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.