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.