Thursday, December 21, 2017

Second Apostle of Germany

Today is the feast of St. Peter Canisius, Doctor of the Church. From a seventeenth-century translation of one of his catechisms (as slightly modernized by myself to make it easier to read):

What is the name and nature of the Cardinal Virtues?

Certain virtues are thus called Cardinal because they are as it were the fountains and hinges of all the rest, and as the door turns upon the hinges, so the whole course of honest life consists of them, and the whole frame of good works seems after a fashion to depend upon them. And they are accounted four in number: Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude. Whereof it is thus written: She teaches Sobriety and Prudence and Justice and Virtue, than which things there is nothing in this life more profitable to men, where by Sobriety, Temperance, and Virtue, Fortitude, are not obscurely signified. And all of them are so commended unto us, that we may assuredly understand that by the eternal wisdom which is God they are properly bestowed, and are received and exercised with very great fruit of man's salvation. Which virtues are also called Officials, that is, appertaining to offices or duties, because from them, as Saint Ambrose has noted, spring the diverse kinds of offices; and are derived all manner of duties appertaining to the ordinary life of man, according to every man's vocation.

Links of Note

* Susan Cooper, "A Catch of Breath", her J.R.R Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature from earlier this year:

* Elissa on self-sacrifice in Buffy the Vampire-Slayer.

* Galen Strawson, A Hundred Years of Consciousness

* Juliet Floyd, The Varieties of Rigorous Experience

* Robert Paul Wolff, The Completion of Kant's Moral Philosophy in the Tenets of the Rechtslehre

* Ilan Levine provides a handy explanation of Dark Matter, for those who are murky on the concept:

* The Time the US Senate Debated Crabcakes

* Oobah Butler, I Made My Shed the Top Rated Restaurant on TripAdvisor, is quite hilarious.

* James Chastek, Contemporary Anti-Stoicism.

* As it's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, it's time to visit the greatest scientific popularization of all time, Michael Faraday's The Chemical History of a Candle. Bill Hammack has an excellent set of videos on it. You can read Faraday's original lectures at Internet Archive.


* The PNC Christmas Price Index (ht)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Another Poem Draft

Sekhet Alu

The two colonnades of Busiris here stand,
the pillars of glory in the realm of the ram.
Where the four-souled beast raises its head,
mighty Anubis protects every gate,
bowing head to Osiris, the master of fate
and the king of the realms of the dead.
He rules there in peace, with truth as his rod,
his throne in the midst of the tomb of the god
where emperors themselves come to die,
the lord of the west as the sun that has set,
strong in his splendor and unfaded as yet,
and strong like the death of the sky.
Unless it has died, a seed cannot live;
to that which is dead, no fear can one give,
for the dead in the fields like the seeds are all sown.
Embalmed they are cured, and freed from all blight,
the sunset preserving the joys of their sight:
Osiris they know, by Osiris are known.
The marshmallow lands by the Delta-mouth grown
with the souls of the dead are become thickly sown,
the asphodel meadows where the mummy-god rules.
The dead are all walking in the splendor of light,
hearts light as a feather and ardent for right,
and free of this world so snake-like and cruel.
The twofold truth in the halls of the king
with the pious confession in prayer there rings
('I am pure, I am pure, I am pure').
The never-defiled have reward as they must,
and are weighted in the balance, and known to be just:
in the hands of Anubis their spirits endure.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Three Poem Drafts


The mistletoe clutches the strength of the oak,
least of all things and the object of joke,
but a sprig, almost nothing, eternity broke:
Contempt of the small is the death
of the great and the wise.

An intellect burning with malice and hate,
and thrown by a god with the blindness of fate,
the world then did learn -- but it learned over-late --
Contempt of the small is the death
of the great and the wise.

The wealthy will founder on the dreams of the poor,
the clever be fooled by the fools they ignore,
a Child in a manger shall rule every shore.
Contempt of the small is the death
of the great and the wise.


With old sepulchral light the moon,
harsh and vivid, plenilune,
stares with glaring eye on all
touched by traces of the Fall;
the night is dark, the night is bright
with unilluminating light,
with unchromatic, pristine white.

Bystanding stars look sadly down
on stark and shade-infested ground;
the eye is witched, its vision lies,
the light from every corner shies;
an original sin, like a stain, overlays
the compline earth as it petitions and prays:
O present help, assist our ways.

The moon resides in orbit high,
but higher orbits yet may fly;
the stars that in the evening wake
but gems of diadem do make
for regnal glory, and light most sweet,
that spans the world and night defeats,
the moon itself beneath her feet.


Speak to me, O Muse,
of the man of many turns,
who over-wandered
when he had destroyed the holy city of Troy,
who saw the cities
and learned the minds of many men,
who endured great sorrows in his breast
while taking his life in his hands,
and the return of his companions.
Ah, even so, he did not save his fellows,
for all his ardor for it --
for they died in frenzy,
having eaten the oxen of Helios on high,
so that he took from them their return-day.
Of these things also,
from every source,
O goddess, daughter of Zeus, speak.

Music on My Mind

Chris de Burgh, "A Spaceman Came Travelling". A very, very 1970s song.

Monday, December 18, 2017

In Sevenfold Splendour Blazed the Moon

The White Witch
by G. K. Chesterton

The dark Diana of the groves
Whose name is Hecate in hell
Heaves up her awful horns to heaven
White with the light I know too well.

The moon that broods upon her brows
Mirrors the monstrous hollow lands
In leprous silver; at the term
Of triple twisted roads she stands.

Dreams are no sin or only sin
For them that waking dream they dream;
But I have learned what wiser knights
Follow the Grail and not the Gleam.

I found One hidden in every home,
A voice that sings about the house,
A nurse that scares the nightmares off,
A mother nearer than a spouse,

Whose picture once I saw; and there
Wild as of old and weird and sweet,
In sevenfold splendour blazed the moon
Not on her brow; beneath her feet.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Uncited Academic Papers

A very interesting discussion of citation in the sciences: Richard Van Noorden, The science that's never been cited. It notes, among other things, that accurately assessing whether any given paper has been cited, and what it even means when it is, is non-trivial, but I was particularly interested in this part, which identifies one very important problem with putting too much emphasis in the first place on whether a paper has been cited or not:

Still other articles might remain uncited because they close off unproductive avenues of research, says Niklaas Buurma, a chemist at Cardiff University, UK. In 2003, Buurma and colleagues published a paper about ‘the isochoric controversy’ — an argument about whether it would be useful to stop a solvent from contracting or expanding during a reaction, as usually occurs when temperatures change. In theory, this technically challenging experiment might offer insight into how solvents influence chemical reaction rates. But Buurma’s tests showed that chemists don’t learn new information from this type of experiment. “We set out to show that something was not worth doing — and we showed it,” he says. “I am quite proud of this as a fully uncitable paper,” he adds.

Fairy Tales and Modern Novels

“Can you not see,” I said, “that fairy tales in their essence are quite solid and straightforward; but that this everlasting fiction about modern life is in its nature essentially incredible? Folk-lore means that the soul is sane, but that the universe is wild and full of marvels. Realism means that the world is dull and full of routine, but that the soul is sick and screaming. The problem of the fairy tale is—what will a healthy man do with a fantastic world? The problem of the modern novel is—what will a madman do with a dull world? In the fairy tales the cosmos goes mad; but the hero does not go mad. In the modern novels the hero is mad before the book begins, and suffers from the harsh steadiness and cruel sanity of the cosmos. In the excellent tale of ‘The Dragon’s Grandmother,’ in all the other tales of Grimm, it is assumed that the young man setting out on his travels will have all substantial truths in him; that he will be brave, full of faith, reasonable, that he will respect his parents, keep his word, rescue one kind of people, defy another kind, ‘parcere subjectis et debellare,’ etc. Then, having assumed this centre of sanity, the writer entertains himself by fancying what would happen if the whole world went mad all round it, if the sun turned green and the moon blue, if horses had six legs and giants had two heads. But your modern literature takes insanity as its centre. Therefore, it loses the interest even of insanity. A lunatic is not startling to himself, because he is quite serious; that is what makes him a lunatic. A man who thinks he is a piece of glass is to himself as dull as a piece of glass. A man who thinks he is a chicken is to himself as common as a chicken. It is only sanity that can see even a wild poetry in insanity. Therefore, these wise old tales made the hero ordinary and the tale extraordinary. But you have made the hero extraordinary and the tale ordinary—so ordinary—oh, so very ordinary.”

G. K. Chesterton, "The Dragon's Grandmother" from Tremendous Trifles.