Wodehouse Interviewed

Here’s a Boxing Day treat for you: various clips of P.G. Wodehouse speaking. Despite a 26-year-long devotion to the great man and his books (a devotion I’ve passed on to my kids), I’d never heard him talk. Here’s the man Hilaire Belloc once called “the greatest writer of English now alive.”

Hope you all have a very Merry Christmas, and will continue to enjoy it until the Epiphany.


Bonus: one of my favorite Wodehouse anecdotes:


Authentic Joy Is Here

I’m on break until after New Year’s, but I wanted to thank you all for another year of patronage. Thanks for spending some of your valuable time with me, and for all those who donated, used my Amazon links, or shared posts on Facebook and Twitter.

This evening, as I listened to the reading from Isaiah in the vigil mass in a Church packed to the rafters and shining with light and beauty and love, I felt again that peace I’ve felt only since returning to the Church. Certainly, I felt happiness in the years I was away: pleasure, gratification, satisfaction. But is was pretty weak tea compared to the authentic joy that comes only from God, brought to us as light drawn down from heaven through the Incarnation.

Authentic joy is possible only in the embrace of God. All else is an imitation. As we come to the end of our season of waiting and preparation, we remember again the day that joy came into the world.

May the peace Christ be with you and your family, your friends and loved ones. Through you, may the light of Christ shine in the dark places and bring authentic joy into a world in need. God bless you and protect you.


Eye Cells From an Inkjet Printer

Promising news from the world of biotech:

Using an inkjet printer, researchers have succeeded in printing adult eye cells for the first time. The demonstration is a step toward producing tissue implants that could cure some types of blindness.

Scientists have previously printed embryonic stem cells and other immature cells. But scientists had thought adult cells might be too fragile to print. Now, researchers have printed cells from the optic nerves of rats, finding the cells not only survived, but also retained the ability to grow and develop.

Martin and his colleagues separated retinal ganglion cells (which transmit signals from the eye to the brain) and glial cells (which provide support and protection for neurons) from the retinal tissue of adult rats. They used a piezoelectric inkjet printer to print both types of cells into a vial at a rate of about 30 mph, or about 100 cells per second, recording the process with high-speed video. Then they performed tests to see how well the printed cells survived and grew.

Despite the shearing forces the cells experienced during printing, the printed retinal ganglion cells (also called optic nerve cells) and the glial cells appeared to survive as well as nonprinted cells. In addition, the optic nerve cells retained the ability to sprout neurites, the fingerlike filaments that form connections with other nerve cells.

Read the whole thing.

Hidden Medieval Manuscripts Uncovered Thanks to New Tech

This story first appeared while I was sick, when I marked it for later coverage. Even though it’s a few weeks old, it’s just too important to let slide.

A palimpsest is a writing surface that has been erased and used again. Since parchment is made of animal skin, it was durable enough to stand up to the process or scraping off letters to create a new, blank page.

Older manuscript that were in sufficient supply, or deemed no longer important, in the middle ages were “erased” and new manuscripts written on top.

Until now, those old texts were locked away, but writing leaves an imprint that is independent of the ink. This means that text is preserved in the indentations under the later manuscript on a palimpsest.

New digital imaging makes it possible to reveal those lost texts, and this means an entirely new venue of textual exploration has just opened.

Medievalist.net reports:

Using advanced multispectral imaging methods, the Palamedes project, based out of the Universities of Göttingen and Bologna were able to see the original writings in the manuscripts, one of which is located at the library of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem, while the t other can be found at the National Library of France in Paris.

The manuscript in Jerusalem originates from the famous Library of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. The uppermost text layer from the thirteenth century comprises the Prophetic Books of the Greek Old Testament, underlaid by older texts from various medieval manuscripts that contain works of Euripides and Aristotle, alongside theological tractates. “The manuscript in Jerusalem is one of the most significant witnesses to Euripides’ work”, explains the head of the research project, Felix Albrecht from Göttingen University’s Faculty of Theology. The manuscript contains the text of Euripides, surrounded by ancient annotations.

The manuscript in Paris preserves the remnants of an ancient philosophical manuscript from the late fifth century, the commentary of an unknown author on Aristotle’s work. It contains drawings of highest quality, which, due to their age, constitute important evidence for the textual tradition of philosophical commentaries. “The discovery of this work is of inestimable value for the history of philosophical education in the late antiquity”, says the discoverer of the manuscript, Dr. Chiara Faraggiana di Sarzana from Bologna University.

Given the number of lost manuscripts from the ancient world, and the widespread use of palimpsests, it seems almost inevitable that an entire secret library is out there right now, hidden under the pages of other manuscripts and just waiting to be rediscovered. Just writing that gives me chills.

Francis, Benedict, and Pelagius

Yesterday’s tempest in a Z-cup focused on Pope Francis’s curious phrase “self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism,” used to describe certain factions within Catholic traditionalism.

I remain puzzled that Francis has, on multiple occasions, felt the need to single out traditionalists for criticism, given the nature of evil at large in world. Most traditionalists are good and holy people, and I am sympathetic to their goals, which are the goals of Benedict. The hard core fringe of trad nuttery–Novus Ordo Watch, Rorate Caeli, SSPX, and the like–are a twitching, irrelevant mass of hatreds and hangups. They’re easily ignored, which is why I don’t understand why Francis feels compelled to single them out for criticism. Attacking a minor subset of a fringe hardly suits the dignity of a pope.

But what of the criticism itself? The self-absorbed and promethean parts I understand and don’t dispute, if we’re talking about a certain kind of fringe radical traditionalist. (The kind that’s just a nudge away from an SSPX chapel.) Pelagianism, however, is a heresy, and it’s not a word a pope should toss around lightly.

It turns out that Cardinal Ratzinger had first drawn the Pelagians into the discussion back in 1986. Andrea Tornielli found the relevant quote, which I’d never before seen despite long study of Ratzinger/Benedict. It comes from the Spiritual Exercises of 1986, and is found in the book “Guardare Cristo: esempi di fede, speranza e carità” [Looking at Christ: Examples of faith, hope and charity]; published by Jaka Books.

The other face of the same vice is the Pelagianism of the pious. They do not want forgiveness and in general they do not want any real gift from God either. They just want to be in order. They don’t want hope they just want security. Their aim is to gain the right to salvation through a strict practice of religious exercises, through prayers and action. What they lack is humility which is essential in order to love; the humility to receive gifts not just because we deserve it or because of how we act…

I don’t see this kind of Pelagianism as a unique property of traditionalism, and in fact the same can be said of those who consider themselves “progressive” “social justice” Catholics, who believe their attitude towards, and work on behalf of, the poor are justification enough. They, too, lack “humility.”

But Ratzinger was focused on the “pious,” which does not necessarily mean the traditionalist. It could just as well be the surface piety of the regular Novus Ordo church-goer who believes correct participation in all the required aspects of the faith are sufficient for salvation, without going deeper into a conversion of the heart.

Ratzinger was driven by the desire to draw people closer to Jesus, to have them search for “His face” and be converted by His radiant love. Empty pieties would be an obstacle to that, because the Catholic would feel as though he or she had already done everything necessary.

I have trouble with this observation, because I know many good people who practice their faith with devotion and care, yet probably never dug deeper into the metaphysical, mystical underpinnings that come naturally to others. I think of the people of my parents’ generation who lived lives of good faith, albeit a largely unexamined faith. For some, piety is all they can muster. They sense the mystery, but lack the capacity to be drawn into its depths. Are we to say they are not justified?

Forms are important. They should not be the end but the beginning of a deep faith. But if they are the end for someone, and if they are practiced in good will and charity with an open heart, who are we say that the person practicing them does not know the action of grace? After all, would they be prompted to pray their rosary and attend mass without prevenient grace? If their emotional or intellectual or dispositional capacity is limited, perhaps pietism is the best manifestation of their relationship with Christ. Not all hearts are turned in the same way.

Simulating the Mundane, And What It Means

One of the stranger backwaters of gaming is niche simulation: using lush 3D engines and expansive environments to simulate everyday tasks like driving a bus, fixing an airplane, collecting garbage, or planting corn. These are not training simulators (which are a different thing), but entertainment products.

Garbage Truck Simulator

I don’t mean strategy games, which have a puzzle-like quality requiring you to manage construction, money, markets, and other elements common to the “tycoon” genre. I mean a real-time simulator in which you get in a vehicle of some sort and then drive that vehicle to another point … and then do it again. And again.

The genre springs from Microsoft Flight Simulator, a title which mystified us in the early days of computer gaming because it was a flight game with a disturbing paucity of Nazis to shoot down. Flight sims were supposed to be combat sims. You took off, shot down bad guys or bombed your targets, and then landed. In MS Flight, you took off, flew in a straight line for an hour, and landed. They left out the best part!

But people loved it. It had a large, devoted audience of flight enthusiasts, and for a good reason: if you’re into flying, it recreates the experience with incredible precision, including the distinct flight characteristic of various aircraft, accurate instruments, weather conditions, thousands of airports both large and small, and a massive expanse of terrain.

Flight is not a mundane thing. It’s kind of wonderful, actually, especially in small craft, and the complexities of instrument flying and managing shifting conditions made MS Flight an interesting experience for air enthusiasts, and an exercise in high-tedium for everyone else. It became so realistic that it was usable for training.

But then we started getting sims based on things that weren’t particularly wonderful, at least to most of us. Here is a list of just the titles I actually have or have seen. There are far more, and I’m not counting combat, racing, or flight sims at all. That would push the number into the thousands, literally. Read what you can and marvel at the publisher hype:

  • Airport Ground Crew Simulation “is an exciting profession and technology simulation where you join a team of airport ground control workers to experience the important daily routine of servicing aircraft when they are parked at the terminal stand in readiness for take off or immediately after landing.”
  • Professional Farmer 2014 “takes the player to the countryside and gives hobby farmers full control in the comfort of their home.”
  • Farming Simulator 2014 Titanium Edition: “Welcome to the greatest farming simulation ever made! Farming Simulator 2013® Titanium invites you into the challenging world of a modern day farmer. Take on all the challenges of farming life, including animal husbandry (cows, chicken and sheep), crops, sales… it’s up to you to manage and grow your own farm in a huge open world,…
  • Agriculture Simulator 2013 is the “Best In Farming! An idyllic farming environment surrounded by inviting & untilled mountain panoramas set in the beautiful landscapes of Tuscany, The Alps and USA await all fans of the Agricultural Simulator series.”
  • Agricultural Simulator–Historical Farming: “Enjoy being a farmer between 1950 and 1970 in the Agricultural Simulator – Historical Farming. The game takes you to the good old days and you will experience the charming farming of the 60’s and 70’s. Fans of nostalgia and history will be glad to work with original designed machines and to till a field with well known Old-timer Tractors.”
  • Bus-Simulator 2012 asks you to “Catch the bus and let it take you to a detailed, virtual world. Are you ready to explore a picturesque German city behind the wheel of a realistically modeled, freely accessible bus? Then take a look at Bus Simulator 2012 by the well-known developer studio TML! Every technical detail of the original bus has been reproduced true-to-live.[sic]”
  • OMSI: Der Omnibussimulator is “a realistic omnibus simulator for home use. You are the driver and your job is to drive the bus and the passengers safely and on time through the surrounding traffic. Great effort has been made to recreate the vehicles as realistic as possible. So concerning handling and operation, the buses resemble their real-life counterparts to a very high degree. Especially functions like the gearbox control which simulates every detail of the original, the physical simulation of the air system, the fully working IBIS (Integrated Board Information System) and the extensive soundset (more than 100 single sounds per vehicle) create a high level of realism. Furthermore, the realistic and detailed scenery with dense traffic and animated objects contributes to the ‘omnibus experience for everyone. OMSI takes the player back to West-Berlin in the 1980s. The omnibus line 92 (today called M37) runs more than 11 kilometres through the Berlin district Spandau. The virtual bus driver will be provided with detailed models of the contemporary MAN doubledeckers SD200 and SD202 from different years of manufacture.”
  • OMSI 2 let’s you “relive the change taking place in Spandau between 1986 and 1994! OMSI 2 now replicates the exciting years following the German reunification and all the innovations and route expansions (line 137 to Falkensee) that came along with it.”
  • Euro Truck Simulator “has become the classic of the genre and is still relevant today. The first truck simulation game in a European setting, with European long haul trucks! Drive freight from London to Rome to Berlin to Madrid to Prague – and many more cities – in realistic vehicles.”
  • Euro Truck Simulator 2: “Travel across Europe as king of the road, a trucker who delivers important cargo across impressive distances! With dozens of cities to explore from the UK, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and many more, your endurance, skill and speed will all be pushed to their limits.”
  • Trucks & Trailers: “Put your truck driving skills to the test in Trucks & Trailers! Once you’ve completed basic training hopefully you’ll be up to mastering the wide variety of tasks that lie ahead. Manoeuvring these huge vehicles is not easy especially when you are up against the clock and make sure you deliver those valuable goods in pristine condition – your reputation depends on it!”
  • Ship Simulator Extremes: “VSTEP and Paradox are proud to announce the next installment of the acclaimed Ship Simulator series. With over 550K copies sold, the series returns to take you into the most extreme conditions on earth… Ever wonder how it feels to sail a half-million-ton supertanker through the perfect storm?”
  • New York Taxi Simulator lets you “start your career as a taxi driver in the city of New York and carry your customers safely and on time to their final destination. Good reliability and consistency will be rewarded. As one of the largest taxi operators you manage your own fleet, so take over the maintenance of the vehicles and enjoy the realistic driving experience.”
  • Garbage Truck Simulator 2011 has you “start with a small waste disposal truck and take over the truck driver’s role. Your driver can be individually designed by you and you can enjoy detailed controls and instruments in the cockpit-view and realistic street traffic. Drive your colleagues to the destination area quickly and safely with the aid of a navigation system. But watch out for traffic rules: The police’s radar systems can be mounted anywhere! Next to that, your car will break down, if damaged too severely, due to a realistic damage system. At your destination, you haul the containers to the truck, empty them with the push of a button and put them back in your truck. You will be enthused about the detailed animated controls for loading and unloading equipment. Your loading space is full? Then activate the compactor and make space for the remaining waste.”
  • Underground Mining Simulator: “Descend into the depths with the ultimate career challenge as you take on the role of a miner in Underground Mining Simulator. Explore coal, iron, salt and gold mines as you strive to extract your precious pickings. Mine the seams utilising both explosives and start of the art drilling equipment, including drills and an ultra-modern face tunnelling machine. Equip your mine with tilting side loaders and bulldozers as you take the fruits of your labours back to the surface.”
  • Trainz Simulator 12 [there are too many train and flight sims to list] “includes the most exciting new feature in the history of Trainz. The players have asked for it and we have delivered Trainz Multiplayer. Now players from all over the world can build, play and operate railroads together!” http://store.steampowered.com/widget/24670/8276/

My Uncle Jimmy was a farmer (and, no, his name wasn’t McDonald, Old or otherwise). If I’d told him that some day people will use $1500 machines to run $60 programs in order to simulate planting tomatoes, splitting wood, and collecting eggs, he would have thought I’d cracked.

Workplace sims are time-intensive, and lack the obvious drama or escapism essential for a good game. Users are sitting home performing rote, reptetitve tasks, and not even getting paid for it.

People put in the time to learn a combat flight sim because the life of a fighter pilot is dangerous and thrilling. Even Snoopy dreamed of being the World War I Flying Ace.

He never dreamed of driving the 137 bus line to Falkensee.

So what is the appeal of these sims for their fans? I’m not talking about planes or even trains, which have a romance to them, but tractors, garbage trucks, freight ships, buses, taxis, and backhoes? Do people dream of mowing golf courses (a Farm Simulator side job)?

And if so, who are these people? And what’s wrong with them?

The answer to the first question is: Europeans. The European market is by far the largest market for these games. And I don’t mean large in the sense of “largest segment of a small market.” I mean this: 

That’s Farming Simulator as the number 2 bestseller in all of Great Britain, ahead of major big-budget A-list action, role-playing, and strategy titles. You’ll also notice Euro Truck Simulator cracking the top 10, because apparently tens of thousands of Britons want to be German long-haul truck drivers.

All told, millions of copies have been sold in this niche of mundane sims. But why?

The most obvious answer is that dedicated hobbyists are strange, and Europe is full of them. Witness the train-spotting holiday.

But that’s not enough to drive a whole market.

The first thing to realize is that these are not “simple” sims. There is a great deal of nuance and detail to them. Plowing a field is more than just driving in a straight line (which is hard enough). And due to the nature of the sims, they develop a strangely pacific community, with a notable lack of trolls and teens. 

The effect. for those who cultivate the patience (and I am most definitely not one of them), is a kind of zen-like focus on minutiae that is the exact opposite of the big, bold, dramatic style of normal games. It’s more like those desktop zen gardens where you have a tiny rake a little rocks and have to focus on making everything just right.

Strange as it may seem, there’s also an element of escape in these mundane sims. There’s a mental burden to modern life, with its faster pace and inescapable mass media and communication noise, that turns the banal into the romantic. We are too much in our heads, and information overload creates an odd sense that the upwardly mobile middle class office worker might actually find great peace just running the combine or driving a bus.

And this isn’t wholly an illusion. Mike Rowe, host of the TV show dirty jobs, says the people he finds doing seemingly miserable work are more well-adjusted and content than the rat-racers he encounters in other parts of his life. Here’s what he had to say in an interview:

Interviewer: You also have said on the show that some of the happiest people you’ve ever met go home every day smelling bad because they work with stuff like sewage and garbage. Are you saying that workers you meet in dirty jobs are generally happier people than you meet in cleaner professions?

Rowe: It’s a generalization, but I’ll stand by it. Happiness is a tough, subjective thing to define. But I will say that after a couple hundred of these experiences, the thing I find is balance in the lives of people I’ve met. People with dirty jobs have a balance in their lives that I don’t see in my friends who are actuarial accountants and investment bankers.

They start their day clean; they wind up coming home dirty, but somehow they seem to be having a better time than the rest of us.

I have a lot of theories on that, but at base, it has to do with the sense of completing a task. So many “good” jobs these days don’t give you a sense of closure. For a lot of people in office work, the desk looks the same at 6 p.m. as it did at 6 a.m. How do you know when you are done?

People I work with — hey, they got a dead deer in the road. They do their work and it’s gone. You got a ditch to put in. In the morning, it’s not there. In the evening, it is. People with dirty jobs live in a world of constant feedback. For better or worse, they always know how they’re doing. That matters.

People in the building trades — the stone mason who can walk through town and point to structures he created. That’s a legacy. Even skilled factory work is really a rewarding thing when it is mastered. That’s the exact thing we don’t portray fairly in our culture today. Most manual work is now presented as some form of drudgery.

We shouldn’t try to draw a stark line between clean and dirty, hard and easy. These aren’t opposites; they’re different sides of the same thing. People with dirty jobs seem to have an innate understanding of that — and a better balance in life.

Simulation certainly doesn’t capture the meaning or productivity of true work, but Rowe’s observations may point to the romanticization some people attach to these jobs. There’s a peace and satisfaction found in simplicy.

Europe in particular, where these things are the most popular, has seen a radical disenchantment of everyday life. Their elite have “elevated” their culture to the point of decadence, and are left looking back on simple things with a peculiar longing. Using high-tech tools to simulate productive work, rather than actually doing productive work, is just another part of that decadence, but perhaps it points in a hopeful direction. Perhaps longing for something simple means someone’s gaze is being drawn in the right direction. It’s not that we all need, or even long, to be farmers or drivers, but that we’re lost something. This “something”–and the people who feel the loss often can’t define it–seems important.

Or perhaps it’s just an exercise is empty nostalgia.

In my family, almost all of the generation immediately before us worked hard labor and long hours. My father was a sheet metal worker, and he didn’t want me to get anywhere near that kind of work. I under that, and I know that what I do now is easier and pays better than what he did. I work indoors. My work isn’t dangerous. It doesn’t damage my body. Physically, it’s easy. Mentally, it’s not always that easy.

But I can tell you this much: at the end of the day, he was a happier man than I am.

Do I secretly long to bend metal into ductwork on construction sites? Would I pick up Sheet Metal Simulator 2014 to get a taste of that life?

No, of course not. But I think I understand the mindset that might. We’ve come a little too far too fast, and it’s left us feeling shorn from the roots connecting us to our past, and to the everyday labor than makes the ease of the modern world possible. We take too much for granted. Simulating things isn’t the answer, but in a very small way, maybe it can help us understand the question.

Do You Like Classic Movie Posters?

Who doesn’t?

And do you like Catholic patristics and apologetics? Now you can combine those loves by checking out author Rod Bennett‘s new project: 10,000 movie posters.

Rod has spent years compiling and digitally restoring images of thousands of vintage posters, and now he’s offering his work on 10 DVDs, with 1000 posters each, for $12 a pop. Here’s the official line:

The ultimate warm-up for your next home theatre movie night! Over seven years to collect—thousands of man-hours spent on Photoshop restoration. Incredible conversation starter for movie buffs.

Imagine having 1000 of Hollywood’s greatest poster images to display on your screen at home. Well, these discs put the images you see here daily at your disposal—huge jpeg images (averaging 3MB or more) that will display at near-fullsize if your screen is big enough. (The discs will play on most DVD and Blu-Ray players, and all home computers).

Many of the paper originals on these titles have sold for $50,000 or more. These digital versions give you the same awesome graphics, cleaned up and color-corrected to look just as they did when displayed outside the movie palaces of their day. Chipping, discoloration, watermarks, even fold lines—all have been digitally removed via the magic of Photoshop, leaving them looking brand new—better in some cases!

Each 1000-poster disc includes a full range of classic films from the 1890s to today, carefully chosen to give a “great moments at the movies” feeling that will put you and your guests in the mood for a movie like nothing you’ve seen!

Only the films that “resonate”—fan favorites, cult classics, Academy award winners. No “filler” posters. No junk posters just to fill out the thousand. These are the best titles from every genre. Many, many hours have been spent by me selecting only the cream of the crop.

Any lesser titles on the disc are there solely because the poster art is unusually good—more fun than the film itself.

Among the genres featured:
B Westerns, silent comedy, recent blockbusters, kung fu, Blaxploitation, Universal monsters, film noir, AFI Top 100, musicals, animated features, serials, Disney, Pixar, Lucas/Spielberg, Harryhausen, Hitchcock, superheroes, travelogues, newsreels, classic art house, 80s slasher, spaghetti westerns, sword & sandal, samurai, screwball comedy, 40s weepies, 50s Sci-Fi, Japanese monsters, short subjects, spook show, IMAX, Hammer horror, Elvis Presley, pre-code, two-reel comedies, all-colored cast, cartoon shorts, and more.

Join his Facebook page to get new previews every day. They make great shares for movie buffs.


Sirach: An Online Manuscript Collection

The Book of Sirach (Latin: Ecclesiasticus) is a beautiful wisdom work that blends Greek and Hebrew thought. It’s the last of the Old Testament books composed, and was probably written only two centuries before the first of the New Testament texts, providing an important glimpse into the development of faith and philosophy between the OT world and the NT world.

The last century has seen the recovery of various important manuscripts of Sirach, first from them middle ages, and then later, fragments from Qumran. These manuscripts are scattered in collections in Cambridge, Oxford, London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, and Jerusalem, making close examination and comparison of text a difficult thing. A new project called The Book of Ben Sirah is making that job much easier by attempting to unite all extant manuscripts into a single site. (Only the pages at the Bodleian Library are not included for rights reasons, but the site includes links to them.)

Right now, there are just hi-res scans up, but transcriptions, translations, and resources will be added now that the project is live. Check out the link to get a glimpse of these important manuscripts.