Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I'm at http://summa.motd.org nowadays

The itch to wander has struck again. I've reset Summa Minutiae back to zero with new posting guidelines back at my webspace at work, http://members.wolfram.com/billw/summa. No comments there yet; I might figure that out sometime.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Poetry Wednesday

Sonnet 101 from Fulke Greville's Caelica:

In night when colours all to black are cast,
    Distinction lost, or gone down with the light ;
The eye a watch to inward senses plac'd,
    Not seeing, yet still having power of sight,
Gives vain alarums to the inward sense,
    Where fear stirr'd up with witty tyranny,
Confounds all powers, and thorough self-offence
    Doth forge and raise impossibility ;
Such as in thick-depriving darkness
    Proper reflections of the error be ;
And images of self-confusedness,
    Which hurt imaginations only see,
And from this nothing seen, tells news of devils ;
Which but expressions be of inward evils.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Noted in passing

On election night, 2008, I signed up for Barack Obama's mailing list under the name Fred Mertz. I get a regular supply of spam from them, sent from Organizing for America and BarackObama.com. In the last week or so they've really stepped up the volume with abject pleas and imperious demands for more and more money. This desperate barrage of requests for money is getting really annoying - I've never seen anything like it from any other spammer.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Regulations and guidance

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology webpage describes how a centralized bureaucracy will control your medical treatment in near-real time based on your electronic medical records, the doctor's diagnosis and the government's needs. They also offer Regulations and Guidance. I suspect there's something in the phrase "Regulations and Guidance" that makes a liberal sigh with contentment like a toddler with a warm blankie and a dry diaper.

Take your camera

I may as well toss this out into the aether before next Tuesday: take your camera with you when you vote. If anything looks suspicious, take pictures & videos and post them. The party that controls your local election infrastructure has plenty of motivation to cheat this year.

Poetry Wednesday

The first part of Sidney's Psalm 139 (read it aloud to feel it in your mouth - somehow these words direct an elegant dance):

O Lord, O Lord, in me there lieth nought
    But to thy search revealed lies,
            For when I sit
            Thou markest it;
    No less thou notest when I rise;
Yea, closest closet of my thought
    Hath open windows to thine eyes.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A lot left to run

Here is John Derbyshire's delightful introduction to 1910 at the beginning of a recent speech:
Let me do a little scene-setting here. It is March of 1910 — just 100 years and change ago. William Howard Taft is in the White House; Edward the Seventh, very nearly Taft's equal in girth, was on the British throne. China's last Emperor was in the Forbidden City, and the Russian Empress was under the spell of Rasputin.

Mark Twain and Leo Tolstoy were still alive. The population of the U.S.A. was 92 million, including 450,000 veterans of the Civil War (North and South) and 162 households recorded in the census of that year as "living in polygamy." Thirteen percent of us were foreign born. Total government spending was eight percent of GDP.

The automobile was settling in, airplanes were still a novelty, Picasso was painting, Mahler was composing, Nijinsky was dancing, Caruso was singing, H.G. Wells was writing, and Mary Pickford had just started in the movies. The year's hit pop song was "Let Me Call You Sweetheart."

Adolf Hitler was living in a homeless shelter in Vienna, Lenin was writing angry pamphlets in cheap rooming houses, Stalin was on the run from the Tsar's secret police, FDR was a lawyer on Wall Street, Churchill was Trade Secretary in H.H. Asquith's cabinet, Gandhi was agitating for civil rights in South Africa, and Mao Tse-Tung was in high school. Barry Goldwater was in diapers and Ronald Reagan was a twinkle in his Dad's eye.

There was a lot of 20th century still to run.
Men versus the Man is available in its entirety at blessed Google Books.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Someone needs to get out more

Maybe walk to the liberry and read a few books. "Thanks to a song in the 1940s, Money is the Root of All Evil has become a common phrase." -- Adam Dachis at lifehacker.com

Sunday, October 24, 2010

With a little help from his friends

I see here that the emperor of the world plans to visit Bombay next month. It seems he can't travel anywhere without the entire imperial retinue of janissaries, sycophants and jesters. Why not just stay home and do the whole thing via videoconference?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Graveyard fun

My periodic immersion in early American history led to the discovery of Okau Settlement, a forgotten community of 30 or so families who, in the 1820s and 1830s, pioneered an area a couple of miles north of my hometown of Findlay, Illinois, 50 years before Findlay was founded. It turns out that there are also many old cemeteries in that neighborhood, not one of which has been put online so I can tour it from my comfy office chair.

So I had a bright idea yesterday: take the whole family out to these old cemeteries to explore and document them by taking gps-tagged photos of each headstone, then putting all the information online with photos, coordinates, maps and transcriptions. Then, by golly, I and everyone else could tour these old cemeteries from our comfy office chairs.

Update: looks like I need to google for advice about how to conduct a cemetery survey.

Friday, October 22, 2010

This makes me want to puke

The church in which I was baptized has been thoroughly desecrated. Goddamned pagan bastards.

Frederick Jackson Turner on books about the West

America's finest historian of the frontier[1] took some time to write a book about books about the West. And he did it in 1915, so everything he listed is fair game for Google Books. If you don't hear from me in a while, you know where I'll be.

[1]: Consider than in 1620, the Western frontier began about 20 miles west of the Atlantic coast. Unless you're reading this from your beachhouse on the Atlantic, you're living in what was once the wild, wild West.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wisdom from Instapundit

Lege: "One of the underappreciated virtues of good manners is that they help you to avoid making an ass of yourself when you are not as smart as you think you are."

Friday, October 15, 2010

Remember "shovel-ready"?

That was a popular criterion used to allocate "stimulus" money last year - is the project shovel-ready? Will it put a few unionized construction guys to work now? Gee, it turns out that "shovel-ready" means that projects requiring planning, design and bidding, like road construction and repair, often didn't have a chance to get funded under the deadlines in the "stimulus" bill.
Hopefully it worked better elsewhere, but in this area (Whittier), here is where the stimulus went: beautification projects. Instead of fixing the cracked and broken streets, we got new flower beds down the median. When asked, city officials said the time frame on the stimulus money was such that they weren’t able to do the process (identify needs, make plans, get bids) for getting the streets fixed and meet the stimulus package deadlines, so they did what they could. Beautification projects take much less time to plan and implement. So, instead of repairing infrastructure, we got something else that needs to be maintained and uses more water in this drought stricken area, but the city can say they got their share of the stimulus money.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A list of fallacious arguments

It's really quite comprehensive.

Dason de Viger: 1629-1747

A death notice in The Scots Magazine of 1747:
Jan. 13, 1747. At Lourdes, in the diocese of Tarbes, in France, aged 118, Sieur Dason de Viger, who had been a Captain in the guards under M. d'Albret. He married after he was 100 years old.
The same, from volume 14 of De Navorscher, which seems to have been a Dutch gentleman's magazine (which phrase back then didn't have its modern pornographic connotation):
Dason De Viger, gewezen kapitein der guardes van den maarschalk D'Albret, + 13 febr 1747 te Lourdes, in 't stift van Farbes, oud 118 j. Met zijn 100ate jaar was hij nog hertrouwd, en 14 dagen vóór zijn dood nog op de jagt geweest.
Google translates this from the Dutch as:
The Dason Viger, former captain of guardes of Marshal D'Albret, + 13 Feb. 1747 in Lourdes, in 't pin Farbes, aged 118 j[aar, years]. In his 100th year he was still married, and 14 days before his death was still on the hunt.
Marshal D'Albret, under whom our aged hero served, is probably César Phoebus d'Albret, Count of Miossens. The Abbé d'Aumont, who had taken a box at the Comédie that the Marshal commanded for his own, was heard to remark, "A fine Marshal! He has never stormed anything except my box!"

Dr Hamilton's travels

Dr Alexander Hamilton of Maryland embarked on a tour of the colonies in the summer of 1744 and wrote entertainingly of his travels. On the evening of May 31, 1744, he stopped at Tradaway's (or Treadway's) inn, ten miles north of Joppa, Maryland:
Just as I dismounted at Tradaway's, I found a drunken Club dismissing. Most of them had got upon their horses, and were seated in an oblique situation, deviating much from a perpendicular to the horizontal plane, a posture quite necessary for keeping the center of gravity within its proper base, for the support of the superstructure; hence we deduce the true physical reason why our heads overloaded with liquor become too ponderous for our heels. Their discourse was as oblique as their position: the only thing intelligible in it was oaths and Goddamnes; the rest was an inarticulate sound like Rabelais' frozen words a-thawing, interlaced with hickupings and belchings. I was uneasy till they were gone, and my landlord, seeing me stare, made that trite apology, "That indeed he did not care to have such disorderly fellows come about his house; he was always noted far and near for keeping a quiet house and entertaining only gentlemen or such like; but these were country people, his neighbours, and it was not prudent to disoblige them upon slight occasions. "Alas, sir!" added he, "we that entertain travellers must strive to oblige everybody, for it is our daily bread." While he spoke thus our Bacchanalians finding no more rum in play, rid off helter-skelter, as if the devil had possessed them, every man sitting his horse in a seesaw manner like a bunch of rags tied upon the saddle. I found nothing particular or worth notice in my landlord's character or conversation, only as to his bodily make. He was a fat pursy man, and had large bubbies like a woman. I supped upon fried chickens and bacon, and after supper the conversation turned upon politicks, news, and the dreaded French war; but it was so very lumpish and heavy that it disposed me mightily to sleep. This learned company consisted of the landlord, his overseer and miller, and another greasy-thumbed fellow, who, as I understood, professed physick, and particularly surgery in the drawing of teeth.

He practised upon the housemaid, a dirty piece of lumber, who made such screaming and squawling as made me imagine there was murder going forwards in the house. However, the artist got the tooth out at last, with a great clumsy pair of blacksmith's forceps; and indeed it seemed to require such an instrument, for when he showed it to us it resembled a horsenail more than a tooth.

The miller I found professed musick, and would have tuned his crowd to us, but unfortunately the two middle strings betwixt the bass and treble were broke. This man told us that he could play by the book.

After having had my fill of this elegant company, I went to bed at ten o'clock.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Guide to the study and reading of American history

Every day I'm freshly amazed that Google Books is free. Here's the 1912 Guide to the study and reading of American history by Edward Channing, Albert Bushnell Hart and Frederick Jackson "Frontier" Turner.

Current reading

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

February 10, 1675

On the outskirts of Lancaster, Massachusetts:
On the tenth of February 1675, came the Indians with great numbers upon Lancaster: their first coming was about sunrising; hearing the noise of some guns, we looked out; several houses were burning, and the smoke ascending to heaven. There were five persons taken in one house; the father, and the mother and a sucking child, they knocked on the head; the other two they took and carried away alive. There were two others, who being out of their garrison upon some occasion were set upon; one was knocked on the head, the other escaped; another there was who running along was shot and wounded, and fell down; he begged of them his life, promising them money (as they told me) but they would not hearken to him but knocked him in head, and stripped him naked, and split open his bowels. Another, seeing many of the Indians about his barn, ventured and went out, but was quickly shot down. There were three others belonging to the same garrison who were killed; the Indians getting up upon the roof of the barn, had advantage to shoot down upon them over their fortification. Thus these murderous wretches went on, burning, and destroying before them.

Friday, October 1, 2010


If I were a Russian astronaut, I'd be embarrassed to fly in one of these hunks of junk. Really, most of this crap looks like it was built in the back yard by crazy Uncle Yuri who went on a weeklong vodka bender and welded together whatever junk he found in his garage.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Yes, I am

The Christian Science Monitor asks, "Are you smarter than an atheist?" I correctly answered all the questions in the most annoying online quiz I've ever taken, so I guess I am smarter than an atheist, and everyone else, too:
Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups in a 32-question survey of religious knowledge by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. On average, Americans got 16 of the 32 questions correct. Atheists and agnostics got an average of 20.9 correct answers. Jews (20.5) and Mormons (20.3). Protestants got 16 correct answers on average, while Catholics got 14.7 questions right.
How is the quiz annoying? It consists of 32 questions, starting with number 32. I nearly stopped right there, but they didn't: half of the multiple-choice questions are worded as yes/no questions. Number 30, for example: "Do you happen to know which of these is the king of gods in ancient Greek mythology?" There are three possible answers to that question: Yes, No, or Huh? Come on, CSM, sentences aren't that hard to build.

Heere endeth the pointless Rant.

Back in the first American revolution

...we went to war with our government over problems that were trivial compared to this.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Dom Robert Heinlein, OSB

There's something Benedictine about this typical bit of Heinleinian exposition from his 1956 juvenile novel Time for the Stars:
"Well, think about it. The greatest menace in space is going coffin crazy. You are shut up for a long time in a small space and there is nothing outside but some mighty thin vacuum ... no street lights, no bowling alleys. Inside are the same old faces and you start hating them. So a smart captain makes sure you have something to keep you interested and tired - and ours is the smartest you'll find or he wouldn't be on this trip."
I suppose that's the same problem faced by the abbot of a monastery - how to keep the crew from going coffin crazy and killing each other. Keep them interested with prayer & liturgy and keep them tired with manual labor, as discerned by St Benedict some 1500 years ago. Or maybe it's the other way around, come to think of it: keep them tired with liturgy and interested with stuff to work on.

Keeping them interested and tired is decent advice for parents, too.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


My little hometown seems to be up in arms about plans to close the middle school there. The building used to be the town high school until the mid-90s, when the lack of children forced a consolidation with a nearby town. Now there's talk about shutting down the old building entirely, but I haven't yet seen or heard anyone talking about the root cause of it all: if you want your little farm town to have schools, start making babies again.

Update: And then along came Abp. Chaput:
The “next America” has been in its chrysalis a long time. Whether people will be happy when it fully emerges remains to be seen. But the future is not predestined. We create it with our choices. And the most important choice we can make is both terribly simple and terribly hard: to actually live what the Church teaches, to win the hearts of others by our witness, and to renew the soul of our country with the courage of our own Christian faith and integrity. There is no more revolutionary act.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracies and the Catholic Church

In today's mailbag (scroll down to "A bit of rambling regarding clerical bureaucracy") at jerrypournelle.com, one of Pournelle's correspondents takes a fascinating and accurate look at the Iron Law and the Church's bureaucracy. It seems that over time the Church has avoided the worst effects of the Iron Law.
Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representative who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

7 on the 7th

Our 7-year-old daughter just up and started reading books today! So far she's read seven with just a little bit of help from her 11-year-old sister. The first was "My First Colors Board Book", and the rest included the 8-year-old's first book, "Ducks in Muck." September 7, 2010 is a date to celebrate.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Luxembourg Pipe Band

I just found out that my old friend Chuck Watkins is the bass drummer for the Luxembourg Pipe Band, "the first and only Pipe Band in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg." Here's a fine collection of videos.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The courteous canal

sancrucensis, with an assist from Newman, finds an important distinction that Roger Scruton missed in his lecture The Face of the Earth. Since all Truth is One, you might say, his distinction also sheds surprising new light on Belloc's poem Courtesy.

Monday, August 30, 2010


In the 1998 film Enemy of the State, a character chasing Gene Hackman as they zero in on his surveillance-proof workshop is wearing the same sort of horrifying translucent plastic rain jacket Hackman wore almost constantly in the 1974 film The Conversation. (If I hadn't seen plastic jackets like that when I was a kid, I'd never believe they existed.)

At extraordinary speed

A disquieting article in the Telegraph:
Simon Winchester, author of ‘The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary’, said the switch towards online formats was “prescient”. He said: “Until six months ago I was clinging to the idea that printed books would likely last for ever. Since the arrival of the iPad I am now wholly convinced otherwise. The printed book is about to vanish at extraordinary speed. I have two complete OEDs, but never consult them – I use the online OED five or six times daily. The same with many of my reference books – and soon with most. Books are about to vanish; reading is about to expand as a pastime; these are inescapable realities.”

Monday, August 23, 2010

It is yours

From the indispensable Laudator, this quote from Guy Davenport, "What Are Revolutions?" in The Hunter Gracchus and Other Papers on Literature and Art
Because I have no rational revolution to offer you, I suggest, for the fun of it, that you try the Erewhonian. Take back your body from its possession by the automobile; take back your imagination from the TV set; take back your wealth from Congress's bottomless pit and maniac spending; take back your skills as homemakers from the manufacturers; take back your minds from the arguments from necessity and the merchants of fear and prejudice. Take back peace from perpetual war. Take back your lives; they are yours.
I bought Davenport's book a few years ago on the recommendation of Patrick Kurp.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Congress shall make no law

Jerry Pournelle made an interesting point today that clarifies a bit in our federal constitution:
The Constitution specifically allowed the States to have established religions -- "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" and for the first forty years of the Republic some states had religions "by law established" which meant mostly tax paid clergy and public prayer at public events. Virginia had disestablished the Church of England before the Constitution was adopted, but seven of the thirteen States had Established Churches, and Congress had no power whatever to disestablish them (nor or course could it establish a Federal religion). There is on the Harvard campus what Russell Seitz is pleased to call "the established Federalist Church" and I believe it still stands and functions.

One wonders if it might not be better to do as the Framers intended, and leave religion to the States. I doubt any would establish a church, but certainly they have a right to do that.
Too often, we take our inferences ("separation of church and state", for example) to be fundamental facts. Here, our venerable wall of separation is seen to dissolve into its one simple element: Congress shall make no law...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bigger government! Smaller government!

By my lights, Ray Bradbury isn't making much sense. In one paragraph he wants President Obama to announce that we (which, in context, can only mean We the Government) should be going to the Moon and Mars, etc., and in the next paragraph he says, "There is too much government today." Choose one, Mr Bradbury.

Perhaps Mr Obama's only true success since January 2009 is his evisceration of NASA's manned space program, which is one of the first few necessary steps toward opening space to ordinary people eager to do great things and make a buck while doing them. It's fine to have NASA working on propulsion systems and deep solar system exploration; meanwhile, get NASA out of Earth orbit and let us get up there ourselves.

Monday, August 16, 2010


I'm beginning to think modern society is trapped in a nightmare: read the Suburban Banshee's report about what she saw on teevee tonight. I think the hormonal poison/abortifacient she's referring to is Seasonique.

We too should translate some books

From King Alfred's preface to his own Anglo-Saxon translation of Gregory's Pastoral Rule:
When I then called to mind all this, then I remembered how I saw, ere that all in them was laid waste and burnt up, how the churches throughout all the English race stood filled with treasures and books, and also a great multitude of God's servants, but they knew very little use of those books, for that they could not understand anything of them, for that they were not written in their own language, such as they, our elders, spoke, who erewhile held these places; they loved wisdom, and through that got wealth, and left it to us. Here men may yet see their path, but we know not how to tread in their footsteps, inasmuch as we have both lost that wealth and wisdom, for that we would not with our minds stoop to their tracks.

When I then called to mind all this, I then wondered greatly about those good and wise men that have been of old among the English race, and who had fully learned all the books, that they have not been willing to turn any part of them into their own language. But then I soon again answered myself and said, "They did not think that men would ever become so reckless, and that learning should fall off in such a way. Of set purpose, then, they let it alone, and wished that there should be more wisdom in this land the more languages we knew."

Then I remembered how the Law was first found in the Hebrew tongue, and again, when the Greeks learnt it, then they turned the whole of it into their own language, and also all the other books. And again the Latins also in the same way, when they had learned it, turned it all through wise interpreters into their own language, and likewise all other Christian nations have translated some part into their own speech. Wherefore I think it better, if it also appears so to you, that we too should translate some books, which are the most necessary for all men to understand - that we should turn these into that tongue which we all can know, and so bring it about, as we very easily may, with God's help, if we have rest, that all the youth that now is among the English race, of free men, that have property, so that they can apply themselves to these things, may be committed to others for the sake of instruction, so long as they have no power for any other employments, until the time that they may know well how to read English writing. Let men afterwards further teach them Latin, those whom they are willing further to teach, and whom they wish to advance to a higher state.

In my tribe

Kathy Shaidle keeps saying, "We will ALL default to our tribes when the time comes." Who's your tribe? Mine is basically small-town Midwestern WASPs, people who keep their yards mowed and research genealogy and take care of old forgotten cemeteries and raise big batches of kids.

Speaking of which, we went to a family reunion recently - our small branch of the Bragg family. One of the older ladies noticed our large crew - Lisa, me and four of our five kids, and noted with a bit of sadness that "there aren't many children anymore." It was a chilling moment. Our family reunions used to have more kids than adults, but at this one there were only five - our four and one other little boy. Things change so slowly it's hard to notice the changes day-by-day; but when someone stops to compare life today to life fifty years ago, the changes for the worse are shocking.

Somewhere around here...

...some Green lunatic is thinking, "now there's a good idea."

Such is education

Here's a bit by Roger Pearse, our great commissioner of classical translations, from his engaging post "Why We Need Akkadian" - I've left the part about Akkadian for your enjoyment at his blog; I wish to excerpt this bit about a good book he once read:
I remember the last time I ever went punting at Oxford. I bought, in a now vanished bookshop in St. Clements, an old ‘Everyman’ volume to read. The cover had gone, and someone had recovered it with some brown paper. Written on the brown paper in felt-tip were the words, “A century of English essays”. But I took it with me, and read as we punted into the Cherwell, along the green-brown muddy river and under the trailing trees. I have it still. It introduced me to the essays of Augustine Birrell. These in turn led me to Dr. Johnson, to an appreciation even of Gibbon, whom I might otherwise have known only as a less-than-honest polemicist, and a score more. Such is education, and a university the opportunity to acquire it.

One thing leads to another

Kathy Shaidle issues one of her patented brilliant takedowns of modern "culture".

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Around town

My Grandpa was a small-town building contractor in his younger days in Findlay, Illinois, and it's good to see that the houses he built are still lived in today. Here's one on the north edge of town that was rented by some hippie painter back in the early 70s - Mom may still have one of his psychedelic works in her closet. Here are a couple more; I grew up in the one on the left and Grandma and Grandpa lived in the other (hey - they cut down his evergreen tree!)

If you look to the north from that first house, you'll see a gloriously flat horizon.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

What literature is all about

Paul Gruchow, via the Laudator:
At the University of Minnesota, on another spring day, I heard the poet John Berryman fail to lecture on The Iliad to a room jammed with students. He sat down at a table, as was his custom, put on his reading glasses, lit a cigarette, which he held at bottom of the space between his trembling index and middle fingers in the way that drunks do, and began to read to us from the poem in his dark voice, oddly powerful coming from such a frail man, paying as much attention to the stops in the lines as to the accents. He read to us the scene in which Hector and Andromache say farewell to each other. Hector is destined to die and Andromache to be hauled into slavery, and both know this by premonition. When he came to the end of the scene, Berryman was weeping and so, unexpectedly, were we. He made no effort to hide his grief, running from an ancient pen across the long centuries through a modern language into our hearts. He did not even brush away his tears. We sat, stunned, until he got up and left the room without another word, and then we, too, gathered up our books and emerged into the cruel sunshine. I hurried to my office (I was editor of the student newspaper) and locked myself in, and it was an hour or two before I could see anybody. It was the first time, I think, that any of us had ever been taught what literature is all about.

Why he's NOT going to buy a computer

Hello, Irony. Come on in. Where have you been?

Well, Bill, I've been surfing the web, where I saw a computer programmer post a link on his blog to a Wendell Berry essay about why he's not going to buy a computer.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The "devotions" meme

Zoinks! I've been tagged by TSO on the favorite devotions meme.

Well, the last few years I haven't really done off-the-shelf devotions. I keep one of these excellent little rosary booklets on my bedside coffee table, but I haven't gotten into it in a really long time, and I never did get into the various chaplets and whatnot. So what passes for my devotions nowadays are -

  • reading the Psalms and Canticles - in the King James or the old BCP on the old Benedictine schedule (the weekly schema in the Psalterium Monasticum) along with Neale & Littledale's magnificent old 4-volume commentary. Not every day - I just drop down into them now and then. Note the recurring refrain: old, old, old. Speaking of old, I have a handy rule of thumb: never join a new Catholic movement that's less than 500 years old. Saves a lot of hassle.
  • reading the Fathers - I try to keep up with the week's Gospel in the old calendar by reading through the relevant commentaries and sermons in The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers. For each week's Gospel, the relevant part of the Catena aurea of Aquinas is given, followed by a few of the complete sermons from which Aqinas gleaned his excerpts. I appreciate the old calendar's slow and steady emphasis on one reading per week over against the new calendar's frenzied whirlwind of daily readings. With SSOTGF you get the Gospel on Sunday, then you have a whole week to work through the Catena and a few patristic homilies before another Gospel comes up. Each of the homilies is from a preacher such as John Chrysostom or Gregory I, whose chief delights are stepping on toes and calling people to their senses. Works for me.
  • reading Divine Intimacy - it's a mid-20th-century Carmelite book, keyed to the old calendar, with a short 3-part daily devotion. It's organized like Opus Dei's In Conversation With God series, but with more fundamental theology and less of something I can't put my finger on. It does come with lots of references to the chief Carmelite writers, which (grumble) I guess I can live with. Carmelites always read as though they've been translated out of French.
  • quick Hail Marys - when I converted, I spent a lot of time with St Louis de Montfort's True Devotion and works of similar piety that I'd found at the Marian Center in Springfield, Illinois - a delightful mess of a bookstore. Somewhere, de Montfort emphasizes the power of a single Ave, and that has somehow stuck with me.

I basically read myself into the Church, and I guess I continue that today.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Live by old Ethicks..."

From Sir Thomas Browne's Christian Morals (google books):
Live by old Ethicks and the classical Rules of Honesty. Put no new names or notions upon Authentick Virtues & Vices. Think not that Morality is Ambulatory; that Vices in one age are not Vices in another; or that Virtues, which are under the everlasting Seal of right Reason, may be Stamped by Opinion. And therefore though vicious times invert the opinions of things, and set up a new Ethicks against Virtue, yet hold thou unto old Morality; & rather than follow a multitude to do evil, stand like Pompey's Pillar conspicuous by thy self, and single in Integrity. And since the worst of times afford imitable Examples of Virtue; since no Deluge of Vice is like to be so general, but more than eight will escape; Eye well those Heroes who have held their Heads above Water, who have touched Pitch, and not been defiled, and in the common Contagion have remained uncorrupted.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


How can you not love a man who writes like this? And aside from the offhand beauty of his prose, look at his metaphors from the old days of the Cold War and the fortified border between West and East - how easy it is to find yourself suddenly, one day, on the other side of that stark frontier, having to make do in an alien land. God spare him so he can write some more.

More separation, please

Regarding yesterday's judicial overturn of California's Proposition 8, a facebook friend asks, "Why do religious people refuse to accept the SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE?"

If the separation of church and state is the issue, then let's well and truly separate them.  Let religion keep marriage, which it's had far longer than any state has existed, and let the state keep its laws off our sacraments and come up with its own relationship-defining contracts.

Even Jefferson's wall of separation was formulated in terms of a restriction on the actions of the state.  Nowadays, the restrictions seem to work only in the other direction.  Let religion so much as peek over Jefferson's wall and say something about the state's stuff, and we have screaming, shouting, demonstrations and lawsuits.  Meanwhile, the state is free to come and go as it wishes, plundering and regulating whatever it touches.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A note on Rush's 2112

Priests of the temples of Syrinx got you down? Dude, the bureaucrats in the government offices of Syrinx are far more likely to repress you. But priests don't complain when you kick them, so I guess they're safer to kick than almighty bureaucrats.

Monday, July 26, 2010

SIRSY on the road

Here's a "day in the life" video of SIRSY, the little band that could. I can't figure how they stay awake for all the driving.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Current reading

Here and there:

Monday, July 19, 2010

Eight years Thursday

We'll be camping Thursday, my eighth blogiversary, so I'll just note it now. I suppose if this blog has a saintly patron it would be St Mary Magdalen, upon whose feast I began this blog in 2002. Obscure calendar note: her feastday has been celebrated on July 22 since antiquity, being one of the celebrations that survived the scheming wreckovators of the twentieth century.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

James P. Hogan, 1941-2010

Sci-fi author James P. Hogan died a few days ago. I read his first novel, Inherit the Stars, in seventh grade, and it was a heck of a fun ride: modern-day lunar explorers discover a spacesuited corpse on the moon - he's fully human, and he's been lying in place for 40,000 years. A team is assembled to solve the mystery of "Charlie" and they manage to piece together a picture of his fully human, yet fully alien, civilization and culture. This leads to a now-familiar surprise about our origins on Earth.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Trailers for books

Nancy Nall mentioned trailers for books this morning, and I immediately thought, "Hmm... there's enough room on the north side of the house to put in a doublewide trailer filled with bookshelves..." Alas, she meant theatrical trailers, or video advertisements for books. Drat. It's still an intriguing idea, though, except for our Illinois tornadoes.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

What's the fastest you've driven?

105 mph on a relatively empty I-57 from exit 160 to 159 in my then-new 1993 Pontiac Grand Prix. As the perfessor notes, that was before I had dependents.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

My new approach to coding

I have a large function to write over the weekend. When it's finished and a co-worker gives the all-clear after his tests are complete, I'll unleash it on the documentation notebooks for the upcoming version of Mathematica and let it do its thing. My function will store blobs of information in each notebook, and my co-worker's function will use those blobs to build other parts of the notebooks.

This time around, though, I'm doing something a bit different that's working remarkably well so far. I started with an empty function template and simply wrote the function's story in sentences and paragraphs and bulleted lists, from start to finish, as if I were describing it in detail to a technically-minded co-worker. In a second pass I broke apart the prose into smaller sections and then just translated each idea into Mathematica code. I've left the prose in there as free-form commented areas to act as documentation for my future self, who will have forgotten all about this code in a couple of years.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Stoddard on real and fraudulent art

From Andrew Cusack via Hilary White (no relation), Alexander Stoddart on art in an interview with The Scotsman:

Modern art is “rubbish”, narcissistic, snobby, devoid of skill, ignorant of taste, gripped by “nostalgia for the future”. But it goes deeper than that. It’s a difference of opinion about what art should do. Art, he says, has always been about “trying to alleviate the pain of existence”. Modern art “collaborates with misery as opposed to trying to oppose it”.

“A painting by Titian is like a Leningrad, holding out against the forces of the world. Even if they’re having to eat rats in there, they still will never surrender to it. Whereas the art of Tracey Emin is a complete capitulation to the world. Cutting a shark in half and putting it in a tank of piss is just art giving up. I find it very odd when they describe art as challenging, because I always thought art was meant to calm you like a lullaby, not challenge you like some skinhead in an underpass.”

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Why don't these "world leader" morons and their lackeys meet in some remote hunting lodge in Nunavut? Look - I've already googled it for them! If they don't like being around fellow citizens, this would be perfect. Up there they could even look out their windows and pass the time agonizing over receding Arctic ice, or whatever it is they do for fun.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Crazed Author

From Roger Ebert's super-secret club newsletter:

The Pournelle Axes

In his Ph.D. dissertation these many years ago, Jerry Pournelle examined the traditional left-right political spectrum, found it wanting and even dangerous, and devised a two-dimensional grid, the Pournelle Axes, to replace it. To my surprise, I find that I'm about a 2.5/2.5, right next to what he calls the American counter-culture!

If you aren't reading his daybook, you should. I keep it in my browser's bookmarks and check it out every evening.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

googlecl test

I'm posting from the command line:
google blogger post --title "googlecl test" "I'm posting from the command line"
(with subsequent editing in the blogger interface)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dog bite delema

That's the headline on a newsflash from the local teevee news station. Either a dog done bite someone the name of Delema, or someone needs a dictionary.

Friday, June 11, 2010

John Ruskin on this modern age

From his Fors Clavigera, Letter V (with thanks to the Laudator)

That telegraphic signalling was a discovery ; and conceivably, some day, may be a useful one. And there was some excuse for your being a little proud when, about last sixth of April (Coeur de Lion's death-day, and Albert Durer's), you knotted a copper wire all the way to Bombay, and flashed a message along it, and back. But what was the message, and what the answer? Is India the better for what you said to her? Are you the better for what she replied? If not, you have only wasted an all-round-the-world's length of copper wire, - which is, indeed, about the sum of your doing. If you had had, perchance, two words of common sense to say, though you had taken wearisome time and trouble to send them ; - though you had written them slowly in gold, and sealed them with a hundred seals, and sent a squadron of ships of the line to carry the scroll, and the squadron had fought its way round the Cape of Good Hope, through a year of storms, with loss of all its ships but one, - the two words of common sense would have been worth the carriage, and more. But you have not anything like so much as that, to say, either to India, or to any other place.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Good riddance to yahoo

Today I deleted my probably 15-year-old account at yahoo.com because of their astonishingly foolish move to make user activities public. I'll do my best to avoid visiting yahoo.com in the future.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The essence of good government

Thomas Jefferson, in his first inaugural address, listed the blessings America had received and noted the one other thing necessary to our national happiness:

Let us, then, with courage and confidence pursue our own Federal and Republican principles, our attachment to union and representative government. Kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the exterminating havoc of one quarter of the globe; too high-minded to endure the degradations of the others; possessing a chosen country, with room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation; entertaining a due sense of our equal right to the use of our own faculties, to the acquisitions of our own industry, to honor and confidence from our fellow-citizens, resulting not from birth, but from our actions and their sense of them; enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man; acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter—with all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow-citizens—a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Here it comes

- heading right for Small Town, Illinois. While I was outside to check the removable downspout that the mowers sometimes don't put back properly, I enjoyed a continuous lightning show to the north and west.  My unbelievably handy booklight is clipped to my shirt for use as a flashlight in case the power goes out.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Put not your trust in princes

As Fr Mark Kirby notes, Juan Carlos de Borbón, the one-time Catholic King of Spain, incurred excommunication latae sententiae by signing a law that legalizes the murder of Spanish children up to 14 weeks of age. It's tough to find a good King nowadays.

He'd walk a mile for a merit badge

Did you know that Google Maps has a super-handy measuring tool? You have to enable it by clicking on the lab beaker icon, then click to enable "Distance Measuring Tool". Using this amazing little thing, I found that a walk around our yard, avoiding the poison ivy behind the shed in the top left of the picture, will take you almost exactly one-tenth of a mile. Our oldest son has to walk a mile as a prerequisite for a Boy Scout merit badge, so he's out there now walking around our yard 10 times.

Update: I was wrong about the merit badge.  His pediatrician recommended more exercise & this is what the boy chose to do.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Law and virtue

Ann Althouse recently said, "A love of autocracy often lurks beneath the liberal veneer." The inimitable Andrew Cusack gives us further light in a single simple sentence: "...the government is attempting to solve a problem with a law, when really the only solution is a virtue."

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dignitas personae in real life

You can always rely on the writer at mirabilis.ca to bring you the very best of the web. Today we have Duncan McNicholl's Perspectives of Poverty, a planned series of photos illustrating typical dishonest NGO-style photos of poor, raggedly-dressed rural Africans in the usual clouds of flies. Mr McNicholl wonders, "Do many organizations ask people how they want to be represented before the photographs start being taken?"

Monday, May 24, 2010

The General Theory of NPR

I had the local NPR station on the radio Sunday afternoon as I worked in the kitchen. As I half-listened to one liberal interviewing another, I formulated a General Theory of NPR: NPR's default position is that every human problem can and should be solved by the federal government. I noted that for some future blog post and then within moments, at 4:04 in the mp3 file, I heard confirmation of it, as one liberal asked the other about making websites more accessible to the handicapped, "I'm confused on this point. Now, I know the government has a fairly wide berth in mandating physical improvements in public space, that have pretty much become standard not just in government buildings but in all public places. Is the internet deemed, for the purposes of government mandate, a public space that the government can say to a retailer or some other website that you're simply not in compliance and you'd best start to comply?"

The General Theory is a corollary of Althouse's Maxim: "A love of autocracy often lurks beneath the liberal veneer." Indeed.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Speaking of Latin prepositions

Google Books has Samuel Butler's 1823 Praxis on Latin Prepositions, and the Key that he provided only upon application by mail in order to keep it out of the hands of students. Our Dr Butler is grandfather of the novelist Samuel Butler.