“God Is The Bigger Elvis”

Mother Dolores Hart made headlines in February when a documentary about her life and vocation was nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary short subject. Called “God is the Bigger Elvis” after a line spoken by Mother Dolores, the film tries to make sense of a woman who had everything, and then went from staring in major motion pictures (including Loving You opposite Elvis and Where the Boys Are) to the life of a cloistered religious.

Born to teenaged parents, she lives with the knowledge that her grandmother wanted her aborted. She became an actress and her career was soaring when she found herself fatigued after a long run on a Broadway play. A friend suggested she go to a Benedictine Abbey for rest and recuperation. That abbey was Regina Laudes, where Mother Dolores is now the Prioress. She was on the verge of marriage when she got the call, and we see the man who was to be her husband and who, 47 years later, stills visits her at the Abbey. There is a profound moment at the end when the couple–obviously still deeply in love–part, and we get a sense of the tension between two vocational calls: that of marriage to a man, and that of marriage to Christ.

Along the way we meet other nuns (including Laura Adhead, David Cameron’s ex-girlfriend), learn about their call to vocation, and see a bit of the life inside Regina Laudes. The entire documentary is embedded above, albeit with somewhat dodgy compression.



Anniversary of the Beatification of JP2

A year ago today, thousands lined up to pray before the remains of Pope John Paul II, whose coffin had been moved for his beatification. Later in the day, Pope Benedict XVI declared him to be among the blessed, saying:

When Karol Wojtyła ascended to the throne of Peter, he brought with him a deep understanding of the difference between Marxism and Christianity, based on their respective visions of man. This was his message: man is the way of the Church, and Christ is the way of man. With this message, which is the great legacy of the Second Vatican Council and of its “helmsman”, the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, John Paul II led the People of God across the threshold of the Third Millennium, which thanks to Christ he was able to call “the threshold of hope”. Throughout the long journey of preparation for the great Jubilee he directed Christianity once again to the future, the future of God, which transcends history while nonetheless directly affecting it. He rightly reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress. He restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope, to be lived in history in an “Advent” spirit, in a personal and communitarian existence directed to Christ, the fullness of humanity and the fulfillment of all our longings for justice and peace.


Marco Polo WAS in China

I never doubted it for a minute. Historical revisionists have been saying for years that Marco Polo’s famed Travels were a tissue of lies compiled from other sources. Hans Ulrich Vogel, a Sinologist from the University of Tübingen (where Pope Benedict once held the chair of dogmatic theology), has accomplished a staggering act of scholarship that involved sifting through a vast amount of primary source material in Chinese, Japanese, Italian, French, German and Spanish, comparing arcane lore about currency and the salt trade. His verdit?

Vogel concludes that no other Western, Arab, or Persian observer reported in such accurate and unique detail about the currency situation in Mongol China. The Venetian traveler is the only one to describe precisely how paper for money was made from the bark of the mulberry tree (morusalba l.)  He not only details the shape and size of the paper, he also describes the use of seals and the various denominations of paper money. He reports on the monopolizing of gold, silver, pearls and gems by the state – which enforced a compulsory exchange for paper money – and the punishment for counterfeiters, as well as the 3% exchange fee for worn-out notes and the widespread use of paper money in official and private transactions.

Marco Polo is also the only one among his contemporaries to explain that paper money was not in circulation in all parts of China. It was used primarily in the north and in the regions along the Yangtze, but not in Fujian and certainly not in Yunnan, where according to Polo, cowries, salt, gold and silver were the main currencies. This information is confirmed by Chinese sources and by archaeological evidence. Most of these sources were collated or translated long after Marco Polo’s time – so he could not have drawn on them. He could not read Chinese.

There’s more, and it’s fascinating stuff.

Vogel even makes use of a bit of Catholic history to bolster his point. One alleged strike against Marco Polo was that he’s never mentioned in Chinese documents. He’s not the only one:

Even Giovanni de Marignolli (1290-1357), an important papal envoy at the court of the Yuan rulers, is not mentioned in any Chinese sources – nor his 32-man retinue, nor the name of the pope. Only the “heavenly horse” sent as tribute from the “Kingdom of Franks” in 1342 gets a mention.

Historical controversies are rarely settled conclusively by new research, but this one is pretty well settled.

The End of Moore’s Law, and Beyond

Moore’s Law–which states that the number of transistors that can be placed in a circuit doubles every 18-24 months–is already coming to an end. The exponential growth in the the way silicon circuits are designed and manufactured has driven much of the technological progress of the last 40 years or so, but it can’t continue forever. This is why the techno-Utopians who prattle on about “exponential growth” weary me so: exponential growth is never sustainable. Eventually, you hit the limits of your materials, your creativity, your power, your programming, your economics, or any number of other factors that inhibit the uninterrupted development of technology.

Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist, does quite a nice job in the embedded video of explaining the inevitable end of Moore’s law, and the challenges we face in moving seamlessly from silicon-based processors to other kinds of computing, such as molecular and quantum computers. He’s placing the “collapse” of Moore’s Law 10 years out. I think we’re already at the beginning of that collapse, and although there are some fascinating candidates for a post-silicon future, a lot of them remain little more than tantalizing theories and wonderful experiments.

And all of them run into a single blunt reality: there is no Moore’s Law for programming. Programming advances at a linear rate. There’s even a corollary for Moore’s Law–sometimes called May’s Law–which states that while processing speed doubles every two years, software efficiency halves in the same time period. Obviously, this is meant more as commentary on Moore’s Law and its limits than as a real corollary, but there is a kernel of truth in it: programming does not keep pace with processing. That’s just a hard fact of computing, and techno-Utopians have never understood it.

The I of It [A Week of Time Wasters]

This week I’m posting five days worth of insidious browser-based time-wasters: little games that will make that coffee break vanish faster than Fr. Z at a Liturgical Dance Workshop. 

It looks more like a segment from Sesame Street than a game, but don’t be fooled. The I of It is a wonderful little puzzler with simple graphics and some clever twists. The goal is to navigate the letter I through geometric puzzles in an attempt to find the letter T. The A and D keys move the I left or right, while the W and A keys make the letter taller or shorter. By compressing the I to fit in tight spots and extending it to reaching out of the way places, you work your way through the obstacles to the goal. There’s more here than meets the … okay, I won’t say it. Play it at various sites, including www.armorgames.com and www.kongragate.com.