Tuesday, November 04, 2008

On Voting:

If you don't vote, you can't complain.

But, if you do vote, you can be blamed.

Friday, October 17, 2008

I, for one, welcome our new alien masters

I won't be publishing anymore political posts. I wouldn't want the ruling class to notice me and do to me what they have done to Joe the Plumber.

Nothing to see here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What in the world is going on?

It feels like the world is racing off a precipice. I know this is just emotional venting, and of little rational value, but we run into economic trouble (brought about by market intervention, not by lack of regulation), and everyone is eager to socialize the economy.

There is no conservative party. There is a socialist party that advocates abortion on demand, and a socialist party that doesn't, at least not as much.

My wife works for a bank; I hope she will get civil service benefits.

Well, since this is a rant, I feel no need to tie it all up into a coherent essay.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Baseless Geopolitical Speculation

How long will it be before oil-producing states need to fear invasion and conquest by oil-importing states?

Monday, May 19, 2008

A confirmation of the Theology of the Body at the local library

My local library has a little room full of books for sale, various cheap paperbacks and no-longer-important political tracts. Sometimes one finds bargains--I just picked up _The Origins of Tolkien's Middle-earth for Dummies_, for example--but generally it is not too worthwhile. But, today, the book room itself was worthy of notice, because the cheap paperbacks were no longer arranged into romances, mysteries, and sci-fi, they were arranged into "Male Authors" and "Female Authors."

Why would one want to know the sex of the author (or authoress) of a book, unless there really was some sort of deep difference between man and woman?

I think I am doomed

I just had a vision of my life as a parent, given the recent California Supreme Court decision about marriage and who is eligible for entering into the matrimonial state:

For the rest of my life as a father, I am going to have to fight my nation's culture tooth and nail, for the good of my children, and I am likely going to lose. Everything that I say about things that really matter, about God, family, love, friendship, even about education and thinking well, will be contradicted daily by the bright, shiny, prosperous, but rotting Western world. My little girls will learn, slowly but surely, that Daddy is a crackpot, a crank, a dinosaur, and a religious fanatic.

Maybe if I read them Chesterton at bedtime. . . .

Friday, May 16, 2008

I really have no interest in politics anymore

having shifted my sights down to the level of the family and away from the international or national. I will vote for someone, somehow, but without any thought of good things resulting from it. But enough of that. I wanted you to notice something: almost every picture of Barack Obama is done in the style of a religious icon. A short web search reveals this one:

Notice the pleroma behind him, the glowing oval of light that reminds us of another image:

For more examples of this sort of thing, the most blatant deification of a candidate I can remember, check out ObamaMessiah.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Distributist Summer?

With gas prices likely to hit 5$ a gallon, we in the Casa de Karl are going to be driving very little this summer. Once or twice a week to go to church, I think. I really want to try to see how little we can use the cars. Fortunately, we live in a community with some shops nearby, within walking or bicycle riding distance. There are even a few bike paths.

Which brings me to my next topic: a good use for GoogleEarth: finding bicycle routes. I don't like to ride on the street very much, since drivers of cars don't really expect bicycles to be there, and therefore don't look for them. Via Google Earth, I can plan out a route to the shopping areas. I could even tow a kid trailer to carry the parcels.

We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The hearts of many will be laid bare

if the current food crisis continues. It looks like famines are going to result from a commitment to "biofuels". The developed countries will assuage their consciences by putting their crops into their cars, while the developing countries will starve.

Someone should ask Gore how many people should die in Bangladesh for the sake of an ethanol mandate.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Concerning music and taste

Criticisms of some of the music at the papal liturgy have raised the cry of smallness against the critics. After all, isn't music a matter of taste?

I don't think it is. I think music is a matter of math and physics, and has a reality that we can't easily evade. I wrote up a handout for my students on this topic, and demonstrated musical concepts with a guitar and with the wonderful Scala microtonal program.

Perhaps you will find it interesting. I tried to post it here, but Blogger doesn't like math formulas. Here it is.

It's great that the Pope is here

but who picked out the awful responsorial psalm at the liturgy in Washington? Parellel whole tone scales? C-D-E-F#, repeated over and over, all for Psalm 104? If the Lord sends out his Spirit to renew the face of the earth, and it results in such cacophony, why would one want it?

An unfortunate choice, I think.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

If you want to read Homer

but, like me, don’t know Greek very well, there are two resources for you:

  1. The Perseus Project under Philologic at the University of Chicago, which has a lot of Greek and Latin texts linked to lexica and morphology analyzers. Just select a word and press “d”, and a definition window pops up. This is a wonderful resource, and is working much faster these days than the Perseus servers at Tufts.

  2. The Chicago Homer, which gives you an interlinear Homer, with Greek on one line and the English on the next. It’s good for when one is puzzled, but it is also a great temptation to cheat.

If you don’t want to read Homer, then there’s no helping you.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A hypothetical question

If using ethanol in my car caused starving in India, should I still use it?

How many deaths would be acceptable in order to promote biofuels?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Difference Between Me and God

When I see suffering, I try to fix it. Well, that's not quite true. I don't try to fix it, but I stand around wondering why someone doesn't fix it. The upshot is that I think of suffering as a problem to be solved.

In my worst moments, I look to God and say, "Why haven't you solved suffering?" Sometimes I get angry, especially after reading the newspapers. How could people do such things? Where is God?

God, being a gentleman, does not point out to me that I haven't solved suffering either. Rather, God does things in a way I never would have. He doesn't get rid of suffering at all; God becomes man and goes to a horrible but completely voluntary death. He sanctifies suffering by undergoing it. Suffering is no longer an evil---no, that's not right: it still is an evil, but an evil which God has made good.

Think about that for a minute. How is it that God chose to act in the world? He chose the lowest, worst, most evil part of human existence, namely the suffering that we inflict on each other, and made it the means to the highest thing imaginable, the participation in God's very nature. The cosmic irony is that Pilate and Caiaphas at their worst were bringing about the best, a superlative good beyond comprehension.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Trouble at St. Xavier

A threat causes a closing.

I have some experience with St. Xavier and with the people there. I cannot quarrel with Dr. Dwyer's decision to close the school in the face of threats, but I wonder what will become of higher education when anonymous threats can cause a place to shut.

Once again, I do not fault SXU. I think it is the right decision, but I am sure there will be many copycats.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Freud in Disney's Peter Pan?

I just noticed that the same voice actor who plays Wendy's father plays Captain Hook. I'm not sure what it means, but there it is.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Smiths in Homer

In book 18 of the Iliad, we have the shield of Achilles presented to us, a marvelous work of craft, a presentation or imitation of the life of two cities on a shield. There is a city of war and a city of peace, and Homer spends many lines describing it. The shield seems like a discordant note in a symphony, or rather like a chordant note in a cacophony. Amidst the horrors of war, it appears. It is like a poppy growing on a dungheap.

Interpretation varies on the meaning of the shield, and it is a mark of Homer’s genius that the shield can bear all the interpretations. Homer’s poem, his making, is rich enough to bear it. But I want to talk about it as a construction of a smith.

Chesterton remarks in _A Short History of England on the remarkable poetry that lies below that most prosaic of names. Smiths take earth and make artifacts, implements, and beautiful things out of it by commanding elemental forces. It is as if the gods have inspired them. I think there is something to be said about the mere craft of smithship, as there is a convergence of themes in this book.

Hephaestus, the smith, is ugly and lame. As a result, he is thrown from the heavens and abandoned by his mother, only to be taken care of by the goddess Thetis. Nevertheless, despite his lameness, he is the one who makes the halls of Olympus where the gods dwell in splendor. It is Hephaestus, more than any other god, who makes the glory of the gods possible.

Thetis, during her visit, reveals to the reader the conditions of her marriage to Peleus, the father of Achilles. It was not a happy marriage, but rather one to which she was forced, being yoked to a mortal doomed to grow old and die. This was planned by Zeus. Achilles is the result of an arranged marriage, and therefore one could reasonably say that Achilles, son of Thetis, is arranged, a work of craftsmanship.

But there is more: Hephaestus is attended by female robots, cast in gold and silver, who do his bidding and by extension that of the gods. He is called upon to make new armor for Achilles, and he makes it and the splendid shield out of gold and silver. Achilles is a robot of the gods, an automaton created so that the will of Zeus may work towards its end. All of his glory comes only from the gods, and it is no credit to himself. Furthermore, the god his glory ultimately depends on is the lame smith, Hephaestus, who creates armor (and hence the persona) for his last battles.

What does this mean? The greatness of the hero lies in the gods, in particular the artificer god. But from the parellel with Homer the blind poet, we can see that the greatness of the hero also lies in the human artificer of words, the poet. It is not his own. The most melancholy part of the story of Achilles is that he seeks an immortality based on martial glory where none of it really belongs to him. The only thing he is really responsible for is the death of Patroclus. Like the Christian who can say that all comes from God except his sin, for Achilles all comes from the gods and poets except for his shame and sorrow, which belong particularly to him.

Let this end the Homeric ramble.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Atonement and incarnation

Warning: this post contains spoilers about the movie Atonement.

Fr. Edward Oakes presents an analysis of the recent Academy Award winning movie, asking the question “What sort of atonement is available for the atheist?” The gist of the novel is that the character Briony accuses another character of rape on flimsy evidence, ruins his life, and then spends the rest of her life attempting to atone. She becomes a writer and writes a novel about her evil deed, giving those whose lives she destroyed a happy ending in order to make up for or atone for her misdeed. Oakes says:

What struck me in reading this intricate work of metafiction was the implicit motor of the plot: Briony knew the devastation she wreaked and knew equally she had to atone for it. Lies that consequential demand atonement, as the title of the novel already tells us. But Briony lives in an a-religious world (religion never comes up in the novel, even as a topic of conversation), and so her only way to expiate her lie is by living a life of yet more lying.

The atheist has no recourse in attempting to make justice in an unjust world except by lying, by creating a fiction where happy endings can happen. It is an interesting point, but I think there is a different way to read it: The device of the author within the book, who writes herself into the book, is a sort of mini-incarnation. Briony, who reveals at the end of the book and movie that she has falsified the ending to make up for her misdeeds, has put herself into the fictional reality she has created. She has entered into her own creation to make things right for her characters. This, to me, suggests the Incarnation. Briony so loved her sister and her love that she enters into her own novel. In her case, it is ultimately a lie. She can’t change what has happened, but only her representation of what happened. The Incarnation is the same sort of story, except that God can in fact reshape reality, making all things new.

Or so it seemed to me.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I know it is my own fault

that nobody reads this any more. Somewhere along the line I lost the will to blog. Maybe I should say something controversial to see if anyone is out there. Here goes:

You can't be a good Catholic and a good American. By this I mean that the secular culture and the ways of thought that are required to be a good citizen are quite contrary to those required of a good Christian.

Anyone out there want to pick a fight with me on this?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Originally uploaded by byzkarl

That he may bring forth bread from the earth

… and wine, to cheer man’s heart;
oil, to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

I baked this bread today. This seems a very common thing, but I wonder if you have ever stopped to wonder about how the strangest and most unusual things make man happy. Bread comes from grass seeds, ground, moistened, rising from the cooperation of yeast, and then baked. Who would have ever thought such a thing could be one of the glories of the world? It is no wonder that Christ chose bread and wine to become his Body and Blood—they are already sacramental.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Nerdus sum

I make fun of a friend of mine for his geek chic (making jokes about tertiary characters in Tolkien, quoting G’Kar, or wearing shirts that say “There’s no place like”), but the fact is that I always get his jokes. So, what does that make me? After all, I am writing this post on Vim, using Markdown to code the HTML, and using MultiMarkdown to transform my Markdown docs into RTF, LaTeX, or HTML.

I think my pot is pretty black.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Sin of the Age

An interesting thought, well expressed, in John Erickson’s The Challenge of Our Past: Studies in Orthodox Canon Law and Church History:

Apostasy? Fornication? Is not the besetting sin of our time rather that miserable schizophrenia according to which the Church occupies one compartment of our lives, while all our values and expectations are formed by the increasingly non-Christian world?

Yes, apostasy and fornication still occur, but we are generally too busy with the cares of the world even to notice that we are apostates and fornicators. By that I mean that we have put the things of God into such a box that it doesn’t enter our consciousness that God could make any demands on us, at least not in our real life, the life from Sunday to Sunday. One can preach against more concrete sins all day long, but until the audience realizes that there can be such a thing as sin, that preaching will be worthless.

There may be a God, the modern person says, but what does He have to do with me?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Bad news everywhere.

I know it's the normal state of the world, but it seems like war is breaking out everywhere. No news but bad news.

Anyone got any good news? I'll start. My kids pretended to be puppies for a few hours today, crawling around and barking. It was very enjoyable to watch them.

Lord have mercy.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Why you should read Gene Wolfe:

You should read Gene Wolfe because he does things to you. He plays tricks with you soul. Neat tricks.

I am currently reading the Soldier in the Mist series. In it, the soldier called “Latro” has suffered a head wound, losing his memory daily. His experience is thus compressed to day-sized chunks, and his memory is stored on scrolls that he writes at the end of each day. He takes part in the Persian War around 480 B.C.

So much for the plot.

What makes the book so interesting to me is the use of creative dislocation. This is a term I’ve just coined to refer to the way Wolfe makes the everyday, in this case the everyday of pre-classical Greece, mysterious. Latro is a foreigner with some knowledge of languages, and so hears Greek words not as names, fossilized in their meanings, but as descriptions. Thus Athens becomes Thought, the Spartans are the Rope Makers, the country of the Spartans is called The Silent Land., and so forth. Familiar geography that became crusted over in high school history text books becomes strange and unrecognizable, and therefore fantastic. Characters that one becomes accustomed to are forever new to Latro, and though he may have an inkling of who they are, he needs to meet them again every day. Loves are continually rediscovered.

Also, Latro can see the gods.

He sees the gods when no-one else can. This is because of his forgetfulness, or so the gods tell us in the story. I think it isn’t so much because of the forgetfulness, but because of the state of perpetual newness into which Latro is thrust. The whole world is full of gods, as Thales said, but most of us don’t notice because we are so used to it. Or, to put it in Aristotelian terms, all love of wisdom begins in wonder. Most of us don’t love wisdom because the world holds no wonder.

It’s good stuff. Not an easy read, but well worth the effort.