since a person who becomes wealthy through theft ruins in the process his very soul, his capacity of being truly happy. True, the good still suffer without recompense, but for some reason the misfortune of the innocent has never offended human sensibilities so much as the prosperity of the wicked.

But more importantly, it glosses over a particular problem of theodicy posed by Christian theology: Ken Lay, as much as any of his victims, was capable of turning to the mercy which we believe God extends to all. If we really believe that those who have done great evil should pay for it in the next life, we must then acknowledge that the Lord may not agree with us. If the original problem of theodicy was understanding the existence of evil in a cosmos created by an omnipotent and good God, this specifically Christian problem is that of how He chooses to deal with it.

Let's take an extreme example: Suppose that God, in His infinite compassion, appears to Osama bin Laden in a vision tomorrow, and commands him to reject the folly of Islam, repent of his wicked deeds, and have himself baptized into the Catholic Church. He does so, remarkably; and just after the waters of baptism pour over him, the American troops finally find his location and drop a 2-ton bomb on him. Osama bin Laden would find himself a guest in the Beatific Vision after all1.

That's not impossible, any more than the conversion of Saul was. What's more, we Catholics should hope that he is (in this or another way) saved from the pains of Hell, along with all those who make us their enemy. We cannot and should not wish pure justice without mercy as the law in the Cosmos, since this is not what God Himself has chosen for it.

This is one thing, though, that's presently troubling me about the Psalms and other parts of the Old Testament: that the Psalmist is seeking to rejoice over the suffering and destruction of the wicked. Why did God wait so long in human history to reveal that part of Himself that wills all to come to the truth (even though He will not force it from us)?

1. Of course, there is a factor which mitigates this picture a little: Purgatory. Mr. bin Laden might well have much suffering to endure for the sins of his past life, before he could attain to the Heavenly Banquet. But, from reading the sentiments of many Catholics, there are those for whom that would never be enough to meet the demands of justice. I mean, I'd forgive him, but then I'm always looking to believe people less culpable than they seem. I hold everyone to a high moral standard, but when they fail I'm loath to hold them responsible.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Reports of my demise were greatly exaggerated.

Reports of my foolishness, though, were right on target.

So, after going to the Residency Office in a panic, I found out that I had made CA residency after all, but they hadn't updated Bear Facts yet, so my check online had told me that I was a non-resident (after they sent me an e-mail saying that I should check Bear Facts, where my residency status would be updated based on their decision).

And it's been a day of things that make me smile: a column about grandfathering in the Chronicle, a girl wearing a Dinosaur Comics cephalopod T-shirt, a miniature bulldozer driving through the door to the library. And those are just the things that don't affect my life. What a difference a day makes.

Still, I have to admit that my level of (I have to say it) angst over the last few weeks has been entirely disproportionate to its putative external causes (and the other phases have been semi-manic). Something's awry with me, and I don't know what.

There are days when reality all makes sense again, God's in His heaven, and I see so much beauty in the world that I want to rip it apart and find the truth at the core. And there have been days where I'm sure I'm just a collection of molecules with grandiose delusions. It's not that I have any new ideas that push me between these extremes; my moods lead me to obsess on one set or the other. I just can't recall it ever being this bad before.

On the plus side, if it's true that I'm just a 22-year-old kid, this might just be adolescence upon me. It's about time; I can't wait to be able to grow a beard.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Will the fight for our sanity be the fight of our lives?

Now that we've lost all the reasons that we thought that we had...

Oh man, I didn't get California residency after all that rigamarole. I was a few days late, I didn't save a copy of my Illinois part-year tax return to give them, and maybe I forgot something else I don't know about. Now I've got to find out whether the math department is still going to fund me (otherwise, goodbye grad school, hello job market, goodbye soul), and reapply for residency next year (which means, once again, only 6 weeks total out of the state). Hooray for me.

Honestly, detailed requirements like that process just freak me out. I was a few days late with my application because I went into panic-induced paralysis. Everybody has their thing, I guess. I don't get this sort of anxiety over tests, assignments, public speaking, whatever- just over details I'm not sure about. The part of grad school applications that bothered me the most was filling in all those minor details, not writing the essays (though I'll admit to serious procrastination there); if I felt like my situation didn't exactly match one of the acceptable responses, my instinct was to abandon the whole thing. I don't know why I'm like this, folks. (And don't even ask about tax forms.)

And of course that's one aspect of my delay in growing up; I'm hapless (and I feel it's my fault, instead of a stereotypical mathematician's ineptitude at daily life). I just don't feel like I can make it in the modern world; I want to be able to do my thing without worrying about details, and that just isn't feasible for most people. I'm a hard worker, I'm OK with doing all sorts of unpleasant tasks, but the worrying really disturbs me. That's one reason I stayed in the dorms in Chicago all four years, so I wouldn't have to take charge of my life outside of a small sphere.

I would rather be a sous-chef than cook for myself. I would rather be told to do a chore than decide on my own initiative. I would rather that everything except the life of the mind be reduced to routine and directives from outside. I mean, that impulse is horribly immature, but it seems that so am I. I don't want to be a self-directed adult; I want the life I had at 12 years old.

By all rights, this should be the part where I regain my composure and resolution, and continue the Flaming Lips quote with, "Still the last volunteer battles on...". But I don't feel that way. Some part of me is hoping that I get kicked out of grad school for this (which is pretty unlikely), just so I don't have to go through the residency process again, just so I can walk away from everything I love because it worries me.

My entire blog has been more about whining than about ideas recently. I just don't feel I have anything to say, because I don't know anything at all outside of math; I just spout off pretentiously worded opinions. I can't promise my blogging will improve or even continue in the future, really. Please pray for me.

Reason #7 Why It's Good To Be An Academic:

It's 7:45 AM, and the math building is deserted. Education means never having to wake up early.

If you're wondering what I'm doing here, it's not just my usual Thursday bout of sleep madness; I woke up to drive my landlady Barbara to the airport, and now I'm killing time until the carwash opens and I can find out again what color the Corsica is.

Oh, and I decided that ONB hasn't become frivolous enough yet to contain a webcomics rant, but I've started using my LJ account (which otherwise exists for the sole purpose of reading friends' LJs) for that. Of course, now my rant is a day out of date.

AS WE SPEAK Oh snap, people are arriving and it's only 7:50! Well, glad I nixed the "blogging nude in the Math Department computer lounge" idea.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A Meaningful Universe:

The only thing worth going crazy for.

Current crisis has something to do with my delay in growing up, methinks. A religious order and a woman might have something to do with it, too.

Is the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics compatible with sound Catholic theology? My instinctive reaction is "heck no", but I haven't pondered it thoroughly and I'm willing to entertain arguments to the contrary.

God's mercy presents another problem of theodicy. Force me to elaborate.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Is Irish evil universal?

So, yesterday was Sophomoric Philosophical Position Monday, if you're interested in that sort of thing. Fully-grown math students, who ought to know better by now, espousing things like "how can I know that the rest of you aren't all automatons?" and "there's no difference between humans and the other animals". I mean, c'mon people, there's a reason Aristotle included inductive as well as deductive reasoning in the category of knowledge.

Has anyone else noticed an Enron Effect in recent Hollywood movies? That is to say, the foulest of the villains turns out to be a wealthy corporate entity, destroying not out of malice but out of venal profitmongering. Such a character doesn't have the emotional resonance of the usual (Irish) Evil Overlord, IMHO, and sometimes it feels way out of place in the movie.

It's been an interesting week, and I'm in an odd state. Last week saw one of my more dramatic crises of faith; as much as I laugh about foolish philosophical ideas, I founder upon them myself every so often. And just as it happened every other time, a wise and holy friend helped me out of my hopeless funk.

(Side conversation: Vanessa, reading your analogy of the flashing neon light in the brain that says "CERTAIN KNOWLEDGE", or rather the absence of such a light, was extraordinarily eerie; I've had the same mental image with me for a while. There doesn't seem to be an unambiguous experiential difference between that which is known and that which is opined, and either despair or humility follows from that realization.)

Today's cryptic clue: it's a smaller world than I'd imagined, but I still don't know what I'm doing!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

It's Official: God Is Messing With My Head.

...I don't mind, I don't mind;
I've made a lot of mistakes
in my mind, in my mind...

Monday, July 17, 2006

Asked you a question.

But I didn't need you to reply.

I. Great weekend, by the way. I went kayaking with Andy and Cheryl, got terribly sunburned. Oh, and I saw Who Killed the Electric Car?, which was a pretty good documentary (with a surprisingly solid knowledge-to-vitriol ratio for a film involving some big-name culprits). Did you know that from 1996 to 2000, there were affordable and impressive electric cars being leased (but not sold, for reasons we later discover) in California? The last of them were forcibly reclaimed and destroyed by the car companies in recent years. The question of why that should have been makes for an fascinating movie, and the people who tried to save the electric cars come across as fully human, hopeful, patient, and not bitter- this was as far as could be from a Two Minute Hate documentary. I recommend it if it shows where you live.

II. Teaching is hard.

III. I've been rereading the Nicomachean Ethics for the philosophy seminar, and I'm pretty sure that Aristotle would have benefited from a more developed mathematical terminology. He talks about virtues as being the means between certain character traits (i.e. courage as a mean between cowardice and rashness), then spends a great deal of time talking about how this is not analogous to the arithmetic mean, that sometimes the mean is closer to one of the two extremes (as courage is closer to rashness than to cowardice), and that in some cases the virtue is one of the extremes (as for example the virtuous disposition with regard to injustice is to avoid it completely).

It would have been much simpler had he been able to speak of maximizing an 'excellence function' on the interval of the character trait; most often the maximum lies inside the interval, sometimes at one end or the other. Maybe I've been thinking about calculus too much. Possibly I'm crazy.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Oh, great intentions,

I've got the best of interventions
But when the ads come
I think about it now...

I have Sufjan Stevens tickets for October!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Be Sure and Read Warning First.

Note to self: Having a discussion about indie-rock physics the T.G.B. with an attractive girl is possibly the hottest thing ever.

That webcomic rocks so hard, I have to restrain myself from re-rereading the archives. It's horribly vulgar, and I don't understand most of the all-important music references, but it's a joy to read, intelligent and usually hilarious, simply yet beautifully drawn, and (most importantly) as honest about human nature as a Johnny Cash song. My Disclaimer about noble heathen [or lapsed Catholic] attempts at understanding, appreciating and living in the Cosmos totally applies to Questionable Content.

WARNING: I mean, I'm not kidding, the dialogue at QC is going to be abominably offensive if you tend to form mental images at all while reading. I, strangely enough, never do, so verbal references to bodily functions (and worse) don't trouble me at all (while visual depictions thereof would trouble me greatly, which is why on that score I guard what I watch very carefully), and I can laugh at such stuff. Just know thyself.

And, Catholic ladies with designs on my vocation (I flatter myself), take note of my honest quote edit! I'm a sucker for philosophical sparring with a fascinating woman. (Some of you ladies without any designs on my vocation know this quite well, alas.)

OK, time to get some dinner before I get embarrassingly honest again. I quote movies I've never seen! I send myself smoldering looks in the mirror every morning! If you give me gummi worms and a math book, I will eat them unconsciously while I work, until I either consume them all or make myself violently ill! AARGH!!!

"Some More Disclaimers For This Blog"

Today is a good day I think to append some disclaimers1 that have occurred to me! After all, I will admit that I'm a person of sometimes odd opinions.

I believe that the Church is, in fact, who She professes to be. Frankly, I want everyone in the Church. But, failing that, I want them as close as possible, and the way that plays out in real life may strike others as unorthodox. I am happy when I see any person, of any faith, who is sincerely seeking to understand and appreciate the universe, and to act rightly in it. Even when their understandings lead them to beliefs and actions opposite from those of mine, I rejoice that they are seeking the T.G.B.2, a search whose end is ultimately in God. Whether one knows it or not, a passion for politics or an art movement or a philosophy or another person partakes of the love of God, and I only wish that that participation would be ever more complete in you and in me. (And these truths are meaningful not just for that journey of the soul, but as things real in themselves!) For those who actively seek to know, love and serve God in their religion, I rejoice all the more, while still willing them to come ever nearer to the graces He bestows through His Church.

I know that sounds audacious and awfully condescending, doesn't it? But that's really how I see the world, and the God Who made it.

This is sort of a corollary of the previous disclaimer, but it's important enough for its own heading. Over the years, I've learned by example that genuine love and real beauty can and do exist even when sin is present. I have many friends who reject in their lives the teachings of the Church on the meaning and ethics of sexuality, and I don't believe myself superior to them. I admire greatly my friends' virtues of unselfishness, fidelity, patience, etc, when their relationships display these; I admire them without reservation. And it is far better, as I see it, to love and care for another, even in a flawed manner, than to not love at all. Still, I believe that our sexuality does have a meaning that can't be willed away, and that the virtue of chastity perfects, not destroys, genuine love (even and especially when the counsel of the virtue is separation). I hope and pray that all couples may see the moral truth more clearly and receive the grace to pursue it.

Take everything I say with a block of salt. I was a complete Philistine for much of my life with regard to poetry, music, art, movies, etc. Guided by my faith in my intellect and my early penchant for non-fiction, I sought from any artistic work an intellectual content reducible to an essay or at least an aphorism. If I couldn't find one, I deemed the work 'intellectually empty'. At least in the past few years, I've been humbled at last by pieces of wisdom that don't work that way, and so I've started to recognize the non-prosaic meanings in art. That's been sort of amazing at points, suddenly seeing clothes on the Emperor after all. But I warn you, I still have plenty of dumb opinions about all these things, and you do me a service by correcting me, doubly so by insisting upon the truth. (That last line, of course, applies to every subject, not just aesthetics.)

Well, I hope that this has been helpful.

1 I'm completely addicted to disclaimers, you know.

2 T.G.B: the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, my second-favorite trio of the cosmos.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Cantate Domino Canticum Antiquum!

Last weekend I went down to Father Keyes' parish in Newark for Mass (the Solemnity of the Precious Blood, a CPPS feast) and a BBQ afterwards1. Since he became pastor at St. Edward's (and particularly since he hired Sam as an organist last year), Fr. Keyes has steadily elevated the liturgy there, and a diverse congregation (requiring Spanish and Portuguese Masses) has flourished all the more. It's heartening to see that the parish as a whole, and not simply a parish of traditionalists, can embrace the proper restoration of sacred music and liturgy (that rarest of resources, Eucharistic Prayer 1, was even brought out). The Mass parts were contemporary and in English (Proulx), most hymns were English and 18th-19th century, the Mozart Ave Verum Corpus was chanted during communion, and, oh, my favorite hymn of all time was the Mass prelude (all Latin was translated in the leaflets). It was a very fitting liturgy, and it occasioned some thoughts of mine on the place of sacred music in the Mass.

Now, I'll admit I'm not a liturgy buff like Fr. Keyes or the fellows down at the Holy Whapping, nor have I read then-Cardinal Ratzinger's book or any papal pronouncements on liturgy. But lack of wisdom hasn't stopped me from opining before, and it certainly won't this time.

The function of music in the liturgy is and should be ancillary to the liturgy itself; if the Mass becomes an excuse for a concert of sacred music, we might as well call ourselves High Church Anglicans2. (Incidentally, the one thing that made me uneasy on Sunday: the congregation applauded the choir after Mass. I mean, I know they're doing what they think proper and polite, but it's a symbol of appreciation more suited to a concert.)

Because of that, I'm starting to have qualms about the way my own choir does the 10:30 (Novus Ordo) Mass at St. Margaret Mary's. On feasts or during the liturgical seasons, we'll sing choral Masses from Mozart, Palestrina, and the like, in place of the usual plainchant Mass parts. The choral Masses are gorgeous (and wonderful to sing), but I've realized that they entail the congregation and priest standing for several minutes in silence, waiting for the choir to complete the Mass part before continuing the liturgy. The interruption is sort of disconcerting from the pews, and it leaves the impression of appreciating music rather than participating in the prayer of the Mass.

(This criticism doesn't apply to the 12:30 High Tridentine Mass, which I've attended a few times, because that liturgy multitasks: the priest silently continues with the liturgy, and the congregation follows along, while the choir sings. It's more demanding of one's attention, but it evinces a very different focus than when the same music brings a Mass to a standstill.)

It does seem that it's for this reason that the Mass parts written after Vatican II are short and quickly grasped, and why most choirs of any repute save their listen-only pieces for Offertory or Communion (when the liturgy won't need to wait for them). I wonder if there is a liturgical solution in the Novus Ordo that would let the more complex and beautiful Masses back in without making of them distractions.

For they are beautiful indeed, and we American Catholics must as a whole recover the habit of giving our very best to the Mass (in music as well as architecture, attire, preparation), rather than finding the minimal acceptable effort. By no means does it have to be old music, but it's ridiculous to assert that the best we can offer God in worship is a hymn that sounds like a campfire song. That's not our musical heritage; that's a mess of pottage.

But, as I've said, the Mass at St. Edward's was a good example of pursuing this very thing (and in the vernacular, not the pretentious Latin3 that I personally find so fitting for the Mass), and a good example of the reform of the reform. One parish at a time, Catholics are beginning to test all the new ideas released after the Council, and more importantly, starting to retain what is good4.

1. Said barbecue included great beer brats, and the realization that the Precious Blood community around here has designs on my vocation (within the laity or otherwise). I mean, I appreciate the help in discernment and all...

2. I kid, of course. But some of the choirs they have are astounding.

3. I mean, heck, I made up a Latin motto for Frisbedia: Ite foris et ludite!

4. I don't think I've said this here, but I think that a proper understanding and implementation of Vatican II5 will in fact take place over the next century, as most of the bad ideas die out on their own. We live in painful but important times for the Church.

5. By a proper understanding and implementation of Vatican II, I mean a Church which as a whole recognizes and combats the new and real problems, temporal and spiritual, inherent in the modern world, while remaining confident that, you know, God really did come to Earth and live and die and rise, and that the Church was and is His Bride and possesses His Sacraments for the good of all.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Why San Francisco is very different from Chicago

The timestamp says it all. Just got back from the city; I praise God for such blessings as karaoke studios and all-night breakfast restaurants.

Monday, July 03, 2006


It was the early 1970s at the U.S. Military Research site in Area 51. The scientists had finally completed the dreaded Project Spectrum, which could neutralize an incoming missile, when the KGB spy made his move. During the scientists' lunch break, he broke into the laboratory, subdued the unfortunate telephone operator who had remained in the lab, and absconded with the project.

Returning from lunch, the scientists found their lab ransacked, Project Spectrum missing, and the telephone operator bound and gagged in the corner. They summoned the soldiers from the base.

Immediately the mathematician exclaimed, "We've got to get to the airfield; the spy will try and escape in the new stealth plane!"

The soldiers ran with the mathematician to the airstrip, where indeed the spy was just about to take off in the complicated stealth jet. They pushed out a blockade just in the nick of time, and finally recaptured the spy and the missing Project Spectrum with him.

Then the physicist turned to the mathematician and asked, "How did you know so quickly where the spy would go?"

"Well, mathematically it's obvious. A bounded operator always means there's a spectrum on the complex plane."

So, math peoples, I just came up with that. Needs work, I know, but does it have potential?

And to the rest of you: I'm terribly sorry.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Let Down and Hanging Around

Radiohead depressed me terribly tonight, and not in the way you'd imagine. This was the long-awaited Berkeley concert with my favorite band of all time, and my hopes were stratospheric. Now I'm left feeling hollow and numb from the concert, from my total lack of connection with the band and the songs that were so fraught with meaning before. I don't understand it well, especially since the friends who accompanied me (men of intelligence and discrimination) loved the performance.

Any time in the last year, I could have written an apologia for Radiohead: not only are they consummate crafters of sounds and innovative rockers, but their strange forms are fitted to their meanings, and the ground they explore is the existential human condition in all its glory and horror, our isolation and concern and perhaps even original sin (hear Planet Telex).

But it seemed like these songs were just thrown out as spectacle and received as entertainment, as Thom Yorke seemed jaded and the crowd followed its own purposes (most egregious example: in No Surprises, the lines "Bring down the government/ They don't, they don't speak for us" aren't remotely about the Bush administration [as the song was released in '97] and aren't to be taken seriously in context; yet the Berkeley students released a big 'ol political roar anyway). We were barely responsive at most times (this may have been because large amounts of cannabis were offered as holocausts throughout the concert), and the band seemed to hold back the heart in their performance. It seemed appropriate enough when Thom sang, "There's a gap in between/ where I end and you begin", since both a physical and emotional barrier separated the band from the audience.

It was just, I guess, like a part of me vanished. Maybe it was just me instead of them; I've been getting less and less from their albums as I replayed them all leading up to the concert. It's just awful.

I think now I ought to get to sleep, I am running on 5 hours after the crazy house-cooling party Friday night.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Epiphany Arrived, I Think.

You care to know what it is? Why have I been increasingly unhappy for no external reason, even when everything is coming up roses for me? Why haven't I had faith in my own argumentation, why haven't I answered my commentators here and interlocutors elsewhere? What did I really miss from all those Uchicago conversations, and why haven't I had their like here in Berkeley? Why have I grown so indifferent to the Good, the Beautiful and the True, seen less and less Meaning in the world around me, been on the rocks with even my God lately?

Well, even those of you who are my friends haven't known that some of these things are going on, because I haven't talked about it to anybody. Gradually, over months and months, I've become sullen and withdrawn. Why?

In a word: Irony. In another word: Vanity.

I'm really an extraordinarily earnest person, and playing along in an ironic tone is uncomfortable for me. I can do it OK, I'm a clever guy, but my heart's never in it. I really don't care about the folly of others, however well you express it; I just want to look into what's true instead. (And yes, this is why, try as I might, I just can't get into Chesterton. He's a brilliant writer, but his eyes are too often on the very real silliness of modernity rather than on that which modernity misses.)

But coming here, I wanted to make friends with all the interesting and intelligent people I met in the department and at my parish. I wanted so badly to be admired, wanted to be accepted. So I imitated the way everybody talked, their smirking disdain for the fools that surround us.

Some people, I know, mean quite well by it all, maintain charity in their hearts; you know, hate the folly, love the fool. And that's all right, I don't mean to say my friends were being amoral, just that I tried to imitate them for vanity's sake in an enterprise I don't enjoy.

So, my urbane banter- that's not me. My film commentary- that's not me. The constant attempts at cleverness on this blog- those aren't me either, I'm afraid (the good bits of style were all stolen from friends' blogs without attribution). And now I'm sick of it all.

What has it landed me? Well, a respectable spot in the social order, OK, but at what cost? Out here, there are only three friends (by my count) with whom I feel OK being earnest, and for various reasons there's stuff I can't talk about with each of them. And I normally don't even drop the ironic banter. So it's gotten me dissatisfaction, and angst, and embarrassment. Some strategy.

I want to get back to basics, you know? I want to become a Dostoyevsky character, like I was at my best in Chicago. Junior year, that was really the best of my life, before I started trying so hard to be clever, before I exchanged real joy for mere wit, when I didn't have the commentary track turned on in the back of my mind, when I knew instead of opined, when I'd argue out of love, when my faith wasn't tortured by speculating what others must think of my religion.

Why am I broadcasting this? Well, it's my blog, and if I want to be an idiot, I'll be an idiot. Also, if I get it all out here, maybe I'll have the public impetus to drop the bullshit I'm constantly spewing. I was at Mass today (thank God for the Tridentine Low Mass, I can't distract myself so easily from Christ when there's absolutely nothing else to catch the eye or ear) and felt like I was just going through the motions, hoping that I'd get back to an animated faith and love. I started to see that my 'epistemological demons' were deprecating my knowledge of God on the grounds that I feel ashamed of asserting it. And that's just an awful way to lose my faith.

So I think I prayed honestly for the first time in a long while, and I'm going to try and act the way I really am. And I'm sorry, this is an awkward time to be going at this. I'll probably fail at the whole thing very soon, you know? But what else is there to do?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Confound It, Where's My Footman?

I shall have to do this myself, then.

Also, I've misplaced my wax and seal.

LATER: I wonder. Did my scheme come across as shy and awkward? I was trying to do it properly, you know, and footmen don't linger for smalltalk. On second thought, I really should have gone with the "more Russian, less English" approach. Live and learn!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

I Said No No No You’re Wrong

When I was a boy, everything was right, everything was right…

So, after the aforementioned wedding, I had a blast at the reception that the bride’s parents held on their Illinois farm. The band included the electric fiddle, turning dance songs into hoedowns (while Katherine exchanged her high heels for dancing boots), and giving even the awkward an excuse to dance shame-free until it hurt (which it did, eventually, after I tried to get creative with an Irish jig. Um, please don’t visualize that.) Thanks to the Uchicago-heavy wedding party, I even ended up discussing the relative merits of War and Peace characters and philosophies while I was sitting out for a while. It was amazing.

So why did I leave relatively early? I mean, it was a reasonable time to head off, but a bunch of people including the bride and groom looked to be partying for another hour or two. I left on a sudden inscrutable impulse, completely happy, and I only thought again of it when I arrived at my hotel and had nothing left to do besides read, pray and journal. Not that I minded that at all, but the reception was a unique social experience, so I don’t know why I took off when I did. Does anybody else?

Darn it, when this happens to Pierre, he suddenly ends up defending a helpless maiden from French soldiers. All I end up with is befuddlement.

Oh, and that reminds me, I’m having a tough time of it with JPII’s Theology of the Body. It’s terribly dense, which of course I can forgive. The difficulty is that some of the things that John Paul the Great asserts about human experience after the Fall don’t strike me as true, unless one interprets them in a sense that attenuates to the point of meaninglessness (think of Rex Mottram’s “Perhaps it’s raining in a spiritual sense”). But then again, I opine rather than know about the points I have trouble with, and I do find that his speculative exegesis of the creation narratives is greatly illuminating, so I’m keeping patient.

I’m a bit more sure of my thoughts on my travel reading, Waugh’s Handful of Dust, which was going great until a sudden change in genre; both the main part of the novel and the denouement (which was developed out of a short story Waugh had written earlier) were great reads, but the composite had a jarring effect. Oh, and Mr. Thackeray, that was a disappointingly milquetoast ending to such an enjoyable book. You still get an A-, but do try harder next time.

One of the Most Beautiful Things Ever:

Katherine and Erik getting married yesterday. The pure joy radiating from the bride and groom was so staggering that it left me giddily speechless, multiple times. Such a Sacrament, such a couple! Of course all of the wedding details were done brilliantly, but they almost didn’t matter: the great beauty of the earthly image of the Divine Wedding Feast was so remarkably present.

I’ve known Erik and Katherine since the start of college*, Erik the unflappable Viking programmer and Katherine the Midwestern dynamo of cheerfulness. I was Erik’s roommate for sophomore and junior years and really got to see how this couple acted toward each other. Man, I should have been taking notes. You know that idea I have about unselfish love, diligently seeking the other’s good day in and day out? They live it.

Like I said, a beautiful wedding.

*Though I must admit that of all the Wallace House gang, I think I was absolutely the last to realize that Katherine was, um, more than just Erik’s really good friend. I mean, we’re talking months here. Perspicacity is not a forte of mine.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

That There, That's Not Me

I know I've disappeared completely from the blogosphere of late. Really, I'm hiding from all of you. I was having a great time in the Midwest, just brimming with joy at my first-year Chicago reunion. I finally got my fix with respect to U of C conversations, those that can wander comfortably between late-'60s art rock, the application of category theory to sociology, what premodern ethicists would have thought about amphetamines, the concept of theosis as remedy to Western soteriological crises, etc. Aside from two events that were, well, far too cool for the likes of me, it was a great time.

(Aside: I finally came to the realization that the U of C's character and mission is essentially that of the last great legatee of the Enlightenment, with all the good and ill that signifies, all its unreasoned faith in the efficacy of reasoned disputation to overcome bias and self-interest, the grand quest for the truth coupled with the bald assertion that we mortals can indeed search it out and possess it. And I am a legatee of that pursuit, as well.)

But somehow it all drained away on the drive back to St. Louis, prior to the flight back to California. I feel like one sleepwalking, lost in the cosmos (to steal from my most interesting of recent reads, Walker Percy's book of that title), beset by demons of epistemology in the garden of ontology, wondering whether I really have the will to be a saint, sullen and withdrawn like the child I once was (who preferred the company of his own imagination to that of any other people, and ran around the deserted parts of the playground by himself playing the dinosaur hero). So I haven't exactly been up to writing anything of substance.

Trust me, though, I'll be back. All it takes is my next epiphany.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Benedict at Auschwitz

"Pope John Paul II came here as a son of the Polish people. I come here today as a son of the German people. For this very reason, I can and must echo his words: I could not fail to come here."

If you read one thing this week, read Pope Benedict's address at the steps of Auschwitz.

Never again, by the grace of God.


You were a cruel, cruel author, sir. My heart goes out to those who waited in agony for your monthly installments of Vanity Fair, while you held aloft that happy ending like Tantalus' fruit tree. The realization that I have yet a hundred pages to go, whilst only your characters' foolishness prevents the denouement, fills me with righteous indignation. I call you out, you blackguard, you rogue!

Can you tell I'm enjoying my summer reading?

Ooh! And now I understand why radioactive decay happens! Ask me any time!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Praise be to Nero’s Neptune

The Titanic sails at dawn...

I. Two Books That Are Rocking My World

One is Sam Treiman’s The Odd Quantum, a conceptual overview of quantum mechanics which, unfortunately, I can only recommend to those who’ve taken some post-calculus math. (Any experience of operator theory or partial differential equations will just make this an especially fruitful read.) Previously, I’d been able to parrot what physicists like Stephen Hawking wrote about strange quantum phenomena, but this book is giving me the context to really understand why they should be the case. I’m more excited than ever about taking the Quantum Mechanics course next semester!

The other is the collection of John Paul II’s lectures on the “Theology of the Body”, it’s brilliant, and I think I’m reading it at the right time of my theological development. I’ve in the past been a bit of a rationalist or empiricist even within Catholic theology, discounting mystical explanations in favor of natural-law ones. But of late I’ve been undergoing a change of the basis on which I understand all of this (take for example my recent fascination with earthly things that are images of heavenly things), and I’m hungry for more insight. John Paul the Great has that insight in droves, exploring revelation with a perspicacious eye.

N.B. Since the basis for my theology is changing, while the object of it (fidelity to God through His Church) remains the same, I’m saying things now that I soon realize to be faulty, because I’m speculating on territory that’s newer to me. I think I’ve written some foolish things here and elsewhere; as always, my mistakes are mine and not the Church’s.

II. Great Joy in Hillsdale, IL

It’s with great pleasure that I found I can attend Erik and Katherine’s wedding after all. Marriage is always a great and beautiful sacrament, and such a couple deserves all our congratulations, rejoicing and prayers.

In other news, I’ll be in Chicago by Thursday evening, for the first time since I graduated. Hurrah!

III. You Know You’re A Catholic Nerd When…

I rarely have nightmares (or perhaps, I just rarely recall them), but recently I dreamed that I was involved in a horror-movie plot with grotesque supernatural agents out to kill me (unless, if I recall correctly, I completed their impossible scavenger hunt of sorts). I wasn’t afraid of death in the dream, but I was very diligently trying to find a priest to hear my confession before the fiends caught up with me.

UPDATE: My Real Education When I'm Home
It's amazing at times to watch TV shows I liked as a kid. Some of them are embarassing in the light of adulthood: Saved by the Bell, for example, is a plodding and skilless comedy held together only by the voice of Screech. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, by contrast, is smartly written, acted with real comic timing, and it only gets better as I get older (today I caught the episode where Carlton's guardian angel turns out to be Tom Jones, replete with a plot-advancing duet of It's Not Unusual. Stellar.)

Ditto with Pinky and the Brain, incidentally.

It is I, Don Cerebro, the mouse of La Mancha
I'm blessed with a huge frontal lobe
For a mouse with my power, it won't take an hour
I plan to take over the globe...

Are you pondering what I'm pondering?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Philosophical X-Men

I saw the new X-Men III with my family yesterday. It was entertaining, but that’s about it. However, I did end up in a big argument with my sister about the purpose and limits of governmental authority, and the value of self-expression. (The appeal of comic-book universes is that they often flesh out scenarios of conflict between principles that couldn’t clash so severely in real life.)

More General X-Men Background: This all takes place in a universe wherein people have this gene, “Mutant X”, which is expressed in some of them and gives them mutant powers of differing kinds and degrees. The more powerful mutants have abilities that render them more powerful than a conventional army.

More Local X-Men III Background: In this movie, thanks to a mutant with the power to take away the expression of “Mutant X” in others, a pharmaceutical company has claimed to develop a ‘cure’ which will permanently (and otherwise harmlessly) transform a mutant into a non-mutant.

So the question: Would it be best for the world if such a ‘cure’ were administered on a large scale?

Of course, in the movie there’s a great deal of fear and prejudice towards mutants as being ‘diseased’. But that’s only the straw man to the thoughtful argument in favor of the cure. The President is speaking with Beast (that most intellectual blue-furred mutant) about the situation, and he raises the point that there can be no safety when one man can move a city.

I’m not a Hobbesian by any stretch, but it’s certainly true that the strength of the State needs to surpass the strength of any private entity within it, otherwise the State exists only at the whim of that private entity. In the world of X-Men, we see that the government is mostly powerless to protect its citizens from assaults by Magneto and his forces, and must depend on the goodwill of this private team of mutants to stop him.

The other side, of course, is that forcibly administering the cure to all mutants would be a drastic imposition, and would take away a dimension of innate uniqueness and self-expression from all mutants, regardless of their conduct or character. For this reason (and not a little because we have come to care about these particular mutants), the film’s heart is against the involuntary administration of the cure.

But as I see the film (hundreds of ordinary people die at the hands of mutants who fight the existence of a cure, and hundreds more simply because of the mental illness of a powerful character), if we are talking about human dignity, the right of all to live in peace ought to precede the right of the mutants to their uniqueness and self-expression. Otherwise, we might conclude that the mutants are “superhuman” in a way that makes their lives worth more than the non-mutants. I find this more repellent to human dignity than the other.

What do you think? Am I tyrannical for this? Are there aspects I’m missing?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Tales of Brave Ulysses

On account of trying to be a proper host for my cosmopolitan sister, I assented to an expedition into the city today. San Francisco's geography has in the past buffaloed me to no end, but believe me when I tell you that all I lacked was a map. That having been rectified, look at our itinerary from the day:

Here There Be Dragons

1. We took the ferry line from Oakland to Pier 39. Amazingly, we had a clear sunny view of the whole San Francisco Bay. Katie didn't believe that it would have been so difficult to swim ashore from Alcatraz.
2. We ate a dim sum lunch at Ton Kiang. It's way out there, but I love it. Try the barbecued pork buns!
3. Katie had to shop for a friend in Japan-town.
4. She wanted a place with trendy shopping. I came up with the Haight-Ashbury district, which turned out to be an interesting place to stroll and window-shop. All of the vintage clothes there were far too hip for me; as Katie said, "I think you're a retail kind of person, Pat."
5. Sure enough, she had me improve my wardrobe when we went downtown, with jeans that fit me and shirts I haven't yet faded into oblivion.
6. At last, dinner and gelato in North Beach, before taking bus and train back to Berkeley. It was a good day.