Sunday, August 31, 2008

Roman Obelisk

Sean in Rome - August, 2005

The obelisk in the background is in the middle of the plaza outside St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. It was an ancient Roman war monument, brought home among the spoils of war from Egypt. St. Peter was martyred in the gardens of the Emperor Nero at the base of the Vatican Hill, crucified upside down not far from the spot of this obelisk.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Little Gray

The shirt I'm wearing in this photo is a personal favorite. A friend once even complimented me on it.

"I like your shirt, Sean," she said. "It matches you eyes and your hair."

Puzzled, I replied, "But I don't have blue hair."

"No, but blue and gray go well together."


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

IA Ammo

IA Ammo*

Here we have further evidence of the Information Architect (IA) penchant for labeling and organizing the world.

* These are unlicensed Nerf darts from a Nerf dart gun that unexpectedly showed up at the office.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

New Mascot for the Alma Mater

UGA VII -- the successor mascot for my undergraduate alma mater -- has been crowned.

Let the Big Dawg Eat

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Turn to Stone

The ancient Greeks told a myth about Medusa. She was a stunningly beautiful sea nymph who desecrated the temple of Athena with the sea god Poseidon. In punishment Athena cursed Medusa with snakes for hair and a visage so horrible that anyone who met her gaze was turned to stone.

Rondanini Medusa
Roman copy of a 5th-century B.C. Greek original by Phidias

The Medusa story is a gripping tale on its own, an account of sacrilege punished by divine retribution. One point that can be derived from the myth, however, is that when you look evil square in the face, it will kill you.

We're meant for contemplating goodness and beauty, but in our disordered state resulting from
Original Sin we have a morbid fascination for evil.

Not that we can really stand to look at evil head-on, of course: the Greeks with mere human wisdom recognized the folly of that.* That's why when our novels and films portray evil, they are obliged to mix in something to sweeten the eye of newt and toe of frog hell-broth. Yes, this character abuses his power -- but isn't power better than impotence? Certainly he misuses his mental gifts to commit unmentionable crimes -- but can't we admire the brilliance of his intellect? In such a fashion we can come to find the false less alarming, the depraved less repugnant, the ugly less offensive.

Given our fallen nature, it is easier to be dragged down by proximity to malevolent things than to be elevated by attending to edifying ones. Too much of the former -- and too little of the latter -- turns us callous and makes us hard and unfeeling.

Dare I say it: it gives us hearts of stone.

* The old Celts in their turn had a myth about Balor of the Baleful Eye: he was king of the giant Fomorians with a single eye that would kill anyone it looked upon.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Aachen, Germany

June 2007 saw me jaunting about Germany. One of the ports of call was the town of Aachen, where the Emperor Charlemagne had built an imperial chapel in which numerous relics of saints were stored. Here are a few photos snapped from the trip.

The ceiling above the sanctuary

The sanctuary


Himself in front of the door of the church

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Soup Man

A few years back I was in England riding the Tube about London. Upon hearing my American twang, an affable inebriated college chap struck up a conversation with me.

“Have you seen Soup Man?” he asked.

“Soup Man?” I asked, puzzled.

“Yeah, Soup Man.”

“I’ve never heard of Soup Man.”

“What,” the bleary-eyed fellow stammered, “you’ve never heard of Soup Man? Have you been living in a cave?”

Attempting to be helpful, I reached for some memory of British film or television or even stage that might provide a clue.

“Is that like
Banana Man?” I offered

He just stared at me incredulously.

Though the television reference didn’t do the trick, it started up a train of thought in the dark caverns of my mind that turned up a golden nugget.

“Do you mean Superman?” I asked.

“That’s what I said!” he exclaimed.

Riddle solved: he’d been asking me if I’d seen the recently released
Superman Returns movie.

Before I could follow up, the fellow shook his head and staggered off. Which was just as well: he probably wouldn’t have appreciated a sober American who hadn’t even heard of "Soup Man" telling him that he needed to brush up on his English.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bugatti Veyron

Bugatti Veyron

The Bugatti Veyron is the fastest, most powerful, most expensive street-legal production car in the world.
* Top speed is 253 MPH
* 0 to 60 MPH in 2.46 seconds (and 100 MPH in 5.4 seconds, 200 MPH in 20.2 seconds)
* 4 turbochargers
* 4 banks of 4 cylinders, each with 4 valves
* 10 radiators
* 1,001 HP

If the McLaren F1 were allowed to reach 120 mph before the Bugatti started, the Bugatti would still be the first to reach 200 mph.

At 230 MPH the Veyron consumes 10,000 gallons of air per minute -- as much as the average person inhales in 4 days.

When getting close to the top speed the tires will only last for about 15 minutes -- but that’s OK, because the fuel will run out in 12.

And it can be all yours for just $1,440,800.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Olympic Spirit

A few years back I was having a discussion with a lapsed-Catholic-turned-Buddhist.

"Catholicism has always opposed itself to scientific progress," the fellow told me with supreme and aloof confidence. "Just look at how badly the Galileo situation was handled. It was a clear case of robed men once again suppressing progress under color of authority."

"You sure are credulous," I observed.

"Hardly," he replied insouciantly.

"Then why can't you come up with another example?" I asked. "If the Catholic Church is and always has been fundamentally opposed to scientific progress, then you should be able to come up with twenty centuries worth of examples. Yet somehow, you keep coming back to just one, and that one is five centuries old to boot."

"You can hardly expect me to offer a proof of a negative," the chap serenely whined. "How can I come up with examples of what has been permanently buried and done away with?"

"Well that's sure convenient for your case," I said. "You've made a sweeping generalization, and then you've offered no proof or evidence to back it up. How scientific is that? In my experience, an unsupported generalization is best met by a categorical denial."

"Of course you would say that," he smirked, "you're just sticking to the party line."

Of course.

For reference, here's a list I gave the fellow of some of the thousands of churchmen who through the ages have been practicing members of the Catholic Church and at the same time outstanding in the sciences (source: My Catholic Faith, 1954; pp. 28-9; 130).

My critic commented on my superb copy and paste job, but for the record I typed all of these myself.

With the Beijing Olympics so much in the news, it occurred to me that if we were keeping score, the two columns would read:
* Examples of the Suppression of Science Besides Galileo: 0
* The Catholic Party Line: 90

Talk about your mission impossible: I don't think even the redoubtable Mr. Phelps would want a piece of that action.


George Agricola, the Father of Mineralogy.

Albertus Magnus laid the foundation for experimental investigations into the natural world; a priest.

Jose Algue, a priest, invented the barocyclonometer to detect approach of cyclones.

Andre-Marie Ampere was founder of the science of electrodynamics and first documented the laws of magnetism.

Leopold Avenbrugger, whose methods in internal pathology paved the way for diagnosing ailments of the lungs.

Jacques Babinet, famed for his work in optics; "Babinet's Theorem" deals with the diffraction of light.

Antoine Cesar Becquerel was the founder of electro-chemistry.

Antoine Henri Becquerel was the discoverer of radioactivity.

Claude Bernard discovered the glycogenic function of the liver.

Jacques-Philippe-Marie Binet, mathematician and astronomer, set forth the principle, “Binet’s Theorem.”

Jean-Baptiste Biot, physicist renowned for his work in polarization and double refraction of light; his work helped standardize the length of the meter.

Theodoric Borgognoni, a Bishop, discovered anesthesia in the 13th century.

Louis Braille invented the Braille system for the blind.

Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon wrote the first work on natural history.

Andrea Cesalpino, a Papal physician, was the first to construct a system of botany.

Jean-Baptiste Carnoy, a priest who founded the first school of cellular biology.

Alexis Carrell, Nobel prize winner in medicine and physiology, is renowned for his work in surgical technique.

Giovanni Caselli, invented the pantelegraph for sending and receiving images over long distances by means of telegraph.

Giovanni Domenico Cassini, an astronomer who calculated the rotation periods of the planets Jupiter, Venus, and partly of Mars.

Cassiodorus, a priest and monk, invented the watch.

Benedetto Castelli, an abbot with expertise in hydraulics.

Augustin-Louis Cauchy placed differential calculus on a logical basis and was the first to give a rigid proof of Taylor's theorem.

Francois-Philippe Charpentier, the Royal Mechanician of King Louis XVI of France.

Michel-Eugene Chevreul, his work broadened the study of the theory of the constitution of organic bodies.

Christopher Clavius, a priest whose work was used in the reformation of the Gregorian calendar.

Realdo Columbo was the surgeon of Pope Julius III who discovered the pulmonary circulation of blood.

Nicolaus Copernicus, a priest who expounded the Copernican system.

Charles-Augustin de Coulomb established the fundamental laws of static electricity.

Guy de Chauliac, a Papal physician, was the father of modern surgery and hospitals.

Francesco de Vico, a priest, discovered six comets.

Rene Descartes founded analytical geometry.

Cesar-Mansuete Despretz, established the foundation of modern physics, notably in the domain of heat.

Pierre Louis Dulong, physicist who co-authored the “Dulong-Petit Law” for crystals.

Jean-Baptiste Dumas invented a method for ascertaining vapor densities.

Stephan Ladislaus Endlicher, botanist and historian, established a new system of classifying plants.

Bartolomeo Eustachius, anatomist for whom the Eustachian tube was named; one of the founders of modern anatomy.

Hieronymus Fabricius discovered the valvular system of the veins.

Gabriele Falloppio, for whom the Fallopian tube was named, was an eminent physiologist.

Armand-Hippolyte-Louis Fizeau, physicist who was the first to determine experimentally the velocity of light.

Jean-Bertrand-Léon Foucault invented the first practical electric arc lamp; he refuted the corpuscular theory of light and invented the gyroscope.

Joseph von Fraunhofer, optician who was initiator of spectrum analysis; he identified the laws of diffraction.

Augustin-Jean Fresnel, physicist who contributed more to the science of optics than any other man.

Luigi Galvani, one of the pioneers of electricity, was also an anatomist and physiologist.

Flavio Giojas, father of scientific navigation, invented the mariner’s compass.

Andrew Gordon, monk and physicist, invented the first electrostatic reaction motor.

Zenobe Gramme invented the Gramme dynamo.

Francesco Maria Grimaldi, priest who identified the phenomenon of diffraction, and was the first to observe the dispersion of the sun's rays in passing through a prism.

Johann Gutenberg was the inventor of the mechanical printing press.

Alfred Waldemar Herzog discovered a cure for infantile paralysis.

John Philip Holland invented the first practical submarine.

Athanasius Kircher, a priest, made the first definite statement of the germ theory of disease.

Pierre-Simon Laplace, whose work was foundational for the development of mathematical astronomy.

Rene-Theophile-Hyacinthe Laennec invented the stethoscope.

Giamaria Lancist, a Papal physician, was the father of clinical medicine.

Pierre-Andre Latreille was a pioneer in entomology.

Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier is the Father of Modern Chemistry.

Urbain Le Verrier discovered the planet Neptune.

Raymond Lully, the “Doctor Illuminatus,” a theologian who is said to have been the first to employ chemical symbols.

Marcello Malpighi, a Papal physician, was a botanist and the father of comparative physiology.

Guglielmo Marconi’s place in radio is unsurpassed.

Edme Mariotte, physicist who discovered Mariotte’s law of gases.

Gregor Johann Mendel, a monk, first established the laws of heredity, which gave a fatal blow to the theory of natural selection (Darwin, curiously, seems to have never read Mendel).

Ottmar Mergenthaler, the second Gutenberg whose machine revolutionized the art of printing.

Gaspard Monge, mathematician who invented descriptive geometry.

Giovanni Battista Morgagni, founder of modern pathology, made important studies in aneurisms.

Johannes Peter Muller was the greatest biologist of the 19th century, founder of modern physiology.

John Benjamin Murphy, surgical genius who advocated early surgical intervention in cases of appendicitis.

Jean-Antoine Nollet, a deacon whose research led to the invention of the lightning rod.

Louis Pasteur, called the Father of Bacteriology, and inventor of bio-therapeutics, was the leading scientist of the 19th century.

Giuseppe Piazzi, a religious brother who cataloged several thousand stars.

Jean Picard, a priest, was the first to measure accurately a degree of the meridian.

Gaston Plante, invented the lead battery.

Joseph-Antoine Plateau, physicist whose work on visual phenomena are still considered classics.

Henri Victor Regnault, a physical chemist whose work with gas and heat were invaluable.

Santorio Santorio, inventor of the a wind gauge, water current meter, "pulsilogium," and thermoscope.

Christopher Scheiner, a priest, invented the pantograph, and made a telescope that permitted the first systematic investigation of sun spots.

Theodor Schwann, founder of the theory of the cellular structure of animal organisms.

Berthold Schwarz, friar, discovered the explosive properties of gunpowder which he applied to firearms; reputed the inventor of gunpowder and firearms.

Angelo Secchi, priest, invented the meteorograph for measuring atmospheric phenomena.

Benedict Sestini, priest, astronomer in the Roman Observatory who cataloged the colors of stars.

Bernardino Spada, cardinal, organized the health care system of Bologna to combat the plague.

Niels Steensen, a Bishop, the father of geology.

Theodoric of Freiberg, priest, the first to give a correct explanation of the rainbow.

Evangelista Torricelli, invented the barometer.

Louis-Rene Tulasne, renowned for his expertise in mycology.

Jan Baptist van Helmont, the founder of pneumatic chemistry who introduced the word “gas” into the vocabulary of scientists.

Andreas Vesalius was the founder of modern anatomical science, the reorganizer of the study of anatomy.

Francois Vieta, the father of modern algebra.

Alessandro Volta, physicist, invented the first complete galvanic battery; the “volt” is named after him.

Giuseppe Zamboni, priest and physicist, devised an electric clock.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Why Blog?

Feast of the Assumption

I blog primarily as recreation. My audience is family members and friends. Topics are limited to anything and everything that strikes my fancy or catches my interest.

There is a danger to this approach that can be summed as, "I might not be much, but I'm all I think about."

How, then, does a recreational blogger navigate his way between the Scylla of egotism and the Charybdis of irrelevant obscurity? My strategy has been to attempt to keep to a theme for the blog and try to (at least occassionally) refer to it.

What is that theme? Not that every entry touches directly on the meaning of life, but what I tried to establish in my first blog entry was that the final end of one’s being is the attainment of truth, beauty, and goodness by way of the intellect and reason.

To keep myself honest and grounded in objective reality, I draw on material from my life that includes significant places I've visited, flesh-and-blood people I've met, intriguing books I've read, and genuine experiences I've known.

We'll see how it goes.

Ad honorem.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


I had lunch today with my friend Jeff. Jeff told me about the day his nine-year old son Daniel was explaining street signs as they drove about.

"Dad," Daniel said, "that says that you can't litter, but if you pay $1,000 it's fine."

Which, if you think about it, is kind of correct.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Jerusalem Walls

Sean in Jerusalem - February, 2008

I was in Jerusalem earlier this year. We tried to get this photo a couple of times; by the time this one took -- it turned out the best -- the humorous look on my face was one of, "Have you figured out the camera yet?"

In the background over my right shoulder is the Dome of the Rock, which is a mosque built on one corner of the old Jewish Temple. Over my left shoulder is the closed front gate of the city, called the Golden Gate or the Beautiful Gate in the time of Christ. The near side of the city wall is an ancient graveyard, which slopes down to the Kidron Valley.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Rubik's Cubicles

Most corporate desks are built to be sized for a single occupant.

Typical Corporate Workspace:
One Employee to a Cube

It is not uncommon, however, to "save" space by doubling up occupants in a cube. Clearly life can get a bit crowded, but the situation is not unmanageable provided everyone is a daily bather.
A Cube Squared

All of that changes drastically when you're a third-party consultant (e.g. yours truly). In that case, the same cube designed for one person and ambitiously adapted to the needs of two is amazingly able to accommodate up to six people at once (yes, I speak from experience). Extricating one's self from that tangle of humanity without injuring a colleague requires, at the very least, a working knowledge of geometry; trig or even calculus are even better.

Anyway, one day it struck me that this shifting and rearranging of seats in a specific order hearkened back to the old Rubik's Cube puzzle, whose name I adapted to create a title for the setup.

A Rubik's Cubicle

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Three in One

Luca Rossetti da Orta, The Holy Trinity
St. Gaudenzio Church (Torino)

It's not uncommon to come across explanations of the Trinity of the Godhead. It is -- in my experience at least -- less common to see a practical implication articulated for it.

God is uncreated spirit, without gender, without beginning or end. We use the pronoun "He" to describe Him because that's the closest we can get to describing what God is like after our own fashion using human language.

We say that God is the Father because He is the ultimate seminal cause, the supreme source. Everything else proceeds from Him; He holds all authority; like good children, we are to return to Him love and honor.

We say that God is the Son because He is the consummate manifestation of the mind of the Father. Imagine a thought so perfect that it truly and literally exists in its own right, outside the mind of the individual who thought it. That is what the Son is to the Father, and it is why in his Gospel St. John the Evangelist called Him the Word. Being of the same substance of the Father, the Son is begotten.

We say that God is the Holy Ghost because when the Father and Son behold one another, they see the infinite truth, beauty, and goodness that the Other possesses and respond with an infinite Love. This Love is so profound and perfect that it is manifested as yet another Individual: the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. That is why the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son.

(Though I speak of each person of the Trinity in turn, there is no sequence to Them -- i.e. there was never a moment when there was no Son or Holy Ghost: all Three have existed forever and will continue to exist for eternity. And though there are three distinct Persons in the Godhead, there is only one God -- a God who cannot be divided, and three Persons who must not be confounded. But all that is material for a future blog entry.)

So what does that mean for us here below?

One crucial point is that it concretely demonstrates what it means to love. This is not love in the sentimental sense -- as C.S. Lewis put it:

"Not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire that made the worlds, persistent as the artist's love for his work and despotic as a man's love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father's love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes..."

Love responds to love with acts of love. For example, the fellow in love will bind himself to his beloved by promising to love no one else forever (it is the nature of love to inspire this sort of conduct), and his beloved will respond in kind. So toss out the window pre-nups, temporary marriages of convenience, and multiple marriages punctuated by divorces: they're all invalidating exercises, shabby imitations, tired and sterile expedients that make for a damnable waste of time.

Love creates, for another. The love of the Father and the Son is a spirit so real that is actually another Person. Likewise, when a man and woman are in love, there is no better manifestation of that love than for the couple to give birth to another person. That is why birth control is intrinsically perverse, why same-sex marriages aren't marriages, and why couples who marry with the intention to never have children are committing fraud.

Laudamus Te. Benedicimus Te. Adoramus Te. Glorificamus Te.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Adventures in Garlic

In early 2002 I was working up to one of my annual sinus infections. I mentioned this sad fact to a friend in California.

"What you need is garlic," Mary said over the phone.

"Garlic?" I asked.

"That's right. Just drink a few chopped-up cloves in a glass of orange juice every few hours and it will knock that cold right out."


"I do it all the time," Mary said. "All my friends use this remedy too. It really works."

So assured, I made my way to the local Farmer's Market, acquired the necessary ingredients, and carried them home.

I'd never cooked with garlic before, but this seemed like a pretty simple task. I dropped some garlic into the Cuisinart, let it run, and then dumped the pulverized contents into a huge glass of orange juice.

The concoction stank to high heaven. I tried to take a sip, but recoiled.

I called Mary.

"I can't drink this."

"Shut up you crybaby, just drink it." She hung up.

I held my nose and downed the brew.

There is no happy way to describe what happened next. It is inadequate to simply say that I got sick. I wretched, I vomited, I up-chucked. When I was a kid I'd watched Linda Blair's regurgitative performance in
The Exorcist. What I did made Linda Blair look polite.

I called Mary back.

"Wow, you must really have a weak stomach," she offered.

That didn't help. "Did I do something wrong?"

"How much garlic did you use?"

"Just the seven cloves you mentioned."

"You did use just the cloves and not the whole buds?"

"What's the difference?"

She began to laugh uncontrollably."You idiot, I said 'cloves,' not 'buds'!"

That didn't help either. But she was right: I'd chopped up seven buds and tried to drink them.

I could have died. As it was, I just reeked of garlic for the next few days: the stuff came through my pores all over my body. My clothes stank. My co-workers suffered. It just wasn't pretty.

I still like garlic, but any more, when I eat it, it's in very small doses.

A Garlic Seller

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


"When we adore," says the pagan Roman historian Pliny, "we bring our right hand to our mouth and kiss it; then we describe a circle with our body, we turn ourselves around."

By carrying the hand to the mouth, man pays homage of his person to the Divinity; by turning around, he imitates the motion of the planets, and offers the Divinity the homage of the whole world, of which the celestial bodies are the most noble portion. This manner of adoring was a part of Sabianism, or the worship of the stars, which dates back to the farthest antiquity. According to the Pythagoreans, this form had come from Numa, who prescribed the turning around; Circumage te cum deos adoras (turn yourself when you adore the gods).

"It is said," adds Plutarch, "that it is a representation of the revolution which the heavens make in their motion" (Vie de Numa, ch. xxii). This profoundly mysterious practice was widespread in the Americas; it was the practice among the whirling dervishes of the East.

Excerpted from The Sign of the Cross, p. 60, Monsignoi Jean-Joseph Gaume

Monday, August 4, 2008

Collective Nouns in Space

The traditional collective nouns can be interesting enough. Consider:
* a sloth of bears,
* a murder of crows,
* a mob of kangaroos,
* a parliament of owls, etc.

But what about the
collective nouns for space critters?

Here's something to get the warp coils revved:

* a pinch of Vulcans,
* a force of Jedi,
* a toast of Cylons,
* a scarf of Whos, etc.

Feel free to add your own.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Men of Principle

Years ago I met a retired judge who was a recovering alcoholic. The fellow talked about how, after he sobered up in A.A., he made amends to the clients he'd defrauded over the years as a practicing lawyer by returning any illicitly-acquired money.

Ray was his name. He said that when he was still drinking and living the criminal-lawyer life he loved dealing with "men of principle."

"The thing about men of principle," Ray explained, "is that they assume you are too."

It turns out that men of principle are good for business: a lawyer who knows his stuff can bring in a lot of cash working with them.

Ever come across someone who believes that for the truth to prevail it is sufficient merely to introduce it into the field of play amidst all the competing ideas, good or bad, true or false, plausible or incredible? If the creed is "expect the truth to prevail because it is the truth," then the doctrine is it that, given sufficient time, not only will the correct answer percolate to the top, but interested parties will be able to recognize both the veracity of the correct proposition and the erroneousness of the false one.

In a religious context, this kind of naive blind faith would make a zealot blush.

Of course, folks like the still-drinking Ray love the idea that the truth should be promiscuously mixed in with the false: they know how to use that sort of thing to advantage.

"Man's mind is not the supreme good that does not vary" (St. Augustine). Because we are frequently ruled by our passions, are insufficiently illuminated in our thinking, are readily inclined to do what indulges our tastes and even flatters ourselves, on our own and without aid we
are seldom competent judges or reliable guardians of truth. As a rule, we need outside help -- we require the authority of the author of Truth.

"There are two things you need to know about God," Ray's friends in A.A. like to say. "There is one, and you're not it."

And, as I suspect Ray might add, there are times when the judge's best friend in the court room is the bailiff.