Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Month Has Fled

The month has fled, where has it gone?
Memory draws lines each night
And starts a new one every dawn.
Potter-like it fashions Time
Its turning wheel the sun’s new light
Each day a line, each month a rhyme,
In language that is not quite clear
Until at death we leave this sphere.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Where the Plastic Money Went

Our Bank, PNC, provides an annual summation of charges made to our principal credit card. We only use one. We charge most everything to it that we buy outside—never mind small and very incidental purchases like the occasional ice cream in summer and the like.

Here is where at least some of our money, the plastic kind, went this year:

Moving Expense

Total expenditures include two other major categories. One of these are direct payments by our bank to designated accounts:

·         Utilities
·         Extra health and pharmaceutical insurance.

The other is checks that we write. We write fewer and fewer, but some of these are often significant in size:

·         Charities
·         Repairs
·         Special jobs like lawn repair, guttering, etc.

The percentage breakdown is for on-going expenses. We note with some raised eyebrows that we pay more for media—including telephone, newspapers, magazines, cable television, Netflix, and Internet—than we pay for food! Always suspected something like that.

A note or two. A special expense in 2014 was the actual physical move we made in July. With that absent, the Media percentile would be higher. Health is low—but only because we don’t use a credit card to pay for it--and Medicare does most of it. Gas is low as well, but that’s because we buy most of our gas at Costco, and Costco expenditures are listed under groceries.

Yes. Those media. This posting today inspired by news to the effect that a portion of Arizona lost all Internet service because somebody found and severed a major carrier line buried deep in mountainous territory. All sorts of devices went down, not least ATM machines where we draw out cash when we need it.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Fading Names and Sluggish Memories

We were discussing, Brigitte and I, how dreams communicate ideas using symbols—indeed that even when we are in a full state of wakefulness, beneath the surface, dream images may well be present. I offered as an example once reading a book about the collapse of the Soviet Union just before bedtime but sitting up in an armchair in my bedroom. It was getting late. I closed my eyes for just a moment—and there I saw this gigantic image of a huge bear.

So next I tried to remember whose book I had been reading, and I said “Khrushchev.” But it couldn’t have been Khrushchev. He came later—and he certainly didn’t write a book translated into English to reach a world audience. So I said: “You know, the man with that mark on his forehead.” We both knew who we were talking about, but his name just would. not. surface.

Eventually Brigitte retrieved the famous name by recalling a saying by President Reagan: “Tear down this wall…Mr. Gorbachev.” What President Reagan actually said was “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”—but B’s memory conveniently inverted that order.

Visible on the bed this morning was a prominent picture of another famous foreign politician on the cover of the Wall Street Journal. “You know,” I said, “I can hardly wait for the day when, in some context about Israel, we’ll sit here and try to remember the name of Netanyahu.”

Yes. God speed that day. But will we live long enough? That is the question.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Where East Meets West—Twice

A project Brigitte is toiling on—on which more when the research is done—caused me to make a graphic of the world. Sometimes a picture teaches more than those famous thousand words. So let me start here with that picture.

It’s hard to believe that one can actually compress the map of the world into a single image—which is done here. In fact I’m showing a slight bit more of our globe just so that the Prime Meridian, thus 0° Longitude, is shown twice with a slight overlap. The center of this image is the Antimeridian, thus 180° Longitude. The line marked by that red A runs through Greenwich, England and meets the tip of the line in the middle at the North Pole. Thus the left side shows the eastern and the right the western Hemisphere.

We’re not accustomed to this view. Deep habit has us imagine West to the left and East to the right, but when we travel on the globe, in whatever direction we are going—so long as we are crossing longitudes—eventually West becomes East and vice versa. In Greenwich there are houses where it is quite possible to stand in some kitchen chopping onions and one foot is in the Occident, the other in the Orient. We’re accustomed to think of Europe as part of the Western World, but only a little slice of it—most of England, a chunk of France, and a goodly part of Spain—are geographically West. London, with Longitude of -0.1278, is as much in the West as San Francisco at Longitude -122.4194.

Now this being a flattened version of the globe, the bottom portion is a single landmass—and would show a solid white mass all across the image if Google had let me go further south. That is because Antarctica is a landmass that squarely covers the pole.

Note that at some points the Longitude 180 marked in black covers over (because coinciding with it) a dashed line in light red. That dashed line is a date line. It jigs and jags to ensure that tiny islands or that bit of Russia are in the same time zone. Luckily for us, who must by all means keep Putin in his place, the dateline (even if only a broken line) keeps Putin firmly in the East. Go West, young man. But not too far—or you’ll end up in the Orient.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Length of Lent: 36? 40? 46?

The subject arises because tomorrow is the first Sunday of Lent, but Lent begins on Ash Wednesday—which always falls on a day 46 days before Easter Sunday. In Catholic tradition, the period is known as Quadragesima, literally the “fortieth,” in common usage “the forty days”. But when this tradition first took root—late in the sixth century when St. Gregory the Great was pope (590-604), he thought of Lent as a form of spiritual “tithing”; therefore fasting and repentance (the central focus of this period), was a period of 36 days, which, rounded, makes a tenth of the year. So how does all of this sort out?

Let’s take it one step at a time and answer first what might have come first: 40 or 36? Forty seems to have come first. As the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it (link), “In determining this period of forty days the example of Moses, Elias, and Christ must have exercised a predominant influence.” All three underwent a 40-day fast. The 36 days came about because fasting on Sundays (and every Sunday is a celebration of Christ’s resurrection) is inappropriate. Six weeks produce 42 days. Deducting the Sundays produces that 36-day period.

Let us next see how the duration of the length of Lent became 46 days. This comes about because of that “predominant influence” the Catholic Encyclopedia talks about. Yes. The fast ought to be 40 days, not an abbreviated 36. Some period after Gregory, a couple of centuries later as best as I can determine, four more days of fasting (workdays) were added—thus the four days beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending on the Saturday before the First Sunday of Lent. Simple, really. Lent is 46 days. Six Sundays fall into that period. Take those away and you end up with a nice clean 40 days of fasting.

A final note. Easter is a holiday that combines the solar year, the lunar cycle, and the days of the week. Easter is always celebrated on the first Sunday after a full moon that appears after the vernal equinox. In North America the vernal equinox will be March 20 until and including 2102. The earliest possible Easter therefore will be March 22—assuming that the full moon falls on March 21 and March 22 is a Sunday. The latest possible date for Easter is April 19th, thus assuming that a new lunar cycle begins on the day of the vernal equinox.

We think our lives are complicated. Traditional ways are as complex as any other. Oh, I ought to add: Maundy Thursday this year will fall on April 2, exactly three days ahead of Easter Sunday. So what does “maundy” mean again? For an answer look for at this blog post here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Let’s Hear It For Miss P!

The Grumpy Old Man must keep his peace today. Sometimes the papers do bring good news. A Beagle won the 139th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show! The dog was Miss P (popularly) or Ch Tashtins Looking for Trouble (formally). The WKC is based in New York. A beagle won this event only once before, in 2008. It produced what became known as a national “Beaglemania.” Well, 2015—get ready for another!

Around here, Beaglemania is kind of an everyday affair—owing to Katie the Beagle, known worldwide for her Haikus. I show a picture of her here, matronly although she appears, because I don’t wish to violate anybody’s copyright. As for Katie—she certainly looks like a champion, doesn’t she?

The Murray Mysteries?

We’ve lived the last forty years or so in the suburbs either of Minneapolis or Detroit. One of the fringe benefits of such locations has been access to CBC-TV. CBC stands for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. It is instructive to have such access. Outwardly Canada is very like the United States, and yet the differences are striking. Canada is a vast geographical domain but a small country based on population; some aura of Britain still surrounds it with the waist deep decadence of Britain absent. Those fond of such sports as curling and ice hockey are well served by CBC—and when the Olympics are on, one can get a view of those games from a very different perspective and without the feeling that one’s viewing the Olympics of Advertising rather than of summer or of winter sports.

All this by way merely of introducing a quite different subject—namely a wonderfully entertaining television series called The Murdoch Mysteries. Its hero is William Murdoch, the leading detective of the Toronto Constabulary. The time is the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The series is light, you might say: humorous, not grim, and quite unpredictable. Murdoch is a man deeply into science and experimentation—yet he is a devout Catholic and a bit of a prude, the “straight man” in the comedy—but don’t get me wrong; the episodes are often excruciatingly suspenseful. Important scientific figures, famous authors, titans of industry, and inventors make appearances in episodes. And, generally, Murdoch Mysteries touches on virtually all major fads and movements that enlivened nineteenth century English-speaking culture. We like all the characters, especially like Inspector Brackenreid (Thomas Craig), Constable Crabtree (Johnny Harris), and pathologist Dr. Julia Ogden (Hélène Joy). Murdoch himself, played by Yannick Bisson (shown in the inset (link)), is featured as a “great” detective, known all over Canada and parts beyond. Viewers no doubt think that this designation is a bit of the same fun-and-games that the Mysteries is all about—until, like me, they look further.

When they do, they discover one John Wilson Murray. The author/creator of the Murdoch Mysteries is Maureen Jennings, an immigrant from England to Canada. Her inspiration for the series was a real detective, namely Mr. Murray, who was Ontario’s first “provincial detective,” appointed in 1875. Murray was assigned to solve particularly difficult cases anywhere in Ontario—and soon developed widespread fame. His own cases also carried him all over the world—much like Murdoch’s own. Not only that, but Murray also wrote a memoir, with Victor Speer, which is as dramatic and vivid as the Murdoch series. Furthermore, it was entitled—well, the image I show (link) tells you the title. What more need I say?

Sometimes a life is adventurous and strange enough to become a fiction—and it’s difficult to see which is the more authentic. For a short but illuminating account of Murray and his book, I would suggest this link for a story that appeared in the Toronto Star. One line is worth quoting here: “Murray once stated he hated lies as much as he hated mosquitoes.” Yes. Murdoch would say the same thing. Author Jennings, who is now 76, generally approves of the series if with a small demurral. She says:

The only problem I've really had is with the hair! No woman would wear her hair down [as Dr. Julia Ogden does in the first season] and most men would have had a moustache, but the producers don't like the way they look on TV!

The current Murdoch series, in its 8th season, may be obtained from Netflix on disk or by streaming. An earlier version (much more serious but less innovative in tone or execution) is also available at Netflix on disk. Fun watching…

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Bi-Polar World

George Orwell’s super-states came to mind as another paragraph on the Greek bailout was penned yesterday. Europe’s negotiators broke off talks with the Greeks. The story in the New York Times this morning reported this Greek reaction: “Greece, meanwhile, has suggested that it could turn to Russia or China for help if its talks on debt relief and a rollback of austerity measures break down.” The Russians and Chinese might review Virgil’s famous saying, but with a slight edit: Beware of Greeks even when they’re seeking gifts….

Monday, February 16, 2015

Let's Say It Again

February has a special meaning to us around here being at the same time the anniversary of Brigitte’s birth (1st), our marriage (3rd), and my “coming to adulthood”—that day, for me, being marked by entering the U.S. Army on February 21. My second day in the Army was a day off—so that I could laze around and get used to my shaven head. Back in those days February 22nd was a National Holiday, Washington’s Birthday. Year after year, thereafter, a holiday reminded me of that anniversary—until, in 1971, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act created Presidents’ Day and moved it to the third Monday of February. Pragmatism triumphs over history.

That Jugular Vein

And We have already created man and know what his soul whispers to him, and We are closer to him than his jugular vein. [Koran 50:16]

Last year about this time the subject of “fate” surfaced and I wrote a note on the subject (here). That day  vast amounts of ice were melting; now the snow is decently frozen all over. In any case, the subject seems to belong to the month in which the blessed spring is but a month away. It occurred to me in the course of a morning conversation (that first cup), that fate, at the personal level, is all about temperament—and temperament is very much an expression ultimately of the body type. The verse I cite from the Koran is illuminating. It speaks of God’s nearness to us—but what about that jugular vein? Symbolically it is the carrier of life—but it is distant from us, you might say. It belongs to that region of reality over which we have very little control—the “given,” the material order.

Part of our conversation also involved laughing at the review of the movie If I Stay which deals with a teenage girl’s near death experience. Mia, the lead character, spends her time in an out-of-body state tracking her own body and her family and friends. The review ends on this note: “So does Mia stay or go? Let’s just say that she’s a child of her generation with an unshakeable sense of empowerment. Never mind what God or random-chance may have in store for her. ‘I’m running the show,’ she declares toward the end. Deathless words from a near-death decider.” [WSJ, August 22, 2014] I cite this snippet by way of indicating the modernist view of reality: “I’m running the show.” But the truth is otherwise.

We’re running the show in the same sense as a deep-sea diver is inside a massive diving suit—linked by lines and pipes to a boat and oxygen supplies—the boat itself linked in countless ways, not least by radio waves, to the greater world on shore. The surrounding “suit” is much more real, in the practical sense, than the self inside it. Just as our body must constantly exert itself against the vast influences which the world exerts so also the soul must exert itself, at times, against the temperament which we can manage but never really control. If it weren’t so, the concepts of body-type and temperament would not have so clear a meaning to us, and fate would have no meaning. Yet it is continuously invoked when our splendid running of the show starts fraying or even runs aground.

Even when it’s not a snowy February, such morning thoughts keep me humble—because mornings are hard on those who’s temperament is stained with the melancholic dye.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Continent-Spanning Landmass

Some crossword puzzles need special notice—and a listing in Public Language Abusers International. The one that had us twisting into pretzels was Jolene Andrews’ puzzle (2/5/2015) called “Hail Mary,” its thematic being football, in which 43 Down was “Continent-spanning landmass.”

The thoughts that run in naïve minds (we’re gradually becoming crossword wise—but we’ve only been doing these for about two decades, hence we’re not yet taken for locals yet) is something like the following: The continents are landmasses. So what in the hell can a continent-spanning landmass be? Is there something beneath the continents that some kind of curved bridge of land, a kind of flattened St. Louis arch, actually links? Is there such a thing? Why haven’t we heard of it before?

Well, it turns out that there is something above the continents, and sometimes more than one. They are the names attached to continents. And, indeed, if we look carefully at maps of the world, we only find the names of seven continents but, visually, there are only six (including Antarctica)—or five if we count the two Americas, North and South, as one; and we may as well. They are not separated by any water.  But, instead, we have seven! One modestly sized one is called Europe, which isn’t a continent at all! Therefore the answer to the puzzle, which was EURASIA, is not, technically correct, not in a question which talks about “landmass.”

Every puzzle has at least some clues we mark in blood red—and try to remember for use in the future. But occasionally one really wants them to grant us a fracture.

Space v. Light

The view from my office window. After our move, I’ve exchanged a vast office in the basement of our old house, a place always gloomy except under wings of neons hung over illuminated spots here and there, for a small upstairs room from which I can stand guard over the roof of our house—and admire the Lake Wolverine across the way.

Indeed this house is marked by ample and always glorious light, especially on a frozen morning like today. The basement here is of a narrow and humble kind; and my neons now blaze their lights over those of our plants that don’t fit into the house during the grueling season of sub-zero weather.

When it comes to offices, I tend to choose space over light—but it is rather a pleasure, here, to have both.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Dum de, da Dum, da da Dum

Or simplifying the definition of poetic meter. In yesterday’s description of the meter of a hymn, I used the English saying “four beats and then three and a half” in order to avoid cluttering up the post with such phrases as “a trochaic tetrameter alternating with a trochaic tetrameter catalectic.” Now what I call a beat is what poetic tech-speech calls a “foot.” Feet are made of two or three syllables with different stresses. A foot may thus be (with Greekish names and examples added):

Dum de
By the shores of Gitche Gumee
da Dum
To swell the gourd and plump the hazel shells
Dum Dum
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim
de de
My way is to begin with the beginning
da da Dum
On the far-away island of Sala-ma-Sond
Dr. Seuss
Dum de de
This is the forest primeval. The murmuring…
da Dum de
I think I will call it the Circus McGurkus
Dr. Seuss

The meter I had in mind was a tetrameter, thus a count of four feet by line, with the even lines shorted by a syllable, thus:

Dum de, Dum de, Dum de, Dum de
Dum de, Dum de, Dum de, Dum.

Saying those aloud brings home the flavor of the formation, with a satisfying sort of finish on a stressed syllable bringing a though to a close.

We could, of course, all decide, the world over, to use the metric system of measurement. Similarly we could decide to teach poetry in a simple way and call what now is called trochaic Dum-de, iambic da-Dum. Now if we speak of iambic pentameter, we could say 5-da-Dum, or describe a trochaic tetrameter as a 4-Dum-de and that trochaic tetrameter catalectic as a 3.5-Dum-de.

We’re not going to do it. Poets will (one of these decades) once more use the formal definitions. For the moment people mostly do not bother. In a Democratic society, everybody is a poet. We’re not going to do it because learning is meant to be difficult, and once it is possessed, it gives us a strange kind of lift in status—at least in our own eyes. So that, discovering I didn’t know how to describe poetic meter “properly,” this morning I set to work finding the right way to say it all.

I imagine people three millennia hence vaguely knowing a little English (as now I vaguely know a little Greek) because in that future people will speak tongues none of us today would understand if  (but don’t hold your breath) right after we finally have Artificial Intelligence, we’ll discover Time Travel. But it would please me, needless to say, that in that very distant future some poor guy will, looking up the right way to measure poetry, came across such things as a “3.5-Dum-de” and genuinely wonder what that means.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Tantum Ergo

I woke around 3:30 last night with the opening words of a famous verse composed by Thomas Aquinas and sung at mass at the benediction of the Blessed Sacrament: Tantum ergo Sacraméntum. The meter, four-beats and then three-and-a-half, alternating, was also in my memory together with a vague sense of the music as well. That whole experience goes back roughly to my twelfth or thirteenth year of life.

So where did this come from suddenly? Questions of this kind can’t be precisely answered, but it occurred to me this morning that struggling with translating Latin into English four days ago may have set tendril of memory vibrating at an unaccustomed wavelength—right back to the time when I was studying Latin and, incidentally, singing hymns in Latin as well. It took a while, and I had to be asleep, before the answer echoed back—to a question I cannot formulate.

Herewith the two stanzas of Tantum Ergo—which conclude a much longer hymn called Pange Lingua Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium. The translation is by Fr. Edward Caswall.

Tantum ergo Sacraméntum
Down in adoration falling,
Venerémur cérnui:
This great Sacrament we hail,
Et antíquum documéntum
O'er ancient forms of worship
Novo cedat rítui:
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Præstet fides suppleméntum
Faith will tell us Christ is present,
Sénsuum deféctui.
When our human senses fail.

Genitóri, Genitóque
To the Everlasting Father,
Laus et jubilátio,
And the Son who made us free
Salus, honor, virtus quoque
And the Spirit, God proceeding
Sit et benedíctio:
From them Each eternally,
Procedénti ab utróque
Be salvation, honour, blessing,
Compar sit laudátio.
Might and endless majesty.
Amen. Alleluja.
Amen. Alleluia.

What a glorious—and compressed sort—of language Latin is!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Cross or Pile?

In an obscure academic paper titled “Bonus Scarabaeus—an Early Christian (?) Magical Gem from Pannonia” (Brigitte discovers the strangest things)—I came across images of a magical coin with its two sides designated as “avers” and “revers.” The missing e’s may have to do with the translator, but, in any case, I got to wondering. Were sides of coins once called by these names? The answer seems to be No. The sides of coins are folk designations. But sticking with avers for a moment longer, that word is Old French derived from the Latin adversus, which had the meaning both of turned away (against), and turned toward (confronting), thus face-to-face, hence “heads.”

Wikipedia informs me that the Romans’ heads or tails was navia aut caput, thus ship or head; the head, of course, was the emperor’s. The Germans say Kopf oder Zahl, head or number, Hungarians say fej vagy irás, head or writing, the Spanish say cara ou cruz, face or cross, the French say pile ou face, pile or face (but more about “pile” in a moment). The English once used cross or pile—so there is that “pile” again.

The pile in this context is not a “mound” or an “accumulation” but, rather, a pillar, the pier of a bridge. In France the reverse of coins was often a bridge. A pile also means a javelin, thus a stout rod with a sharpened tip; in German the word Pfeil means both an arrow and an architectural pillar. The English pylon (from the Greek for “gate”) is not seemingly related—although great gates often have pillars.

Avers and revers had me instantly remembering the Superbowl. At the Superbowl the “visiting” captain calls the toss; in the last one that would have been Tom Brady. I was imagining Brady calling the toss by saying “Avers” or “Ship” or “Pile.” Ahhh. The sorts of thoughts that fill a snowy morning… That morning, thanks to the Cross, has now turned sunny.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Being and Becoming

Looking at the Wall Street Journal this morning an ad caught my eye: “How Jesus Became God.” That sort of headline will snag me, to be sure. It belongs to a category of icons that signal to me the entire thrust or essence of something without my having to expend even a tiny bit of energy to know whether I’m interested or not.

The ad is promoting The Great Courses (The Teaching Company, LLC), and the professor who teaches this course is Bart D. Ehrman of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

It seems to me that, given a forced choice, people may be divided into those who are for Being and those who are for Becoming. Count me among the former. I assume that those who vote for Becoming (certainly the inclination of modernist thought) can also have their arms twisted hard enough to confess that Being has some role to play in reality, albeit it is but a momentary sort of thing before becoming has changed it into something else which, itself, is getting ready to become yet something else again in a nanosecond or so. Those who vote for Being do not deny Becoming but certainly rank it as something hierarchically lower than Being. Thus they assert the reality of something absolute.

Now that title acts as a badge of modernism, which is marked by paradox—like the Liar’s Paradox. If Jesus can become God, God is evolving. That’s been done more extensively by Hegel, but to do justice to Hegel in a Great Course would cost the buyer more than the $79.95 (marked down from $269.95) to learn how Jesus evolved. Ehrman describes himself as an agnostic (from the viewpoint of knowledge) and an atheist (from the viewpoint of belief) (link), but certainly not in the ad or on his own website. So why does he bother with this subject? Is Christianity so irresistible even to unbelievers? Or is the problem that once you have a PhD and Master of Divinity, you’ve got to talk about something?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Translation Exercise

Michael Gilleland published a poem yesterday (link) reputedly by Claudian (Claudius Claudianus (370-404)—poets didn’t live long then) titled “De Luna” or “To the Moon.” Brigitte immediately began a process of trying to find a translation—which process I continued this morning. A failure all around. What with the poem only recently attributed to Claudian (as further explained by Michael), the poem seems to have no following except among curmudgeons.

So, just to get a little handle on that text, I started an exercise in translation. For that my meager qualifications are about three years of Latin when I was a boy—and ownership of a couple of decent Latin dictionaries. Herewith the results:

Hymn to the Moon

Glorious moon, the sky’s greater part,
Paired with the sun, a moving light—fire, wine,
Creatrix of months, many births’ mother
Yoked to the stars you rule sub-solar poles.
Rising, you gather up the past day’s hours,
Paternal Ocean once more sees his stars.
Your breath livens the earth, envelops Tartarus.
With Isis’ rattle you wake the solstice, cymbals clash,
Isis, Luna, Choris, Heaven’s Juno, and
Cybele! By turns you give the days their names
And again renew the light of months. First
Slender, then full, then fully resurgent: when
Thin ever waxing, when waning the world’s dark.
Come hither our lovely goddess whose
Light-making force binds heifers to flocks
And turns Fortune’s wheel so prosperity runs.

The original—including two versions—are on Laudator.  I used the first version shown. Now I’ve no idea, really, how close I’ve managed to come to the actual meaning of that Latin—beyond a “feel” that gradually develops over many decades of such play. I’ve stuck closely to the meaning of the underlying words, only taking such liberties as translating sistro, which means “rattle,” by indicating that that word was used to mean, once, rattles shaken in the worship of Isis. Claudian, I learned, equated the Moon with Isis, so that seemed appropriate.

In the course of my endless search for a translation, I came across one (here)  by Claudian titled “The Lonely Isle.” The translator’s name isn’t given, but the poem testifies to Claudian’s powers of producing an image. Here it is:

The Lonely Isle

Deep in a distant bay, deeply hidden
There is an island far away from me
Which lulls the tumbling waves to dreamy quiet;
And there steep cliffs against the water’s riot
Stand up, and to their shelter ships are bidden,
Where those curved arms shut in a tranquil sea.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Tenth Muse

You’ve probably not yet heard of the Tenth Muse. My bad. I should have announced her long ago. It is my wife, Brigitte, but in the world of the Muses she is called Theodora, her middle name. I say this because it finally dawned on me that her gifts are too exceptional in working crosswords to be explained in the usual way.

The other day, for instance, the clue for 25 across was “Elk.” I couldn’t get anywhere with that left-central block until I asked my Muse if she had anything for 25 across. “Yes,” she said, “WAPITI.” I was astonished. “How did you come up with that?” I asked. “I don’t know,” she said. “I just knew it.”

Then, the other day, when a clue asked for one of the Muses, Brigitte produced the seventh muse in the flash of an eye: Terpsichore. Asked about that one (the only one I ever remember is Clio, the Muse of History) she said: “I’ve always loved knowing that Dance had a Muse.”

Therefore I now propose a Tenth Muse. She is there in the following tabulation. The first nine come from Wikipedia (link). The last is added by, proudly, humbly, by me.

Epic poetry
Writing tablet
Song, elegiac poetry
Aulos (ancient musical instrument like a flute)
Lyric poetry
Cithara (type of ancient lyre)
Tragic mask
Comic mask
Globe and compass
Crossword Puzzles
BIC mechanical pencil 0.5mm

Forgotten Books Recalled

A while back now we read two novels by Robert Hugh Benson (Lord of the World and Dawn of All), originally published in 1908 and 1911. We’d become aware of these from a post on Siris (here). Both came from a publisher called Forgotten Books (link). I noted at the time that Forgotten Books might be a valuable source, but what with having bought two books of fiction, the impression was not as strong as it became when, very recently, I purchased a copy of Phantasms of the Living, by Edmund Gurney et al, and discovering, from its distinctive title page, that it also belongs under that publisher’s imprint. Well. Phantasms is a non-fiction classic in the parapsychology field; it appeared in 1886. Now I have a paperback of it which is actually a photocopy of the original. This made me go to the publisher’s web site to find out a little more.

Forgotten Books offers around 487,000 old books accessible in various form, online and also on paper (from As best as I can tell, none of these is still covered by a copyright although Forgotten Books puts its own copyright on them (of dubious enforceability, I think). I made a test. For years now I’ve been trying to get access to the German historian, Theodor Mommsen—a process that has required long waits as volumes of his History of Rome reach me from distant university libraries. These books are rather handily available, at surprisingly low prices (Vol. 1, for instance is $10.03) from Forgotten Books. Books in English, Latin, French, German, Italian, and Spanish are also available. A perusal of a few of these have shown that the photocopying approach is not always entirely flawless. Sometimes small errors appear in typography. But access is what matters when it comes to getting at nineteenth century books of the sort really inaccessible in an orderly manner unless you live right next to a very major university library. Thus far, in neither of the two novels nor in Phantasms have I met any typographical anomalies.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Choose Your Magic

Looking back at the leading figures of the Society of Psychical Research (founded in 1882 in England)—and reading the writings of its prominent figures—what strikes me is an interesting contrast between SPR’s main enterprise, to focus research on extrasensory perception in the broadest sense, and the cultural environment in which that research initially took place. That environment was decidedly scientific and its underlying cosmological assumption was progressivist, thus resting on the concept of evolution broadly construed. SPR could, of course, have chosen to call its approach natural philosophy and to have adopted a traditionalist cosmological view—if perhaps festooned with lots of question marks. But such was the atmosphere in England, indeed all over the Western world, then that Science had to be capitalized and the notion of some kind of “emergent” process—in biology this was evolution, a model that soon to spread to other fields—seemed natural, however fundamentally illogical.

I prefer to use the word “philosophy” when talking about matters that transcend the strictly measurable. As for progressivism, that view, I think, ultimately appeals to magic. The notion that life arose from matter, and consciousness from life, appears to me to violate the notion that anything that “comes about” had to have had, at least in potential, that which we now see actualized.  Aristotle 101. Progressivism introduces into matter potentials which we can’t discover using reasonable science. If we could, we would have long ago managed to create “life” by starting with ordinary chemicals. Such efforts have failed—but current attempts at achieving artificial intelligence are a continuation in another modality.

The traditional cosmological view is also labeled “magic” because it assumes that—in order to preserve the logic of the potential-actuality sequence—God had to have created the world. Therefore reality is a top down structure. Such magic, however, is much more believable for me because it is more comprehensive. It contains within it, with God’s presence, the very power, writ large, which we detect in ourselves, writ small, namely consciousness. Matter can’t explain it, but God’s presence can.

When I contrast “progressivist” with “traditional” cosmologies, I’m not disputing the facts of evolution—only its interpretation. Thus the Catholic Church accepts evolution as a means that God may have used; but the traditionalist aspect is that in Catholic doctrine God creates each soul; the soul is not a product of evolution.

Choosing the right magic may help a “scientist” or “philosopher” make the right projections about the future—or not. Around about 1896, when he was finishing his monumental Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death, Frederic W.H. Myers, one of the cofounders of the SPR, wrote thus in the epilogue of his book:

I venture now on a bold saying; for I predict that, in consequence of the new evidence, all reasonable men, a century hence, will believe the Resurrection of Christ, whereas, in default of the new evidence, no reasonable men, a century hence, would have believed it. The ground of this forecast is plain enough. Our ever-growing recognition of the continuity, the uniformity of cosmic law has gradually made of the alleged uniqueness of any incident its almost inevitable refutation. Ever more clearly must our age of science realise that any relation between a material and a spiritual world cannot be an ethical or emotional relation alone; that it must needs be a great structural fact of the Universe, involving laws at least as persistent, as identical from age to age, as our known laws of Energy or of Motion.

The evidence Myers presented more than a century ago has become ever better. But his application of a progressivist approach in matters of soul-knowledge was overly optimistic.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Little Red Devil

Thanks to John Magee’s knack with the camera—I discovered this picture on Patioboat this morning—I’m enabled to show my new Toro snow blower, operated here by Monique, which I have named, after a tremendous upsurge of original inspiration, the Little Red Devil.

Except when it comes to books, I tend to be excessively timid in purchasing anything the purpose of which is principally to free me of physical labor. I’ve spent decades admiring and envying such a device when casually used by my old neighbors at McKinley—while I used a red plastic snow shovel for the same long time and only replaced it, at last, when I had eroded a full half of its total surface!

Well, the new house, and so forth, and its seemingly endless drive, at last overcame my scruples and, in a matter of less than an hour I not only decided but also carried out the intention of owning such a thing. The Little Red Devil (touch wood) has done a great job thus far, shared communally too, not least this morning when another 1.2 inches had to be moved out of the way so that we could deploy our Honda for a trip to Sinai Huron Hospital to give blood. The sunshine you see in the picture, however, won’t show up until tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Grimm It Is

The route to this post is almost impossible to render. Let it simply be said that this is our 55th wedding anniversary, discussion of which began by my digging up our marriage certificate to prove to Brigitte that it is our fifty-fifth! Things proceeded from there, memories piling on memories. In the course of that we happened across Grafenwöhr, the location of one of my times in the military (link). In time we got on to the possible meaning of the word wöhr.

Of late we frequently examine the etymology of German words too. In that process I discovered that the brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, famed for their storybook collections, were also responsible for a monumental eight-volume Deutsches Wörterbuch (German Dictionary). They began compiling it in 1838 and began publishing their results in 1852. That unbelievably rich dictionary—delving very deep into etymology—is fortunately available on-line. And if great effort is expended answers even to very obscure questions begin to emerge.

The word Graf translates to “earl” (in England) or “count” (elsewhere). Wöhr, it turns out, means tillable land surrounding a domicile and its adjoining buildings. The word is rooted in the same Germanic word as the English “worth”—which stands to reason: in the good old days land itself was the value. Grafenwöhr, the place, therefore translates literally to Earl’s Worth or Count’s Worth. Now the ironic aspect of this is that Grafenwöhr has been, since 1910, a military firing ground for artillery—the land being virtually useless for any other purpose. So we concluded that the place had been misnamed. It should always have been called Grafenwöhrlos, meaning The Count’s Worthless. But, as I tried to say in the above referenced post on this blog, it was a wonderful place of solitude—for some people the highest worth of all, with or without a title of nobility.