Saturday Song – “O Sacred Head Now Wounded”

In anticipation of Passion Sunday, a cover of “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” by Selah.

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down, now scornfully surrounded with thorns, thine only crown: how pale thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn! How does that visage languish which once was bright as morn!

What thou, my Lord, has suffered was all for sinners’ gain;  mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain.  Lo, here I fall, my Savior!  ‘Tis I deserve thy place; look on me with thy favor,  vouchsafe to me thy grace.

What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend,  for this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end? O make me thine forever; and should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never  outlive my love for thee.

The 1940 US Census is Coming

Until I got an account for my mom, I was fairly tepid on the subject of genealogy. She had done a fair bit of shoe-leather genealogy, finding the usual array of birth and death certificates, marriage licences, arrest reports, trial transcripts, and … well, let’s just leave that there.

Anyway, Ancestry is an amazing piece of work, placing a staggering amount of data at your fingertips. Dig a little bit, and suddenly people start popping up all over the place. After a few months, both my wife and myself had documented our main family lines back to their arrival in America in the 17th century, and I was able to push one (the de Suttons) all the way back to the Norman invasion. It makes your head swim to be able to trace a line from yourself back to someone who waded ashore with William the Conqueror, even if was only the Royal Poodle Walker.

The more interesting stories, however, are the simple ones that emerge in things like census listings. Watching, decade after decade, as a young couple starts out, fills their household with children, sees some of those children move out to start their own households, see other children (perhaps fallen on economic hard times much like we’re experiencing now) drift back home, watch grandparents age and move in with their own children: it’s a kind of continuity of life that connects us, one to the other, in an unending chain stretching back as far as the records will go.

Now that record is about to become a little more complete. On Monday, April 2nd, at 9am, the National Archives will unlock full access to the 1940 census data. Five minutes later, their servers will crash, but as the data works its way into various genealogy systems reports, we’ll be able to make important links in the chain of ancestry that binds us to the past.

See the National Archives census site for more information.

Just Put This Fish in Your Ear

Okay, so Microsoft may have perpetrated countless offences against technology, including Bob, Clippy, Zune, Explorer, and Windows version We’ll-Get-It-Right-Annnnnny-Day-Now, but they’ve also given us Xbox, Microsoft Office and …

… yeah, that’s about it. Sorry.

Anyway, now they may be able to add “We invented a Babel fish, kind of” to their short list of accomplishments. The Babel fish, as fans of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy know, allows a user to understand and speak any language in the universe.

Earlier this month, Microsoft demonstrated software that can take a recording of your voice, synthesize it, and then use it to speak in another language. After about an hour of training, the software can read back any text, in any supported language, in the user’s own voice. Listen to the demos here.

So, yes: that’s useful, Microsoft. Good work! But please do remember the words of Douglas Adams: “Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.”

See also “Dying Languages Saved by the Technology That’s Killing Them“.

(The clip above mentions the best-selling atheist author Oolon Colluphid, who turned out to be such a great character that an actor named Richard Dawkins has been playing him for the past couple of decades. Rumor has it that Dawkins forgot it was just a role, and now actually believes his sub-Colluphid gibberish.)

Telescopes in the Toilet

Five 18th century artifacts, discovered over a period of 40 years in Amsterdam, at last have been identified as personal telescopes. Two of the them were found in a privy pit. The devices–representing the very cutting edge of 18th century technology–were hand-carved from bone and fitted with a pair of lenses. How such high-end tech got dumped in a cesspool remains a mystery, but the telescopes themselves are unique artifacts:

Ranging in length from roughly 3 to 5 inches (80 to 140 millimeters), the telescopes were made using cattle metatarsal bone. “This particular bone of cow, the metatarsal bone, is actually quite straight and round,” Marloes Rijkelijkhuizen, of the Amsterdam Archaeological Centre at the University of Amsterdam, told LiveScience. “It’s a nice shape to make these telescopes from, it’s straight and (has a) very round narrow cavity.”

Each telescope would have had a pair of lenses — like the system used by Galileo — a convex objective and a concave ocular, to magnify objects. (Two of the telescopes have at least one lens intact.) The longest of the telescopes, which had both lenses intact, is made of two parts put together with a screw thread, and was equipped with a bone insertion that has a small hole and likely functioned as an aperture stop.

Read the whole thing.

“Silence and stillness”

“That which is truly great grows unnoticed, and silence at the right moment is more fruitful than the constant activity that only too easily degenerates into spiritual idleness. In the present age, we are all possessed by a strange restlessness that suspects any silence of being a waste of time and any kind of repose as being negligence. We forget the real mystery of time, the real mystery present in growth and activity. That mystery involves silence and stillness. Even in the religious sphere we tend to expect and hope for everything from our own activity…. And yet in the religious sphere receptivity is at least as important as activity…. Salvation comes not from human beings and their own powers but solely from God and his gracious action. God intervenes where there is a human vacuum; he starts at the point at which, from the human point of view, nothing can be done.”

Pope Benedict XVI, in Dogma and Preaching



Fairwell, Earl UPDATED

One of the greats has passed into eternity. Godspeed, Earl Scruggs.

A nice tribute from Steve Martin:

Some nights he had the stars of North Carolina shooting from his fingertips. Before him, no one had ever played the banjo like he did. After him, everyone played the banjo like he did, or at least tried. In 1945, when he first stood on the stage at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and played banjo the way no one had ever heard before, the audience responded with shouts, whoops, and ovations. He performed tunes he wrote as well as songs they knew, with clarity and speed like no one could imagine, except him. When the singer came to the end of a phrase, he filled the theatre with sparkling runs of notes that became a signature for all bluegrass music since. He wore a suit and Stetson hat, and when he played he smiled at the audience like what he was doing was effortless. There aren’t many earthquakes in Tennessee, but that night there was.
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Prosthetics Through Time

This beautiful series of photographs from the BBC shows how people have created artificial limbs as far back as ancient Egypt. There’s a poignant beauty to many of these creations, particularly the steel and brass arm pictured above, which dates from some time between 1840 and 1940.

From the past, we turn to two visions of the future. First, here’s Oscar Pistorius, born without tibia bones, and equipped with prosthetic legs so efficient that he was initially disqualified from the running in the 2008 Olympics because the IAAF thought his carbon-fiber limbs offered an unfair advantage.

Next, we have Pierpaolo Petruzziello, who lost his arm in an accident. As part of the LifeHand project, he had four electrodes implanted into the nervous system of his left arm for one month. Using only his thoughts, he was eventually able move the fingers on a robotic hand.

Three years after that experiment, researchers are still struggling to make thought-controlled prosthetics a practical reality. DARPA continues to fund various projects that might one day restore limbs to wounded veterans, but a reliable solution remains elusive. No doubt man’s ingenuity will keep creating new and better ways to replace what illness and trauma take away, but the mind-machine interface is proving tougher to crack than some expected.

New Catholic Resources From Logos

Andrew Jones, the man spearheading the Logos Bible Software Catholic program, is pushing ahead with some incredible add-ons to the original three base packages. The following are already available:

There is a nice selection of texts from the Pontifical Biblical Institute, focusing on different topics in scripture study. These are divided in a New Testament Studies Collection (11 vols.) and Old Testament Studies Collection (6 Vols.).

The Great Commentary of Cornelius à Lapide (8 vols.) This is a central text for anyone doing Catholic exegesis, and it makes extensive use of patristic sources.  It’s similar to the Catena Aurea (Golden Chain) of St. Thomas.

Augustine Through the Ages. The best single reference work on St. Augustine you’ll find: I’m using a print version right now for a class.

Discovering Aquinas (Aidan Nichols) & Francis of Assisi: Performing the Gospel of Life (Lawrence Cunningham) are bundled in a single download. I’m no familiar with the Cunningham book, but the Nichols is the best introduction you’ll find. (Indeed, everything by Nichols is worthwhile.)

The Complete Works of Dionysius the Areopagite (2 vols.)

There are two collections of Bible studies published by Eerdmans: one on the Old Testament, and one on the New Testament.

The Modern Catholic Theology Collection includes 5 books about the evolution of modern Catholic theology through the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar, Maurice Blondel, Joseph Ratzinger, Henri de Lubac, and others.

Two of the collections I’ve been able to spend some time with are The Desiderius Erasmus Collection (17 Vols.) and Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI Collection (14 vols.).

The Erasmus collection is as complete a selection as you’ll ever need of the works of the great Renaissance Christian humanist. It includes Against War, Ciceronianus, The Colloquies of Desiderius Erasmus, The Complaint of Peace, Enchiridion Militis Christiani, Letters, Praise of Folly, Proverbs Chiefly Taken from the Adagia of Erasmus, The Apophthegmes of Erasmus, and Institutio Principis Christiani: Chapters III-XI. It also includes the secondary works Erasmus (Ernest Capey), Erasmus and Other Essays (Marcus Dods), and Erasmus and Luther: Their Attitude to Toleration (Robert Murray).

The Ratzinger/Benedict set is even more exciting, although there are certainly some other volumes I would have liked to see included as well. The second volume of Jesus of Nazareth is included, but not the first, due to rights issues with the publisher. Also included are Behold the Pierced One: An Approach to a Spiritual Christology, Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today, Church, Ecumenism and Politics: New Endeavors in Ecclesiology, Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year, Credo for Today: What Christians Believe, God is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life, Introduction to Christianity (Revised Edition), Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology, The God of Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Triune God, The Nature and Mission of Theology, The Spirit of the Liturgy, Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions, and What It Means to Be a Christian.

Obviously, that’s not far from the complete Ratzinger/Benedict, but it’s a great start. I would have loved to see ‘In the Beginning…’: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall in there, as well as his book length interviews with Peter Seewald and, of course, a healthy selection of his papal documents. But the project is still young, and there is, no doubt, more to come.

Remember that this is not a text dump. Each of these collections is brought into the Logos systems, instantly linking it the entire Bible study engine. Thus, any scripture reference in any book is linked to any search on that scripture passage.

Numerous other packages are already in pre-publication, which means you can buy them at a discount.

Coming up is the Code of Canon Law (Western and Eastern), The Apostolic Exhortations and Constitutions of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, The Roman Missals (ordinary and extraordinary forms), and a full run of the journal Letter and Spirit. Andrew tells me that they are “starting some major translations projects. We are going to translate Aquinas’s Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, and his scripture commentaries that are still in Latin only. This will be a major event. We will be posting pages about these projects soon.”

I know these are expensive packages, but I can tell you as both a student and a teacher, there are a great resource.


Archaeology … in SPAAAAACE!

Actually, it’s archaeology from space, but I couldn’t resist a Muppets reference. Satellite data is becoming an essential tool for archaeology, as the widespread availability of improved imaging allows researchers to identify areas of formerhuman habitation that cannot be seen from the ground:

Beyond the impressive mounds of earth, known as tells in Arabic, that mark lost cities, researchers have found a way to give archaeologists a broader perspective of the ancient landscape. By combining spy-satellite photos obtained in the 1960s with modern multispectral images and digital maps of Earth’s surface, the researchers have created a new method for mapping large-scale patterns of human settlement. The approach, used to map some 14,000 settlement sites spanning eight millennia in 23,000 square kilometres of northeastern Syria, is published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Most of these will not turn out to be significant sites, but they do point to an undeniable fact: we’ve barely scratched the surface in our understanding of human history. Many mysteries remain unsolved.

Try to keep that in mind when some skeptic says, “there’s no proof” of whatever Biblical event they’re currently attempting to debunk. Until Hugo Winckler’s 1906 discovery of the lost city of Hattusa in Boğazkale, Turkey, there was no proof at all that the Hittite people even existed, except for the Bible. A hundred years later, no one questions the existence of the Hittites.

We like to think we’re seeing everything there is to see and knowing all there is to know. Not even close. Our ignorance is profound, yet we mistake it for wisdom. Men always feel they have reached the summit of knowledge from their current position. Give it 50 years: there will be a whole new summit, and our current “settled science” will appear foolish.

“Evil talks about tolerance only when it is weak”

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia offers one of the most powerful meditations on modern life I’ve seen in ages. In it, he ties together the descent of our culture into a kind of moral insanity, its eugenicist tendencies, and its profound frivolity.

He begins by linking the extermination of unborn children with Down Syndrome and other disabilities to the selfishness or modern man:

The vulgar economic fact about the disabled is that, in purely utilitarian terms, they rarely seem worth the investment. […] And, just as some people resent the imperfection, the inconvenience and the expense of persons with disabilities, others see in them an invitation to learn how to love deeply and without counting the cost.

Archbishop Chaput makes it clear that our corrupt culture has led us to this point, with cowardly pseudo-Catholics all-too-often leading the charge.

Catholic public officials who take God seriously cannot support laws that attack human dignity without lying to themselves, misleading others and abusing the faith of their fellow Catholics.  God will demand an accounting. Catholic doctors who take God seriously cannot do procedures, prescribe drugs or support health policies that attack the sanctity of unborn children or the elderly; or that undermine the dignity of human sexuality and the family.  God will demand an accounting. And Catholic citizens who take God seriously cannot claim to love their Church, and then ignore her counsel on vital public issues that shape our nation’s life.  God will demand an accounting. As individuals, we can claim to believe whatever we want.  We can posture, and rationalize our choices, and make alibis with each other all day long — but no excuse for our lack of honesty and zeal will work with the God who made us.  God knows our hearts better than we do. If we don’t conform our hearts and actions to the faith we claim to believe, we’re only fooling ourselves.

We live in a culture where our marketers and entertainment media compulsively mislead us about the sustainability of youth; the indignity of old age; the avoidance of suffering; the denial of death; the nature of real beauty; the impermanence of every human love; the oppressiveness of children and family; the silliness of virtue; and the cynicism of religious faith.  It’s a culture of fantasy, selfishness, sexual confusion and illness that we’ve brought upon ourselves. And we’ve done it by misusing the freedom that other — and greater — generations than our own worked for, bled for, and bequeathed to our safe-keeping.

What have we done with that freedom?  In whose service do we use it now?

Catholics need to wake up from the illusion that the America we now live in — not the America of our nostalgia or imagination or best ideals, but the real America we live in here and now — is somehow friendly to our faith. What we’re watching emerge in this country is a new kind of paganism, an atheism with air-conditioning and digital TV.  And it is neither tolerant nor morally neutral.

As the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb observed more than a decade ago, “What was once stigmatized as deviant behavior is now tolerated and even sanctioned; what was once regarded as abnormal has been normalized.” But even more importantly, she added, “As deviancy is normalized, so what was once normal becomes deviant.  The kind of family that has been regarded for centuries as natural and moral — the ‘bourgeois’ family as it is invidiously called — is now seen as pathological” and exclusionary, concealing the worst forms of psychic and physical oppression.

My point is this: Evil talks about tolerance only when it’s weak. When it gains the upper hand, its vanity always requires the destruction of the good and the innocent, because the example of good and innocent lives is an ongoing witness against it.  So it always has been.  So it always will be. And America has no special immunity to becoming an enemy of its own founding beliefs about human freedom, human dignity, the limited power of the state, and the sovereignty of God.

Read every last word.