Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Linguist's bad joke or Accidental Prophecy?

Dear Gene,

I was browsing through Touchstone Magazine and happened upon a meditation occasioned by the DesiLu-era Star Trek episode The Mark of Gideon— you know, the one1 that seeks to contradict my Sci-Fi-Coolness Test, and fails on account of starships can move people and space is huge...

Raedy's Touchstone piece circumstantially connects Mark of Gideon with that dear encyclical Humanae Vitae, to which it seems to allude by popular caricature. And musing on this notion ­— that popular discourse takes place not on the level but by indirection, by repetition of stories misremembered... I was suddenly reminded of the Paramount-era Star Trek:The Next Generation episode, Darmok.

Darmok is a story that Linguists and Psychologists love to tear apart, on the grounds that If a "Universal Translator" is supposed to parse the Underlying Semantics via the Universality of Grammar, and If These Particular Aliens are actually communicating something other than the folktales when they quote their folktales, Then the Quotations are the actual Words that will be Translated, so they should come out sounding like ordinary conversation.

The preceding dismissal misses some important technical technological questions: for instance, if we know that "Darmok" is the name of a hero of legends through several solar systems, then we also know that What These Aliens are speaking sounds very like a language we already know (can you distinguish Romulan from Vulcan?). The "Universal" Translator decides that it is one of these understood languages, and then gives us the translation as if from that language. If the Translator didn't do that, if it were (like Douglas Adams' Babelfish) a mind-reading device, then spies would be immediately found out: no-one could ever talk in word-code... no-one could ever lie.

But more: what Gideon makes clear by being itself a bad example is that when we ponder and argue, often enough it is not in words-as-such and logic, but in long narrative and brief allusion, in innuendo and heartstring play. We already suffer Darmok Syndrome.

Scott King, in Neutralia



1) there are others that ignore the sci-fi coolness principle altogether... what can one do?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

"Quid est mihi et tibi..."

Today's Gospel is, I don't mind saying, one of my favourites. "They have no wine". Oh dear!

It's a funny thing, since God Knows All That Is, that He asks questions. Jesus does it, in person: when he was Twelve and went with Joseph and Mary to the festival (as was their custom), and then stayed behind... The doctors, it is said, were astonished at his wisdom and his questions... The punch-line is that God asks us Questions to reveal something unto us.

(Socrates, famously, tried a trick along similar lines, and got several archistrategoi and other poloi thoroughly annoyed with him...)

Today, we read that Jesus asked: what is that, to me and thee? As it is written elsewhere, "it is a trifle, for God, to make a poor man suddenly rich". What does Jesus' question reveal to us? Replacing the Wine is not the difficulty: that were a trifle; and He adds (indicative, now!) "My hour is not yet come". Or, to put it another way: This is that couple's Wedding Feast, it won't do to up-stage them in front of Their Whole Family.

Jesus tells us he came to serve, not to be served, and so it is the servants to whom Mary speaks next; rather than stepping in for the groom, Jesus supplements the Steward's office; and so the even the Steward, never mind the Feasting Family, knows not whence comes the Good Wine. Everyone continues feasting, still more joyfully than before. Indeed, they have so much of such wine that the newlyweds may well be accounted Suddenly Rich. But the servants know, because Jesus spoke to them, and Jesus' disciples, because they were with him; and from that time they believed.

Good wine: proof that God loves us, and wants us to be happy; it's an old joke, and it's in John's Gospel, too!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

"What on Earth is Peter Talking About?"

21 For it had been better for them not to have known the way of justice than, after they have known it, to turn back from that holy commandment which was delivered to them. 22 For, that of the true proverb has happened to them: The dog is returned to his vomit; and: The sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.
What's all this about dogs' sick-spew? Why is Peter so Fascinated by ... do you think maybe he thinks dogs being sick is funny? Or ... does Peter himself... puzzle or scry over his own... sick?

And don't get me started on Ford Prefect's whelk obsession...
apologies to the blue-green colour-blind...


I don't know why people go out of their way, sometimes, to make themselves... sound... less literate and knowledgeable than they really are... is it because His Holiness used a Greek word in metaphor? (that's also a Greek Word, by the way... you might like the Saxon "carry-over") Maybe we don't like to be reminded that people we don't always get on with are also intelligent? That they have some erudition? Maybe we don't like the idea that maybe some of the Editorial we... "consume" is indeed one current word for it in English... might be less than wholesome? We already speak this way. We already speak much more coarsely.

Not only that, but scatological metaphor as rebuke has been held good-for-something by the Prince of Apostles quoting King Solomon. This might just be Tradition.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Sticks and stones

Bishops carry crosiers, which is to say long hefty sticks, whose symbolic uses are to pull sheep out of ditches and to nudge them (sometimes, thwack!) back on to the right path.

Now, is it in Deuteronomy? Or Exodus? ... Stoning is the sentence prescribed for convicted adulterers — with, what ought to be famous, the Other Spouse and the principal witness (there had to be Two) casting the First Stones.

We don't literally do that anymore — which is a relief, to say the least (and I rather suspect the judicial/executive requirements were meant from the first as an invitation to the Other Spouse to forgive rather than condemn). Whatever Adulterous Israel had fallen into, first in Egypt and then wandering among the other Nations, even so now “Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, that Her warfare is accomplished, and Her iniquity is pardoned”. It's not that adultery intrinsically merrited stoning before and now it doesn't: it's that adultery itself must be “stoned” out of the soul (as must wrath, and deceit, and pride and...), before and now. One can't be both aeviternally happy and divided in the soul's attachments.

And that's the difficulty I have with the phrasing (well-meant though I'm sure it was) of admonitions against “[treating] the Church’s moral commands as if they were stones [to] hurl”. On The Contrary: the Church's moral commands are the Stones she has to Throw; and She must throw them at iniquity. With Mary and Jesus, She must strike at the serpent's head. I'm sure the author of the phrase means: “it's no good trying to hurt eachother, and false sanctimony makes it worse”. I think I should agree with that contention; but if Peter's Successor once urged us to approach a mere Council assuming its continuity with Tradition, and if I am now to work at approaching that Successor's immediate Successor assuming the same continuity with Tradition — How Much More should I approach the words of the New Testament as being Continuous with the Old? So, Young Peter, God rest ye and preserve: but, please, can we put more care into our choice of words? Most of us will only know you in this passing World by your words.

For the rest, in short, are you attached to some adultery, whether with a strange woman or a strange god? Then know that there are stones in-coming now: so get you out of their way!

Monday, January 2, 2017

about two "chicken" jokes.

Everyone needs levity sometimes.

Q Why did the Chicken cross the Road?

A for revenge.

Q Why did the Chicken cross the Road?

A because he had delusions of priesthood.

Q Why did the Chicken cross the Roads?

A to complete his graduate research in Novel Hybrids.

Q Why did the Chicken cross the [sounds like "roads"]?

A It was a rehearsal for the Invasion of Cyprus... and it didn't go well.

LEFTOVERS I --- Apocrypha Topologica III

Have you contemplated lately that marvelous invention, the revolving door?

The usual application of a revolving door is to compromise between the extremes of an open window and a wall. Specifically, the Revolving Door is a device which can be set in motion by an intelligent force (say, of animal intelligence at least) but not by an unintelligent force (as, say, a differential in air pressure). In the particular case of pressurized buildings, a good revolving door is not driven by the pressure inside, though air will tend to exit the building as the door is driven by people.

Anyways, as several of the other artifacts already mentioned in this very-occasional series, a revolving door exemplifies mechanical separation within topological connectedness. How strange, that! Anyways, the actual story of the moment is how, some time after the invention of anchored submarine mines, first that a clever engineer found a way to dredge harbours for them by towing weighted cables between separated vessels, and secondly that another clever engineer partially foiled that scheme by inventing a Revolving Door For Cables, In a Cable. I do rather wish that there were happier circumstances around this Intrinsically Delightful Invention, but, well, there we are.

Now, I should also tell you that I first heard about the cable-passing cable-joint from Richard Feynman, who likes to sprinkle his works with ... incorrections... just so that intrepid readers don't take his word for everything, and also to ensure that those inclined to calculation have extra fun checking his facts. As I write elsewhere (no, I shan't link, here) sometimes a condensor should be an inductance, sometimes 2:1 should be 1:2. Is a "shaft-passer" or a "cable-passer" actually a thing?

As it turns out, you can build them semi-automatically. Actually, that there is one of two possible implementations. They can also be built with a fixed axle connected to one side, but the principal of the thing is that the Revolving Door Shape itself serves as the guide for the round "walls" of the revolving door's frame, in consequence of the side-angle-side theorem, or some such.

I am dubious whether these things were any sure foil against the undermining of... under... water... mines... (no, originally, "undermining" was part of Castle-Siege warfare)... because of the fiddly coincidences needed to pass the dredging cable from the a suitable angle at the correct depth... building a chain of these links would be a fiddly mess indeed. But perhaps it was effective enough that you could never feel sure that this-or-that harbour was really safe.

Which is to say, we're also discussing an invisible, and nonmechanical means of inducing a local separation: the threat of a perfectly unintelligent, violent force.