Sunday, August 29, 2010

Marie's Funeral

Marie died suddenly Friday morning. Her funeral is tomorrow. I'm to be one of the pallbearers.

She'd been battling cancer, and took a sudden turn for the worse Thursday evening. Extreme shyness had kept her home and out of the public eye -- including away from Church -- for some time. In the hospital, when her husband asked her if she would like a priest, she replied, "I am a Catholic and I want to die as a Catholic." A priest was called to give her Extreme Unction.

None of us deserves a chance at Heaven, but God Who is good and kind gives us many opportunities anyway. Marie was lucid and had a few hours to prepare for her particular judgment, and she took the last chance when it was was offered to her. That one decision, like that of the penitent thief at Calvary, could make all the difference.

Next Saturday is a first Saturday, a day that is especially precious to the Blessed Virgin Mary; may she look favorably on the last act of the woman who bears her namesake and escort her to the realm of the Blessed.

Requiem æternam dona ei Domine; et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace. Amen.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Peace and Politics


“A society where faith is prevented from vigorous public expression is a society that has fashioned the state into an idol. And when the state becomes an idol, men and women become the sacrificial offering."
- Archbishop Charles Chaput, August 25, 2010

The degredation of religious freedom, the archbishop explained, is manifested as part of an “aggressively secular political vision and a consumerist economic model.” The objective is to replace religion and social and moral considerations with technological progress and social engineering. And with the government in charge, people need live only to gratify their appetites and desires. Which is why so many people these days are unhappy and miserable.

"Peace is a gift of God, not the work of politicians."
- Fr. Petrus Pavlicek, O.F.M. Cap

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Lorem Ipsum

Lorem Ipsum is placeholder text that has been used in the printing business since the 1500s.

I use it routinely in my web site design work. There are plenty of times when I need to show what a web page will look like with text in it -- it helps when I need to demonstrate a layout or collect feedback on a new design.

Experience has shown, however, that when I use real copy -- say, a composition of my own or something pulled from an existing publication -- my audience inevitably reads it and wants to comment on the style or modify the punctuation. It doesn't matter if I explain that it is just placeholder text, or if I write DRAFT in big letters across the page: real copy in a demo page is distracting.

Another unsuccessful tactic is to just fill the screen with xxxxoooxxxoooo etc. The chief drawback here is that such text doesn't adequately convey that the space will be filled with words -- it looks like a static shape that does not correspond to any known language outside of computer binary.

What to do?

Centuries ago, a typesetter adapted language from the De finibus bonorum et malorum (On the Ends of Goods and Evils) of Cicero (106 – 43 BC). A gifted orator and writer, Cicero's writings are regarded as a model of Latin prose. The old linguist's Latin was deemed adequate for the typesetter's task because the dead language roughly corresponds to word size and sentence length for modern western languages -- thus, a reader could get a rough but accurate sense of what a page would look like without being distracted by a chance typesetting error.

The typesetter's adaptation runs like this:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, leo cras vivamus, velit cras, tellus dolor urna nullam integer pharetra dolor, amet platea egestas nibh, urna id. Eget feugiat nibh dictum magna suspendisse est, penatibus tincidunt venenatis, vitae pharetra leo, porttitor hendrerit rutrum...

This is gibberish of course -- back when the passage was adapted, literate people still read Latin (and memorized large chunks of it to boot). No doubt a 16th century editor worth his salt would have scoffed at any mistake in a citation from the great Roman statesman. The unknown typesetter's solution, then, was to truncate terms and fold in a fair measure of constructions that were nonsense.

The Ciceronian original is here:

Sed ut perspiciatis, unde omnis iste natus error sit voluptatem accusantium doloremque laudantium, totam rem aperiam eaque ipsa, quae ab illo inventore veritatis et quasi architecto beatae vitae dicta sunt, explicabo. Nemo enim ipsam voluptatem, quia voluptas sit, aspernatur aut odit aut fugit, sed quia consequuntur magni dolores eos, qui ratione voluptatem sequi nesciunt, neque porro quisquam est, qui dolorem ipsum, quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipiscing velit, sed quia non numquam do eius modi tempora incididunt, ut labore et dolore magnam aliquam quaerat voluptatem. Ut enim ad minima veniam, quis nostrum exercitationem ullam corporis suscipit laboriosam, nisi ut aliquid ex ea commodi consequatur? Quis autem vel eum iure reprehenderit, qui in ea voluptate velit esse, quam nihil molestiae consequatur, vel illum, qui dolorem eum fugiat, quo voluptas nulla pariatur?

Rendered in the vulgar tongue, Cicero's sage advice is as follows:

But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system, and expound the actual teachings of the great explorer of the truth, the master-builder of human happiness. No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?

For reasons I've never heard explained, inserting a nonsensical version of Cicero's Latin into a page layout is known as "Greeking."

A little nonsense now and then
Is cherished by the wisest men.

- W. Wonka

Friday, August 20, 2010

Blow to the Head

So there I was: a pimply high school kid, sparring with my black-belt Tae-Kwon-Do instructor. He telegraphed a spinning side kick just to see how a rookie orange belt would react. I tried to dodge the assault, but I slipped in the perspiration on the sparring mat. To catch my balance I flung my arms out -- leaving me wide open precisely at the moment when my instructor's high-velocity heel made contact with my chin. My head snapped back, I collapsed to the floor, and I just laid there.

My instructor jumped to my side, anxious and nervous that he'd done serious harm, and said, "Sean, How many fingers am I holding up?"

I tried to focus my vision but couldn't, so I replied, "Why, don't you know?"

He just shook his head, announced I would be fine, and walked away.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

From St. John Eudes

"Our chief preoccupation must be to form Jesus in ourselves, to make His spirit, His devotion, His affections, His desires and His disposition live and reign there."
- St. John Eudes, The Life and Reign of Jesus in Christian Souls

It's no small matter to try to live after the example of a Divine King and Priest, but that's what we are obliged to do to win Heaven. On our own there's no hope, but with humility and obedience we open the door that leads to the treasury of God's good grace.

And then anything is possible.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Oompas Take on T.V.

Mike Teavee...
(from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)

The most important thing we've learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set–
Or better still, just don't install
The idiotic thing at all.
In almost every house we've been,
We've watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.
(Last week in someone's place we saw
A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they're hypnotised by it,
Until they're absolutely drunk
With all the shocking ghastly junk.
Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don't climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink–
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?
'All right!' you'll cry. 'All right!' you'll say,
'But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!'
We'll answer this by asking you,
'What used the darling ones to do?
'How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?'
Have you forgotten? Don't you know?
We'll say it very loud and slow:
THEY...USED...TO...READ! They'd READ and READ,
AND READ and READ, and then proceed
To READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!
One half their lives was reading books!
The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic takes
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
And treasure isles, and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants,
And cannibals crouching 'round the pot,
Stirring away at something hot.
(It smells so good, what can it be?
Good gracious, it's Penelope.)
The younger ones had Beatrix Potter
With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,
And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,
And Mrs. Tiggy–Winkle and–
Just How The Camel Got His Hump,
And How The Monkey Lost His Rump,
And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,
There's Mr. Rat and Mr. Mole–
Oh, books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago!
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks–
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They'll now begin to feel the need
Of having something good to read.
And once they start–oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hears. They'll grow so keen
They'll wonder what they'd ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did.
P.S. Regarding Mike Teavee,
We very much regret that we
Shall simply have to wait and see
If we can get him back his height.
But if we can't–it serves him right.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

I Am Not Bald

The coyotes in my part of town, I've been told, are here because fox hunters a few decades back transported the prairie wolves to central Georgia to inter-breed with their own hunting stock. Being highly adaptable animals, the creatures made themselves at home readily enough.

Next to my previous house was a county preserve, and I had grown accustomed to seeing little rabbits and squirrels darting about hither and yon. Then, it seemed like all my scurrying and burrowing neighbors moved out in short order. The truth is, however, that the little guys are standard fare on the coyote's menu.

I actually spotted a coyote in the area, though the sighting was a few miles from my house. They're cunning creatures, and normally they move only from cover to cover; that I saw one in mid-day among so much foliage was an uncommon piece of luck. They don't usually bother humans, though small animals and people's pets are fair game.

A while afterwards while perusing the city's web site I spotted a topic on the community forum about coyotes in the area. I added a few comments, one of which was the question, "I wonder if the city would ever do anything about the coyotes?" It was a long-shot, but I was curious if trapping and relocation was too much trouble.

The discussion didn't go anywhere, however, because one of my Gaia-gaga neighbors took exception to my use of the phrase "do something about" and derailed the conversation.

"Oh, you want the city to do something about the coyotes do you?" my pseudonymous critic began. "The coyotes are just doing what's natural for them, and here you are trying to drive them to extinction," the screed continued. "Just who do you think you are? I bet you're a bald middle aged fat guy who waters his lawn during illegal hours and whose wife drives a gas-guzzling SUV!" The diatribe included a few more sentiments of the sort before smoldering out.

Now, I could stand to shed a few pounds, but otherwise the accusations were nowhere close to accurate. I'm shy of middle age, I never watered my lawn, I've never owned an SUV, and I'm prematurely gray, not bald.

Beyond all that, coyotes are so good at surviving in any environment that if I had the know-how and talent to drive them to extinction, I'd be rich from having sold the secret to midwestern farmers and cattlemen, not poking around a community web site.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Five-Egg Breakfast

Breakfast this morning was five scrambled eggs, toast, and a cup of balmy yogurt. Yesterday, meanwhile, I polished off what remained of the warm milk.

The cause of this strange diet was a malfunctioning refrigerator: the cooling device in mine went out, and I was trying to see to it that none of the perishable items on hand went to waste.

In fact it is a sin to waste food, so I even asked a neighbor if she cared for any of my room-temperature cheese, eggs, or milk. I was informed that she and her family were good to go on 70 degree dairy.

At least I tried.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Giraffes and Unicorns

I suppose the rhinoceros was the seed that blossomed into the many unicorn rumors that turned out to be medieval urban myths.

One can hardly blame the folks of the time: a unicorn is a lot like a horse, only it has a single horn in its head. That isn't all that much unlike a cow or a deer or a gazelle, which have two horns. What's so odd about a single horn?

Now, a giraffe is truly odd. A horse-like creature covered in leopard's spots, thrice the height of a man, and whose neck is as long as its body? Really? Yet it turns out the unicorn was the tall tale and the giraffe was the true one.

Yet plenty of medieval folks knew that the unicorn and the basilisk and the siren and the lamia and the dragon were mythical and fabulous. To such poets and visionaries it was reasonable that as the unicorn was serviceable as a symbol. Thus, the legend came into being that because a unicorn permitted itself to be captured only in the lap of a pure virgin, it was a fit representation of the Incarnation.

These days the unicorn sees service in the handiwork of, among other things, new agers. In my view this is a sad turn of events for the noble creature. Unicorns are resilient creatures, however, so I'm sure it's just a matter of time before it leaps out of the odd constraints people fashion for it.