Friday, March 07, 2014

What I've Been Up to Lately

Besides not blogging here, what have I been up to lately?

Well, my daughter tuned 1 late last month, so there was a birthday party. It was largely a family affair, which is still large enough a gathering that it was difficult to get much more than a perfunctory "hello" to each relative. I had a nice conversation with my brother and his wife, though, and I floated the idea of a camping/fishing trip sometime in the summer. Hopefully that will happen.

Actually, February will likely always be a busy month for family: Valentine's day is followed by one niece's birthday, then a nephew's, then my wife's and mother-in-law's (same day), and then my daughter's. These last three are on consecutive days.

Speaking of Valentine's day, my wife and daughter got me a nice (though used) jogging stroller (sorry, no pictures today). I immediately bought a little pack to attach to the handle to carry the foot-pump for the tires(one was really flat), my water bottle, my wallet and keys, and my sidearm. I wonder if this counts as carrying a gun in a vehicle, or whether it only counts as carrying concealed. Anyway, since my last laser week ended I've been back to jogging again. I think I made about 4 miles today (I don't have one of those fancy smart-phone apps to tell for sure, so I estimate based on Google Maps). Jogging with a stroller presents a new kind of challenge to jogging solo, I will say that: on the one hand, there is the temptation to lean on it a little bit (at least on the level patches), but on the other hand I'm having to push it, at times pull it (going down hills), and stabilize it (our sidewalks and running trails aren't the smoothest things).

Actually, taking the daughter out for jogs serves three purposes:
  1. I get some exercise
  2. She gets to go for a fun ride outside
  3. My wife gets peace and quiet for however long I'm out.
I think the last of these three might be the most important. She uses the time variously for exercising herself (she jumps n a trampoline for this), running the laundry down to our laundry facility (or running it backup), or just relaxing for a while before having to start the day.

Speaking of laser weeks, mine come around for 8 consecutive days every 28 days. My typical schedule during these is appalling. I usually start strong and make it in to work by 9 or 9:30, then work through until 11:30 or midnight. His puts me hoe at around 1 am. Towards the end of the week, as data collection is (ostensibly)happening, I'm coming in at 10 or 10:30 an then working until 3 AM or later. My last week culminated with my going in at 10:30 Friday morning, working through until midnight, sleeping a few hours on a couch in our conference room, and then working through until 4 PM Saturday.

Depressingly, a lot of these lase runs are relatively fruitless. The last one probably falls into that category, though the one before was a bit more successful. I do not think I will miss this schedule. There may be some doctors and lawyers who work longer hours (at least early on in their career), but both are typically paid about an order of magnitude more money for their troubles.

Suffice it to say that there is not much free time left in my schedule after that. Somehow I am supposed to find time for writing my thesis in there. I have about 130 pages, a lot of which is text an equations. I expect that there will be at least 50 more pages before t's anything like finished. My goal coming into this semester was to graduate in May, but it's looking like I won't be finished writing my thesis by then. I have until August.

I still don't have a job lined out for afterwards, and suffer from the additional problem of not really knowing what I want to do. Id like to teach, and I'm good at it, but I also need to be able to support my family. Honestly, the main thing I dislike about what I'm doing right now is the constant level of high stress coupled with the lack of work-life balance. Let me run an experiment on a 9/80 schedule, and I will be a lot happier with my job. Throw in some understanding for the fact that experiments don't always work the first, second, or even fifth time you do them (especially not when you are using unstable equipment and relatively exotic technology), and you've got yourself a winner. Not sure where to find something like that, especially given that I would like to live in or near Texas to be close to that half of my family, or possibly the pacific Northwest to be close to the other side of the family.


Finally, I'm trying to learn a few more computer skills. This is frankly my biggest gap in my job-related skills: I have an on-again, off-again relationship with MatLab, can use Labview (though installing through the university is a pain), and am trying to learn Python. I may also need to bone up a bit on Zemax, and then I may consider C (useful for some of these other languages) or Java (especially if I can land a teaching position somewhere).

While I'm on the subject of programming languages in general an Python in particular, I've noticed that "strings" manipulation is something that most online tutorials tend to teach fairly early on. Not wanting to be a serious programmer, I wonder at times why so much emphasis is placed on this from the get-go. I did, however, have an idea for a practical (joke) application of it: it seems to me that this would be a very efficient way of communicating in cipher (or better yet, outright code, if you'l pardon the pun). The NSA would not be pleased: perhaps this is a good reason to learn how to do it. Then I could send privately encoded emails to give some snoop a little something to think about.


Seven Quick Takes Friday is hosted by Mrs Jennifer Fulwiler at her Conversion Diary blog.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Student Artwork: When Velociraptors Attack!

Here are this semesters (best) submissions to the "draw a velociraptro/story" contest (also known as quiz 5, bonus question). First, the previous question, which i steal from XKCD:

Note that there is a sketch of a velociraptor on this question for comparison. Also, not thinking a handgun is going to cut it for this one (ok, technically Jurassic Park did velociraptors wrong--they modeled the "velociraptor" after a larger raptor, Deinonychus, and velociraptor aren't much bigger than chickens--but still).

I'm not sure that a boomerang is much better than that pistol. Since it stunned the velociraptor, maybe it is the same one used in the old Legend of Zelda video game on the NES platform (and beyond).

Ah yes, that weapon is a bit more effective...whatever the heck it is.

Not everyone gets away.

Misplaced modifiers leave me wondering: did you make it to the top, then get eaten? Or did you make it to the top before the raptor could eat you, and therefore you escape being eaten by the raptor altogether?

Having a weapons stash (including an AK-47) might come in handy when fighting off giant were-raptors. And a lance might prove useful if the raptor is secretly a dragon.

Some people would apparently prefer to leave the raptor-slaying to the professionals. Go army, go! Good thing it's just dinosaurs an not a zombie apocalypse.

Yes, this literally is attempting to show how the scenario might play out. Apparently, the weapons available include a bow and some arrows, and the cast-steel ladder climbs up a castle's turret.

Well-played, beardless Gandalf, well-played.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Blogging Withdrawals

A few people ahve told me that they really miss my stuff here. Also, based on the number of hits I was getting daily (~400 according to Google, not impressive but respectable), it seems that I had established at least some readership here. I hate to leave folks hanging, but, well, I wasn't kidding about taking my more "serious" stuff elsewhere. ( In related news, I don't post nearly as much stuff to facebook anymore.) I left hints in my last post. Though, ironically, we've decided not to move from our apartment (it's still been a nice exercise in decluttering, though).

Anyways, if you miss me, know that I'm still out there, and even in a few of my usual online haunts, but more commonly and with help on the new site. Also, I stuck with Blogger rather than switching to Wordpress, for whatever that's worth, though this was largely because I didn't want to go through the trouble of creating another wordpress account. And no, you can't just find the new blog by clicking on my profile on this site and then looking for the new blog: I write under a different profile there.

I've even put out a "Welcome!" post for those who want to leave a comment/ping saying they've found the new site (it's in the new sites archives from early July). Looking for the new site is, I guess, like a giant game of internet "Where's Waldo."

Good luck!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Seven Quick Takes Friday (v. 65): Missive on Moving

My wife and I are looking to move to somewhere else in Austin, mostly because our rent is going up yet again. Three years ago when we moved into these apartments, the rent was $750/month. When our lease is up in September, the rate will go up to $1030/month, and the rates have gone up a the end of every contract. We can't afford this. We also can't move too far, since she has a number of clients who come to here for voice lessons--we don't want to lose more money in income than we save by moving. Then there's the question of how long we will stay here anyway, since at some point I will finish my doctorate. I wish I had a better idea of when, so that I could plan details like this accordingly (I signed a 6 month contract because there was a chance that I'd be done now; if I'd know it would be a whole year longer, we would have already moved somewhere else).

I hate moving, hate being transient (even if it's moving and being transient within the same city), and hate that I can't just stay in one place for more than a couple of years. These things goes against my conservative sensibilities. However, I hate it even more when rent is increased by 30% over a 3 year span of time, especially if my own salary has been completely static (and my wife's has actually decreased slightly) during that time.

Suffice it to say that while I hope to not move out of this area as a whole, even after I graduate, I would like to move out of this city and into the surrounding suburbs. Frankly, the cost of living is lower and the housing nicer. Our rent is actually higher than many of our friends and acquaintances mortgage payments, and our apartment is not exactly luxury living. Nor do we consider it the safest neighborhood in town (we're actually on the edge of one of the worst neighborhoods in this city, and the wife has not felt safe since we came home at midnight after a wedding to the sight of the SWAT team surrounding the apartment building next to ours. I pointed out that this has happened in three of the four apartments complexes that I've lived in since moving here, but I don't think that this improved her outlook much.

In happier news, I'm traveling to Michigan for a friend's wedding next week. I've never been to Michigan, and a trip to the lakes is on the agenda. Most of my itinerary is planned out (I'm splitting a car and a couple of hotel rooms with some of the others who are going), and it's going to be a fun trip, though I suppose I'll miss my wife and daughter while there--we will have spent two of the last three weeks apart. I guess that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but we've never spent this much time apart since getting married.

I'm still debating closing this website down, or else turning it into a simple "updates on my life" blog only, while doing my serious writing elsewhere. I even have a new site started where we've been writing, taking all the posts on this one. If I go that route, most of the posts on this site will be deleted, though I've already saved all of them and will probably re-publish them--at least the good ones--on my other sites. I mentioned all of this in my previous set of quick-takes which has since been accidentally deleted. To re-hash, since I'm hopefully soon going to be looking for employment (as soon as I finish this accursed doctorate), it's probably best to not have my name associated with every "contentious" opinion which I publish on the internet.

Now, I grant that I would rather not work for someone who will make my life miserable on account of my being an outspoken conservative Catholic. However, there are quite a few imaginable scenarios in which being this hurts my chances of getting employed, but wouldn't have really impacted the quality of my life at work had I been employed. To use an example, I've interviewed with a handful of recruiters who have done campus visits. None of these people would have likely been my actual boss (or colleague) had I been hired by their organizations, nor are they making the final hiring decisions. However, they would be the ones to refer me (positively, negatively, or not at all) to the people who actually would be my potential bosses. I can see one of these middlemen's quietly deciding not to refer me for employment on the basis of my holding a number of unpopular decisions. They might even justify it by saying something along the lines of, "gee, a person who writes that on his blog may not be very tolerant in the workplace, therefore may not be a good hire because he may hurt moral/not get along with the various diverse members of his team/etc."

Meanwhile, if they were to ask any of the various diverse people with whom I work right now what their opinion of me as a person and as a colleague is, they'd get back reasonably glowing reviews.

Suffice it to say that I may be keeping this blog open for "personal updates" in quick-take form, but that the political/religious/moral opinions will likely be going elsewhere, and elsewhere not associated with my name per se. I probably shouldn't have invited my co-blogger to start writing here if we're just going to go elsewhere, but both of us are at peace with this. I'm also not going to openly leave a forwarding address here, but those of you who are clever will be able to find our new home.

Of course, I will be at work when this is published today. It's kind of taken the form of a "missive," which is not unusual for my writing, I suppose. After work, I have some house-cleaning to do, both digitally and in helping my wife to organize our apartment in preparation for moving. And like I've said, I'm at peace with moving most of my stuff from here, it's only a precaution, and possibly not a necessary one; it's not like running to the "catacombs" (if you know what I mean) or anything.

And P.S. don't link to me by name unless it's to a site where I'm writing by name. It's not that I want to be anonymous, I just don't need every potential employer who tries to find out what public things I write in my private life needs to easily succeed in this endeavor.


Seven Quick Takes Friday is hosted by Mrs Jennifer Fulwiler at her Conversion Diary blog.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Seven Quick Takes Friday (v. 64): What I Did During the Test

Proctoring exams is not my favorite part of the teaching job (though grading the exams is worse by far). Almost inevitably, there are a handful of students who are asking questions in the hope that I will give away the answers to the problems posed. There are also a number of people who ask incessantly how much time is left, and a few people who would rather complain about the test length and how there isn't enough time to finish it (which is not true) than to actually work on attempting to finish the test.

Therefore, I gave little updates on the board as the test progressed. Here are some of them.

The exam is long,
The test time is rather short:
Better get started.

Diligence and haste
Are watchwords for this test:
Work efficiently!


Talking is cheating,
Don't seek help from your neighbors--
This is an exam.

No phones are allowed
Texting is worse than talking:
Don't seek outside help.

That foreboding sense
Which you feel deep in your soul--
It's called despair.

Many have taken
An exam more difficult--
But you shall not pass!

Be quick but thorough
On this your grade will depend
You have but one hour.

You spirit is broken
Morale is starting to wane:
You're only half way.
To finish the test,
Concentrate on the questions.
The board will waste time.

If you're reading this,
Note that distractions slow you--
You need to focus.

Seven minutes left
Make any graphs you need
Finish your answers.

Four minutes ago,
This was actually right,
Now you have three left.


The test time is up,
Put your names on your papers.
Now give them to me.

Summer sets in now,
Leave here with the memory
Of battles well fought.


Seven Quick Takes Friday is hosted by Mrs Jennifer Fulwiler at her Conversion Diary blog.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Seven Quick Takes Friday (v. 63)

I stumbled across this column by Miss Eve Tushnet, a Catholic woman whom experiences same-sex attraction, defending the Church's teachings on sexuality:
"I didn't expect to understand every element of the faith. It is a lot bigger than I am.... Faith is no escape from the need for personal moral judgment; the Church is meant to form your conscience, not supersede it. There are many things which, if the Catholic Church commanded them, I think would have prevented me from becoming Catholic. (More on this below.) But I do think it was okay to enter the Church without being able to justify all of her teachings on my own....God doesn't promise that He'll only ask you for the sacrifices you agree with and understand....I think gay Catholics can also offer a necessary witness to the broader society. By leading lives of fruitful, creative love, we can offer proof that sexual restraint isn't a death sentence (or an especially boring form of masochism). Celibacy can offer some of us radical freedom to serve others."
We don't get to choose the crosses we must bear, but only whether we will try to bear them or not, and whether we will unite them to Christ's cross or not.

On a relate vein, the rebuttal is far too often made that the cross demanded* of gays by the Church is incomparable to that of unmarried straights. Yes and no. In one sense, nobody's cross is ever the same as anybody else's. Some may experience a task as a cross which others will experience as a joy. Housework (and yardwork, for that matter) comes immediately to mind here--there are some people who actually do enjoy at least some of this, e.g. cleaning/organizing the house or mowing the lawn, etc. For others, these tasks are chores undertaken of necessity (and sometimes not undertaken at all). On the other hand, everybody has a cross to bear in some form, and that cross will at times be difficult.

*Demanded? The Church doesn't demand. She prescribes and proscribes according to the teachings which have been entrusted to her.

Even looking at the difference between marriage and single life, there is the fact that marriage does not make all of the sexual temptations go away. Indeed, the person who treats his wife as a means of sexual relief is in fact using his wife, which is still a sin. Part of the point of marriage is to learn how to treat one special person as being unique, as being a separate "I." Ideally, we would treat all other people as separate "I's," but this is very difficult to accomplish in practice. Marriage demands especial practice of us in this regard. As Prof. Budziszzewski notes,
"Our wisdom traditions used to call marriage a 'remedy for lust,' making a true point that is almost always misconstrued. Lust isn't sexual desire per se, but disordered sexual desire—the problem isn't the desire, but the disorder. The idea in the old saying about the 'remedy for lust' isn't that marriage provides a way to blow off steam when the pressure inside the boiler gets too high, but that the sweet disciplines of married life have a tendency to rearrange our emotions and desires, to help them become more orderly. Of course that won't happen if a man does treat his wife as a steam-pressure vent. But part of the meaning of marital purity is that he learns to treat her as a wife."
And that can be every bit as challenging as the single life, in its own way.

In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis warned that we are moving towards the creation of a generation of "men without chests," then to "trousered apes." At times I wonder if we don't have the opposite problem, too: men without heads, men who are governed only by their "chests" (meaning here, by their passions).

"Truly a philosopher, [Herbert] Spencer starts with the universal in order to explain the particular." This line is from Etienne Gilson's From Aristotle to Darwin and Back: A Journey in Final Causality, Species, and Evolution. Left unsaid is the opposite (or sorts), that a scientist begins with particulars and then attempts to construct the universal from these. On the other hand, "There is nothing in the intellect that was not first in the senses" is among Aristotle's fundamental principles, echoed later by Aquinas. Aristotle was both inductive and deductive in his approach to things.

Truth, goodness, beauty: three of the transcendentals, all three originating ultimately in God. When we make an argument for God or religion, the most convincing arguments are those which attempt to prove the truth of religion, the  next most its goodness, and the least its beauty. Arguments from goodness only work when truth is unknowable, or at least when the arguments over the truth of the religion are in stalemate; from beauty, the arguments of truth and goodness must generally come to indecision. Yet paradoxically, it's almost the other way around when we look at convincing experiences. I suspect that there are far more people who are drawn to God by beauty first, and by truth only later; or again, they are drawn first by beauty, then drawn deeper by goodness, and only then discover the truth of the Church (and ultimately, Truth).

The busy weekend was last weekend, but it looks like I don't get to finally have a nice relaxing and quiet (ish) weekend where I can stay home and read and write. My parents in law are still down from last weekend's baptism, and we will apparently be hosting them* this weekend. I love my family, including the in-laws, but it would be nice to have a weekend to unwind, especially since I will likely be at work for at least a big part of both of the next two weekends. It's not much of a cross, but it does number among the many small disciplines of married life (to say nothing of parenthood) that we realize more acutely that our time is not our own.

*All of my wife's siblings live in the area

Seven Quick Takes Friday is hosted by Mrs Jennifer Fulwiler at her Conversion Diary blog.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Seven Quick Takes (v. 61): Things Fall Apart, or Something

The semester is dead. Long live the new semester! And speaking of long-lived endeavors, it sounds like the request for a 1-year extension on my dissertation has been unanimously approved by my committee. Here's hoping that I have a Ph.D. by year's end.

I'm noticing a whole lot of blog about purity/virginity/chastity/abstinence posts popping up all of a sudden. There are too many to be worth linking from here, and as always, there are at several sides (broadly):
  1. One side--which seems largely to consist of hedonists, but includes a few folks who are simply shocked by the admission of a certain human-trafficking victim--equates chastity/virginity with purity/abstinence and rejects all of these.
  2. Another side, consisting principally of somber moralists and certain Christians, reduces virginity and chastity to purity and abstinence, and thus defends the latter as the ends while not really embracing the former at all. 
  3. A third side, which seems to largely by the orthodox Catholics and a few other good Christians, divides these and embraces chastity and virginity while rejecting purity and abstinence as ends though not necessarily as means.
Sides 2 and 3 are largely shouting back and forth at each other, the former is advocating "comprehensive sex education" and decrying Christian sexual morality as "oppressive;" the latter side is largely demanding more abstinence-only sex education in the schools while pointing to the negative consequences (both moral and biological) of sexual promiscuity. Side 3 is questioning whether and to what extent the schools as opposed to the parents ought to be running sex education at all, in particular the mechanics of it; they are the only ones who seem to actually be attempting to put forth anything actually joyful about sex.

In a related vein, there are moral prescriptions and proscriptions, there is the question of whether or not we adhere to them (both intellectually and in the will), and then there is the attitude by which we adhere to them. All three are important. The first is simply "right and wrong," and so ought to do what is right and avoid what is wrong. This is what it means to be moral. When we adhere to morality, we are moral persons, and to do this we must know right from wrong (intellect) and then desire to do right and to avoid wrong (will). The attitude by which we do each matters too, however. I can desire to do right or to avoid wrong for several reasons. For one, I may fear punishment or the loss of some reward; or I may have a more perfect desire--doing right because it is right, avoiding wrong because it is wrong--by which I would do right or avoid wrong even if there were no punishments or rewards attached. And I can act cheerfully or begrudgingly or sorrowfully or joyfully. For example, I may sorrowfully do a wrong because I am unable to do otherwise (see Romans 7:14-25), or joyfully do right because I know that this is good. I think that these attitudes are also an important part of being not merely moral but actually virtuous, and certainly saintly. For example, in my previous take case 1 is an example of cheerfully advocating immorality, case 2 of begrudgingly advocating morality. When we are left with the choice between 1 and 2, most people will choose 1 without looking back.

Another example of this can be found in this post by fellow IT columnist TJ Burdick, to wit:
"If one truly wants to help the homeless, giving them clothes designed by a shallow ignoramus for the sole purpose of sticking it to that same shallow ignoramus has no value. In fact, it insults the impoverished, hardcore, and ultimately does not achieve the desired ends. The act of using the powerless to demean the elite and calling it “charity” robs the poor of their most prized possession- their dignity. They are not pawns in a political game of social class, they are human beings who deserve our love, not our narcissism....The whole notion of #FitchTheHomeless is layered in shades of egotistic superiority and promotes a twisted sense of societal justice. If you really want to help the poor, don’t give them A & F clothes, give them their dignity."
The guy who is organizing #FitchTheHomeless is certainly cheerful about it, and it does have the dual good results of clothing the naked and rebuking sinners (the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch), but it also does risk treating the homeless as mere pawns, as Mr Burdick notes, That is, even if the original intent isn't to treat the homeless as mere pawns--and it's hard to come to this conclusion given the video and the background to this whole movement--it is one of the effects. Further, it is debatable as to whether this is meant as a rebuke of a sinner (an act of mercy) or as a way of "sticking it to the man," which may be cathartic but is not actually virtuous.

From Fr Selman's summary of the thought of Aquinas (Aquinas 101):
"The greatest evil today is not physical pain, as is often thought today, but guilt, because what harms the soul is worse than what harms the body. Thus, to not think that evil is evil is a greater evil than any sorrow or pain, because this springs from a lack of judgment and right reason. To be deprived of these is an evil, because rationality constitutes the good of human nature."
I leave it as an exercise for the reader to see how this excerpt is related to the previous take(s). Also, I'd say that Fr. Selman's book is a fairly good (though brief, like so many other) introduction to the thought of Saint Thomas for people with minimal philosophical background.

A puzzle from my thesis-writing:
This figure is a bit vexing for me, actually. Similar data was observed (though never published) by Franklin Grigsby when he was building the original two-stage Raman shifter-amplifier system. This is from my own experiments. Let's just say that I can make a good case for the first peak, but I don't know why the second peak occurs, and neither did Grigsby or anybody else for that matter. It's puzzling. The spectra I can make a little more sense of, so it's probably going to go into my thesis somewhere (in the chapter on designing/building the laser system), the question is where. It would make a good bridge between the discussions of first and second stages (my Raman laser is a 3-stage system, plus compressor), but I already have something else to be discussed there, and it really doesn't make sense to put it after all the other stuff I'm discussing (that would really break the flow of the chapter up just a bit). Perhaps this is why Dr Grigsby didn't put it in his thesis.

Let's just say that it isn't figure 2.4 anymore.

Last weekend was mother's day, and so we went down to Sweetberry Farm to pick strawberries with the Elsters. This weekend's plans are relatively low-key. My wife is hosting a recital for her music students, and I'm hopefully going to go see Iron Man 3 with some friends. It's also the last round of RCIA for the year. Next weekend will be a bit more hectic, starting Wednesday when the family flies in, continuing through the Thursday/Friday festivities into my brother's wedding on Saturday, and then our daughter's baptism on Sunday. Good thing it's a three-day weekend.

Seven Quick Takes Friday is hosted by Mrs Jennifer Fulwiler at her Conversion Diary blog.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Parable of the Quiz

Student A: "Are we going to have a quiz today?"
Me: "I wasn't planning on starting class that way. We're doing a discussion/lecture."
Student A: "You just made my entire day!"

Student B: "This sure was a lot of information to take in..."
Students C,D,E, and F: "Yeah, it sure was..."
Me: "So ___."
Student A: "So could we stop with the new stuff here?"
Me: "You mean, 'Could we not do any experiment?'"
Whole Class in Unison: "Yeah!"
Student B: "That would be great."
Me: "You're sure?"
Class: "Yes!"
Me: "Well, ok. As it turns out, I have a quiz for you to take instead."
Student A: "You lied! You lied to us!"
Me: "No I didn't. I said we weren't going to start class with a quiz. I never said we wouldn't finish class with a quiz."

 Be careful what you wish for when asking to not do any new work...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Seven Quick Takes Friday (vol. 59)

Picture blog today.

Also, I wonder if the "Catholics for Choice" folks have noticed the irony of their photo montage choice: the oceans look awfully red, as if flowing with the blood of the innocents. And i notice that they, like all the other proponents of so-called choice, actually only support one choice. They have an ad up saying "Good Catholics use condoms," which sounds a lot more like it's saying they're good because they use condoms rather than despite it.

One commenter wrote, "I believe that any American citizen should be able to own any weapon that President Obama is willing to give to Libyan citizens or Mexican drug cartels -- with the equivalent background check that he required of them." That might be a bit extreme, though it does highlight the Left's hypocrisy on the gun control thing. Kind of like how the Obama administration has told various government agencies to make the sequester be as painful as possible, for example by releasing dangerous criminals (some of whom have already been arrested again) onto the streets rather than cutting non-essential programs (so say nothing of utterly worthless bureaucracies).


I read a N.I.C.E. story of the Florida Atlantic University professor--and, not coincidentally, a local Democratic Party official--who ordered his students to write "Jesus" on a piece of paper, put it on the ground, and stomp on it. One student (a Mormon) refused, and was dismissed from the class as punishment.

"You’ve tried your best to pass along the internal/subjective faith that you “feel”. You really, really, really want them to “feel” it too. But we’ve never been called to evangelize our feelings. You can’t hand down this type of subjective faith. With nothing solid to hang their faith upon, with no historic creed to tie them to centuries of history, without the physical elements of bread, wine, and water, their faith is in their subjective feelings, and when faced with other ways to “feel” uplifted at college, the church loses out to things with much greater appeal to our human nature."
It's a worthwhile read: top 10 reasons why our youth leave Christianity (Catholic or Protestant).

Speaking of worthwhile blog ready, Fr John Tiglio has a post up about our three most recent popes, and why they shouldn't be set as if against each other (and this, before any of us really knows much about Pope Francis):
This oversimplified perspective is dangerous. First of all, there is no competition between all three popes.  Each one had his own gifts he brought to the papacy.  Pope JP2 restored HOPE after a cynical world just got over Watergate, Viet Nam and the sexual revolution. Pope Benedict continued with reigniting FAITH which is an act of the intellect whereby divinely revealed truths are known and accepted. Pope Francis is now helping us rediscover LOVE, also known as CHARITY (faith in action).
Blessed Pope John Paul II was the pope we needed to show forth the Beauty of the Church, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has taught us a bit more about the Truth, and now Pope Francis will show us something of Goodness. But we must also remember that Beauty, Truth, and Goodness (like hope, faith, and love) are not in the final measure three distinct things with their own separate and even irreconcileable ends, but rather all lead back to God.


There is a billboard on 183N in Austin for the Gateway Church which says "No perfect people allowed." I think John Burke is their resident pastor. In any case, every time I pass by the sign, I think, "I guess I won't find Jesus there, since He's not allowed." More seriously, I don't think it is a problem per se to desire a "come as you are" church community--provided, of course, that you don't then leave as you were. This is related to Take 4 today. The danger of a "come as you are attitude"--and I am not necessarily accusing Mr. Burke or his community of fostering this (I wouldn't know)--is that it can gradually turn into a "stay as you are" attitude. The former is certainly a good thing (and is the approach of a good outreach/evangelization program), but the latter renders the Gospels sterile.

Let's close with a little Catholic humor, courtesy of Catholic Memes:

Seven Quick Takes Friday is hosted by Mrs Jennifer Fulwiler at her Conversion Diary blog.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Seven Quick Takes Friday (vol. 58): Random Thoughts

We have a new pope! Well, that's not news by this point, nor is it surprising that Pope Francis is, in fact, Catholic. I'm hoping that he will continue the legacy of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

On that note, I don't know much about Pope Francis yet, nothing more than the few snippets coming out in the news, but those snippets paint a mostly* good picture. The impression that I have of him suggests that he is a very good choice to continue the legacy of his two predecessors. It's like this: John Paul II was a brilliant man, and he was also a great evangelizer, and he made a generation see some of the riches of the Church. He awakened in us a desire for Truth. Pope Emeritus Benedict is also a great thinker, and a great catechist. He taught us how to think about Truth. Now we have Pope Francis, who is very intelligent but not widely disseminated (at least not yet, and not in English), and is rather simple and humble in his life. He will show us how to live as followers of the Truth. If this is so, then we will have learned all that St Thomas Aquinas says is necessary from these three popes: what we ought to desire, what we ought to think (or know), and what we ought to do.

*Mostly, because his liturgical tastes may be a sort of step back; we'll see.

In this life, happiness is normative (and thus ongoing but never complete), contentment is terminative (and thus temporary). Unfortunately, in today's world this is often a difference without a distinction, with the greater thing (happiness) sacrificed in favor of the lesser (contentment).

On a related note, happiness is the pursuit of the Good, and the Good transcends us. Therefore, mere self-actualization is not the same as happiness.

The most sound advice I have ever heard for a person who is struggling with his faith is to pray and go to confession. Too often, "doubt" is another word for "I'd rather not have to live with moral strictures," and a "crisis of faith" means "I want to sleep with my neighbor's wife" or (increasingly) with his brother.

Reinterpreting the Bible, and particularly the parts that talk about morality, is not "thinking for myself." Rather, it is attempting to create God in my own image, which is another form of idolatry. Certain passages are very clear about what they mean. On the other hand, there are plenty of passages which do need interpretation. When Christ "made all things clean" (Mark 7:18-23 and Titus 1:13-16 to name two relevant passages), this means that the old dietary restrictions were abolishes (including more obscure "dietary" customs such as not mixing crops or using two types of thread in one garment); it does not mean that the ten commandments no longer need to be observed (Matthew 5:18-19).

This seems to about capture how the mainstream media (to say nothing of many more honestly partisan rags) covers all things Catholic:

Seven Quick Takes Friday is hosted by Mrs Jennifer Fulwiler at her Conversion Diary blog.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Some Recommended Reading on Faith and Reason

My parish has re-opened it library, and I can't recommend enough that other parishes do the same. It may not be so large and well-funded as a public library, but it certainly has a bit more of a personal feel to it: it's our library, belonging to the parish. We built it, not with our mandatory tax dollars but rather with voluntary donations of books, hours spent renovating the room, etc, and it is staffed by volunteers from the parish (many of whom have advanced degrees in library science).

One of my own contributions is that from time to time I advise the lady who is in charge of the library concerning useful books on certain topics (often in connection with RCIA, for example). In any case, we were discussing the library a bit yesterday, and I noted that there are a few unfortunate holes in the collection. The one most obvious to me is that there is no section currently on Science and Religion, or more broadly on Faith and Reason. Our librarian has asked if I could make any recommendations, and I can indeed.

We already have a section which deals broadly with apologetics, and the bibliographies of those books (when they have such things) are often useful for finding others. From there, it seems to me that there are four broad categories which "fit" under the heading of Religion and Science:
  1. Books which are more-or-less just about science. Popper, Kuhn, Duhem, etc. are some well-known sources from the last 100 years or so.
  2. Books with deal with the interaction and interplay between these two realms of knowledge. Many of Stanley L. Jaki's books and essays fall here, for example.
  3. Books which look at a specific issue--e.g. about evolution, Darwin, Intelligent Design, and what the Church teaches concerning monogenesis. Lots of "ethics" books can fall here, but I don't think they necessarily fall under this heading.
  4. Books which are apologetics in nature--defending the Faith from attacks based on a scientistic underrstanding of the world, but also pointing out where nature might lead us to a deeper faith.
There are many books under each of these four headings, some good and some bad. Of the bad ones, some are merely poorly written, others are misleading or inaccurate: such is true in any field, I suppose. There is a fifth category which is not like the other, but which I would include nonetheless, which is sort of the "intangibles" category, books which compliment this field without exactly being a part of it. Here, then, is a list of books I've read and can recommend.

Anthony Rizzi's The Science Before Science: this is published by the Institute for Advanced Physics, but distributed by other organizations. If you are going to own just one book about the interaction between Thomistic Philosophy and science, buy this book. Professor Rizzi is a physicist by training, and apparently a pretty good one, but he knows his Thomistic philosophy quite well, too.

I would also add Pope John Paul II's encyclical Fides et Ratio, which is a good overview on the topic. It's available online, for free, from the Vatican website.

I haven't read much Popper or Kuhn yet, though Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is a seminal work in the philosophy of science (category 1). I would also recommend Pierre Duhem's The System of World: A History of Cosmological Doctrines from Plato to Copernicus, which I think is available freely on kindle; good luck finding a print copy, though. Finally, Fr. Stanley L Jak's Catholic and Scientist: Pierre Duhem is excellent both for its biography of Duhem and for its selection of original essays by Duhem.

Many of Fr Jaki's book actually deal with the interplay between science and religion, or even between science and reason. I would especially recommend The Limits of a Limitless Science and Other Essays (which is, unfortunately, out of print from ISI) and his Miracles and Physics. Professor John Polkinghorne's short book Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity is also mostly good and easily approached by the lay reader; there are a few ideas which I found possibly problematic, but overall it is a good book. Father James Wiseman's Theology and Modern Science is also reasonably good.

I'm rarely interested on particular issues in the sciences, though I seem to write about some discoveries on occasion here. Most of the really big issues are either ethical (e.g. on embryonic vs adult stem cell research), or else not really at issue with Catholicism (e.g. evolution vs ID vs creationsim--we are not committed to any ideology here). I will decline to recommend anything that I have read here one the specifics of evolution, etc. However, a few good resources are Pope Pius XII's encyclical Humani Generis, Pope John Paul II's
Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences: On Evolution, and Pope Benedict's 'In the Beginning...': A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall. Jaki's opening essays in Catholic Essays are also good here.

I would have to think a bit about what some good "apologetics from science" (category 4) book would be. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any I've read which are really outstanding. I've heard very good things about some of Fr. Robert Spitzer's books, but I haven't read them yet and so cannot make any recommendation.

The last category, the supplements and compliments category, are largely aimed at warning against or fighting against an attitude which is common to the scientistic worldview. Some of these books do take on scientism directly, others covertly or unintentionally or as a sub-set. Some titles which spring to mind here are C.S. Lewis' The abolition of Man, or if you'd rather it in fictional form, his space trilogy (especially That Hideous Strength); G. K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man; Fr. James Schall's The Unseriousness of Human Affairs; Professor Edward Feser's Aquinas for Beginners (I haven't read The Last Superstition, which might be even more relevant); and (for the college-aged crowd) Disorientation: How to Go to College without Losing Your Mind.

Are there any good ones which I've missed (especially in the 4th category)?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Seven Quick Takes Friday (v. 53): Draw Me and Army Worthy of Mordor

The finals are graded and the grades turned in, so the semester is officially over. Oh, but I placed a little bonus at the end of the final this time: "Draw me an army worthy of Mordor." There are quite a few acceptable armies, and one student even asked if he should draw Sauron's Army or Saruman's Army.
I'd also take a picture of the ring, of a black piece of paper labelled "Frodo wearing the ring."

There were several approaches to this, and I think I'll use my quick takes to share them. Um, there are more than 7 drawings, so....

 Approach 1: go for many soldiers with little detail. Typically drew lots of stick figures and no detail:
Not the most exciting thing, but there was also this version:
The idea of laying siege to the physics department apparently was on several students' minds. Bonus for the philosophical insight of calling oneself a member of the army of Mordor.

Sieges were popular in general.This is probably the best of the "mass armies" drwaings:

Tragically, Sauron's eye has been cut off. It almost looks like dinner time--if you like olives, that is.

An army's gotta have archers.
Now you're just being lazy. Also, Orcs and Trolls are two different things.

Some of the stick drawing were a bit more creative, and discernible elements of the armies present.
It's the black gates! Plus, a nice little key so that we can identify the army's elements. Nice touch.

Again, can see some detail here.
Where's Boromir?

 Guest starring Don Quixote:
More Orcs:

Also, some trolls:
Oh, and some Easterlings:

And the US military:

Some were a bit more philosophical or modern:

Sauron contemplating....what?

 A few were silly and off-topic:
Often these starred me:
Or me with my baby and a tall hobbit and a short dwarf:
Or me and my assistant:

Then, there's this:

Seven Quick Takes Friday is hosted by Mrs Jennifer Fulwiler at her Conversion Diary blog.