Thursday, June 30, 2005

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Lynn's daughter is in the hospital after getting into the medicine cabinet; please keep her and her family in your prayers.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

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It is a relief to hear that I am permitted to shut up during Mass, but I feel so awkward and sullen in doing so that (except during the "Communion hymn") I generally pick up the hymnal and sing along. Not always with ease, however. The pitch ranges are, indeed, not ideal for the male voice; I didn't realize how "non-ideal" until it occured to me, during a hymn that ranged from middle e-flat to high e-flat, that I was not singing an octave below the notation, but two octaves. For a man with the same range but less of an ear for pitch, I can't imagine this would be easy.

While on the subject of masculinity, I found through this post by Domenico Bettinelli Jr., this other post on the vice of effeminacy. It is a subject on which, to put it mildly, our culture has many popular misconceptions.

Now it is true, as is often said, that not all effeminate men are homosexual, and perhaps the converse is true as well - that is, there are certainly homosexuals who do not lisp, or adopt a repellent smoothness of tone, but whether they still display this vice in less overt ways, is another matter. But sodomy and effeminacy are closely linked, this much is clear, and it is hardly sufficient to say "they are not the same, though often associated." Obviously they spring from the same root, which is an attachment to pleasures, not merely to some particular pleasure, but an unwillingness to forgo pleasure per se. Now a consequence of this is that the effeminate indulge in even minor pleasures, that others would hardly so much as notice, because a sort of low-level "drone" of pleasure is necessary to them. Hence the peculiarities of manner and voice - a plain and manly manner and voice are not especially pleasing, and so these are "embellished".

Whence, however, comes this attachment? Obviously through the encouragement of the will, but it is equally clear that some types of men are more susceptible to this vice than others. These are those who are, firstly, unusually sensitive to pleasing sights, sounds, etc., and hence the stereotype that the effeminate generally have much better taste than normal men.

Yet it shows the perversion and lowness of our culture, that men would therefore disparage the more refined arts, as being unworthy of manhood. Were any of these "macho men" to travel back to, say, the 19th century (I admit that this is a somewhat unlikely contingency), they would do well to keep these opinions to themselves, lest some fellow with a fondness for opera, for dancing, and for fine wine happened also to enjoy boxing, or worse yet fencing or shooting (nor would this combination be an oddity). In a healthy culture, the most masculine of men may yet be initiates in the most cultivated arts - there is a reason that such things are called "cultivated", since in most men they must indeed be cultivated carefully. In a culture that despises beauty, only those few who can acquire unaided a love for these arts, will learn them.

Thus if we should simply say that homosexuality is a disordered inclination, and stop there, or at best add that it is associated (somehow) with effeminacy, and tell them that they should not "define themselves by their sexuality", the sodomites will consider their own (correct) intuition that this inclination is bound up with many other of their qualities, such that their "sexuality" cannot be separated from the rest of their personality. Our bald repetition of the moral facts, uncoupled with psychological insight, will thus seem to them to describe an unreal situation, and present to them a mere stumbling-block, however correct our statements. Neither were Job's comforters all incorrect, but they are not held up as models.

For someone who is "on the spot" in the matter, such baldness cannot always be helped. But when we have time to think on the matter, we should explain things more completely. It is true that they should not "define themselves by their sexuality", but these disordered inclinations exist for a deeper psychological reason, and which reason determines enough of a person's character that in some limited sense, they may indeed have cause to "define themselves" by that. In other words, in saying that their inclinations are not natural, we should also acknowledge how (in part) the root of these inclinations is in fact natural, and integral to their character. In referring to an atypical sensitivity that characterizes the effeminate, we only begin to sketch out what, exactly, this character type consists of. But it is a start, anyway, to at least focus on the deeper causes rather than the evaluating only specific acts and inclinations towards those acts. Any argument gains in force, the further it traces back the reasons for its conclusion - and if we do not really bother to attempt this, then we are, as it were, throwing our arguments out to avoid blame for keeping silent, rather than earnestly attempting to convince.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

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It is a commonplace that those spiritual writings which we least enjoy reading, are those from which we most benefit. But to benefit from those writings that offend us, it is necessary, or at least very helpful, to tame in ourselves that spirit which balks at whatever offense is given, framing plausible objections (clothed always in the air of righteousness, and not of mere self-service) that just happen to release us from difficult obligations.

For those of us who have read enough, that we may privately convict ourselves of learning, this sort of thing is very easy. There are many spiritualities, you say, and the teaching that galls you does not display the sort of spirituality that best suits you. Obviously this type of inference is fallacious; what be the means of determining which spiritual method is "for us" and which is not, I do not know, but it cannot be merely pleasantness, or the absence of bitterness, since any authentic spirituality will demand that we take up the cross - which is always bitter and repellant to our desires, or it is not the cross. Yet it is easy to think this way.

Surely this is one of the reasons that we have Doctors of the Church - did men merely flock to the great teacher, and bask in the brilliance and clarity of his doctrine, the list of thirty-three Doctors would be merely a "best-of" list, meant to direct us to what is manifestly good. But instead, the very qualities that are used to distinguish one Doctor from another, could serve as a guide to what offends us about them. St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, teaches with the passionless serenity of an angel - which many find comforting, and one could wonder, who would object to the angelic? Yet angels do not have passions, or any frailty of the flesh. I am often tempted to shout at him "stay! Stay! Have you no human feeling? Your conclusions are crushing to mere flesh and blood such as ourselves!" And thus, no doubt, have cried out many - but it is exactly when his humble and angelic mind has concluded in something stern and harsh-seeming, that we should most value his instruction. And St. John of the Cross, the Mystic Doctor - what could be wrong with the mystic, who is consumed in his love for God? Yet if you can read him without a frequent unease, without murmuring "surely I don't have to do this, do I?" then you are a much better person than I, which is likely. Perhaps their status as Doctors and Doctors of the Church - not Doctors of "persons with this sort of spirituality", but simply of "the Church" - is partly a check for those of us who would otherwise say, "this is what one school has said, but there is this other...."

Monday, June 27, 2005

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One of the things that I think we all find a bit difficult to examine is the exact way that we think. After all, we're generally not too familiar with any other mode of thought - even if we once had one, we've mostly forgotten it, so it is easy enough to think of our own way of thinking as simply "thinking". To a great degree this is true; if there were not some act "thought" which is performed by all thinkers, we wouldn't all be thinking, now would we?

And I would suppose that correct thought in one person will be rather similar to correct thought in another - taking different paths, perhaps conducted with a different style, but much the same. But while the nature of a thing is one, departures from that nature are many, so that erroneous habits of thought, can make the thought of one person very different from the thought of another - without a realization of this difference coming to either. Or if one of them should realize the gap, perhaps he will attribute it to a mere difference of character.

This is by way of explaining how I - and perhaps others - could, at such an advanced age, fail to notice a problem that has stared me in the face for so long. And as, by the nature of the thing, I have no way of knowing the scale of this problem in society at large (though I have my guesses), I can only speculate that a description of this particular error may be useful to my audience - not so much in correcting their own thought, since I am confident that my readers (and hello to both of you!) are much more clear-headed than myself, but in explaining more general trends.

The error is one that I have long grasped inchoately, but whose definition I have only now realized: the use of the imagination in abstract thought. Note, not "the erroneous" or "the excessive use" of etc., but any use whatsoever. If this statement be thought too sweeping, I can only say that that very sweeping quality is what prevented me from seeing its correctness, yet I think it is plain enough when we consider the things we are dealing with.

Abstract and general things are by definition imperceptible; therefore the imagination is clearly but a hindrance in considering them, since it imitates the perceptible. This seems plain enough - the question, then, is how can we say any person of intelligence would use the imagination in abstract thought, since it clearly incapable of performing the proper service?

While the imagination imitates the perceptible, there are certain representations of the imagination that do not imitate anything perceptible by a human sense organ; although my understanding of psychology is admittedly minimal, I would say that these representations are like in kind to its representations of the perceptible (chiefly because the two are often blended seamlessly - notice the state of the mind when half-awake, where it often mixes an imagination of some visual thing, with some incoherent representation that we cannot even comprehend after waking), so that the nature of the imagination (that it imitates the perceptible) is unchanged by the fact that certain of its representations cannot, in fact, be derived from any extant organ of sense.

So when we are contemplating a concept, the imagination will often form one of these non-visual or semi-visual representations that somehow conforms (as we think) to the concept. And it is surprisingly easy (at least for me) to think that these representations are somehow part and parcel of the concept in my mind, rather than extraneous additions. A person may have the wit to see these representations as imperfections, yet still think of them as imperfections necessary either to the human mind in general, or to his mind in particular. He may try to minimize them in a sort of intellectual embarrasment, but only thereby reduce them to something extremely vague yet quite as extant - more of an atmosphere than an image.

In fact it is my theory (which I will not yet state as a certainty) that they should and can be dispensed with. As for why the formation of these representations, in association with ideas, should be so tempting to some, there is more than one possible answer. For one, they hold forth the allure of self-understanding: when we hold these images in our mind as we think, we may flatter ourselves that we are observing (and regulating, if need be) the very processes of our own thought. Now in my own case, I am the sort of person who is always turning around to make sure he really closed the refridgerator door all the way, etc., so the thought of, as it were, comprehending my own comprehension is a comforting one. I can thereby ensure (or think to ensure) that everything is working properly, the fridge is really closed, the conclusion really follows from these premises, the premises are really correct, etc. This is clearly not a ubiquitous defect, but it may be that other pressures produce the same result: an obvious example would be a simple fondness for the imagination itself, such that abstract thought would be too dull and dry unless associated with indistinct representations, which give it life and color (perhaps even literal color in some degree).

Now what is the harm of these representations? I can see at least a twofold harm, of enourmous magnitude. Firstly, these representations, like all things perceptible, make an impression upon our aesthetic sense. It is, in its way, almost horrifying to consider the absurdities to which a person's thought may descend by this means. For one can, perhaps all unknowing, reject some reasonable school of thought (or beyond that, even the Christian religion) for the literal reason that one finds it ugly, or that it stirs some unpleasant emotion. All because of the picture that one has happened to hang over the idea! And likewise one may embrace some really fatuous idea because one has associated it with an appealing representation (of course the apportionment of pleasant and unpleasant associations is not random but dependent largely on the person's initial prejudices, so that the effect of these associations is to reinforce whatever prejudices he already possesses). When people, for instance, complain of Aristotle and exalt Plato instead, I cannot help but wonder if a mere firing of the imagination is at work, for I remember rejecting (in my pre-Catholic days) St. Thomas for more or less the reasons that I hear urged against Aristotle, while my mind was bound to exactly the sort of imaginative thinking that I here describe.

Secondly, while perhaps no image can be perfectly conformed to an idea, as if we were to paint justice, nevertheless these imaginations, being much more subtle and flexible than paintings, may achieve some degree of consonance with their ideas, even a high degree. Yet if we understand a thing imperfectly, then the representation we conjure up, may only be consonant with that imperfect understanding. So if we should be offered a more perfect explanation of the thing, we may reject it, because it is not consonant with the image that we have created.

This may be particularly dangerous when these imaginations have become "entrenched" in concepts of enourmous breadth - they may then form, as it were, a formidable bulwark against the truth. Suppose an agnostic should have a concept best described as "the universe" or "everything" in his mind, and suppose he associates it with an image rather like pictures of "space", except less well-lit, with vague attachments and atmospheres that no words can describe, perhaps representing the inexorable laws of nature. Propose to him then the existence of a personal God, and he will find it dissonant with his idea of "everything". After a gap of several years, this is the closest that my memory and powers of description can come to describing my own former plight, so this is hardly an idle fancy. Any number of other, equally ludicrous cases may be thought up - and perhaps found in reality.

That this defect of the mind may be harmful in the extreme I have shown, I think. But how prevalent is it, and how may it be combated?

As for combatting the habit, I cannot claim expertise in that area, but I am finding one simple discipline to be of great use: simply say, aloud if softly, everything that I think, while making a conscious effort to avoid imagery. Both are necessary, for one's imagination may perhaps run away while one is speaking, unless it is purposely checked, while if one's discourse is conducted but mentally, one must already use one's imagination to form the words of discourse, and having been "activated", it is all too liable to extend its "range of duties" to the formation of useless associations.

While I have never heard of this exact discipline, I have heard similar advice before - there is a popular maxim (that I've never believed) "if you can't write it, you don't know it"; while essentially priggish, it contains something of the same idea, in that in writing (as, ideally, in speech) we must concentrate on the word, and not on a set of vague imaginings. With a different purpose in mind, St. Anthony (the first one) advised (according to the "Life of St. Anthony") his students to write down their thoughts, and thus spare themselves much foolishness. So I am fairly confident that I am not inventing some random practice with no sound basis - though it is perhaps only suited for a few, and that only temporarily (one would hope).

So far, in any case, I have found this practice entirely beneficial, though it need hardly be said that there are many legitimate employments for the imagination, so I could hardly advise anyone to make a general war upon this faculty - only to restrict it to where it is useful.

As for the prevalence of this problem, I have no conclusive proof, but first I think that many popular theories about the nature of thought, are most easily accounted for by assuming the theorizers to think in the above-described manner. Particularly the idea that concepts are "approximations" of the real things is hardly intelligible to one whose thought is verbal in character, but a mind saturated with images, images designed to conform in an obscure or overt manner to the things of which a given word is predicated - such a mind would easily come to such a conclusion. For the mind that thinks, properly, in words, the concept does not approximate the thing, but defines the thing.

Also, consider how much is made by psychological bloviators of "visual intelligence" and the like. It is said that our constant exposure to a bewildering smorgasboard of images from cradle to grave in modern society, has made us more "visual" than previous peoples - perhaps the bloviators are correct? I would only part ways with them at their absurd idea that this is somehow a good or even tolerable thing; rather, while such a visual "orientation" leaves the practical faculties of the intellect untouched, the power of understanding through abstraction rather than learning by experience, is crippled. But experience is what trains the practical powers of the mind, which is all that gains respect nowadays.

But it grows late, and so if ending here is a bit abrupt, yet my hand is forced. Good night to those brave few who have reached this paragraph!

Saturday, June 25, 2005

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The Return of Blogimus

Blogimus returns to daily posting on Monday evening. Perhaps the "sleep" issue has not been entirely dealt with, but sleep or no sleep, he will allow himself no excuses and re-apply nose to electronic grindstone.

Some of you may wonder what has transpired in this intervening fallow period. Well, you know that first part of the new Batman movie -

Or do you?? Perhaps, dear reader, you have not seen this film. Now for the general non-film-goer I cannot criticize this consistent course, but those who (for instance) shelled out for "Star Wars Episode III: No, You Can't Get Your Money Back" would certainly be remiss in declining "Batman Begins". More on this in a moment.

So Bruce Wayne is off in the Himalayas learning to fight evil, or something of that sort. Everyone thinks he's dead, but in fact he only prepares for his triumphant return know who. That's the idea.

This was much the same. More particularly, there is a new and important theme in the Ven. Newman's "Idea of a University" that caught my attention, and on which I wish to expand - but on Monday. Saturday is a day of laziness, and Sunday is a day of rest. So for the remainder of this post, I will discuss nothing profounder than "Batman Begins".

First of all, it is possibly the best-written film since the "Lord of the Rings" movies (although I think they were deeply inferior to the book - another subject for another time). Not that it's a complete literary masterpiece - just that you don't have to evaluate it with a highly-forgiving "movie ear" in order to enjoy it; judge it as sternly as you judge a novel, and in spite of the "erm" moments it will at least survive the examination, which is more than most films can say.

The screenplay is accredited to Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer; Nolan is the director, so the standard conclusion would be that Goyer is the real author and Nolan made enough changes to get screenwriting credit - but I'm not sure if that is true in this particular instance. Nolan also directed "Momento"; Goyer wrote the "Blade" movies. I don't really remember much of "Momento" (not a joke), but I saw an hour or so of the first "Blade" - eh, vampires, Wesley Snipes, blood-soaked sets, no thank you. Wasn't horribly-written though.

The original comic books, too, are apparently an important element in the script (that is, not merely in providing characters and so forth, but even specific lines).

Secondly, Christian Bale is a great Bruce Wayne/Batman. He is not like the Micheal Keaton (??) or Val Kilmer (?!) Batmen; he convinces the audience in both of his identities, as opposed to, say, neither. And aside from Katie Holmes, who looks way too young for her role (one is tempted to think that Gotham City recruits its assistant prosecutors from college sophomores, which certainly does something to explain the rampant crime) everybody seemed well-cast - but this comes largely from the writing, since the actors all have real characters to portray, especially Wayne/Batman (Wayne is an interesting enough character that it doesn't seem right just to call the role "Batman").

Thirdly, the film was very nice-looking - costumes, photography, all that stuff. And while a lot of movies nowadays are sort of pointlessly and extravagantly gorgeous, appearance is really rather important here, because the main character of the film dresses up as a bat to fight crime. That's par for the course in a comic book, but on the screen, it really takes some showmanship to pull that one off without looking really stupid.

But what caught my eye at the time was the moral depth of the film; in that respect it certainly clobbered, say, the Spiderman movies. There were several scenes that might have been subtitled "take THAT, consequentialists!" which certainly doesn't happen in most films.

And there's the interesting fact that Bruce Wayne is, unabashedly, an aristocrat; there's not a hint of just-plain-folksiness about him. This is not something native to the movie; the aristocratic character of Wayne/Batman is integral to his character (and completely absent in the previous awful movies, need I say).

Anyway, definitely a film worth watching. I think I'll even see it twice.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

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Yes, I've been absent lately. Work has had me rather occupied and with little sleep to boot. And I've also found something which has eaten up a significant chunk of my time: I have discovered the midi file.

I already had a program called "Anvil Studio", which can be had for free on the web; it's a music-writing thing that lets you create midi files - or listen to them, I suppose, though Media Player or something like that is much more convenient just to listen. But I hadn't known about all the classical music available in this format. A quick overview of upsides and downsides:

Downside: that "special human touch" is obviously not present, since a midi file simply tells you the notes, the "instrument" used, and various other stuff like tempo and volume, and allows your synthesizer to supply its own notion of this or that "instrument". A further downside is that Windows Media Player, Anvil's player, and presumably all the other free synthesizers have some profound deficiencies in their instrument samples. In particular, the solo string instruments sound like kazoos, or perhaps really cheap accordians; apparently this is because there are a great many ways to sound a violin-type instrument, and many important of these sounds are important to the playing of the instrument, and you can only sample one (unless you get a non-free synthesizer, with greater sophistication in sounds). The string ensemble samples are a bit better, but by far the best (I think) is what Anvil calls the "acoustic grand" sample (there are not so many ways to sound a piano as a violin - you push the key, either hard or not-so-hard), and in my opinion the best course with all of these classical midi files is to take the file, open it up with Anvil, and change all the instruments to "acoustic grand" (this is exceedingly easy to do) if that is not the original setting for all the instrument tracks. Think of it this way: it sounds pretty much like a piano, and just about any important (and non-vocal) classical work can be played on one or two pianos quite satisfactorily. Which is a bit suspicious in my opinion, seeing as most composers, at least post-1800, worked with a piano at hand....

Upside: for a great many pieces, that special human touch is shockingly irrelevant! Not only that, but those markings such as "f" and "p" and "mf" that you may have seen on music scores, and whose meaning has apparently been lost to human musicians, are taken quite seriously in many of these midi files. This means that the pianissimo passages, so often the helpless prey of strong-fingered young pianists, are often much more expressive than the human renditions of these things that I have heard.

More importantly, the harmonies can be heard with great clarity, far better than any recording provides. I've been to very few live performances, so I can't compare the quality to that, but for the most part these files are much, much better than cd's in my opinion. Music, unlike painting or poetry, is concerned with subtleties of technique only as a minor, secondary matter; the important things are chords and melodic lines, and if the fine points of timbre and fingering can be sacrificed for a much-improved clarity in the basic musical elements, it is well worth the exchange. This is why, whereas many a painting is rendered almost worthless by transfer to a large color print in a book, and many a poem by translation, a good piece of music can survive very violent acts of transcription. I seem to remember Bach was pretty cavalier about transcriptions, and many a composer has nonchalantly played his symphonies on a piano for the amusement of his friends - this, apparently, Beethoven did with the first movement of his (unwritten) Tenth Symphony. But then I've already mentioned that suspiciously-ever-present piano.

Further upside: because the midi file doesn't record actual sounds, but only directions for producing sounds, it is small and easy to download for non-high-speed-Internet folks such as myself.

Lastly: if you go and download Anvil at the link above, (or some other program if you can find or already have a better one), these midi's basically provide you with a score as well as something to listen to. Obviously not everyone would find that of interest.

Unfortunately, (I haven't done an exhaustive search, but I'm pretty convinced that this is far and away the best classical midi resource on the web) does, firstly, require a $25/year membership fee if you want access to the compacted zip files and practically-unlimited downloads (1000 files/month cap, but each zip file, which will contain several or even dozens of midi's, counts as just one file - so there's no conceivable reason to exceed that monthly limit); otherwise, their free membership allows you to download 5 files a day - and since most pieces are recorded in their individual movements, this means basically one large work per day. For my purposes, I found that a bit restrictive and shelled out the 25 bucks, but for others this may be more than enough.

Also their Dvorak section is not all that it might be. This site at least provides us with the full Piano Quintet; for the full Cello Concerto I can only pine.... Other composers are also missing important works - however, every Beethoven Symphony, Piano Sonata and String Quartet has made its way in there, I notice. Some passages in the late quartets are much illuminated here; the weird, confusing allegro part at the beginning of the Great Fugue, the first and last movements to op. 132 - and the op.131 presto (movement 5) is simply transformed (op. 131 andante is still 15 minutes of deathly boredom - yes, that's horrible of me, I have no taste). Op. 135 benefits the most overall - though that ridiculous repetitive passage in the vivace is still just as ridiculous. On the piano, Hammerklavier sonata is vastly improved over recordings, Diabelli variations not so much.

But the Dvorak that they do have is just wonderful stuff. I never realized just how good that fellow was. And how very, very strange.

Post-Dvorak composers are mostly absent from due to copyrights on the scores, but why one would wish to listen to a post-Dvorak composer is something I can scarcely fathom.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

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The Boldness of the Saints

It is a commonplace that the saints are known to make remarks that a pious but less-holy Catholic would shrink from uttering. I think St. John Vianney, when asked with incredulity whether he meant to say that his favorite patroness saint actually obeyed him, said more or less "why not? God Himself obeys me every time I say Mass." Possibly there are translation issues, but in any case this is a perfect example of the sort of thing that I'm talking about, in case you (as constantly happens to me) were suffering from a temporary shortage of particular instances, or did not see exactly what sort of remark I was referring to.

This, of course, is no mere matter of rhetorical eccentricity, but shows forth the difference in simplicity, trust, and understanding that separates ourselves from the saints.

Yet I wonder if some of the problems we have nowadays, result from a sort of infatuation with this boldness, and a desire to posess it for ourselves, without considering it but a minor fruit of a much more important effort - the journey to sanctity. Not so much a desire to make bold-sounding statements, though I wonder if this has motivated some of the odder, technically-orthodox-but-highly-discordant statements that emanate from theologians occasionally. Rather, a desire to live with the sort of open, innocent joy that characterizes the saints and prompts their more striking exuberances, without accepting the only path to this joy, which is the cross. In a happy metaphor, we might say that they want the fruit without the tree. But it is not, I think, simply a desire to have things without effort, but a confusion of cause and effect - as if, by singing happy songs and saying happy things, we will make ourselves happy.

And conversely, I wonder if many complaints about the "bad old days", are not a mistaking of consequence for origin. Thus the sneers about "rules-based" Catholicism, or excesses in piety, or whatever else you care to name - it is possible that these were very real problems, while the criticisms themselves are yet forceless. For a poor trust and understanding of God, will naturally make our religion more formalistic, for instance as we are more stiff and formal with a fellow mortal whom we do not well trust or understand. To attack the formalism as if it were the ill and not the symptom, is like trying to overcome a lack of acquaintance by an exaggerated informality, which is surely quite hideous. Thus, we can either live divorced from the realities of human nature, or say that the only way to eradicate the external flaws of the old days, is go so far as to eradicate sin entirely - which is not given us to do - or else to give ourselves up to something still worse than those earlier faults. But this is the merest speculation, since I am neither an historian nor a spiritual expert, and so doubly unqualified to judge such matters.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

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Lean Tuesday

Alas, the lean kine have devoured the fat here at Blogimus Maximus - but this is partly a temporary (I hope) problem arising from lack of sleep-adjustment; I'm now staggering into work about an hour before I was even awake last week. Tomorrow, I'll see if we don't have a bit of grain stored up after all....

Friday, June 03, 2005

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Alas, the frequent and rather-lengthy posts of this week are akin to the years of gathering to which the Egyptians so wisely applied themselves, to be followed by the corresponding years of leanness. I have a temporary job starting on Monday, lasting perhaps a month, and while this will scarcely prevent me from blogging, it will doubtless have a detrimental effect on my output.

Speaking of months, this is the exact remaining time prior to my twenty-first birthday, meaning that people will tell me, "hey, now you can get drunk!" and I will say, "hrm." Blogimus is probably eccentric enough while sober.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

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In the past few days I have spoken positively of the Ven. Newman's Idea of a University, but only in piecemeal, with reference to individual parts that attracted my notice. But for those who have not read the book, I must add that the breadth and depth of this work are truly astonishing. I had, all unknowing, passed this work over for the reason that its subject-matter was too narrow, judging from the title. No doubt Universities are all very well, but I could see little profit in reading a book about the idea of one, whatever it was. That I rejected this work for its presumed narrowness is quite comical, as I can see now. This is not simply a book about a university; it is a book about the human intellect, and a prediction of what lay in store for us, did we abandon the principles on which he bases education. We have, and all the things that he, not only warned against explicitly, but implied - in some cases, perhaps unintentionally - as the alternative to his ideal of education, have come to pass.

I consider it an especially useful tool in demonstrating the bankruptcy of our current educational system. For the problem with so many would-be reformers of this system, is that they see the wrongs but fail to see, as it were, the right. That is, they do not realize how wrong we have gone, because they do not know how to go right. In the most public, clamorous proposals for reform, this inadequacy is so crude that even those who have, themselves, a woeful notion of true education, can nonetheless see that the proposed reforms are utterly superficial and insubstantial - these witless reforms involving "improved test scores", for instance.

Most importantly, the impoverished educational ideals of any would-be reformers not only weaken their potential, but weaken their persuasiveness. For since their own ideal system, is but a meagre improvement over the current one, and since most people will have the wit to recognize or intuit this, they will not become particularly "worked up" over it. They may, perhaps, acknowledge that the reforms would improve the schools markedly, but this marked improvement will not seem to them worth the trouble - first, for the direct reason that the proposals are not so great, but also because the proposals, in their unimpressiveness, fail to put the current situation in perspective. That is, if people had in their minds a proper notion of what education should be, the current system would strike them as abhorrent and intolerable; having instead a corrupt ideal, the reality does not strike so horrid a discord.

Yet the greatest virtue in his work is not that it holds forth an ideal of liberal education, for many other authors have done the same; the great virtue of it is that he puts this idea in perspective, and shows its place in the human mind and in human society. If an author were merely to discourse upon the enlargement and refinement of the intellect, and how excellent these pursuits are, then he would leave you with little idea of the importance of these pursuits, but only the general idea that they were good. Yes, he would likely spend much time exhorting you as to the great importance of a liberal education, with many clever and sound arguments to back it, but in the face of such partisanship one would merely be reminded of the mathematician who thinks his subject wonderful, and the economist who (possibly) thinks his subject equally wonderful, et cetera. In discoursing on the refinement of the intellect as one thing among many, rather than as the only thing worth considering, he does not merely convince us by good arguments, but allows us to see for ourselves the importance of the thing. Obviously one could quarrel with the justice of the picture that he paints, but I do not, and in any case this is a different matter from quarrelling with some individual line of reasoning.

An excess of arguments will often produce mere confusion in the mind; the greatness of Cdl. Newman's work in general, and this work in particular, is that in giving his reader such a broad and just perspective, he brings us above the obscure maze of controversy, allowing us a clear vision.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

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Note from the Ombudsman

From the desk of the Ombudsman Maximus:

It has to be admitted that our principal writer Blogimus is quite careless with the facts - his, alas, is an imprecise and immature intellect. We would search for a replacement, but since he is willing to write all the posts and fiddle with the template for absolutely nothing, it is doubtful that this project would be profitable. So we just try to keep the fellow in line, and correct whatever errors are brought to our attention. As it happens, we must turn our editorial gaze upon this fellow:

This post brings to our notice that an earlier reference in this blog to the "godless Brahms" is open to criticism. No doubt our blogger's information was gleaned from some secularist biographer who, like so many of his type, was eager to make retroactive converts. Blogimus still trusts said biography to the extent that Brahms was an anti-clerical, but he will not wiggle away from our stern scourge of correction. If only it were possible to dock his pay - the perils of volunteer labor!

However our editorial opinion on his music (one of considerable approbation) remains adequately represented by the statements of Mr. Blogimus.

Thank you for your time,

The Ombudsman
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Blogimus at the Movies

Perhaps I should mention that I, too, have seen the new Star Wars movie. Eh. It was better than the previous two, but this is not a particularly high standard. There were still some howlers; the dialogue, the names ("General Grievous"? That's like a pro-wrestling name). And it was generally just kind

Then, of course, there's the "Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious [another great name]=Bush" interpretation, according to which "Revenge of the Sith" is really about Bush and the war on terror. There was certainly one thing that weighed pretty heavily in favor of that reading: Anakin/Darth Vader's line about "If you're not with me...then you're my enemy!" I'm not sure if the writer shied away from the obvious "then you're against me" to avoid such a close paraphrase of Bush, or to avoid putting such a close paraphrase of Our Lord into the mouth of a villian.

Anyway, if you do try to read the film as a political allegory, it comes out as a wacko tinfoil-hat leftist allegory, since Palpatine/Sidious (Bush) is the instigator of the very rebels (Al Qaeda) that he uses as an excuse for assuming emergency powers. Yet read as such an allegory, it works fairly well except for one thing - where's the oil? If it's really a leftist allegory, it's missing the incredibly-important "war for oil" trope. Allow me to unveil my own suggestion for retroactive improvement of "Revenge of the Sith":

They needed another Sith lord (the Sith lords are the bad guys, and they're all named Darth, at least when they get together at the Sith country club and hobnob). They needed "Darth Halib-Urton", the Sith lord obsessed with putting an oil pipeline through planet Husseinia (hard and crunchy on the outside, 100% dark, chewy petroleum on the inside). Not only would it have completed the allegory, but it would have allowed all sorts of spiffy new dialogue:

Yoda could counsel young Anakin: "Anger, fear, aggression, crude oil - the dark side are they!" Or when Yoda confronts Palpatine: "Too much faith in your young apprentice you have - and in your oil futures portfolio!"

Alas for the great film that could have been....
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A Form of Infidelity of the Day

Now here is a section of "Idea of a University" that every Catholic should read. The whole thing is engrossing, but in particular I urge you to click ctrl-f and type in "Camarina", and read on from the heading which begins shortly above that name. Knowing as little as I do about the time in which he wrote it, it is difficult for me to say, to what extent his foresight is remarkable. But it is definitely foresight.