Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Easy" Isomorphisms

So, if you read Hatcher (or anyone half-decent) on homotopy theory, you run into a long exact sequence of groups depending on an inclusion $j:U\rightarrow X$.

$\displaystyle{ \cdots \longrightarrow \pi_2(U)\longrightarrow \pi_2(X)\longrightarrow\pi_1(X|U) \longrightarrow \pi_1(U)\longrightarrow\pi_1(X)}$

where I'm indexing the relative homotopy functors $\pi_n(X|U)$ off by one from Hatcher's notation. This makes it easier to remember when they start being abelian, when they don't have a group structure anymore ... it's also handy to note that $\pi_n(X|U)$ actually is $pi_n$ of a functorial construct on the inclusion $j$.

Anyways, we have this long exact sequence, and it comes in handy whenever $U$ (or $X$) and $(X|U)$ --- whatever that means --- have easy homotopy groups. For instance, the 2-sphere and the 1-sphere both have easy homotopy groups; it just so happens that a long slog of an argument gives us that any Jordan Curve is a topological 1-sphere. Specializing the long exact sequence to a Jordan curve $J$ in a 2-sphere, we find

$\displaystyle{ \cdots 0 \longrightarrow \mathbb{Z} \longrightarrow \pi_1(S^2|J) \longrightarrow \mathbb{Z} \longrightarrow 0 }$

at the end of our sequence. Now, from algebra, there are only two possible groups that can sit in for $\pi_1(S^2|J)$; one of them is abelian, one has an abelian subgroup of index $2$; in any case, the long exact sequence says that $\pi_1(S^2|J)$ has an element $x$ represented by a disc whose boundary is mapped to the Jordan curve $J$ --- that's surjectivity of the last nonzero map --- and has another generator $y$ mapping the boundary of the disc to a single point --- that's by injectivity of the first nonzero map. We may just as well instead take as generators $x,xy$, so they both wrap the disk's edge around $J$ once.

Now, We're not quite at the Jordan curve theorem yet, but we're pretty-darn close!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fools seldom differ

Dear John Forbes Nash Junior,

I was thinking about isometric embedding, and on reading an interview of Mikhail Gromov decided to look up your papers on the subject.

"G-is-for-Genius Gnash", you stole my idea! and 28 years before I was born, too... "spiralling" perturbation indeed! (Goodness, this theorem is still more than twice as old as I am ...)

OK, you probably did it better than I would have. Whilst I go sulk and bask all at once, I shall also ponder Pontryagin classes, because I still don't quite get the point, exactly.

still looking for a supervisor

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Dear novelists,

Not this year, sorry. Maybe another time.

A PhD Student in need of a project

Friday, October 23, 2009


Dear Noah,

I suppose you're likely NOT a memephile, so I'll just have to point to that comment wherein I declare myself an authoritarian (if not an authority) when it comes to jargonisms. Perhaps you'll find it interesting.

We used to have such lovely words as "gentlewoman" and "trencherman"; and we've got plenty of adjectival constructions, such as "male student" (if you think of "student" as a noun) and "student teacher" (if you think of "student" as an adjective). So why, when speaking of clerical orders these days do we talk of (notional) "women clergy", "women priests", and so forth? Back "in the day", we might speak of "priestesses"; I suppose nowadays that would be considered viricentric/andronomial, or even chauvinist? Or is it perhaps considered paganizing? Do we not like the plain reminder that, for all the echoes of Christianity in paganisms so many modern folk read backwards, there's plenty of pagan custom that Christianity simply never blessed?

Incidentally, Watercloset breeders take note: your task has become so much simpler!

Yours truely,
An Oxford reader; if attrocious speller

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Letters to the Editor

Dear Editor,

Imagine, if you will, the following counterfactual: Nikita Kruschev secretly visits Hawaii to talk to a local hippy commune about modern farming techniques; President Johnson gets to hear about it, has an angry talk with Kruschev about it on the Red Phone, but news of the event leaks and then Johnson lets it be known around the world in no uncertain terms that Heads of State can't just waltz around doing whatever they want and saying whatever they want in any Country they please, but really ought to let the local officials know beforehand and get their permission, etc. And I'm sure that most of the free world would privately agree with LBJ while publically laughing about Niki's daring stunt; and thankfully the MAD policies would keep us all from burning up quickly or freezing and starving under a dusty-red sky and poison rain. Nonetheless, we understand and aprove the principle, in a sensible context.

So, nowadays Presidents of the United States like to pull their own stunt visits to places like Free Iraq and the Republic of Kabul; but many Catholic bishops, the Church's dukes and princes, take their duty and right to govern the Particular Churches rather more seriously. It's scandal sufficient when bishops fall into and preach heresy; but to then impose their unrepentant selves under a cloud of episcopal dignity on the flock of a brother bishop goes remarkably farther to both erode episcopal dignity in general and undermine any of that other bishop's efforts to correctly teach and govern those in his care.

It's the same principle, only the stakes are much more dire --- the immortal souls of all people, not just our comfort in this life.

a tired reader of Fr. Z

Monday, October 5, 2009


Dear Photons,

You may recall that Seraphic encouraged such young folks as hope to marry to blog Joyfully. That is, to blog with JOY

So, to balance the irk --- ahem ---


expressed some time ago, I would like to report to you Light Quanta that this latest pre-weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting one or two charming folks who are trying --- among other things --- to make representations of the visible spectrum, such as this:

stand for the beauty and goodness and dignity and ensouledness, etc. of such diverse people as these

I hope you'll agree, this effort is cause for great joy!

a rainbow amateur

Monday, September 28, 2009

More poetical pretensions

The first line sounds a limping gait, it drags and hops

The second seems swifter like dancing in Poland

But count the toes upon each foot to see just why

My mad hemiolae go walking together!

Saturday, September 19, 2009


My Dear internetians,

What marvels the day has held!

It started out as Talk Like a Pirate Day, which predictably led to Robert Newton, to Les Miserables (this film we collected from one of the PBS movie marathon weekends... ahhh...), and thence via Edmund Gwenn to this curiosity, starring Ann Blyth. I'm sorry to see how it's spelled wrong.

Now it's tomorrow; I hope you sleep well and wake up in order. I'm off to bed, myself!

God Bless

neither scurvy nor a curr

PS I forgot this old gem. Wait a bit, watch it!

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Dear Apollo,

A thematic analysis of

Choose Something Like a Star

by Robert Frost - 1947

O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud --
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.

Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says "I burn."
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.

It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats' Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.

I ran into this poem a few years ago, when singing bass in the Local Suburban Amateur Choir. One of my fellow bassi rather complained that it was "the most asinine" song he'd ever been asked to sing, this ode unto a creature so literally lofty asking only to become "staid" --- the idea that we'd not implore some emotive taste of its exalted state seemed to offend him.

When Meredith complained of what appears a most un-staid (and yet un-lofty) film interpretation of Keats' life borrowing its name from his poem alluded to in Frost's Choose Something Like a Star it reminded me of both this ode and my singing neighbor's complaint, and how silly I thought he was being.

The first thing that struck me in Frosts' poem is the up-to-date scientific knowledge behind his words --- poets should be scholars, and Frost does OK by me here, even if the specific science doesn't really drive this piece forward. Consider
  • `dark is what brings out your light'
  • ` ... it says "I burn."
    But say with what degree of heat.'
  • `Tell us what elements you blend.'
The first is known from antiquity, although Rayleigh scattering finally gave a solid understanding of why this is so: the stars themselves still add to the light in the sky and can be discerned with strong telescopes. The second notion is also very old, but remained quite metaphorical untill nuclear chemistry was first demonstrated as a phenomenon by Rutherford and colleagues (from the wrong end of the Periodic table), and the theory of nuclear fusion developed by Gamow, Weiszaecker, Bethe and others between 1928 and 1939, with later progress given by Fred Hoyle from 1946 to 1954 --- the upshot is that, as suggested in the third point, stars litterally blend old elements together and produce "new" ones. The question "what degree of heat", i.e. "how hot" was in a way behind Plank's development of the quantum theory, via a theoretical formula relating the spectral distribution of energy emited by an object in thermal equilibrium to its temperature. Other information we can deduce from the spectrum --- in the form of suspiciously dark narrow portions --- is in fact specifically which chemical elements are present and in what quantities. In short, the things Frost asks the star to tell are just the things that we'd recently got rather good at discerning by looking at stars.

The poem in its progression captures something also of the searching quality of scientific learning; we have discovered the most about the material universe we inhabit by constant imploring of it to tell its secrets: and there has not been a new discovery ever that completely satisfied us, but that revealed deeper mystery yet to unravel. (The romantics among us hope never to be finished.)

The second striking facet of this poem is its timing: very shortly after the formation of the Atomic Energy Commission, which also closed the activities of the Manhattan Engineer District, whose most notorious contribution to active warfare was, effectively, the means to the rapid destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"It asks of us a certain height,/So when at times the mob is swayed/To carry praise or blame too far,/We may choose something like a star/To stay our minds on and be staid." Frost addresses his words to a star, by whose hintings we have in part learned enough to be frightfully destructive --- I think hoping to inspire an inwardly-peaceful denouement from wartime folly, but he really is speaking to all of us, and particularly such people as have power by their blame and their praise to put the world in jeopardy. He asks, by imploring his star to ask, that we strive for something of our great human dignity, by becoming staid --- stayed or steadied, to stand firmly and sober. But it's no small thing to become so steady, whatever that bass buddy of mine may have thought. Personally, I've always felt rather dizzy when I tried any serious star-gazing; but it is always humbling.

And the best star, perhaps, we read of in Matthew
2:1 When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the days of king Herod, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. 2 Saying, Where is he that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to adore him.

a sometime physics student

Monday, September 14, 2009

Any excuse for a post

Dear Memephiles,

It has been anonymously suggested that I should honestly announce ten (novel?) facts concerning myself. Seems easy enough? Number 3 has already been announced at "For Keats' Sake!".

1) It seems I like sherry. Harvey's Bristol Cream is the only sort I'm actually familiar with, but I'm curious to try others. (For my latest birthday, some clever fellows presented me a bottle of amontillado for which I did not have to follow them through a cellar — it is still unopened)

2) I am very easily distracted: If anyone trys to tell me something VERY IMPORTANT and I hear any half-decent baroque counterpoint wafting from the room next-door it's quite likely I won't retain a single word of whatever it was he wanted to say.

3) When praying before meals "Benedic, Domine, ... " I habitually pronounce "larghitate" instead of "largitate" (italian phonetic spelling). Something about having that "r" there just throws off my diction, or something.

4) The credit card companies don't seem to like me. Maybe if I owed money to more people they'd approve a card for me?

5) I can't stand lines on the paper I write on. So I usually use printer paper. I suppose this means I don't use it efficiently, but then again, I mostly use it to play with math, which is an inherently inefficient activity anyway.

6) I seem to own a flower press.

7) Cats are delightful creatures (glory be to God for cats!) but most of them make me sneezy and otherwise ill.

8) I like to grind my coffee beans as I use them up. I really can't tell whether this tastes better than if I were to grind the beans in-store; but if it were too easy to *make* the coffee all at once, I'd probably drink far too much!

9) "You have only one choice" really should mean "here is an exhaustive list of pairwise exclusive options; choose one". People mostly use it to mean "you have only one option --- no choice". Perhaps we don't like to sound as though we're taking away choice; but sometimes, the options really are trivial, and the physics or morals of a situation constrain what we can or may do --- and then it's cowardly not to recognize it. The fact about me is that it REALLY BUGS ME that in Peter Jackson's "Fellowship of the Ring" Elrond says "You have only one choice: ..." and goes on to identify the only procedural option for solving the Ring threat. The "one choice" really is "who's it gonna be?", not "you must throw it into the fire".

10) I often watched Square One! when I was a wee lad. It was fun!

That is all!

the usual suspects

VEXILLA Regis prodeunt;
fulget Crucis mysterium,
quo carne carnis conditor
suspensus est patibulo.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Not half so dire as it might sound, just honest humility

Dear God,

Please send help.

a penitent sinner

Sunday, August 23, 2009

This message has been automagically posted by the wonders of the internet

Since it's not something you would be likely to glean from the stuff below or elswhere (unless you know me in facebook --- AND YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!) I thought I'd leave this scheduled post to announce my completion of 33 standardized terrestrial equinoctic cycles of air-breathing motility.

That is all; carry on.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A moment's confusion should clear this up...

Dear Brilliant Physicists and Mathematicians,

So, there's this famous thing called the "EPR paradox", which now has oodles of experimental statistics to back it up. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the notion is some decay process emits two electrons with opposite spin in opposite dirrections (OR photons with the same polarization or whatever); so if experimenters at a space-like separation further along decide to filter said electrons by spin in PARALLEL (electron-beam transverse) magnetic fields, they'll get perfectly correlated measurements overall; and if instead they filter the electrons in PERPENDICULAR magnetic fields, they'll get perfectly UNcorrelated measurements. The thing that bugs me is that in the perpendicular case, the total spin angular momentum of the filtered electrons can't possibly be zero AFTER, so there must be some change-of-state in the total aparatus in this case. On the other hand, in the parallel case a similar change-of-state isn't necessary.

Obviously, we still expect that this doesn't permit tachyonic communication between the two experimenters; has anyone worked out the details of why we don't get a side-channel attack against the speed-limit this way?

A bemused theoretician who ought to be grading assignments

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A mysterious note

Dear _________,

What a beauty! There are some sparse directions on the back, leading me to a slightly-defaced replica here, but you get the idea. I'm particularly intrigued by the many clearly pentagonal plates in his ventral armour, as well as the more hexagonal shapes meeting in "four-corners" fashion right at his middle.

I suppose it isn't that many years since I thought a "flying saucer" shape was a believable interstellar spacecraft geometry. These days "spherical" makes a lot more sense to me, from a self-preservation perspective, even though NASA et alia seem to prefer trees of cylinders. That said, this fellow is eerily reminiscent of flying saucer and makes a convincing argument from a submersibles point-of-view.

Anyways, I'm sorry I can't send a more direct reply, but thanks for the picture, anyway!

A bemused amateur of Creation and its Author

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


It's not great; a bit jumpy, to be sure. Never tried Cinquains before; the only one I know has a 2+3 rhyme scheme, and I don't know if that's traditional. Today I prefer initials.

Thou, Lord, hast made
This cathedral chamber
Sing of thy praise, to thy glory

Thou, Lord
Have set me here,
Heart unto Thee longing
Thine own self to seek 'till life's end

Come, Lord
Fulfill your work:
Feed, pray, as Only thou
Can satisfy, my soul enflamed.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The debate whimpers on

Dear Toby,

you wrote

Well, I would like to see your survey data, because I certainly don't believe it. Since that seems to be what you were originally talking about, maybe you can ignore the rest of this. But since it's about something important to me, I'll say it anyway.

I've done what digging I could, and I'm annoyed at myself having slightly shifted the axes of the survey in my thinking; I don't expect you'll find much to enjoy in it, yourself, though. The refference is note 36 here

My original focus on taxes comes from the setting in the first half of the video clip, so I won't harp on that. But I'll still focus on legal issues. That is, I disagree with you that sex is most fun between one man and one woman, who ought to be married, without trying to avoid begetting. But since that sort of thing only affects the people involved, it doesn't matter much if we disagree about that.

Well, if one does successfully avoid begetting, that certainly reduces the number of people involved. Success is arguably tricky, though. What's more, much of what follows is in fact supposing other people are involved, potentially adopted children in particular.

I also think here you're transplanting my use of the word "fun" beyond the scope I intended for it. And I don't see how it's a legal issue?

What does matter, and affects many people, is the attitude of the government towards this. And yes, it is a matter of the government's attitude towards individuals, not just couples. The government says that X and Y may marry but X and Z may not; that is discrimination between the individuals Y and Z.

See, that's very sneaky of you to suppress the "X"; the government makes a statement about the pair (X,Y) and an oposite statement about the pair (X,Z). It's worth noting that we can then infer which statement the government would make about the pair (Y,Z), or (Y,Y) for that matter. Or, how about, following your example, suppress the second in the pair: X may marry, but X may not marry? Surely we're not discriminating against X on the basis of sex in this case, because we admit both possibilities even though X's sex doesn't change?

The current laws that don't recognise marriage between two individuals of the same sex discriminate based on sex just as much as past laws that didn't recognise marriage between two individuals of different races discriminated based on race

There's an important difference, though. Laws ignoring marriage between two individuals of different race are fundamentally motivated by a desire to prevent procreation arising from "different" races, so-called "miscegenation". This in turn was necessary to establish as fact in Law what was a lie in Nature, that distinct races were and ought to be sundered species. On the other hand, the heretofore universal understanding that a marriage involves one man and one woman arises from similarly heretofore-universally understood connection between marriage and the foundation of a new family potentially including new people (new voters, new soldiers, new workers! Who doesn't want these?).

(where in both cases, 'sex' and 'race' are further defined by the government, sometimes with and sometimes without fidelity to an
underlying facet of human nature).

"Sometimes with", eh? With fidelity in the case of "sex" perhaps, and without it in the case of "race"? Or have you suggestions of a facet of human nature faithfully classified by "race"? Let me be even clearer: Sex is a real difference. Ask any doctor whether the sex of his patient is relevant to the care thereof. Race is a much fuzzier and mutable thing; it may be a relevant notion for insurance companies, but a surgeon usually doesn't need to know his subject came from the East Caucasus mountains in order to find his way around.

I certainly can't accept the government's doing this for such a flimsy reason as that an opposite-sex couple (healthily and happily married) will raise a child better than a same-sex couple (also healthily and happily married).

I simply can't agree that a single-sex pair can be healthily married. And that's not a matter of on-average tendencies...

That may or may not be true on average, but it's certainly not true in every case. Given that a couple is raising a child together, the child should have a stable home with the customary legal protections, and it's quite perverse for the government to say that their family won't get the same status as the family next door because it might have been better for the child to be raised by somebody else all along, rather than the healthy, happy parents that they have.

This is getting the notion of "someone else" backwards altogether! For a child to be potentially placed in the care of a single-sex couple, it necessarily follows that neither of them conceived nor bore this child OR one of the couple has been unfaithful. The child belonged with different people in the first place; the single-sex pair are "someone else". Again, I'm not saying that a pair of men is inherently incapable of meeting the material needs of a growing child; I do say that the example they give includes a priori a fundamental defficiency, and a child shouldn't be kept in their long-term care any more than it should be raised by a convent or monastery.

I don't know that either you or I will tell the other anything that we haven't already heard. I don't like it when the government tries to tell people what to do,

I'm not sure what you mean here; the government no longer asks people to avoid sodomy, for instance. I believe the various states still restrict sale of tobacco and alcohol to minors, whether said minors, the salespeople, or their respective parents feel otherwise?

and I don't like discrimination on the basis of sex; much less do I like discrimination on the basis of sex in order to encourage people to do things differently.

Again, I'm not sure what differently-done-things you think government is encouraging by discriminating on the basis of half a pair's sex.

You seem to have different values from mine, and apparently you have statistics to show that the government is telling people what to do and discriminating against them in a way that will do more good than harm in the end.

Different values? Almost certainly; but why not ask me what I value?

No, that's not my meaning in claiming statistics, and neither do I think this is a case of the government permitting some harm so that more good may result: it really is an assertion that one specific kind of harm should NOT occur, that of children being raised under an a-priori bad example of human sexual expression; rather, children should be raised such that they mature understanding what children's AND parents' roles are in a family, whether they then go on to establish families of their own or not. I don't pretend that all extant families are healthy or happy; but we don't need to add to the list of possible reasons a family can be unhealthy!

Monday, July 27, 2009

You're really NOT going to like it...

At this cardinal point in the history of our Null Epistolary, we wish to thank our Lord God for giving us the unhappy atheist writer DNA who revealed His glory by pointing out such wonders of creation as are manifold to be seen, both on Earth and in the Heavens, whether fully known or thoroughly mysterious; and who painted them with such charm and hilarity, even through his own hidden pains.

We pray, Lord God, overlook Thou his honest, if stubborn, ignorance of Thee, the first Author of all he authored and wrote about; and admit him in time to the fullest happiness which only Thou canst by the vision of your Loving Mercy and Justice can give.

This has been blog post number 42.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Ego Vir in Via scribo

Hic est gaudium medium. (Non est gaudium magnum, quia non novum pappum nuntiat; interea, gaudium maior est quam favam gellam repperire ... )

Si non Latinam sciis legere, pagina ipsa hae utiles praebet.

eh? quid cogitat?


ok, sorry for any and all solecisms, anglic calcae, and generally-bad or painful Latin in the above...

some guy on the street


Dear United Sandmen,

Never mind making my eyelids heavy, I don't want sand near my eyes. But if you could re-arrange those sandbags to hold back floods of useless distractions, I'd have an easier time with my preferred variation on counting sheep.

the much-too-imaginative some-guy-on-the-street

Monday, July 20, 2009

unlicensed poetry

Dear Quizitor,

You tell me

I am the sonnet, never quickly thrilled;
Not prone to overstated gushing praise
Nor yet to seething rants and anger, filled
With overstretched opinions to rephrase;
But on the other hand, not fond of fools,
And thus, not fond of people, on the whole;
And holding to the sound and useful rules,
Not those that seek unjustified control.
I'm balanced, measured, sensible (at least,
I think I am, and usually I'm right);
And when more ostentatious types have ceased,
I'm still around, and doing, still, alright.
In short, I'm calm and rational and stable -
Or, well, I am, as much as I am able.
What Poetry Form Are You?

or failing that,

I am, of course, none other than blank verse.
I don't know where I'm going, yes, quite right;
And when I get there (if I ever do)
I might not recognise it. So? Your point?
Why should I have a destination set?
I'm relatively happy as I am,
And wouldn't want to be forever aimed
Towards some future path or special goal.
It's not to do with laziness, as such.
It's just that one the whole I'd rather not
Be bothered - so I drift contentedly;
An underrated way of life, I find.

A couple years ago, you told me instead

If they told you I'm mad, then they lied.
I'm odd, but it isn't compulsive.
I'm the triolet, bursting with pride;
If they told you I'm mad, then they lied.
No, it isn't obsessive. Now hide
All the spoons or I might get convulsive.
If they told you I'm mad then they lied.
I'm odd, but it isn't compulsive.

of which, of course, I can produce no evidence; but I'm not quite sure what to make of the shift. Perhaps I'm become more staid in my preference for 62-storey drop-subjects! Who knows?

But what I most want to know is ... where can I get some of those cream buns?

some guy, who, while largely pedestrian, is fond enough of versifers

Friday, July 17, 2009

Further to Mr. Bat's recent observation

Dear Blogger,

Is it possible that the "interests" search links just *don't work*?

some guy on the street

Thursday, July 16, 2009

How Sad.

echo <<eof >> /dev/null 

Out of idle curiosity, I tried following the evident link on your profile page. It seems a shame, altogether.


I should have noted earlier: It's fixed now.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Drama from the Skies

Dear Catholic Impressario,

I have composed the synopsis and dramatis personae for a theological science-fiction romance thriller set amidst Vatican Intrigue! I'm planning over the next month or two to complete a draft in a mix of natural speech and iambic pentameter, blank verse and rhyme. It divides easily into two parts, or five acts of roughly three scenes each, with occasional "Greek" Chorus narrating.

Do you suppose there might be any market for this?

the untried playwright

Highlights from Chapter 1 of Caritas in Veritate

echo <<eof >>/dev/null

From The Encyclical

Of course, these point to my own biases and prejudice as well; but since the pundits are playing the same game, I thought it'd make an interesting contrast to see how those who strive for orthodoxy might make out. Unlike some pundits, I've preserved note numbers and paragraphs, so you'll have an easier time finding the context.

  • 10. ... The correct viewpoint, then, is that of the Tradition of the apostolic faith[13], a patrimony both ancient and new, [LOVE that pairing!] outside of which Populorum Progressio would be a document without roots — and issues concerning development would be reduced to merely sociological data.

  • 11. ... In not a few cases, that freedom is impeded by prohibitions and persecutions, or it is limited when the Church's public presence is reduced to her charitable activities alone.

  • Without the perspective of eternal life, human progress in this world is denied breathing-space. [I'm put in mind of a moment in Star Trek VI, where Christopher Plummer declares "We need breathing-room!" and William Shatner replies ... it's knifty knack our Holy Father has for subverting the language of heretics and evil-doers to highlight the real values they have corrupted.] Enclosed within history, it runs the risk of being reduced to the mere accumulation of wealth ...

  • In reality, institutions by themselves are not enough, because integral human development is primarily a vocation ...

  • Only through an encounter with God are we able to see in the other something more than just another creature[17], to recognize the divine image in the other, thus truly coming to discover him or her and to mature in a love that “becomes concern and care for the other.”[18]

  • 12. The link between Populorum Progressio and the Second Vatican Council does not mean that Paul VI's social magisterium marked a break with that of previous Popes, because the Council constitutes a deeper exploration of this magisterium within the continuity of the Church's life[19].

  • ... on the contrary, there is a single teaching, consistent and at the same time ever new [Yay!][20]

  • Coherence does not mean a closed system: on the contrary, it means dynamic faithfulness to a light received. The Church's social doctrine illuminates with an unchanging light the new problems that are constantly emerging[22].

  • 13. ... Paul VI clearly understood that the social question had become worldwide [25] and he grasped the interconnection between the impetus towards the unification of humanity and the Christian ideal of a single family of peoples in solidarity and fraternity.

  • 14. ... It is therefore a serious mistake to undervalue human capacity to exercise control over the deviations of development or to overlook the fact that man is constitutionally oriented towards “being more”. [This is the sort of "orientation" worth talking about.]

  • 18. ... In promoting development, the Christian faith does not rely on privilege or positions of power, nor even on the merits of Christians (even though these existed and continue to exist alongside their natural limitations)[44], but only on Christ, to whom every authentic vocation to integral human development must be directed.

Wasn't that fun!?


Saturday, July 11, 2009


We hold that God has made us for His love
And for His sake to give love of our own.
His sake alone: for all our love's from Him
Who beauties made and very light declared
One ancient day of youth, and called it good.
And He made Man with freedom, that we should
Full freely love Him. And in this He shared
With dusty Man His Holy Image bright.
He made us, men and women, love and friend
To share one life, one flesh unto life's end,
Yet not to be life's end: that were God's right.
Pray I may be detached from breath and limb;
Salvation hangs not on thine, nor my own,
But on His cross who died, and lives above.

--some guy on the street

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Gross Defficiency

Dear YouTube,

Why, oh why, oh why is there nowhere in youtube a video with soundtrack the original Star Trek theme music interpreted by meowing cats?


the LOLz are not enough

Thursday, July 2, 2009

"Benedicta tu inter mulieres"

echo <<eof >>/dev/null

In some circles, this day recalls the visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, which is also the first look we get at John the Baptist --- `a voice crying out in the wilderness saying "Prepare ye the way of the Lord"'. And what does he do? He leaps for joy in Elizabeth's womb, thus announcing the approach of the Lord Jesus in Mary's womb! Not even born yet and already working in his prophetic ministry. That's pretty cool!


Monday, June 22, 2009

Words of Warning

Dear Lobby of Libertines, Bodily Blasphemers, and God-forsaking Sodomites,

(OK, I know that last one isn't alliterative; but I don't think the Rule of Threes requires it to be so).

I'm tired of your rainbow flags. I'm tired of the rainbow-triangle, too.

The tipping-point for me with the new rainbow was when I saw it on a brochure for on-campus student housing at the Metropolitan University I attend. The same brochure made a loud point that the 4-person appartment units are not co-ed; and yet, there also is the rainbow triangle: it makes me wonder "what is the point?" Whether or not overnight-guests are allowed, if the Metropolitan Student Housing Management acknowledges a definite fraction of cases in which co-dwelling individuals may see eachother as objects of lust and approves acting on such perception however abstractly, howsoever small be the minority of such cases, it can only have forgotten the imperative underlying non-co-ed dormitories in the past.

Is that uncharitable of me? I suppose I can imagine another construction of this effectively hypocritical situation: namely, given that the Sexually Deviant Practice Protection lobby presents a threat of discrimination lawsuit, while co-ed dormitories presents a threat of harassment lawsuit and unintended babies, it's generally a better insurance against suit and scandal to have homogeneous dorm units and to explicitly approve of SDP. That is, however important the students in residence are, avoiding lawsuits and public scandal is more important.

In any case, I'm fed-up with that silly rainbow. Why use a rainbow? The claim is made that it symbolizes "diversity". In representing a political movement with a symbol of diversity, two claims are made:
  1. Greater diversity is always good. (Or at least, more of the diversity we represent is always good)
  2. We are diverse.
But in fact, greater diversity is not always good. For instance, within any given meal, a person can eat only so much food, and discern only so many flavours each in only so little a quantity: there is a limit to the diversity of foods conducive to an enjoyable meal. Similarly, any beauraucracy can support only so many divergent languages --- e.g. I don't think we've yet reached that point whence a citizen can reasonably insist on being tried or giving testimony in lojban. Anywhere. As for diversity of sexual practices, I have it on good authority that there is only one naturally lawful model of corporeal conjugal union --- and this is natural law backed-up by revelation.

And then, whether or not diverse sexual practices may be licit, in what sense can they be called diverse? Certainly they suggest that between any n people all can "do more stuff". On the other hand, it is underpinned by the propositions that it is always good to follow appetite, and that there is effectively but a single way to fully live out attractions or affections. The depth of universally reserved compassion and charity, and the great variety of chaste self-giving love are effectively portrayed as unimportant and even inferior by this lobby.

In short, to take a rainbow at all for any lobby, and particularly to apply it to this one is intensely dishonest. Never mind that it's usually out-of-order.

The earliest reference to the rainbow I can find is this
12 And God said: This is the sign of the covenant which I will give between me and you, and to every living soul that is with you, for perpetual generations.
13 I will set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be the sign of a covenant between me, and between the earth.
14 And when I shall cover the sky with clouds, my bow shall appear in the clouds:
15 And I will remember my covenant with you, and with every living soul that beareth flesh: and there shall no more be waters of a flood to destroy all flesh.
16 And the bow shall be in the clouds, and I shall see it, and shall remember the everlasting covenant, that was made between God and every living soul of all flesh which is upon the earth.
17 And God said to Noe: This shall be the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh upon the earth.1
That's how God intended the symbol of the rainbow. The SDPP lobby has appropriated this symbol for itself, and to deny the work of God in Man and the meaning of that work. So if the rainbow shall no longer mean that God shall not again wash clean the face of the earth, under what covenant will you live and not be swept away by the waters?

Leave the rainbows alone, please.

your loving oponent,
Some Guy on the Street.

1 Genesis 9:12-17, Douay-Rheims Bible, Challoner Revision.

Friday, June 12, 2009

On the prudence of delgated advocacy, or lack thereof.

Dear Examiner,

May I ask, is there any way you can be more careful about to whom you sell your advertising space?

an alarmed site visitor

Friday, May 15, 2009


echo <<EOF >>/dev/null

It must be spring!



Thursday, May 14, 2009

Taurelilomea-tumbalemorna Tumbaletaurea Lomeanor

Dear Treebeard,

Sometimes I look at my blogging history, and think of you. Sometimes I look at the things I've actually blogged, and think of you in the opposite way. Sometimes I look out the window, and I'm surprised at how suddenly, how almost hastily the crab-apple has blossomed, after such a patient and cautious wintering.

In most things, in writing or whatever else, it hasn't been easy to find the right ballance of waiting and moving. So timing has often been a tricky issue for me, alternately impatient and reserved near to wavering. But it would seem that the apple trees have been successful through millenia; and considering how soon again those petals are going to fall while the fruit slowly ripens, hidden among the leaves, we can't say the blumelein really are too impetuous after all.

I don't hope to meet you in person any time soon, but should you chance by my house it will be a happy meeting. I hope this squirrel doesn't get lost too often; but I'm assured he's reliable to find you.

a clumsy some guy on the street

a PS (May 31, 2010)
This seems to be one of the more-frequent accidental entry-points to our correspondence here.

I almost feel sorry for everyone who comes to this spot and doesn't find out anything to do with sheep and shepherds adopting eachother's manners over time ("both are slow to change, and neither has long in the world").

Bloggers could, of course, be roughly classified by the volume of their output. 'Blogs might also be sorted according to how much commentry they naturally elicit. ("Commentry" and not "commentary", as 'Brethil' has settled on "commenters" as opposed to "commentators".) Of course, there is a back-and-forth: fast publishing tends towards many comments; a feeble reaction may slow the 'blogger, dulling his interest.

So, perhaps 'bloggers get like commenters, and commenters get like 'bloggers. Commenting was certainly a gateway to 'blogging for me! (Although it took further externals to push me over the edge --- notably leaving Hometown Suburb to study at Metropolitan University).

It's a feeble excuse for a second letter, but the squirrel was in the neighborhood anyways.

Keep your toes rooted!
some guy on the street

Friday, May 1, 2009

On ethics in bad scenarii.

ATTN: Mr. R.T.Quoll

Dear Reginal,

If the patient is twice as likely to have illness A as illness B, but treatment for A will kill him if he has treatment B, then we're watching House I'm not sure what should be done; moral certainty that the doctor should prescribe treatment A seems to require additional conditions.

Well, IANAD.

I think one of the fascinations of the "ticking time bomb" is related to the "fourty ninjas with uzis" fascination among so-called what-if monkeys.

It seems that the ticking-time-bomb interrogation *starts* with a (sensible!) desire to emphasize that some situations have no good immediate temporal outcome. IF the object of the scenarist is to exhort his pupils in the face of catastrophe not to despair nor to acquiesce to their vengeful or violent inclinations to "save thousands whatever the cost", then the scenario has perhaps been well-presented. On The Other Hand, if the scenario is presented as a harangue with the object of getting you to admit that sometimes this particular disgusting idea (torture, abortion, genocide) is the best answer, then sound the alarms and call your diocesan inquisitor.

The what-if monkeys seek to prove their schoolmasters fools by constructing scenarios in which the schoolmasters have no good thing to do: that is, they believe the best analysis is achieved by *complicating* the problem. Of course to me, this sounds like making our jobs more difficult than they need to be. If we've studied mathematical logic, we know there *is* a degree of complication that makes algorithmic decision impossible; the really mathematical approach to a Doctor's Diagnosis/Treatment Dilemma is to first simplify the problem.

So, let's try! (continuing the medical metaphor) Given the candidate diagnoses A and B, it's possible that neither condition (if untreated) is a life-threatening or debilitating condition. e.g. the conditions A might be common cold --- keep your energy up and don't stress-out? --- and B might be a deadly allergy to most of the food in the hospital that got a bit inflamed by walking in. "Treating" A would consist in moderate rest and eating, but if you insist on feeding the patient there and then, he'll die of ... something, anaphylaxis? However if you just send him home, he'll eat sensible foods and/or eventually get over his cold.

A worse, but still simplified possibility is where one candidate condition is harmless, but would complicate under treatment for the more-dire candidate. I expect one might look for a test to specifically *exclude* the milder condition, to conclude on the bad option by elimination. I don't imagine this is generically possible, but still emphasizing that there are still options

And I suppose we *can* imagine bad situations where both candidates have treatments we can't safely pursue in both circumstances, or together AND we can't diagnostically distinguish conditions A and B, but at some point we have to remember that you can't humanly fix every situation. That isn't failing as a human doctor, any more than it's a failure in a detective to not obtain plot-thwarting inteligence by abuse, nor of a self-defence expert to prove mortal when confronted by firearms.

At least, that's how it seems to me.

SGOTS the ethical dabbler

P.S., I think Tom will find this either interesting or hackish. If you can ask his opinion, that'd be nifty.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

It's the Third Wednesday After Easter!

Which, in the old Calendar (at least as of 1953... my missal is *old*) is a Solemnity of St. Joseph Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Confessor and Patron of the Universal Church.

A very blessed one to you all. As it happens, we get another Joseph feast in two days, for which give thanks to God!

From the Offertory:
Lauda Jerusalem, Dominum: quoniam confortavit seras portarum tuarum, benedixit filiis tuis in te, alleluia, alleluia.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Four Ounces of Caerphilly, if you please?

To Serial Producers Everwhere

I wish to transmit some received wisdom. On the occasion of the impending non-continuance of a remarkably long-running brand of drama, a critic remarked
Don't underestimate the power of cheese!
yesterday. OK, he may have meant over-the-top unbelievably bad acting ("ham", if you will ... ) but that won't stop me musing on really good bocconcini. So there!

Without illusions of influence

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Über Hüte

Dear Meredith, (and Enbrethiliel, and all and sundry,)

Since you asked of another, therefore tangentially I feel the need to jump up myself and answer for my own part!

Though I've a grey felt fedora-type thing good for damp weather, my preference is very much for this delight:

Note the green cord: an addition of my own, with brass grommets around the punch-holes. This is very handy indeed when the wind kicks up!

And here it is more-or-less in-person (reversed, for probably-obvious reasons)

In case anyone reading this can now discern who I am, a note: if you would buy a hat for me, do please by whatever scheme merited try to ensure that it be large enough! In youth my brain seems to have been intolerant of crowding and pushed my skull outwards!

And, Enbrethiliel, I wish you joy of all your hats.

A well-sheltered fellow indeed

Monday, March 30, 2009

Oh Fun!

cat <<EOF >>/dev/null
Hey! Check it out!!! There's very little difference, he says. Could it be this is where they all come from? And who IS this St. Pod ? Is he or she the long-unheard-of progenitor of POD???

We must look into SB's source for this saint!

Let me know if anything turns up?

Attn. Cookie-manufacturing magnates

Dear Sir/Madam,

About cookies: they are, generally speaking, too tasty, and too much fun eating. I can't stand it! What are we supposed to do???

An overwhelmed customer

Monday, March 23, 2009


Hello, all new arrivals from good Meredith's For Keats' Sake! I suppose it now behooves me to regale and entertain the two of you? Perhaps I ought to say something witty! OK: um... Three guys walk into a ... oh, you've heard that, have you? Hmm... maybe a rhyme?

There once was a traveler from Orange
Who painted his car bright and ...
Actually, I don't think I can finish that one.

Oh dear. Perhaps I should just send you back. Much more edifying over there, anyways. Just ignore any loud echoing bangs as you go!

Cheerio, and thanks for stopping by.

An inconsistent sub-creator creature

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Not a comedy, not a tragedy

(no substantial spoilers that I can see; not that many people are reading this, anyway...)

Dear Reader,

I've been reading (again!) The Lord of the Rings, which I seem to do periodically. Not quite every year, but most, and sometimes with less than a year between readings. I must be mad, somehow. In any case, I've been thinking back on the first time I read it, and the first time I finished it in particular, back in fifth grade I think.

It made me cry, I don't know why. I certainly didn't understand the ending on that first reading, though since then it's come to make better sense, and the point that constricts my throat and burns my eyes seems to come a bit earlier each time through.

In the present reading, I'm struck by the recurring theme of choice, the necessity of making some choice, the difficulty of making good choices out of imperfect knowledge, the moral imperative to choose the Good. Perhaps the most hopeful thought on this subject is expressed by Aragorn, who answers Éomer's question "How shall a man judge what to do in such times?" — times tumultuous amid unimagined strange happenings:
`As he ever has judged,' said Aragorn. `Good and ill have not chaged since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man's part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.'
In other words, the main thing is that we mustn't loose our heads amidst all the possible distractions life in the world may throw at us. If you can recognize good and behave like a normal good person amid abnormal trials, you just might be a hero.

In my present reading, I've just come through one of Tolkien's embedded dissertations, on storytelling and what makes a good story. Here he refers, through his characters, to another of the tales he was continually working on — the tale of Beren and Luthien — and it is interesting that the two speakers in time realize that they belong to, are indeed living out, a long-removed continuation of that very same tale. This inspires them to imagine someone reading their own story out of a book, and to wonder what sort of people would read it, even though they can't see just now how they'll ever get back home or tell anyone of their adventures.

And that set me to thinking about the ending, because I myself do now know how it turns out; yet I want to keep reading anyway, even though I'll probably find myself choking-up for a few minutes towards the end. I'm not sure if it should be called foreshadowing, but having finished before, reading their talk of not foreseeing the end put me in this pensive mood, anyway. It certainly is poignant, in any case.

I begin to wonder if it's a bit like dying, this knowing the end must come, and getting there in time. God willing, though, it'll be years and ages before I find out: too much work to do, first!

An awkward mythophile.

Friday, February 13, 2009

On the area of a spherical triangle

Dear Self,

For future reference: Of course, this is outlined very nicely in Coxeter's Introduction to Geometry, (second edition), but as always the best way to learn math is to re-work it. Here, a proof-sketch without pictures.

By sphere S signify the level set---in some vector space V---of some positive-definite quadratic form; or equivalently the orbit of a generic point under the orthogonal group of the related inner-product. By a central plane signify any hyperplane including the origin and by hemisphere either of the two separated sets of points of S on one side of a central plane. By a convex lune signify the intersection of (at most) two hemispheres.

We now specialize to the vector space R3 with its usual inner-product, wherein central planes will have dimension two and meet any sphere (as defined!) in a circle, which we will call a great circle. The same great circle may also be refered to as the boundary of a hemisphere on either side of the same central plane. By a spherical triangle we will mean a non-empty intersection of three hemispheres such that the great circles that are their boundaries intersect pairwise, but not all three together. We claim without proof that the notion of angle between vectors corresponding to the inner product on R3 induces a notion of angle between hemispheres as well, and thus also an angle measure for lunes such that if a finite set of great circles and pairwise disjoint lunes has union the whole sphere, then the angles of those lunes have sum equal to 2π. Our final unproved claim is that both the property of being a lune and the angle of a lune are invariant under the action of the orthogonal group.

As a triangle ABC is an intersection of three hemispheres A,B,C, so the pairwise intersections of the same three hemispheres are three lunes AB,AC,BC, and the angles of these three lunes shall be called also the angles of the triangle. Related to the three hemispheres are their oposite hemispheres also A',B',C'; as these have the same respective boundaries, substituting any of A',B',C' for A,B,C, respectively, produces eight disjoint triangles (including ABC) --- we will extend the preceding notation for specific lunes and triangles to name these.

A more economical decomposition, however, is into the two disjoint triangles ABC and A'B'C', and the three lunes AB', BC', A'C. (This is a tedious exercise in propositional logic, or an easy picture to draw). Remark that AB and A'B' have the same angle, as have AB' and A'B.
These four lunes are disjoint and, together with the boundaries of A and B, they have union the whole sphere, so the angles of AB and AB' are suplementary. Similarly are the angles BC and BC', AC and A'C. The three lunes AB', BC', A'C, thus have angles summing to 3π less the sum of the angles of ABC. There is no finite set of great circles whose union together with that of the three triangles is the whole sphere; if three lunes orthogonally equivalent to AB', BC', A'C together with one more did give the whole sphere, then the fourth lune must have angle equal to the sum of the angles of ABC less π.

Sometimes a classical geometer

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Warum nicht?

Dear Deutsche Welle,

I am greatly enjoying your series of lessons "Deutsch -- warum nicht" ; although that kobold Ex can be a bit trying to listen to. In any case, many thanks!

Ein Student

Monday, February 9, 2009

Reading is a joy

Dear Libraries and Librarians of the World,

Do please take very good care of your books! A good book is indeed a joy to read, but a book falling apart can be quite frustrating.

That's all I've got to say, today. Goodnight!

An avid reader

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Because we all need to lift our spirits, somehow

To royalty watchers everywhere,

Perhaps there's something worth reading about in ancient history. My favorite unstudied tale tonight is that of Henry Benedict Stuart, Duke of York (Jacobite), Cardinal Bishop of Ostia and Velletri, Dean of the College of Cardinals. And it would seem there is a monument to his family in the Basilico San Pietro in Rome (that's the big one).
It looks like this:

(for photo copyright info) Writes the wikipaediist, It is frequently adorned with flowers by Jacobite romantics.

I hope that does you some good.

A harmless weirdo

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Dear President Sarkozy,

En premier, je vous enprie, pardonnez-moi, car en prudence mon français n'est pas assez fort pour l'utiliser seul ici.

It was with some pleasure that I listened this evening to reports of your off-the-cuff remarks on the occasion of confering the Legion d'Honeur on Quebec premier Jean Charest:
«Cet attachement à notre culture, à notre langue, à nos liens, pourquoi devrait-il se définir comme une opposition à qui que ce soit d'autre? [...] Croyez-vous, mes amis, que le monde, dans la crise sans précédent qu'il traverse, a besoin de division, a besoin de détestation? Est-ce que pour prouver qu'on aime les autres, on a besoin de détester leurs voisins? Quelle étrange idée! ... » 1
Verily, not the details of our cultural heritage, nor the specifics of the language we speak, nor the modes of our expression, are of primary importance. Rather, they are our servants, and they serve us well exactly when they help us express, learn, and take joy in The Truth. It were one thing to speak only correctly, but if Truth thus apeared broken or repulsive, then our speach must be doing us a disservice, and as much a disservice to Truth as well.

And again, truly the world needs more unity! Let's all be Catholic! And so I read with a tinge of unease (my bolding)
« ... Ceux qui ne comprennent pas cela, dit-il, je ne crois pas qu'ils nous aiment plus, je crois qu'ils n'ont pas compris que, dans l'essence de la Francophonie, dans les valeurs universelles que nous portons au Québec comme en France, il y a le refus du sectarisme, le refus de la division, le refus de l'enfermement sur soi-même, le refus de cette obligation de définir son identité par opposition féroce à l'autre.»
Starting at the end is easier, because here I agree: definition by opposition is both to focus on the wrong thing, and to put your identity in the merciless hands of those you oppose. What do you do if they change? But really, the proper way to self-identify is to rejoice in your actual cultural heritage, the happy unique things about where you live that sets it apart from the rest of the world: all the funny hats you wear, for instance. I have more trouble, though, reading this "rejection of sectarisme", partly because I don't feel confident interpreting the word, but partly because I suspect that --- as it is meant --- it is wrong. However, it will take a long while for me to articulate that properly, perhaps even a whole other epistle.

In brief, though, the Truth, which must inform all acts of the State, includes portions known only through Revelation, and to entirely banish these from the prudential reasoning of the State and its agents is to hopelessly cripple the State's ability to order society for the good of all.

For the most part, though, I'm gratified to hear such sentiments as you have expressed in the mouth of a public leader, whatever you may have to say about other things.

Un anglophone

1: quotations from le Devoir

Monday, February 2, 2009

A human revelation

Dear Saint Blog,

I can't quite find you in the calendar. I know this has been mentioned before, and not much of a satisfactory answer was found, although several approximations were: something to do with Bologna, and perhaps even a principality known as Blognia, somewhere. I suppose this isn't evidence against the existence of a saint named "Blog". A similar conundrum arose when it was (apparently) decided that the Saint Christopher described in popular legend wasn't reliably historical, though by that time numerous people had been named Christopher, and probably numbered some saints among them. And I shouldn't wonder of any of these has taken up the particular devotion to travelers for which the legendary Christopher should otherwise have been beloved.

Or perhaps "Saint Blog" is a hold-over from some more Latin toungue than our Gaulicized Anglo-Saxon: for instance the French names "Saint Sacrement" and "Sainte Famille" denote the same referents as the English "Blessed Sacrament" and "Holy Family", respectively. Might not "Saint Blog" refer to, for instance all the passages "Thus saith the Lord: ..." in all the books of prophecy, together being God's most Holy Blog, as it were? (Not meaning to be flippant, nor dismissive, I do insist!!!)

In the most dull contrast constructible (by me), I would like very much to point out that I am in point of fact, a genuine historical human person. Among other traits I seem to be a confirmed pedestrian, and quite apt (or at least prone) to voice my opinions, while maintaining a modicum of anonymity. But I have indeed commented on the writings reputedly to be found about your parish, wherever it may be constituted. I'm not sure precisely what has prompted me to begin doing so in a centralized location, but here we are! And in that case, I might as well let those 'round about reply to the things I have elswhere and erstwhile said lurkishly in others' boxes.

All good wishes to all and sundry as you may meet them,

Some Guy On The Street

Thursday, January 29, 2009

On phase-transition suspensions

Dear Slush,

I look on you, lying in the street, cold and obscenely fluid. I look on you thus, and think to myself "in the beginning, it was not so". Once you were fair and care-free, innocent and pure; now you have been stained with the grime underfoot, the soot of our automobiles and industrial transport. You, who have fallen not in the fields, not on the good earth, but in the road, you have been shoved together indiscriminately, you have been scraped apart without mercy, you have been poisoned with halides and alkali and akalines, in the hopes that your very constitution will be undone.

I don't know what to think.

A pedestrian

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Short on inspiration

Dear Blogosphere,

You've suffered it, too. Yes, you have. What else are we supposed to do? I'm just annoyed I shan't feel right using this specific conceit again for some time.

A man with nothing to say
echo <<eof >>/dev/null
Oooh! Mark Shea has posted a nifty poignant poem by one of his readers. Some handy exegesis is given in the comments that there follow.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

An apeal for clarity

Dear Fellow Mathematicians

Letters make Lousy Names For Theories! I mean, no-one goes around talking about "H-theory", it's Homology and Homological Algebra; analysis isn't "ε-δ-theory" even if within analysis "ε-δ-arguments" are a hugely fundamental skill to develop.

So, then, why have we got "q-deformation", "K-theory", or "π-categories", or "L-series"? (Unless π is some special value of n?) For one thing, when you hear it, how do you know that "q-deformation" isn't Q-deformation? Sure, "λ-calculus" is pretty special, but---accepting the Church-Turing [hypo]thesis---you might also call it "recursion".

On the one hand, "q" "K" "π" "L" and "λ" don't actually convey anything about what they signify. Within the cultures that give rise to these names, "q" is a number which might be prime, or might be close to zero, or close to 1; K is a functor to graded modules; "λ" is a piece of syntax, and could formally be replaced by "[" without loss of legibility. I don't even know what "L" and "π" are; though I do know many things that get called "L-series", and have my own ideas about what common ground they inhabit. And that brings up another thing: when the name for a province of research is an "in"-joke or otherwise obscure reference, it makes it intimidating for neighbors to take an interest in what you're really studying, and it's not clear to me that this helps you write grant proposals. Short, cultural nicknames are suitable for those intimately familiar with the subject; there should be better language for talking with foreigners.

On the other hand, there just AREN'T enough letters to reserve them for broad concepts at whim or out of laziness. So, if you're on the cusp of formalizing a grand new scheme of gadgets or tying together some ring of concepts, try to at least give them a decent, pronounceable, memorable name? It'll be very confusing when we have to re-name half of our things four decades from now, so be considerate.

From a crowded address space

Monday, January 26, 2009

It's about 1:30AM in Jerusalem

Dear Judah,

My parents were not yet born, I do not myself remember, but today I will remember the fact that, in so brief a time --- less than a generation --- millions, generations, were quietly hidden from view, and then packed up and shipped away, and then ever so stupidly slaughtered. Today I will remember that most of these were marked by claiming the inheritance of God's Chosen People, though many others were those who would claim no land as their own, or who suffered some visible illness, or who would oppose the quiet hiding and packing-up and slaughter.

O wounded and broken People, what must we do to heal your hurts, to bind up your wounds? At least, I will remember them.

Tears cannot express

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Well worth a look

echo \
"Via the Whapster Drew, and well worth the five minutes, a beautiful exposition of contemplative life" \
> /dev/null

Just follow the link

Your Holiness,

What a joy to hear of our beloved brethren in the Eastern Churches!

But I want to hear more of your impromptu speaking, too! I seem to recall that you are very good at Quod Libet.

A very small child

Friday, January 23, 2009

What's wrong with the world?

Dr. Praetorius,

While the specifics of your example are perhaps less than generally transposable, I wonder if we oughtn't to haul you out of retirement and let the world hear more Oxford drinking songs, more tales of centrifugal force and skimming cream off of milk, more about little frogs that got mixed up, more about train schedules and whistles and "beep!" signals.

Most especially, the world needs more people of your readiness to forgive past foolishness, to accept and receive goodwill, and to really love even strangers unconditionally. For all such examples we indeed still have Him to whom none are strangers, but as He has cooperated with His Father to call and uphold even poor sinners like us finally persevering in goodness, so it cannot but help to have more examples such as yours.

Rx Sem Telemann

Thursday, January 22, 2009

O distant unknown friend!

Dear Mysterious Muse,

Wither wanderest thou between East and World's West?
From fell forests tall to fair flaxen fields,
Beneath North's dark Night, or Namib's Noon-Sun?
O'er Winter's white covers may you walk for a while.
For a time mayst thou tarry, yet I'll talk to thee still,
Awaiting in patience thou arise and return
Thy home --- this I know --- thou shalt not leave forever.

Watching the door

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I can hardly contain myself

Dear Plastic Bags of the World,

It's really creepy, you know? The way I can't find you when I need to take out the garbage, but the rest of the time you're getting in the way so awkwardly! It's as though you were lying in wait for my panic unto tidiness, and cleverly zip out of sight. What's up with that??? eh? I mean, you're just organic chemistry, not biology. For how long are we to put up with these things?

A dissatisfied customer

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In my own audacity

Dear Mr. President,

My congratulations to you. I have my hopes, even high hopes, for your term in office, and for the Republic in your care during that time. They are --- as it happens --- exactly the same hopes I have for every president, king, or revered chief, and for every Republic, Kingdom, or peopled wilderness. They are mostly not the hopes of the many who together have appointed you; naturally, you must think my hopes quite unrealistic. They may even be repugnant to you; but wherever our hopes coincide I hope above all that you do not void whatever goodness be in your goals through seeking it by ways reprehensible. The content of our character, after all, is reflected not only in what we do, but how we do it.

God's blessings be on you and all in your protection,

A foreigner in a world made small

Monday, January 19, 2009

Two children

Dear Gaza-Hamas,

You have become like the child who repeatedly punches his brother saying "stop punching yourself", meaning "go away", meaning "die". But haven't really strength to kill him, and he won't go away merely because you punch him.

Dear Israel,

You have become like the child who, so provoked, grabs a kitchen knife and cuts off his brother's fingers. You haven't prevented him punching you again, and you haven't enticed him into stopping. You maybe have strength to kill him, but you shouldn't want to.

Dear Abstractions both,

Grow up, please? Honestly. Set a better example for your neighbours.

Abraham's 7th cousin, 42 and 42 and 42 times removed

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Allow me to introduce

Dear Internet,

Like many other real people, I have for some time been fascinated by all the nifty information you seem to have collected, and freely dispose amongst the terminals of the world. Forgive me if I say it has, from time to time, been overwhelming! However, the time has come, I think, when I must introduce myself. Alas, this is somewhat difficult: I'm not quite sure I'm actually here. More precisely, I'm not quite sure where I am. Even more precisely, where are YOU? And how did you get into my house?

A concerned reader