Friday, October 31, 2008

Shades of Tolkien

Setting the Stage
One might recall that in the Lord of the Rings tale, undead creatures stalked the lands of Middle Earth with some regularity.
* The nine Ringwraiths were kings from ages past ensnared and turned to shadow by the power of the One Ring.
* Barrow wights chanted pagan songs of despair in their ancient burial mounds.
* The Dead Marshes housed the restless spirits of mighty warriors slain long ago.
* The Paths of the Dead beyond the Dark Door led to the realm of the dread men of Dunharrow.

It does not seem unreasonable to presume that not all the sleepless spirits were laid to rest at the close of the Third Age. That being the case, the newly returned king would have had to deal with whatever remnant of undead remained. And if any of those undead had ever organized and begun to lobby for democratic reform...


Full Moon Rising: UDLU Haunts Crown for Favor
Eve of the Holy Ones

The specter Fingal Gray is on the prowl. “We seek equal rights for all the kingdom’s citizens, living and undead.”

The revivified former clerk of courts is not alone in his quest. He represents legions of like-minded visitants of the UnDead Litigant's Union (UDLU) who have converged on the tombs, ruins, and outskirts of the kingdom’s capital to petition the crown for equal consideration in the realm’s decrees and in its courts.

“A monarch’s chief duty is to wisely govern all his subjects,” the UDLU spokesman says. “Why should those vassals who were loyal to the crown in life be arbitrarily excluded from their sovereign’s attentions merely because they have passed to an alternate form of consciousness? We ask not for privilege, but simply to be recognized as we are.”

To the neophyte this might seem like just a bit of legal wrangling – an antagonistic assumpsit that carries with it shades of sinister things to come.

“This is no ignis fatuus,” insists Gray. “We are in earnest. The law of the land applies to persons born or naturalized. It says nothing about such persons losing their right to the king’s ministrations simply because they've given up the ghost.”

The Union’s pleader might have a case, if not a precedent. According to Sir Neville Hoddypeake, the crown’s ombudsman, “His Majesty is sagely considering the best manner in which to respond to the pleas of Master Fingal. Certainly our wise and generous king will take the past service of the petitioners into account, and render a prudent and providential ruling. Until then, everyone is reminded to lock their doors at night and remain calm.”

Officially recognizing the legal status of the once-living would take some getting used to, however. Will Hayseed of Galloping Green remembers having to bury his grandfather twice after an itinerant necromancer exhumed and animated his forebear. “It took all the Autumn surplus to hire enough help to track the gaffer down and get him back in the grave. Iffin’ it happened again, why, I rekkin we’d have to sell off one of my brothers as an indentured servant to pay the cost.”

Resistance is likely to be even more articulate from the capital’s Ordinary. No less a figure that Patriarch Tassit himself observed, “Evil has no rights, just as error has no rights. The Union’s claim proposes that incarnate evil is a viable entity, existing in its own right, whereas numerous Holy Docents have incontrovertibly demonstrated that evil is in truth a corruption of what is good. How can what is inferior be given the same regard as what is superior? We are confident that the courts will concede the necessity of this axiom for any law to exist, not just the one being discussed today. The implications of a reversal are too nightmarish to contemplate.”

Another stumbling block is that the walking dead themselves are shambling along more than marching in step. “The liches have not deigned to answer our summons,” Gray concedes. “And the vampires will sign on only if the contract is drawn up in blood. The shadows, poltergeists, and revenants do not entirely appreciate the implications of what we’re trying to do, but they’ve thrown their lot in with us on the understanding that their access to graveyards and nocturnal city streets will have fewer restrictions.”

Obstacles notwithstanding, the UDLU is guardedly optimistic. “With time not working to our detriment, we can afford to wait quite a while before chanting our victory dirge,” says Gray. “And we’re mounting a multi-faceted campaign. For example, specters like myself, and the banshees, wights, and wraiths – a very powerful contingent – are entirely behind this offensive. Also, our numbers grow nightly, thanks to the sleepless conscription efforts of our ghouls and ghasts.

“We’ve also been busy in the academic realm,” continues the sepulchral spokesman. “A treatise scribed in human flesh and impaled on a local university’s front gate articulates how the term ‘monster’ to describe one’s ancestors and former friends is a pejorative term, one that contributes to the mindless destruction of our constituency in catacombs, cemeteries, and abandoned houses throughout the kingdom.

“Finally,” Gray concludes, “we are agitating for the formal acknowledgement of our non-sentient members, particularly zombies and animated skeletons. Though they do not think or speak, they still fulfill a crucial role in netherworld society. Citing the precedent of the recent Dead Scott case, it is our position not that they are capable of autonomous voting, but that their numbers should be tallied in the household of their animators.”

How this matter will turn out not even the Mystic’s Guild has attempted to augur.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Certainty and Wishful Thinking

Today’s zeitgeist holds that the human mind cannot come to any convincing conclusions about ethics, morality, or religion. The best we have is opinion, instinct, inclination.

This is wishful thinking.

Instincts and emotions are fine in their place, but people are not the same as animals who are limited to (and always comply with) their instincts -- i.e. humans are not to be ruled by instinct alone. Unlike animals, people have reason and intelligence as well as the power to anticipate and plan for their own future. These faculties allow people to determine when to follow or resist the instincts – and when to rise above them.

It’s a dangerous and unwise business to reduce people to merely animal status. Because not everything is relative, our minds are capable at arriving at clear and certain moral decisions.

Even more dangerous and unwise is adopting the spirit of the zeitgeist, whose chief principle is that not even God can tell us what to do.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Things Better Left Unsaid

Here's a sampling I've collected over the years of emails, memos, and letters that perhaps would have been best left unwritten. Names have been obscured to protect the unwitting.


From: Jay
Sent: Tuesday, April 10, 2001 3:57 PM
Subject: Thursday Night Network Outage 4/12

During the maintenance window this Thursday 4/12, J.S. and I will be moving a core circuit of the company network. I am coordinating a hot swap with Sprint of the Atlanta DS3 and the multiple PVC's that run to each office.

The outage will affect network connectivity from the different company offices to corporate applications in Atlanta. Network connectivity will be intermittent between Thursday 11pm and Friday 2am.

Maintenance window information and Network SLA's can be found at If you have any questions or concerns then please send me an email.


[SEAN COMMENT: The bottom line is, if you are working on an IDS at COB for a GPC on the ATL TLA, then your connection will be MIA.]


From the Earth Day web site a few years back:

April 22nd is Earth Day - each year marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970.

Welcome to Planet Earth, the third planet from a star named the Sun. The Earth is shaped like a sphere and composed mostly of rock. Over 70 percent of the Earth's surface is water. The planet has a relatively thin atmosphere composed mostly of nitrogen and oxygen. Earth has a single large Moon that is about 1/4 of its diameter and, from the planet's surface, is seen to have almost exactly the same angular size as the Sun. With its abundance of liquid water, Earth supports a large variety of life forms, including potentially intelligent species such as dolphins and humans. Please enjoy your stay on Planet Earth.

[SEAN COMMENT: So now humans are potentially intelligent? My, we really have evolved, haven't we?]


[SEAN COMMENT: This one is from my tech writer buddy Richard, who came across this when he was re-writing his company's online help system.]


Your password and employee number identify you as a valid ETSS user. Your password must be 5 to 8 characters.

When typing, your password displays as asterisks (*) so your backstabbing coworker can't read your password, log in as you, wreak havoc on the system and frame you for it.


[SEAN COMMENT: I was doing some admin-screen development on one of my projects when I received the helpful feedback message below acknowledging that one of my changes to the portal was correctly implemented.]

Sent: Tuesday, May 03, 2005 1:04 PM
To: Sean

The portlet named unknown has been added to page unknown in community unknown by unknown.


[SEAN COMMENT: A co-worker from my IBM days sent me this note from his wife, who worked as an editor in the environmental industry. I'm told the author was especially proud of this one.]

The critical key to a successful optimization project is the integration of all factors into a contemporaneous decision matrix. This integration allows the purpose of the optimization process to be achieved; namely, the application of a holistic, business-based decision process.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Too Good to be True

Many moons ago, on a weekend when I was home from college, my mother and I went out for lunch at a favorite local pizza parlor. When we exited the restaurant, we saw money blowing all over the parking lot.

"Surely not," we thought, and picked up a few of the migratory bills.

But our eyes had not deceived us: thousands of greenbacks in various denominations were whirling their way across the parking lot and into the surrounding neighborhood.

"How strange," we said as we set about collecting as many of the simoleons as we could catch up to.

Several minutes into our newly discovered hobby we were approached by a uniformed officer who smiled, held out his hand, and said "thank you."

It turned out that the bank next door had been robbed, and the yegg had dropped one of his plastic garbage bags during his escape; the police officer had been dispatched to claim the stray bills.

Mom and I just had a laugh: we'd known all along that we wouldn't have been able to keep the money, but the game was fun while it lasted.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Wise Investment

If you lend a fellow $20 and never see him again, it was a wise investment.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bound for France

As of this moment, my plane should be pushing back from the Atlanta terminal for a flight to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris; arrival time is scheduled to be 11:20 AM Saturday morning.

Here's the itinerary of the trip:

October 17: Atlanta to Paris
* Transatlantic flight

October 18 - 19: Paris
* Basilica of St. Denis, patron saint of France.
* Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Montmarte
* Shrine of the Miraculous Medal, with the incorrupt St. Catherine Labouré
* The incorrupt St. Vincent de Paul
* Notre Dame Cathedral
* The Sainte Chapelle built by King St. Louis IX
* St. Etienne-du-Mont burial church of St. Genevieve, patroness of Paris
* Eiffel Tower
* L'Arc de Triomphe
* Champs Elysees

October 20: Paris to Lisieux
* Lisieux, home to St. Therese of the Child Jesus, the Little Flower
* Basilica of St. Therese

October 21: Lisieux to Chartres to Nevers
* Majestic Chartres Cathedral
* To Nevers, with the incorrupt St. Bernadette Soubirous

October 22: Nevers to Paray-le-Monial to Ars
* To Paray-le-Monial, home of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque
* Basilica of the Sacred Heart
* Chapel of the Visitation
* Chapel of St. Colombiere
* Arrive in Ars

October 23: Ars to La Salette
* Basilica of Ars, with the incorrupt St. John Vianney, Curé of Ars
* To La Salette and its basilica in the French Alps

October 24: La Salette to Laus to Lourdes
* To Laus, an ancient pilgrimage spot, then to Lourdes

October 25: Lourdes
* Basilica, built where St. Bernadette was visited by the Mother of God
* By the basilica is a miraculous spring and healing baths

October 26: Lourdes
* Sunday: Solemn High Mass with a few thousand traditional Catholics
* Procession, blessing of the sick

October 27: Lourdes to Toulouse
* Solemn Mass, then bus to Toulouse by way of Pibrac
* In Toulouse, visit relics of St. Thomas Aquinas

October 28: Toulouse to Atlanta (via Paris)
* Transatlantic flight

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Emperor For the Day

Today is payday. That means that somewhere out there many millions of electronic bits of data are zipping about, causing the "debits" and "credits" columns on my computer's screen to display different numbers.

This, I am told, is a better world than when we were on the gold standard.

Yet I can't help feeling that there is something more satisfying in holding a shiny gold coin in one's hand than seeing black and white characters dart about on a computer screen.

A return to the previous state, I suspect, would have to be preceded by something like the restoration of empowered monarchy. Naturally we'd have to take it slowly -- perhaps experiment with it in small doses. We could even have national elections for the role -- after all, crowns don't have to be hereditary.

If I were campaining to be elected Emperor for the Day, the theme would be:

"To Make the World Safe For Feudalism!"

If I were elected, my platform could be summed up in the motto:

"Taxation, Annexation, Conscription!"

Inconveniently, the last feudal spot on earth -- the British crown dependency of Sark (pop. 600) in the English channel -- became compliant with the international agreement on Human Rights earlier this year, effectively removing the island's lingering feudal aspects.

Ah well, I was never much good at riding a horse anyway.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Latin in English

A number of expressions and grammatical rules from Latin have made their way into common use among English speakers. As there are few Latin scholars among us, the rules for correct use are sometimes misunderstood -- which is not surprising, given that sometimes even the scholars have gotten it wrong.

Here's a stab at offering clarification to borrowed terms and making corrections to popular misconceptions.

i.e., e.g., via, etc., viz.* i.e. = id est in Latin; means that is or in other words (often confused with e.g.)
* e.g. = exempli gratia in Latin; means for example (often confused with i.e.)
* via = means by way of or by means of (old-fashioned)
* etc. = et cetera in Latin; means and the rest or and so forth
viz. = videlicet in Latin; means namely or to wit

Ending sentences with prepositions everywhereThis is a no-no in Latin; it's perfectly fine in English, however. So why did generations of English teachers tell us not to do this? Because they were all taught the wrong thing too. A few centuries back a group of literary Englishmen (I've seen Dryden's name included in that mix) attempted to ennoble the mundane English language; one standard they applied was make it resemble the noble Latin tongue of the Romans. And so these gents set about applying rules of Latin grammar to English. The application was foreign and arbitrary, but it has stayed with us to this day.

To boldly split infinitivesIn Latin, you can't split an infinitive with an ax; not so in English. Thus, Captain Kirk was perfectly within his rights in describing his ship's five-year mission "To boldly go where no man has gone before." It was another Latin norm arbitrarily applied to English.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

High Tory

The High Tory is a Brit (or sometimes a Canadian) who is pro-tradition, conservative, suspicious of novelty, and prone to sound like an aristocrat even when the family line is mongrel stock. In my experience he is given to magniloquent utterances. His natural sympathies are with gentry and landowners, whether patrician or plebian; his antithesis is the modern democratic mobile money-grubbing capitalist devoid of pedigree, heritage, or a sense of place.

Jolly Old England (rooted in an Englishman’s perception of an Englishman) gave way to the Englishman of The Stiff Upper Lip (rooted in an American’s perception of an Englishman), and (national perceptions aside) I’ve yet to read a satisfactory account of what precipitated the change. One possibility* is the influence of the pessimist Thomas Malthus, who married English economic notions with un-provable assertions about the probabilities of species survival. Malthusian economics produced new miseries for the poor with the approbation of men of means, who were excused from alleviating the sufferings of the lower class. Darwin, for the record, adored Malthus.

In my time I’ve come across pro-monarchy Americans who aspire to High Tory-dom (in sentiment if not in name). I don’t mind the phenomenon – it can be quaint in its own way, except for when the would-be monarchists are also sycophant Anglophiles. In that case you can forget the English charm.

During one online exchange I had with such a chap -- he was berating America and Americans not ashamed of their country** -- I declared that America is the best country in the history of the world, and if you don’t feel the same way about your country, why not? A string of sanctimonious salvos and smug barbs were promptly directed my way. I looked in vain for examples of British orthography in the assault, but the cavilling (sic) used only the uncivilized American spellings. Go figure.

For the record, as St. Thomas More is the patron of my confirmation, I hope to be excused at least of harboring anti-English sentiments as such.

Old Glory First Hoisted
Flying High Above the Union Jack

* This theory of causation is just speculative, no doubt idle, on my part.
** Patriotism in that particular venue was permitted only as a banal platitude, and then only if accompanied by numerous qualifiers and energetic hand-wringing to soften the effect. In my critic’s view, my unreserved love of country made me worse than a socialist. Bother.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Justice Rides a Slow Horse

"Justice rides a slow horse" is a saying I heard from Bud Scheiber years back. He didn't coin the phrase, but he's the fellow I learned it from. Bud had been around for a while -- he served in Italy with the American forces during WWII -- and would repeat the adage form of many of the truths he'd unearthed over the years. His "Slow Horse" apothegm was my favorite.

Revenge not yourselves, my dearly beloved; but give place unto wrath, for it is written: Revenge is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord (Romans XII:19).

The bottom line is that nobody ever gets away with anything: if the reckoning for misdeeds doesn't happen in this world, it will happen in the next. And we are warned against trying to precipitate the day of justice: that time is known only to the Almighty.

Perhaps if every single injustice was atoned for only in the world to come, people would despond or lose heart. So every once in a while God sees to it that justice makes an unexpected appearance. We sometimes call this advent
poetic justice: "justice," because it rights the score somewhat; "poetic," because it makes the heart sing or laugh or cry or otherwise seem bigger and larger than the pragmatists otherwise want to allow for.

By pragmatists I mean, among other things, individuals who lie, cheat, and steal so as to attain some coveted advantage, success, or recognition. As long as you can get away with it, the reasoning goes, you are a pragmatic, practical fellow: so long as no one is any the wiser, then no injury is perceived -- ergo no injury is inflicted.

Except that the truth is that not every injury is immediately perceived. The real pragmatist, it turns out, is the fellow who realizes that all deeds receive their just reward, whether immediately or eventually, and acts accordingly.

Quaerite primum regnum Dei.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Life via Leisure

Be at leisure and see that I am God. (Psalm 45:11).

Be still: it is the only way to encounter God.

It's also the only way to build a culture. And by culture I don't mean merely the zeitgeist, the "way of life" for a society that amounts to just the cataloging of its observable attributes.

No, by culture I mean that which enables us to recognize our sovereign position in the world. We're not animals, put on earth solely to engage in activity -- to be entertained, diverted, indulged -- and then die. We have a higher purpose: ultimately, to win Heaven.

Plato wrote that lesiure allows us to be refreshed by keeping company with the Gods: it enables us to return to an upright posture after being stooped over at our work.

Leisure is not idleness, with its mind-numbing boredom. Neither is it privilege, the domain of the elite. Rather, leisure makes it possible for work to be creative; the alternative is work as mere frenetic activity.

Real music, real art, real architecture, real literature: these are the aids, the tools, the signs that point the way.

Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord: and behold the Lord passeth, and a great and strong wind before the Lord, overthrowing the mountains, and breaking the rocks in pieces: but the Lord is not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake: but the Lord is not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake, a fire: but the Lord is not in the fire. And after the fire, a whistling of a gentle air. And when Elias heard it, he covered his face with his mantle, and coming forth, stood in the entering in of the cave, and behold a voice unto him, saying: What dost thou here... (I Kings 19:11-13, DRV).