Us Men

December 25, 2007

First off, Merry Christmas to all.

Now, story-time. I went to Midnight Mass last night at my local parish – the one I haven’t been going to since I left for college back in September, except for a few random times. Now, it just so happened that the church got new priests (two of them – a pair of Scalabrinians). So I wasn’t really familiar with these priests, nor with how they would run the mass. As it turns out, the mass wasn’t horrible, but there were two things that rather bugged me about it.

First of all – the Christmas carol “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”. This isn’t exactly new, but they changed the lines that read

pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.

to

pleased as man with us to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.

Now, there’s several problems with this, both theological and poetic.

First, the theological. The change implies that “man” is necessarily masculine, so we have to change “man” to “us” in order to be gender-inclusive – which is nonsense itself. But even assuming gender-inclusivity is a laudable goal – the change ruins the whole meaning of the lines. Since we’ve said that “man” is necessarily masculine, we’re no longer saying that Jesus was pleased to become human and dwell with us humans – we now claim that Jesus was pleased to become a male (and now we’re emphasizing his masculinity – doesn’t that defeat the whole gender-inclusivity we supposedly desire?) and dwell with, you know, “us”. It’s no longer about him becoming one of us, it’s just about him living with us for a while. So what? It seems to miss the fundamental point of the Incarnation.

Second, the poetic. The new lines are just so much weaker than the original. “Pleased as man / with man to dwell // Jesus our / Emmanuel”. The repetition of “man” isn’t redundant, it’s a great parallel – I don’t remember the technical term for it, but whatever it is, it’s well done. Then, something most people won’t notice – “with man to dwell“, “Emmanuel“. I don’t think that was accidental. The lines lose their force when you change it to “us” because the sound “man” is no longer echoed a line later. I believe that’s called assonance.

So – why make the change? Because someone somewhere decided women were offended by the word “man” referring to all of (hu)mankind. If they are – uh, I can be offended all I want at the fact that “rhinoceros” means a certain animal that lives in Africa, but does that mean everybody is going to suddenly refer to those animals as “unicorns”? (“Unicorn” is perfectly valid there – it just means “one horn”, after all – but so is “rhinoceros”, and no, I don’t advocate a change.) Besides, no females I know were offended by the original – my mom was offended by the revised version.

On to the second irritation.

At the end of Mass, we sung “Happy Birthday” to Jesus.

……………………………………..________
………………………………,.-‘”……………….“~.,
………………………..,.-”……………………………..“-.,
…………………….,/………………………………………..”:,
…………………,?………………………………………………\,
………………./…………………………………………………..,}
……………../………………………………………………,:`^`..}
……………/……………………………………………,:”………/
…………..?…..__…………………………………..:`………../
…………./__.(…..“~-,_…………………………,:`………./
………../(_….”~,_……..“~,_………………..,:`…….._/
……….{.._$;_……”=,_…….“-,_…….,.-~-,},.~”;/….}
………..((…..*~_…….”=-._……“;,,./`…./”…………../
…,,,___.\`~,……“~.,………………..`…..}…………../
…………(….`=-,,…….`……………………(……;_,,-”
…………/.`~,……`-………………………….\……/\
………….\`~.*-,……………………………….|,./…..\,__
,,_……….}.>-._\……………………………..|…………..`=~-,
…..`=~-,_\_……`\,……………………………\
……………….`=~-,,.\,………………………….\
…………………………..`:,,………………………`\…………..__
……………………………….`=-,……………….,%`>–==“
…………………………………._\……….._,-%…….`\
……………………………..,<`.._|_,-&“…………….`\

Why does this bug me? Because it seems to ruin the solemnity of the Mass. Seriousness is fragile enough.

At least we did it after the end of Mass, instead of randomly at the homily or something.

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Mythopoeic Language

December 23, 2007

As you almost certainly know, J.R.R. Tolkien was a philologist, and it was his need for a world to put his languages in that led him to create Middle-Earth. He put most of his effort into Quenya and Sindarin, the Elvish languages, but he also wrote some stuff about Khuzdul (the secret Dwarven language), Westron (the common tongue), Adunaic (the Numenorean language), Rohirric, etc.

In the books, as the appendices to Lord of the Rings make clear, some of these languages are used in the text and some are ‘translated’ into English. Specifically, Quenya, Sindarin, Adunaic and Khuzdul names are left as-is, and the dialogue is for the most part translated to English (only occasionally do we get a few lines of poetry and such in one of the Elvish languages); Westron dialogue is translated to English (obviously – otherwise the entire book would be in Westron), as are Westron names (Samwise Gamgee, for example, would actually have been called Banazîr Galbasi – imagine that every time you had read “Sam” in the book, it would have read “Ban”); Rohirric dialogue is English-ized, and Rohirric names are translated into Old English.

Now, in the Orbis Terrarum, we just use various European languages for the different races. The Lavinians use Latin, the Marauders a mix of Old Norse and German, the Sidhe Elves Gaelic, the High Elves French (sort of), etc. I’m wondering how we should present this. Are we saying that these are actually the languages they speak, or or we just translating the world into equivalent terms from our world (the Lavinians are similar culturally to the Romans, so translate their language as Latin – like Tolkien translated Rohirric as Old English)?

There’s advantages and disadvantages to both, I think. First, saying that we’re translating from some unknown language. Well, you can’t include poetry, or puns, or anything of that nature, in the English text. It wouldn’t make sense. And it seems kind of odd to think that there are all of these characters – Caius Regilius, Alfhelm Alfricsson, Vaniyera – are not actually named Caius, Alfhelm or Vaniyera. Their names would be completely unrelated. Perhaps it makes the world seem more realistic, but at the expense of not showing us as much of that realism – if the language is just reported as Latin, or English, or whatever, while it really is something else, just to make the reader feel more at home, how much else is being misreported? Are the Lavinians really like the Romans in how they dress, in their architecture, etc, or do we just present them with those attributes because it seems natural to us given their imperial nature and preferred martial tactics?

On the other hand, if we say that these are the languages that they actually speak, then the question arises – why are they speaking Earth languages? They live in a completely fantastical world – Orbivm is not even a distant past or future version of Earth, as Middle-Earth purportedly is. It seems to break the secondary reality built up; it forces the reader/player to resort to a “suspension of disbelief”, which, as Prof. Tolkien explains in “On Fairy-Stories”, is much inferior to the real thing – actual belief in the secondary world.

It’s not like a decision has to be made regarding this any time soon, or really ever, so I’m in no hurry to decide the issue. But it’s something to think about.


Copyrightless

December 18, 2007

Now, I don’t like copyright. But I really do need to sit down and read Free Culture eventually to clarify my arguments against it. It’s free to download; I’ll probably read it over break and post back when I’ve done so.

But this post itself has a more practical purpose. So far, I haven’t said anything about the license all of the stuff I’ve posted here is under. I think that means, by default, that I retain all rights to it. I wouldn’t really care if anyone borrowed my stuff, but currently they aren’t really allowed to.

My question is – should I explicitly place everything/anything here (the blog posts, the various stuff under “writings”, etc) under a specific license? If so, which one – perhaps the GNU General Public License, or one of the Creative Commons licenses? Does anyone have any expertise/experience in this?

Since no one is likely to want to borrow anything from this blog, it doesn’t particularly matter, but it can’t hurt to make it possible for them to do so.


Knol? I’d rather not.

December 14, 2007

I read recently that Google is planning what might be termed a rival to Wikipedia, called “Knol”. It will be for-profit, the money coming (of course) from advertising, and collaboration will not be a feature – each article is written by a single author. That’s what I can gather from what I’ve read.

My thoughts on this? Honestly, I don’t see the point. Who would want to use it?

It seems unlikely to attract many expert contributors – those types of people either want to be paid, in which case they won’t give away their services for free (or whatever compensation Google will offer – it doesn’t matter how much it is, there’s no way it can rival what the expert could get from an actual job, unless Google is planning to finance an entire encyclopedia), or they’ll want to actually give their knowledge away for free, in which case they’ll actually give it away for free, rather than put it into the hands of a vaguely ominous corporation that’s making money off of it.

But that is, supposedly, the main draw of Knol – unlike Wikipedia, which is open to all (though with many more quality controls than most people realize), it will be more authoritative. So if it won’t be, and if it will be cluttered by ads unlike Wikipedia, what’s the point?

The point, of course, is to make money. I don’t think Google will make money from this, but no one knows yet.

Now, allow me to rant about Google for a short time. Trust me, the above and the below are in fact related.

Part of what I find disturbing about Google is that all of its income comes from ads. How the hell can an ad-based economy support itself? It seems like almost every website supports itself just through advertisements. Often the people buying the advertisements are themselves supported through advertisements. How can this possibly be a long-term solution for any company? Eventually someone has to, you know, provide some service and charge money for it.

Obviously there are some sites that do so, but it isn’t like the internet has created any new ways of doing it – Amazon.com and eBay.com, and their derivatives, are the only online businesses that spring to mind, and both of those business models are not internet-specific – before people used Amazon, they bought books at a bookstore; before people used eBay, they went to garage sales. So how is it that the economy can now support hundreds of completely advertisement-based businesses when it couldn’t before?

I’ve never had an econ class, so I’m clearly not qualified to talk about this. But I’m allowed to be disturbed by it. It seems unnatural that businesses should be able to support themselves on ads. That’s just one of the reasons Google disturbs me.

And my fear is that Knol will be successful, and do damage to Wikipedia – but that eventually this ad-based economy will crumble around us and all of the ad-based services available online will crash and burn. Then the Free stuff like Wikipedia, which won’t be directly hurt, will be worse off than before because the ad-based stuff was competing with it.


The Immaculate Conception

December 8, 2007

Today is, in the Catholic Church, the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

In case you don’t know what that is – it’s the conception of Mary the Mother of God, who was free of the stain of Original Sin (thus “immaculate”). It does not refer to the virginal conception of Christ – the feast for that is, logically enough, on March 25th, and it’s called the Annunciation.

It’s really rather sad how often people get this wrong.

Anyway, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was defined “ex cathedra” by Pope Pius IX in 1854. The feast is thus a specifically Catholic holy-day, and it is in some ways a symbol of the power of the Pope and the authority of the Church.

This authority is one of the reasons I’m Catholic. It makes much more sense to me to have a living Church that has lasted for 2000 years (I think the very fact that the Church has lasted so long is some sort of evidence for its truth) guaranteeing the truth of Scripture, and making clear whatever is ambiguous there, than to have Scripture by itself – and why should I accept Scripture as authoritative if nothing gives it authority, anyway? – and have everyone believing something different about it.

I do sometimes wonder what Protestants make of that argument.


Golden Strawman

December 4, 2007

I’ll admit right now that I haven’t read The Golden Compass, nor seen the movie (which comes out tomorrow). So I’m not going to review the book or the movie. I’m just going to talk about in what sense the books are anti-Christian and whether they should be condemned because of it.

Now, there have been great works of literature that were anti-Christian, and I don’t know if we can condemn the Golden Compass and its sequels solely on the basis of their philosophical claims. And I’m going to ignore, for now, that the books and movie are directed towards children and the significance of that fact. Even without using those to condemn the works, though, it seems to me that the books and movie are both extremely deceptive in their presentation of their anti-Christian claims, and thus they are little more than the worst kind of propaganda.

To start – the author, Philip Pullman. has said that he is “trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief.” That’s not an ambiguous statement – he’s attacking, or at least trying to attack, the Christian religion.

But in a sense, the books don’t attack Christianity; they attack the general idea of tyranny. (Incidentally, I suspect I wouldn’t like The Golden Compass if I read it because I don’t like works that preach about evils that don’t exist…) Essentially, Pullman claims that “every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling.”

I’m not going to bother going into why – if someone finds this an interesting topic, I’ll make another post on it later – but this doesn’t really make any sense if you know anything about Christianity. Christians would agree with the idea that it’s evil to “control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling”. In fact, some Christian groups (the USCCB among them) have come out and said that the movie and book aren’t anti-Christian, they’re just anti-tyrannical and pro-freedom, both things that Christians are also in favor of.

The problem is that, even though the books don’t actually argue against Christianity, they claim to do so. They explicitly state that the bad guys are Christians, the evil organization is the Church, etc. (In the movie the evil organization is the Magisterium, which supposedly makes it less anti-religious, but it doesn’t actually do so if you know what Magisterium means.) Even though it’s just attacking a straw-man and actually promoting some Christian values, by presenting its attack as one on Christianity it makes itself anti-Christian – indeed, it becomes the worst kind of anti-Christian propaganda.

Essentially, anyone who reads the books or watches the movie without knowing what Christianity actually teaches will be convinced that Christianity is a great evil in the world – because who wouldn’t be convinced that an organization whose goal is to “control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling” is evil?


Academia (Dezember)

December 2, 2007

Heute ist Samstag, der erste Dezember.

If that’s correct – and it’s quite possible it isn’t – I just said “Today is Saturday, the first of December”.

Well obviously, you say. So what? Well – it means that today I took the Putnam today. It was a lot of fun. I think I got five questions correct (out of twelve). Not bad for a freshman, if I say so myself.

But now I won’t get to participate in any math contests until next December, when the Putnam comes around again. That’s one thing I miss about high school – we had various contests every few months or so, and if you didn’t do well on one of them, there was always another one coming up. I’m going to get to take the Putnam just three more times, and then I’ll be done with math contests. Yes, that’s three years away, but still – I don’t think I’m going to want to stop doing these sorts of things in three years. They’ve been a major part of my life for quite a while.

That sentiment seems to be one I’ve had a lot recently. Other freshmen are already talking about their plans for getting a job after college. My current plan is to go to graduate school, get a math PhD, and then teach math for the rest of my life (doing creative writing on the side, of course). In other words, I want to stay in academia for the rest of my life. I want to keep doing what I’m doing now, forever. (In fact, I had originally considered graduating from college in three years – I could do so fairly easily, I think – but now I wonder, why the heck would I want to get out of college and into the real world sooner rather than later?)

This sounds like a character from Orbivm to me. Who? Ptolenai, the mathematician. He isn’t in any campaigns, for a number of reasons – he lived in the Age of the Spear / Saecula Gentorum, he was a philosopher/mathematician not a political figure, and his story is not particularly dramatic. He lived in the Dardanoi version of the Academy his entire life. His main accomplishment, from what I’ve written so far, is his mis-calculation of the radius of the earth, which indirectly leads to the Apocalypse. Perhaps that’s a clue as to how my subconscious views academia – in which case, perhaps I ought to consider a different career path…

The astute among you will notice that Ptolenai is quite similar to the historical figure Ptolemy, though with several important differences I won’t go into here.


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