Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Medium and content

I really do think that the medium is key to determining content, by the way.

Can you visualize a humorous sonnet? Perhaps you could have one with matter and form grotesquely inappropriate for one another, but iambic pentameter is pretty serious stuff--particularly in a strict rhyme scheme. Good blank verse (iambic pentameter without rhymes) is quite suitable for high and lofty matter. Just look at Antony's funeral speech in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.

Alternately, can you imagine a limerick that isn't funny? A friend once announced her intention to write an epic in limericks. Won't happen. Not an epic epic. It would turn out a mirror image of Pope's The Rape of the Lock, which is humorous by treating non-epic material in an epic style. If you want epic to come off, the format has to reinforce it.

For another example, look at Instant Messenger. If anyone can hold a deep conversation over it, my friends and I can. And we try. But the depth suffers. You must chop up your thoughts so they fit into the little box:

put in just a few words
at a time
with very little
And lsto
of typos
you're intoo much of a
hurry to fix.

This bodes ill for deep thoughts of western civilization.

Blogs are better, or at least can be. A blogger at least has a moment to hit backspace and perhaps even repair his entry's thought structure.

A handwritten letter, also, is different from an email. There's something satisfying about holding an actual pen and writing on actual paper--even though it is easier to repair one's grammar and spelling digitally.

A movie can say a lot of things, and a book can say a lot of things. Sometimes they even say most of the same things. But they certainly say them differently: just look at The Lord of the Rings. In the book the terror comes from that which you can't see. In the movie, Peter Jackson could hardly show you something you couldn't see, so he makes you fear that which you can see.

I daresay the Egyptians would argue that there was a big difference between just scribbling a bit of demotic on papyrus versus carving hieroglyphs into a stone wall. Why, just look (they say): when you write on papyrus you don't even form the characters properly! In your haste the birds and water merge together!

It is good to be able to speak in different ways: if nothing else, "I have become all things to all men, so that by every means I may be able to save some." But I wish that people would use these media to say things worth being said.

Possibly the most foolish medium

TV is possibly the most foolish medium currently in existence.

Movies, in order to be excellent, at least have a start, a plot, and an end. They go somewhere. They must have technical excellence. They have good acting. They have purposeful dialogue. A lot of people have put a lot of effort into them. The writer had something particular to write about, or at least came up with something genuinely amusing. If he didn't, it's generally a box office flop. The content may not be worth much, but at least it generally exists.

Television, as far as I can tell, has no particular purpose but to fill air time. It has no beginning but when you switch it on and no end but when you switch it off. Nor do pearls of eloquence drop from the tongues of newscasters. They say the most incredibly obvious things, sometimes obviously right and sometimes obviously wrong! Mockery barely begins to cover it. ("Lady Disdain, are you yet living?" "How can Disdain die, when she has such meet food to feed upon?")

They have no reference frame for understanding today's news: no Shakespeare, no Cicero, no Alexander Pope, no Homer, and certainly no absolute standard, such as a Bible. I guess it has to be democratic: you can't have prerequisites for understanding anything. It might discriminate against low-income families who couldn't afford a good education. (But I bet they could buy a used paperback of the Iliad for less than the price of a cell phone.)

All news is packaged precisely the same way, including catchphrase. The same plays are always made to the same three emotions: aw, isn't that sweet; oh, isn't that too bad; and ah, isn't that interesting? At least having molds saves us from original thought. What's today's disaster? A hurricane? A murder? A tsunami? A war? Excellent. We know what to do with that. We will report a little about the event, have a few survivor stories, and include a blurb about the science of hurricane formation.

Oh for the satires of a Juvenal! Oh that somebody would reform a culture addicted to this sort of thing!

I watch TV for great events and when I can't avoid it. I remember September 11th: by about three p.m. my tolerance had run out and I started researching Queen Boadicea, who revolted against the Romans in Britain c. 50 A.D.

I am not really a cynical person, but I am annoyed. I apologize for my third-rate sarcasm. But really: if medium determines content, and the content is foolish, perhaps the medium is too.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Good blessings

It has been a good Christmas.

To start with, soror mea and I are HOME. New Mexico is beautiful! The sky is so clear that even in town and with a full moon, you can still see some stars. Virginia has many virtues, but its night sky is not among them. Stars and moons are part of the right ordering of the universe, and oh, I love them.

To continue with, the cats forgave us for going away to school and are decently cuddly. We had a fire in the fireplace twice before heading over the Rio Grande and through the prairie to Grandfather's house for Christmas Day: we meant to head over on the 23rd, but it snowed, so we held off till Christmas Eve.

I'm enjoying ill health on break and not during the school year. I have upgraded to orange juice and shopping, so life is improving. :-)

I've been getting to read and watch movies--or do nothing whatever, as I please. Early on in the break I finished Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots, and Leaves. I want a "Stickler" pin! That's a grammar stickler, for those of you unfortunate enough not to have read her, and watch out: I'm seriously tempted to turn into a grammar vigilante! ::evil chuckle:: Now, where's that permanent marker...?

And between food and presents--dude, am I blessed.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Han Purple

Q. What do you get if you combine de Broglie wavelengths, magnets, and purple pigment from ancient terracotta Chinese soldiers?

A. Marcelo Jaime's recent physics discovery.

If you chill Han Purple and throw it through 60 Teslas of magnetic force, the magnetic moments of all the particles start oscillating in unison, as if they were one big particle. They call it Bose-Einstein Condensation-yes, that's our Einstein--and it's like a superconductor for magnets. Very cool. I'm writing a paper on it, so if you want more details, let me know. :-)

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Gregory of Tours concludes his book

I, Gregory, have written the ten books of this History [of the Franks], seven books of Miracles and one on the Lives of the Fathers. I have composed a book of Commentaries on the Psalms. I also wrote a book on the Offices of the Church.

I know very well that my style in these books is lacking in polish. Nevertheless I conjure you all, you Bishops of the Lord who will have charge of Tours cathedral after my unworthy self, I conjure you all, I say, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Judgement Day feared by all sinners, that you never permit these books to be destroyed, or to be rewritten, or to be reproduced in part only with sections omitted, for otherwise when you emerge in confusion from this Judgement Day you will be condemned with the Devil. Keep them in your possession, intact, with no amendments and just as I have left them to you.

Whoever you are, you Bishop of God, even if our own Martianus Capella himself has given you instruction in the Seven Arts, if he has taught you grammar so that you may read, if he has shown you by his dialectic how to follow the parts of a disputation, by his rhetoric how to recognize the different meters, by his geometry how to reckon the measurements of sufaces and lines, by his astronomy how to observe the stars in their courses, by his arithmetic how to add and subtract numbers in their relationships, by his book on harmony how to set together in your songs the modulation of mellifluous sounds, even if you are an acknowledged master in all these skills, and if, as a result, what I have written seems uncouth to you, despite all this, do not, I beg you, do violence to my books.

You may rewrite them in verse if you wish to, supposing that they find favor in your sight; but KEEP THEM INTACT.

--Gregory of Tours, ~594 AD
Trans. by Lewis Thorpe

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Aristotle and the Supertones (yes, really)

It is interesting in my eyes that in spiritual things, the emphasis is on seeking. "I'm a seeker." It is apparently considered arrogant to say you have found what you're looking for.

O.C. Supertones, Away from You
I say there, friend, you got a minute?
I'd like to tell you something, you may think nothing of it
But wait, you're gonna love it.
What if I told you I have the one true philosophy?
Would you hear me out or just turn your back and laugh at me?

What are you seeking for? Aristotle's philosophy was "teleological," or goal-oriented. He thought people too had a telos.

If people were created by God, it is not unreasonable that He would have had some purpose in mind. It would be much stranger if He didn't. Seeking a telos seems pretty sensible, and finding it even better.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Hail King Jeremiah!

The duel has been finished. The Black Prince Jeremiah and his seconds met with Aaron Gray, his champion the Vagabond, and their seconds. We had a minstrel who kept up a musical background, a holy brother who opened us with "A prayer for a time of conflict" from the Book of Common Prayer, a sword-keeper, and a herald with a sturdy thwacker in case things got out of hand.

I, Lady Carolyn, presided, and the mistress of Llyonesse, the Black Dragon herself, watched from the tower window overlooking the lists. The High Queen was unable to attend, for a church function required her presence. There were, however, plenty of honest witnesses and a number of scoffers and rabble present.

I asked if the challengers still wished to proceed with the duel. They did. I asked if they were both willing to hazard kingship of the realm upon it. They were. Brother Kanary prayed. The herald Bales read the lists of titles of all and sundry (except one who had neglected to send the requisite information), and announced the rules and we gathered around the area marked off for combat.

Just before we actually began, the Black Prince called forward two of his servants to offer a toast to my health and that of the High Queen Sarah Lewis; Mr. Drinkall (that really is his name) poured three glasses, giving one to me, one to the herald, and the third to the Black Prince. The Vagabond was ignored. This seemed discourteous in my eyes, besides the general awkwardness of drinking my own health, so I gave the Vagabond mine. The toast proceeded without further mishap.

At this point I was impressed, for we had strung out the preliminaries for more than twenty minutes.

The duel then began. It was a point-based combat: two for a body hit and one for an arm- or leg-hit. The first combatant to nine would win. The Black Prince, who also happens to be President of the Fencing Club, pulled ahead before the first recess, but the Vagabond caught up in the second round. He suffered a penalty point for stepping outside the boundary, and the Black Prince accidentally struck him on the head (contrary to the rules). Then the Black Prince rallied and defeated the Vagabond with a body hit, bringing him to ten points to the Vagabond's six.

All hail the King, the Black Prince Jeremiah Lorrig!

The Vagabond broke off his connection to the challenging lord, Aaron Gray, as his service to him was complete. The King thereupon restored the lands of Aaron Gray and proclaimed him Archduke.

The audience then shouted for the Vagabond to request a knighting. I knighted him Sir Tobin the Valiant, for patience, the character shown in enduring the burning of his house within the last month, and his valor in combat. I should also have mentioned his steadfastness in enduring mockery from the crowd, but I may have forgotten that. I hadn't written my speech on a parchment, you see, not having known what it would be until I saw how he performed in the duel.

Thereupon Honest Mike the minstrel sang a humorous dirge and we withdrew to the dragons' lounge for tea, cookies, and photos. :-)

If any witness wishes to add to this account of the duel, I would be thrilled to post it. :-) My AIM screen name is SongofBrigadoon. I warn you, however, I expect all whom IM me to identify themselves.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

I miss Latin

I do miss Latin. I don't miss hours of homework thrice a week, but I do miss the lovely sounds, the way it illuminates grammar--Latin is just full of grammar--and the occasional joy-spot when you see a word, a phrase, a thought, and say oh! That was what so and so meant by saying that! or so that's why the who's-its thought this! And the poetry is like music without a tune. It's so metrical. Even if you can't make heads nor tails of what Virgil is saying, it's such fun to read aloud. Yet Latin is not over-sweet or fluffy; it has plenty of sturdy consonants and even their metaphors are reassuringly literal. Charming joys, and I miss them.

I may like Greek, but I don't know, not having taken it. Dr. Smith much prefers Greek to Latin (and both to English). However, I cannot countenance his insulting Latin and said so today in Topics in Philosophy. This led to the following exchange.

"Latin is just redneck Greek anyway." Dr. Smith
"I'm quoting you on that." me
"In Latin, please." Dr. Smith
"What's Latin for 'redneck'?" Jonathan
"Rubra cervix." Dr. Smith

To quote him in Latin: "Latina lingua Graeca cervica rubra quoquomodo." --Magister Faber

And there you have it, a brilliant person with an opinion and the linguistics to back it up.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Honor, honoris

The Black Prince Jeremiah Lorrig this evening issued a challenge.

To the Lowest of the Lowly and Prawd and very leastest of those who arte virtueusly humble, and self called 'king' Aaron Gray.
It hast been long known that thau art a parasite in Our Vast Kingdom. Thau hast not acnouleged Our Happy Reigne und the Joy af Our Glad subjects. Thau also have defyed Our Most Powerful Person by empoying a moste Vile und Reched Vagabond, who for the Favor of the Noble Lady Carolyn's pleasure hast agreed to assert hisself as a hero by joyning the lost cause of userpation of Our Power und thus show the Fair Lady his worth. This afrount to Our secure Reighn is unpersidneted sinse Our Rise to the Kingship out of the vile Civil War. Thus being the case, We shall, alone Ourself, defeet Thine champiane in battle in the nuteral Ground between the happy lands of Montpilier und Montitello on the Holy Day, The LORD's day, Sunday Nexst, 20ty minuts aftor the Holy Worship und Time of devoute Prayer to the LORD that is lead by the Honest Mike the minstrel. SO LET IT BE KNOWN: THE BLACK PRICE HAS THUS SPOKEN.

Forver Wilt this Day be Recalled,
The Black Prince
Sir Jeremiah M. Lorrig Esq.
The Benevolent Ruler
Lord of the league of the faithful
Lieutenant of the Strömendes MittelcNetz
Leader of the Social
Marshal of Talking
He who is Silent, innocent, and unsuspected
Loyal Ally
Admiral de la Voiture Blanche
Duke of the Daring
Earl of the Eternal Alliance of the Pompous
Defender of Freedom
Steward of the Tower of Dapper
Bishop of the Churchly Coach
The Dreamer-Minstrel
Warden of the Chocolate
Chancellor of the Glasses and Drinks
Constable of the Assortment of Hats
Earl du Sunglasses
Counselor of the Indecisive
Humblest of Rulers
Protector of the innocent
Generous to the extreme
la Presidente of the Nobility of fencers
Master of Indirect Travel
Duke d'Excursion
Captain of the Hawkish Dove
Etc. Etc. Etc.

Upon reception of this remarkable missive, I (the Lady Carolyn referenced), my scribe Deborah Knicklebein, my assistant Emily Rose Cockerham, and the High Queen Sarah Lewis set out to investigate. It appears that a champion wishes to earn knighthood at my hand by fighting for the "lowest of the lowly" Aaron, who claims Jeremiah told him the other day he could be king (and has witnesses).

So I sent out the ruling of the fair High Queen and myself.

To all kings, princes, rulers in authority, knights, ladies, monks, citizens, churls, and pretenders:


That the fair High Queen and that of her handmaiden Lady Carolyn (who is in close agreement) have determined from this evening's inquiry that a true dispute has arisen over the proper kingship of the realm. This is no base quarrel and honor may thus be won therein. Upon this coming Lord's Day then let us meet at the appointed hour in the neutral ground between the dorms known to previous generations of discipuli as the Second and Third, now called Monticello and Montpelier after the homes of our most honored Second and Third American Presidents. There may the outcome be decided in clean battle between the contesting lords or such kinghts as they may appoint in their places. They shall each determine a second to decide upon the rules for combat at that time in the presence of us as witnesses. The winner of the duel shall be the True King, and let none take issue. It is not impossible (should honor be won by a champion) that a knighting shall take place that evening.

However, it is also the ruling of the fair High Queen that in the matter of one of the Black Prince's titles, namely that of "Chancellor of Glasses and Drinks," an issue pertaining to his honor and that of this Seat of Learning has arisen. A Royal Inquisition shall be held upon the case at a time to be determined at her ladyship's convenience.

Let none take offense. In the name of our Lord of truth and peace, may He be honored in all we do:

Lady Carolyn <:3 )---------

Upon which the Black Prince and his seconds replied:

Lady Carolyn,

If it please your ladyship:

To advance the fairness of the battle we, the Black Prince and the Pretender, wish to have three seconds on each side. Our royal qualifications and duties for seconds are as follows:
1. Seconds shall be honorable sons of honorable women of high birth and noble family.
2. Seconds shall lay out specific rules of engagement, conduct, and boundary.
3. The seconds shall enforce the rules of engagement, conduct, and boundary.
4. Seconds shall advise the contenders with tactics, plans, counsel, and fulfill other myriad and diverse glorious duties at the behest of the respective monarch and his challenger, the Pretender.

Rules are assented to by both parties: his royal majesty the Black Prince and his challenger, the Pretender.

Your humble and gracious servant,
Sir Michael, first second to his royal majesty the Black Prince
Engineer Extraordinaire
Knight of the Citadel
Boyar of Texas

at the dictation of his royal majesty,
The Black Prince
Sir Jeremiah M. Lorrig Esq.
The Benevolent Ruler
Lord of the league of the faithful
Lieutenant of the Strömendes MittelcNetz

To which I replied:

From your communication I learn that the rules have been assented to by both contending parties. If this is truth, I shall not withhold my assent. I shall beseech God's grace in this encounter and pray that you do the same.

--Lady Carolyn <:3 )---------

At this point Briane Kneynsberg requested information, which High Queen Sarah Lewis graciously supplied.

Madam High Queen, Ladies and Court,
If it please your Highness, coulde you be so very kind and explain how it is that this 'duel' is come about. The assult on the lands of the Black Prince is plain enough, but the startlingly wide chasm twix the assult and the duel is I'm afraid very deep and wide and uncrossable with out a bridge. Could your majesty provide one?
Most Gratefuly,
The Dutches~

Gentlemen and ladies of the court,

The high queen indeed wonders also at the reason of this duel. Unto such end was there inquiry this night, but the reason for so violent an encounter as a duel remains hidden.

Further, the high queen regrets that she may not see this duel because of other engagements, but she wishes that the best man may win, and that Lady Carolyn's honor may be upheld by all.
And further, and as the Lady Carolyn has spoken, the high queen and Lady Carolyn do wish to question the Black Prince upon the matter of one of his (many) titles, to wit, Chancellor of the Glasses and Drinks. It is their hope that this title is indeed an honorable one.

May all grace be with you.

the high queen
and humble servant of all in this fair realm

And quoth Jeremiah:

All Thee,

In the Shoutest order, Our rule was challing'd by the Lord Aaron Gray. Be'ng that he is not the master sowrdsmen that matches Our Hight Self, a vagabonde hast vaulineer'd to fyght on his behalf. The rumored motive of this up'start is that he ist in need of a Great deede for the Lady Carolyn to Knyght him.

Your High Lord,The Black Prince
Sir Jeremiah M. Lorrig Esq.

From Aaron Gray:

I have at length kept my peace about this matter, but forthwith I must make myself clear. I am outraged at the speculation and the deception of my challenger the Black Prince, whence he knoweth the true nature of our contention. Be it known, I am not the aggressor in this matter. It is the quite the contrary; it is my opponent. In this matter I have no motives to accept this challenge other than to retain what was conferred upon me, and thereby my honor. As I stated before the gracious High Queen and her ladyship Carolyn this very evening, I was by unanimous consent on the Seventh of October in the Year of our Lord Two Thousand and Four in the company of Sir Robert Gray, esquire, the Honorable Quinn Harr, the Venerable Kendell Asbenson, and the Black Prince himself. Upon this friendly stroll down winding pathway, it was agreed at length that I was King. Moreover, the Black Prince declared himself to be in my service. At that time, I had not been enlightened to the royal status of the prince. Presently we made our way to the great dining hall whereupon a rather dynamic entry we sat down to our victuals and begin to converse. Thereupon, the Black Night must have regained his presence of mind, for he then asserted the fact that he was indeed royalty and that my existence in his realm constituted a tension that could only be resolved by either me relinquishing my rightfully acquired position, or accepting the gauntlet, which he threw down. Upon council with my Ambassador of the Realm, the venerable Kendell Asbenson, I accepted the challenge and took up the gauntlet.

Therewith you have the facts of the event. Might I also venture the following observation.
It is my inclination that the Black Prince is devious in his ways. In an attempt to gain exposure and assert his power, he has created this present situation. Regardless his motive, if he is indeed royalty and willingly conferred upon me a position of royalty, (not making known his own position or any belief that he saw me as a threat) it was therefore consent by him. Why then is he attempting to remove from me what he willing conferred?

Nevertheless, with the challenge before me, I accept it.

My champion, the Vagabond, who hath for years long been removed from my company, has returned. And in a discourse of late with him, he has granted me the assurance that in fulfillment of a long-standing debt he oweth me, he will take up the challenge in my stead.

Humbly yours,
King Aaron the Gray
Servant of His People
Protector of Safe Harbor
Ambassador of Silence
Lord of the Western Valley

From Sir Carver:

Such tensions must be dealt with. However -- I will never recognize thee as my ruler. In fact, I would rather die in mortal combat than have either the Black Prince or this new upstart assert their authority over my keep.

David Caerl Carverr
Terror of the Saracens
Knight of the Lady Carolyn
Keeper of the Sacred Chocolate
Enforcer of the Laws of Grammar

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The Latin-Only Muse

“O Poeta,[1] salve,” began a voice behind my chair
I turned around and spotted there
A Roman lady, tall and fair.

She responded mistily, as through vellum,
“Audivi debere scribere te libellum,
Volo iuvare te, quare Musa sum.”

“Domina, videre te est magnum gaudium
Atque das honorem esse in domum.
Sed a quid viam venis hic ad parva domum?”

“Noli putare a quid viam, pro immortalem
Et nostrae viae non mortalis. Musa [2] sum;
Cur inquiris via mea? Scribe!”

“Oro iuvare me in linguam Anglicam,
Pro magister qui leget mea saturam
Non dicit Latinam, sapiens quamquam.”

“Non dicit Latinam? Sed ea lingua sola!
Heu, obii!” And here she wept. “Mea
Iter et labor atque sapientia, nihil omnia!”

“O candida musa, O—” but she moaned on.
Romana musa sum! Crudelis poeta!
Amo te, sed si iuvo, in Latinam lingua

Erit, aut nihil. Nihil. Nihil! Discedo
Nam non amas me, scelesta puella!
Humus sub pedibus fugiatur!

Crustula tua contundiam in manu!
Caepas te fleat! Et—et—destillet
Atramenti de pennam! Discedo!”

The muse was gone, my serenity smitten.
The moral of this story written:
Humor muses, or they’ll be flitten.

[1] This is a first declension masculine noun which I am taking in this poem as a feminine because it refers to the author, and I the author am feminine.
2. I have not quite decided on the ontological status of muses, but I think they are in a similar class as Santa Claus. :-)


Physicists have got a puzzle: the speed of light is constant, no matter how fast you're going or which direction you're going. If you follow along in the direction of light, according to nice normal Newtonian physics, your measurement of light should be slower than if you're heading "upstream" so your velocity is added to the light's. It doesn't happen that way.

Lorentz and FitzGerald came up with an explanation: light moves through the ether at a constant rate, and the faster you go the more your measuring equipment shrinks, so it is always measured the same rate. This retained the concept of absolute space and time.

Einstein chucked absolute space and time--and the possibility of "absolute simultaneity"--when he redefined "simultaneous" in terms of clocks synchronized by light flashes. Then Einstein had two postulates: the laws of physics are the same for uniformly moving observers, and light always propagates at the same speed, c, which is independent of the source's motion. In other words, light is not like a baseball, which if you're riding a train at 5 mph and you throw it at 5 mph it will be going 10 mph relative to the ground. No. Light goes at c, and senders always send light at c and measurers always measure light to go c, whether the sender or measurer is moving or not.

It's weird, yes it is. It's also weird that even though modern physicists have thrown out the ether, they still keep Lorentz's equations because they correctly describe the phenomena.

Just to add a bit of fun, when things go faster time slows down. Apparently, then, light is timeless. Time also slows down in gravity wells. I wonder if there's a point where something in a gravity well becomes timeless? I know a creationist researcher from Sandia Lab is theorizing that the universe looks much older than 6000 years because Earth is in a gravity well and time is going slower for us, and therefore the stars really are much older.

I think that if you've got God, you have an absolute. I know this is true in morals and truth; I suspect it is also true in time and space. I wish I understood all this better.