Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ring in the new year with Christ!

And His mother, too, I should add!

Hugh Henry has made available a booklet for Vespers of New Year's Eve (1st Vespers for the Octave of the Nativity according to the extraordinary form) ending with Benediction and the singing of Laudes Regiae (Christus Vincit). But coolest of all is the recording of Christus Vincit by Juventutem. The strength and energy of this hymn in praise of Christ Our Lord and King blew me away! Have a listen, and then sing along.
Christus vincit. Christus regnat. Christus imperat. Exaudi Christe.
Christ is victor, Christ is ruler, Christ is Emperor. O hear our prayer, Christ.

Monday, December 29, 2008

THIS JUST IN: December in the Twin Cities is SLIGHTLY above average!

Wow! Stop the presses!

December could be 8th snowiest of all time

This is news? Not THE snowiest, but the COULD BE THE 8TH snowiest December "of all time," meaning in the short number of years we've been keeping records (since about 1884, ~125 years). Let's check the stats (image courtesy of Charles Fisk):

As of today the Twin Cities has 16" of snowfall for December. IF we get the possible 3.2" of snowfall in the next few days, then we'd have 19.2" for the month, a datum that falls well within the upper quartile for December. It's not even considered an outlier! So, about 25% of all Decembers could make the cut of newsworthiness for "above average" snowfall and similarly another 25% could be considered "below average" months. So, a full 50% of Decembers could have a news blurb talking breathlessly about how much snow (or lack of snow) we're getting.

THIS JUST IN! MN snowy in winter! MN cold during the winter! Some measured quantity is not EXACTLY average!

I hate these kind of "news" stories.

Edit: I suppose that being the 8th snowiest out of 124 years would make it about the 94th percentile. That is a bit more rare, but perhaps we should wait until the snow is actually on the ground before busting out the confetti.

A tale of three clergy


From Robert Royal at The Catholic Thing:
All deeply unfortunate, but a warning for serious clergy: beware now about the way you put anything before the public, unless you want to provide an occasion to make it seem you are saying the exact opposite of what you believe.

Finally, our third clergyman, Pope Benedict XVI, also offered a Christmas message in which he yoked concern for the world’s ecology and what he calls the threatened human ecology that depends on marriage and family. Nowhere did he mention homosexuality, but some media were happy to extrapolate for him and to hold the coats for the fight. It didn’t work and the story soon died. But it was amazing how the initial reports all drew on the same circle of commentators from gay and lesbian organizations, who in virtually every story, referred to this mild and learned man as Papa Ratzi (which, you see, rhymes with Nazi).

A faith whose Founder was crucified should not expect gentle treatment by the world. But when the very people who repeatedly tell you that “hate is not a family value” indulge in this degree of childish name-calling, you don’t expect it to be picked up in respectable journalism, any more than you’d expect professional journalists to indulge in angry partisanship or crude misrepresentation about the major faith of the West.

Or do we now?

Friday, December 26, 2008

The unique contribution of Judaism to the dignity of women and family life

Michael Novak at First Things:
In the temples of its neighbors near and far, Israel saw that ritual acts of prostitution and sacral couplings between religious leaders and women (or men) were routinely performed. Sexual activities were placed at the core of worship ceremonies in virtually all cultures, even including pre-mosaic Israel. Only in Israel did the prophets rail against these activities, and repeatedly drove them from the temple. The ancient world considered sexual “normality” to be fulfilled in the ungoverned sexuality of males, to which women were merely instrumental. In many of the cultures surrounding Israel, sexual acts between males were given equal or even superior value to those between males and females. In those cultures, little differentiation was made between homosexuality and heterosexuality. The important difference to people then lay in who did the penetrating and who was penetrated, not in which gender played which role.

Against this common vision of sexual normalcy stood the towering Moses. He taught Israel, virtually alone, to embrace a new standard for human sexual life. This standard gave its blessing solely to sexual acts between a man and a woman in the covenanted relationship of monogamous marriage. What a great channeling of sexual energies this provision achieved. What a great concentration of energies it brought to the world. What great, non-instrumental dignity it gave to women.

Many elites in other cultures continued to exhaust their energies in polymorphous sex. They expended whole days on the arts of pleasure—the smells, the scents, the music, the languorous bodies of dancers. And in this sexually saturated world, women remained mere instruments. As Norman Sussman wrote, “The woman was seen as serving but two roles. As a wife, she ran the home. As a courtesan, she satisfied male sexual desires.” When sensory pleasures are considered the highest aim of life—not study nor inquiry nor civic virtue—economic and cultural development is heavily retarded.

Is sexual activity the highest end of life? For Moses and the people of Israel, it assuredly was not. It was of course a great good, and one essential to the perpetuation of the human race. Sexuality was not meant to be repressed. But it was meant to run—and to run deep—in only one channel.

From this sublimation there arose two great social consequences. First, women achieved sexual equality with men in the holy union of marriage. “In His image [God] made them, male and female He made them” (Genesis 1:27). This text says clearly that the divine radiance in human life shines through the marital union of man and woman. Therein, each person finds completeness. Only together, fully one, does the married couple bear the image of the Creator.

The second great consequence is to channel immense energy into society through its fundamental unit, the family—and not just energy, but also a continuity of consciousness, and the dream of a more perfect future. Thus Judaism gave birth to the idea of progress. Judaism introduced the ancient world to the reality of progress. Judaism sees itself as always unfinished, always unsatisfied. “Next year in Jerusalem,” when “the lion will lie down with the lamb” and the Messiah will at last appear. Each family, at the family table, carries these hopes forward into the future. Making progress is always, in time, an unfinished business. (continue)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Let my verses go!

Jeffrey Tucker at the NLM:
From the instant that the USCCB announced that the Revised Grail Psalter would become the new standard for Psalms in the ordinary form of the Mass, musicians in the UK privately issued warnings along the lines of “welcome to our Hell.”

The problem is not the translations of the Psalms, which are said to be an improvement over what is in use today in the U.S. The problem has to do with the law, copyright, permissions, expenses, enforcement—and the problems are so pervasive in the UK that one of the least spoken about aspects of liturgical life in the UK is the proliferation of samizdat Psalms.

What are samizdat Psalms? These are Psalm settings written by composers attached to parishes and cathedrals, by composers and directors who are required to use the Grail text but cannot bear to sing the musical settings published by the mainstream publishers. They write their own, but understandably fail to jump through the copyright hoops and pay the exorbitant fees associated with the texts themselves. So they are copied, handed out, kept under wraps, delivered from parish to parish in brown envelopes, and spoken about in hushed tones. It’s like a sector of an underground Church.

The same situation could happen in the U.S. when the Revised Grail becomes official here too. The Psalm that are currently made available online will be forced down. The settings made available by independent composers will have to go underground. The job of setting the Psalms to music will fall to the “Big Three” music publishers who provide the mainstream fare today. Incredibly, one of those publishers, a for-profit company, has actually been named as the literary agent to decide the terms and conditions under which people can publish the Psalms. (more)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bethlehem Down by Peter Warlock

A beautiful Christmas carol sung by the Choir of King's College, Cambridge.

"When he is King we will give him the Kings’ gifts,
Myrrh for its sweetness, and gold for a crown,
Beautiful robes,” said the young girl to Joseph,
Fair with her first-born on Bethlehem Down.

Bethlehem Down is full of the starlight —
Winds for the spices, and stars for the gold,
Mary for sleep, and for lullaby music
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem fold.

When he is King they will clothe him in grave-sheets,
Myrrh for embalming, and wood for a crown,
He that lies now in the white arms of Mary,
Sleeping so lightly on Bethlehem Down.

Here he has peace and a short while for dreaming,
Close-huddled oxen to keep him from cold,
Mary for love, and for lullaby music
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem fold.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Sights and sounds of sacred music courtesy of the CMAA Sacred Music Colloquium

It's been said that it is, "too hard," "no one wants this music," that "it is not possible for a regular parish," that "this music is completely outmoded." Yet, here were more than 270 musicians of all ages, from all over the country doing everthing that was presumed impossible.

Corpus Christi Watershed and Jeffrey Ostrowski (Chabanel Psalms) did this with the help of Arlene-Oost Zinner.

I'd love to head to the 2009 Sacred Music Colloquium should the funds become available.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sancta Cecilia, ora pro nobis

Our quartet sang at a lovely mass this Saturday morning for the feast of St. Cecilia, patroness of musicians. We sang A Hymn For St. Cecilia by Herbert Howells as best we could. Here is an mp3 of the piece recorded by the Musica Sacra Choir of Auckland, New Zealand.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The splendor of truth in liturgy

Shawn Tribe at The New Liturgical Movement expresses what is becoming more apparent to me: liturgical worship is not about about entertainment, feel-good emotions, or personal preference. The liturgy has an objective quality that communicates the faith. How we pray will shape how we believe. He quotes the following:

... people are instructed in the truths of faith, and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion far more effectually by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by any official pronouncement of the teaching of the Church. Such pronouncements usually reach only a few and the more learned among the faithful; feasts reach them all; the former speak but once, the latter speak every year - in fact, forever.
-Pope Pius XI Quas Primas

And later from Four Benefits of the Liturgy by Dom Gerard Calvet:

Take a group of Japanese tourists visiting Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. They look at the height of the stained-glass windows, the harmony of the proportions. Suppose that at that moment, sacred ministers dressed in orphried velvet copes enter in process for solemn Vespers. The visitors watch in silence; they are entranced: beauty has opened its doors to them. Now the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas and Notre Dame in Paris are products of the same era. They say the same thing. But who among the visitors has read the Summa of St. Thomas? The same phenomenon is found at all levels. The tourists who visit the Acropolis in Athens are confronted with a civilisation of beauty. But who among them can understand Aristotle?

And so it is with the beauty of the liturgy. More than anything else it deserves to be called the splendour of the truth. It opens to the small and the great alike the treasures of its magnificence: the beauty of psalmody, sacred chants and texts, candles, harmony of movement and dignity of bearing. With sovereign art the liturgy exercises a truly seductive influence on souls, who it touches directly, even before the spirit perceives its influence.

Sacred liturgy is the body language of the Church - the people of God and the Body of Christ.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

How to help uninsured children

This is great! Our clinic is way across town, too far to drive since we moved.

Study: Most Children Strongly Opposed To Children�s Healthcare

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Congratulations! Elanor is born!

Abecedarius Rex has welcomed the birth of his daughter Elanor! God bless you, Will! What a beautiful name:
When his eyes were in turn uncovered, Frodo looked up and caught his breath. They were standing in an open space. To the left stood a great mound, covered with a sward of grass as green as Spring-time in the Elder Days. Upon it, as a double crown, grew two circles of trees: the outer had bark of snowy white, and were leafless but beautiful in their shapely nakedness; the inner were mallorn-trees of great height, still arrayed in pale gold. High amid the branches of a towering tree that stood in the centre of all there gleamed a white flet. At the feet of the trees, and all about the green hillsides the grass was studded with small golden flowers shaped like stars. Among them, nodding in slender stalks, were other flowers, white and palest green: they glimmered as a mist amid the rich hue of the grass. Over all the sky was blue, and the sun of afternoon glowed upon the hill and cast long green shadoes beneath the trees.

"Behold! You are come to Cerin Amroth," said Haldir. "For this is the heart of the ancient realm as it was long ago, and here is the mound of Amroth, where in happier days his high house was built. Here ever bloom the winter flowers in the unfading grass: the yellow
elanor, and the pale niphredil. Here we will stay a while, and come to the city of the Galadhrim at dusk."
At the hill's foot Frodo found Aragorn, standing still and silent as a tree; but in his hand was a small golden bloom of elanor, and a light was in his eyes. He was wrapped in some fair memory: and as Frodo looked at him he knew that he beheld things as they once had been in this same place. For the grim years were removed from the face of Aragorn, and he seemed clothed in white, a young lord tall and fair; and he spoke in the Elvish tongue to one whom Frodo could not see. Arwen vanimelda, namarië! he said, and then he drew a breath, and returning out of his thought he looked at Frodo and smiled.

"Here is the heart of Elvendom on earth," he said, "and here my heart dwells ever, unless there be a light beyond the dark roads that we still must tread, you and I. Come with me!" And taking Frodo's hand in his, he left the hill of Cerin Amroth and came there never again as living man.

These few pages, at a mere wayside for the Fellowship, evokes in me what C.S. Lewis called Joy, or the longing Sensucht. Lewis' Joy was an intense longing for the good, true and beautiful that could never be fully satisfied. But that longing was itself more wonderful than the fulfillment of any other lesser desire. It is a virtue of the high elves that they live at once in two states, Middle Earth and Aman, the Blessed Realm. The mere longing for the light of their true home across the sea provides the elves with all the refreshment they need in the twilight of Middle Earth. Hence even Legolas (who was not of the Noldor) can retreat into his mind and longing for lands far away, forgoing sleep. Cerin Amroth embodies that longing, as does Aragorn's day-dream of Arwen, even though we don't know exactly what he is remembering.
"Well, Fr. Frodo," he said. "I'm in a bit of a fix. Rose and me had settled to call him Frodo, with your leave; but it's not him, it's her. Though as pretty a maidchild as any one could hope for, taking after Rose more than me, luckily. So we don't know what to do."

"Well, Sam," said Frodo, "what's wrong with the old customs? Choose a flower name like Rose. Half the maidchildren in the Shire are called by such names, and what could be better?"

"I suppose you're right, Mr. Frodo," said Sam. "I've heard some beautiful names on my travels, but I suppose they're a bit too grand for daily wear and tear, as you might say. The Gaffer, he says: 'Make it short, and then you won't have to cut it short before you can use it.' But if it's to be a flower-name, then I don't trouble about the length: it must be a beautiful name, because, you see, I think she is very beautiful, and is going to be beautifuller still."

Frodo thought for a moment. "Well, Sam, what about
elanor, the sun-star, you remember the little golden flower in the grass of Lothlórien?"

"You're right again, Mr. Frodo!" said Sam delighted. "That's what I wanted."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Email from U of M President Robert Bruininks

I received today this brief email from President Bruininks:

Dear Mr. Fisher:

Thank you for sharing your concerns. It is important to understand that
the views expressed by biology Professor Paul Myers were expressed on
his personal blog and do not reflect those of the University of
Minnesota, Morris, or the University of Minnesota system. Initially,
there was a link to that personal blog from a University Web site. This
link was inconsistent with University Web policy, and per that policy,
the link was deactivated.

We pride ourselves on providing a nurturing environment for students of
diverse beliefs, backgrounds, and perspectives. We are firmly committed
to ensuring a respectful environment for discourse. I hope you will
continue to support the University of Minnesota.


Robert H. Bruininks

Here was my counter-reply:

Dear President Bruininks:

Thank you for your reply. As I said in my first letter, it is not the views expressed on Prof. Myers blog that I find worthy of discipline. I believe professors should continue in their freedom to express personal opinions when not representing the University. However, Prof. Myers actions are what I find to be unacceptable. He encouraged people to sneak into a Catholic Church and steal the Holy Eucharist. When a Sacred Host was sent to him he publicly defaced the Sacrament and bragged about how stupid people were to be offended by what he did. This hateful action is what merits condemnation from your institution and the dismissal of Prof. Myers.

Students of the University of Minnesota deserve better teachers and mentors than Prof. Paul Myers.

Mr. Dan Fisher
B.S. Physics, 2002
Univ. of MN, Institute of Technology

Monday, August 11, 2008

"Sin" is breaking whose law again?

Keith Pavlischek at First Things:
From the Westminster Shorter Catechism:
Q. 14. What is sin? A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.

From the Baltimore Catechism:
Q. 278. What is actual sin? A. Actual sin is any willful thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the law of God.

From Senator Obama:
Q. Do you believe in sin? OBAMA: Yes. Q. What is sin? OBAMA: Being out of alignment with my values.

Not that there is anything to the chatter about Senator Obama’s “Messiah complex,” mind you.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Report on Mpls Closing of Dunkin Donuts FROM THE FUTURE!

HA! I love puns. Pun rule #1: Never apologize, never explain.

From Lileks:
Perhaps you've read rapturous stories about the return of Dunkin' Donuts to the Twin Cities. Wow! Donuts? And coffee? Where do we queue?

It's good news -- but on the other hand, our time-travel news-retrieval system has produced this dispatch from the future:

(Mpls) Aug. 10, 2013: The last Dunkin' Donuts closed today, quietly closing out an era that began with great fanfare in 2008 when the company returned to the Twin Cities market after five years.

"We see an opportunity," a company spokesman had said, citing the departure of Starbucks and Krispy Kreme, which "not only left a hole in the area's donut options but had sprinkled the area with empty stores. I'd give you some dry business reasons, but your eyes would glaze over," he said, adding "you understand those are donut puns, right? Because you're not smiling."

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Vespers Update - Assumption of the BVM

You can now access the chanted Sunday Vespers booklets for Ordinary Time and Advent in the "Liturgy of the Hours" links list at the left. These booklets include all the prayers for II Vespers on Sundays except the proper Magnificat antiphons and concluding prayers (too much to type). I also include in each booklet at the end the traditional Marian anthem usually sung after Night Prayer - Alma Redemptoris Mater, Ave Regina Caelorum, Regina Caeli, or Salve Regina.

I'm still working on getting this prayer started in my parish, but that hasn't stopped me from putting together a booklet for the upcoming Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary! Feasts are missing from my other booklets, so I figured I'd arrange them individually as I go for future use. Here is my chanted Assumption booklet for II Vespers. Summer is great. :)

Happy praying!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Catholic Carnival 184

This week's Catholic Carnival is hosted by Joe Wetterling of Ho Kai Paulos.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Friday, August 01, 2008

O God, come to my assistance - Sunday Vespers

Perhaps I mentioned at some point my ongoing project to set a simply chanted Sunday Vespers to sing weekly at my parish? I went about typing the texts and setting music in the hopes that the more I had done before pitching it to our pastor and choir director the more likely it'd be to get started. I stalled for a while, stuck on the strange canticle from Revelation. But thanks to a tip from this discussion on the Musica Sacra forums, I was able to move ahead and finish the main part of the project (minus readings and propers for Advent, Lent and Easter).

Here is the result presented for review: (See edited links at bottom).

If you are so inclined, could you offer feedback? Specifically regarding the pointing of the antiphons and psalms:

1) Are any of the chant tones really ugly or awkward?

2) I used the simple method employed by the editors of the Mundelein Psalter. The italic syllable is where you first change pitch. Each note after the change corresponds to one syllable with any extras falling on the last note. And also the final note should correspond to the final accented syllable in the phrase. I had some difficulties following this last rule with the antiphons for Psalm 110. Making the final syllable line up with the last note over-emphasized an insignificant word or awkward syllable.

3) I originally wanted to keep the "official" text for everything. For the Magnificat (Canticle of Mary) the traditional tone I used works poorly. I have a better arrangement from The Hymnal (1940) but it uses King James English. It's beautiful, but not "official." I'm leaning toward using the different translation unless someone can offer a way to fix my version.

As a beneficial aside, I also set the English translations of two traditional hymns from the Divine Office in square notes. They look nice and are wonderful to sing. Feel free to use and distribute these as you like (all text and music is common domain):

Lucis Creator optime - Sunday, II Vespers, odd weeks
O Lux, beata Trinitas - Sunday, II Vespers, even weeks

Head over to my friend Geometricus' blog Hymnos Debitos Canamus for helpful info about these and many other hymns of the Divine Office!

EDIT: Here are the updated booklets in PDF files, the first combined, one for Ordinary Time and one for Advent:
COMBINED - This booklet has multiple antiphons for each psalm depending upon the season. I moved away from this, thinking instead to have different booklets for different seasons.
ORDINARY TIME - Simplified layout with only the OT antiphons for each psalm.
ADVENT - Psalms have antiphons for advent only. Hymns are english translations of the the proper Advent hymns from Liturgiam Horarum, Conditor alme siderum and Verbum salutis omnium, set to a tune from the Liber Usualis. I also selected a different chant tone for the Advent Responsory and Magnificat.

They are set in half-sheet size (5.5"x8.5") for printing as a booklet on 8.5"x11" letter paper. I decided to just use the latin Magnificat. The booklets have everything you need to pray Sunday II Vespers for Ordinary Time and Advent except the Magnificat antiphons and final prayer. It seemed too much work to try and type and included these in a section that you'd have to flip to anyways. I plan to just look them up from another psalter when praying.

Friday, July 25, 2008

My response to Prof. Paul Z. Myers hateful acts against Catholics and Muslims

You may or may not have heard of atheist biology professor Paul Myers of the University of MN, Morris in recent weeks. He made headlines after requesting on his personal blog for stolen consecrated hosts to be sent to him so that he could desecrate them. Of course, many Catholics were outraged and Dr. Myers has gotten an earful, ranging from prayers for his soul to violent threats. Mark Shea offers a good discussion of the situation here.

Well, yesterday the man followed through on his twisted exercise in kindly showing the intolerant masses of superstitious idiots (a.k.a. anybody who believes in God) who's king of the universe. He desecrated a sacred host, defaced the Koran and tossed them in the garbage taking a picture to share on his blog. Somehow we're supposed to see now that that this little "cracker" has no power. Thanks man! Like I thought it would melt your eyeballs like the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark or something!

Anyways, as a Catholic and a graduate of the University of Minnesota, I don't think this guy should go on lecturing and doing research. What PZ Myers has done is analogous to calling for people to disrupt services at a synagogue to steal the Torah and send it to him so that he could spray paint swastikas all over it. To Catholics, it's that bad of a sacrilege. Surely if a professor were to publicly call for such an anti-Semitic act he would be justly fired. The same should go for a hateful act done against Catholics.

Here is my letter I sent last night to all those people in the U of MN chain above Prof. Myers. If you feel so inclined, please write your own version and send it via the email addresses provided at the bottom (no threats, though!):

To President Robert Bruininks, Chancellor Jacqueline Johnson, Dr. Roland Guyotte and Dr. Michael Korth of the University of Minnesota and U of MN, Morris:

I am writing in regard to the recent actions taken by Prof. Paul Myers of the U of MN, Morris. As reported on his blog on July 24, 2008, he has taken pages from the Koran and consecrated hosts (presumably stolen from a Catholic Church), deliberately defaced them and publicly ridiculed in the most hateful manner those who hold these objects to be sacred symbols of their faith.

I am an alumnus of the University of MN Institute of Technology and currently teach high school physics in Plymouth, MN. I am also a Catholic who is deeply insulted and pained by these hateful acts of bigotry accomplished by Dr. Myers. I am ashamed that such a man is tarnishing the name of my alma mater. I will not donate to your esteemed institution unless and until Dr. Meyers is disciplined. I am also disinclined to recommend the science programs at UMN, Morris to our seniors. It seems to me that a man so filled with distain toward people of faith would be incapable of treating my students with respect.

To clarify, I do not think that Dr. Myers should be punished for his atheistic beliefs, but rather for his public incitement of theft and hatred toward people who believe in God. This despicable conduct reveals a man unworthy of our public trust to educate young minds who are interested in the pursuit of scientific knowledge.

Mr. Dan Fisher
B.S. Physics, 2002
Univ. of MN, Institute of Technology

President Robert H. Bruininks, upres@umn.edu
Chancellor Jacqueline Johnson, grussing@morris.umn.edu
Dr. Roland Guyotte, Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean, petersdk@morris.umn.edu
Dr. Michael Korth, Chair of the Division of Science & Mathematics, korthms@morris.umn.edu
Professor Paul Zachary Myers, myersp@morris.umn.edu

Thursday, July 24, 2008

NASA Satellites Discover What Powers Northern Lights

This press release from NASA touches upon a topic of personal interest.

Researchers using a fleet of five NASA satellites have discovered that explosions of magnetic energy a third of the way to the moon power substorms that cause sudden brightenings and rapid movements of the aurora borealis, called the Northern Lights.

The culprit turns out to be magnetic reconnection, a common process that occurs throughout the universe when stressed magnetic field lines suddenly snap to a new shape, like a rubber band that's been stretched too far.

"We discovered what makes the Northern Lights dance," said Dr. Vassilis Angelopoulos of the University of California, Los Angeles. Angelopoulos is the principal investigator for the Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms mission, or THEMIS.

Substorms produce dynamic changes in the auroral displays seen near Earth's northern and southern magnetic poles, causing a burst of light and movement in the Northern and Southern Lights.

One of my two brief stints in research as an undergrad was in the space physics department at the U of MN looking at auroral substorms. This was back in 2000 before the launch of the THEMIS satellites. I was looking for a good conjunction of the FAST and POLAR satellites at the outset of a substorm over the north polar region. I was unsuccessful, but it was interesting looking at lots of substorm images. These storms engulf a ring surrounding the entire polar region. A lot of energy being released and now we know how!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Front row seats

Today seemed like a good day. I didn't have work to do, so both this morning and afternoon I was with the boys while Amy worked. "All day with boys" does not always equal "a good day" but things went smoothly.

This morning we had extended playtime in our basement family room which included the usual trucks, trains, and LEGOs. Lunch fell together as spaghetti with a tasty mixture of leftover homemade pizza sauce and toppings (getting to leftover scraps before they rot is always good). But the REAL fun came during lunch when the CONCRETE MIXING TRUCK pulled up in front of our next-door neighbors. This is a big deal in our house of boys! Our neighbor have been removing their front sidewalk for three days and we were expecting concrete. It seemed like too much to mix one wheelbarrow full at a time so truck seemed likely. We ditched the remainder of lunch to go sit in the shade about 10 meters from the chute as concrete was poured. We've read at least TWO books lately describing the process, including Tonka's "Working Hard with the Mighty Cement Mixer."

The truck's concrete drum was slowly spinning clockwise as the truck pulled up. We watched the truck operator assemble the chute by unfolding one section and hooking on another by hand. He then sped up the drum to mix the concrete really well (~.5 rot/sec, which is fast for a big heavy drum). Then he stopped the drum an spun it slowly counterclockwise until the concrete oozed out and slid down the chute. We've recently learned how spiral paddles mix the concrete when the drum spins one way and pushes it out when spinning the other. The concrete was unloaded one wheelbarrow at a time near the street and walked all the way to the top of the sidewalk to be dumped, about 5 or 6 meters. Every so often to operator took about 30 seconds to switch the direction of spin and mix the concrete some more to prevent it from setting up. It took much longer than expected and we were outside for over an hour. Finally the truck driver thoroughly washed down the chute and drum with a sprayer and drove off.

It was great fun! The man who was working with the concrete spent another 3-4 hours finishing the sidewalk. I was surprised that you could work with concrete for this long. I suspect it's like plaster, with different mixtures and working times, and the finishing pass needing to occur at just the right time. Tomorrow, a new sidewalk!

Every baby a woman gives birth to is dying

Mark Shea writing for Catholic Exchange has an article about how to respond to a Catholic couple who aborted a baby with spina bifida and anencephaly (no brain):

And I think the best thing we can do with this situation is not adjudicate the souls of people we don’t know anything about concerning a choice they have already made (since that is way too much of a temptation to judge them, especially in cyberspace where judgment and condemnation flow like wine), but to first ask ourselves how we might respond rightly in a similar situation.

In talking to my wife Janet, (the actual baby carrier in this family), she points out the following:

First, ultrasounds have been wrong.

Second, miracles happen sometimes.

Third, and most salient here: every baby she has had is dying. The question is simply, when? Most of them, God willing, will die in 50 to 70 years. But they could die in five minutes.

When we put it that way, we suddenly realize: Knowing that the baby is going to die sooner rather than later is no reason to kill the baby. It is, says Janet, a reason to love the baby for as long as you can while it’s here. That’s very painful, but that is the risk we take every time we choose to love because everything we love in this world is mortal. It may be objected that an anencephalic baby cannot appreciate our love. I would reply that a healthy baby does not appreciate our love either, because a healthy baby has no more mind than a baby born without a brain. The whole point of parenthood, especially in its earliest stages, is radical self-giving (like Christ) to a being who is wholly incapable of giving anything back besides a sucking reflex. It’s an analogy of the grace of God, the great wake-up call, enfleshed, that It’s Not about Me and What I Get from It. A short course in the life of the Blessed Trinity.

In contrast, the unspoken contract, it seems to me, of much of our culture is that the baby is there for the sake of the parents and if the baby is not Perfect, then the parents have the right to break the deal.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

God is Patient and Merciful, but He Wants Change

An article by Fr. Jack Peterson at Catholic Exchange:

“God bears with imperfect beings even when they resist His goodness. We ought to imitate this merciful patience and endurance. It is only imperfection that complains of what is imperfect. The more perfect we are, the more gentle and quiet we become toward the defects of other people.” Bishop Francois de Fenelon, the archbishop of Camray, penned these words in the 18th century, but they speak just as loudly to us today.

If God’s approach to us, His children, was determined simply by His justice, we would be in a hopeless situation. When I think of the number of times that I have gone to confession, stated my sins and sincerely pledged to never commit them again, I am brought to my knees as I ponder God’s patience with me. God has every right to be perfectly upset with me, to treat me as an ungrateful, hard-hearted, spoiled brat. He has blessed me in countless ways, and I have rebelled in so many ways. In God’s justice, I should be nothing but dried up bones, but in His love, I am the recipient of abundant patience and mercy.


Our response to God’s amazing patience and mercy should be a heightened desire to change our lives and live completely for Christ. ...

It is true that God must satisfy the demands of justice. That is why He sent his only-begotten Son who died and rose for us. Christ became our justice. Now, God, in His great mercy, constantly invites us back to Him after we wander. He is remarkably patient.

A good reminder that God's loving patience is for our repentance and conversion, not to remain as we are, ambivalent and mediocre.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Zip it, you!

Well, it seems I've been at least temporarily silenced on Michael Bayly's blog. I won't whine, since it is his own blog and I've got mine. The last two comments I've submitted weren't approved by Mr. Bayly.

Now, I often disagree with what he writes, but hardly ever comment (once a month at most), albeit critically. As the poster liam notes in the same conversation, people usually just talk past each other. I'm well aware that Michael Bayly has lived many years as a "progressive, gay Catholic" and that no little post of mine is going to change his mind. But what provokes me every once in a while is when he tries to use the teaching of the Catholic Church to support his argument. It is often done without direct quotation or reference, and when the reference is given it is always yanked away from the immediate and contradictory context.

I think it's one thing to argue that the Catholic Church is simply bunk and that it should change. Many people do. But when a man tries to convince me that people who believe in the traditional teachings of the Church are simply misunderstanding what Jesus/Paul/Peter/early Church Father X/Vatican II REALLY MEANT it seems to me that he is either purposely misleading or blindly ignorant. In such a circumstance I thinks it's useful to point out where he is contradicted by the very document he cites. It may not change his mind, but it will hopefully render his rhetoric less effective on other readers.

So, here are Mr. Bayly's words...

We concluded our letter [to the MN deacons] by noting that:

It is our understanding that the diaconate ministry was developed, in large part, to provide pastoral outreach to persons on the margins of both the Church and society, and that this outreach places great emphasis on listening to where people are at on their journey rather than on preaching of doctrine. There is a place for, and value in, helping people discern where and how God is present and active in their lives – including LGBT lives. The Church itself can and has benefited from such discernment. The Vatican II document “Dei Verbum” says that the Catholic tradition develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit, and that this development of tradition occurs “through the intimate understanding of spiritual things [that believers] experience.” In this way, “Dei Verbum” states, the Church “constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth.”

This foundational teaching of Vatican II clearly teaches that the Church is still developing and growing. It’s a teaching that also refutes the idea that to be a good Catholic means, first of all, unquestioning obedience to those who have placed themselves over us and who declare that they possess truths that others do not.

Yet sadly, such an absolutist approach is exactly what the Courage apostolate advocates. From our perspective, and perhaps yours too, such an approach fails to embody those diaconate traditions and charisms of listening and openness to God in the lives and relationships of all.

...and my (unapproved) response:

Mr. Bayly,

That you choose to quote to documents of Vatican II would seem at first to be an improvement. However, I find your selective quotation of Dei Verbum to be rather disingenuous. Am I to understand that in quoting DV in support of the "foundational teaching" of the development of doctrine that you accept the authority of this document? If so, then you are misunderstanding the council fathers if you think that the bishops are "those who have placed themselves over us and who declare that they possess truths that others do not." Dei Verbum also has this to say:

The Christian dispensation, therefore, as the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away and we now await no further new public revelation before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Tim. 6:14 and Tit. 2:13).


As a sacred synod has affirmed, God, the beginning and end of all things, can be known with certainty from created reality by the light of human reason (see Rom. 1:20); but teaches that it is through His revelation that those religious truths which are by their nature accessible to human reason can be known by all men with ease, with solid certitude and with no trace of error, even in this present state of the human race. (7)

7. In His gracious goodness, God has seen to it that what He had revealed for the salvation of all nations would abide perpetually in its full integrity and be handed on to all generations. Therefore Christ the Lord in whom the full revelation of the supreme God is brought to completion (see Cor. 1:20; 3:13; 4:6), commissioned the Apostles to preach to all men that Gospel which is the source of all saving truth and moral teaching, (1) and to impart to them heavenly gifts. ...

But in order to keep the Gospel forever whole and alive within the Church, the Apostles left bishops as their successors, "handing over" to them "the authority to teach in their own place."(3)
(DV 4-7, emphasis added)

Is it is this context that the snippet you quote occurs, in section 8. The bishops are established by God with the authority to teach the truth; they did not place themselves over us. It is the Holy Spirit who revealed his truth to the Church that can be found nowhere else; revelation that was completed through the Apostles and can be known with certainty. That same Spirit of God confirms the truth within each believer. He does not contradict what he has said, but rather we come to a fuller understanding of what was revealed.

How can we know with certainty now the truth which may be contradicted tomorrow by people such as yourself who would overthrow tradtional Christian moral teachings?

Do you really think that Dei Verbum supports your notion that the entire hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church is false and that what the magisterium teaches regarding sexual morality is oppressive toward LGBT people? It seem to me that you are merely using whatever phrases you can cobble together to try and effect the change you want.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Dick Dawkins rap: He's smarter than you he's got a science degree!

Hilarious! This one goes out to all y'all brights out there.

Apparently it took Richard Dawkins three days to understand that he was being dissed. You must watch. As the YouTube info says, "OH MY DOG, it is funny.":

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fr. Neuhaus: We shall not weary, we shall not rest

Go read the entirety of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus' closing address at the annual convention of the National Right to Life Committee:

We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until all the elderly who have run life’s course are protected against despair and abandonment, protected by the rule of law and the bonds of love. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every young woman is given the help she needs to recognize the problem of pregnancy as the gift of life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, as we stand guard at the entrance gates and the exit gates of life, and at every step along way of life, bearing witness in word and deed to the dignity of the human person—of every human person.


The culture of death is an idea before it is a deed. I expect many of us here, perhaps most of us here, can remember when we were first encountered by the idea. For me, it was in the 1960s when I was pastor of a very poor, very black, inner city parish in Brooklyn, New York. I had read that week an article by Ashley Montagu of Princeton University on what he called “A Life Worth Living.” He listed the qualifications for a life worth living: good health, a stable family, economic security, educational opportunity, the prospect of a satisfying career to realize the fullness of one’s potential. These were among the measures of what was called “a life worth living.”

And I remember vividly, as though it were yesterday, looking out the next Sunday morning at the congregation of St. John the Evangelist and seeing all those older faces creased by hardship endured and injustice afflicted, and yet radiating hope undimmed and love unconquered. And I saw that day the younger faces of children deprived of most, if not all, of those qualifications on Prof. Montagu’s list. And it struck me then, like a bolt of lightning, a bolt of lightning that illuminated our moral and cultural moment, that Prof. Montagu and those of like mind believed that the people of St. John the Evangelist—people whom I knew and had come to love as people of faith and kindness and endurance and, by the grace of God, hope unvanquished—it struck me then that, by the criteria of the privileged and enlightened, none of these my people had a life worth living. In that moment, I knew that a great evil was afoot. The culture of death is an idea before it is a deed.

In that moment, I knew that I had been recruited to the cause of the culture of life. To be recruited to the cause of the culture of life is to be recruited for the duration; and there is no end in sight, except to the eyes of faith.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Do you know what Humanae Vitae actually says?

Uncle Di comments at CWN's Off The Record about an article in today's Boston Globe, Debate over 1968 encyclical rages on. He notes sourly that the "debate" is never really engaged because the reason's behind Pope Paul VI's affirmation of the Church's teaching against contraception are never really given:

Funny: I thought this debate was about contraception. The "inseparability" that Pope Paul highlighted in Humanae Vitae was the natural link between the act of marital love and the process of human procreation. Break that link, the Pope warned, and all hell will break loose in human relationships, as reverence for human life declines. But after that one memorable line about the "disposable soda bottle," we've heard nothing more along those lines.

It's not just that fashionable liberals can't come to terms with the argument of Humanae Vitae. It's that they can't even state the terms of the debate accurately. It would be too embarrassing to revive the old-fashioned idea that the use of the human reproductive system might have something to do with human reproduction. So instead of summarizing Pope Paul's thesis, the squeamish journalist substitutes an inane formula: "the inseparability of marriage and love." Globe readers unfamiliar with the argument of Humanae Vitae-- and that will describe all Globe readers, if the editors have their way-- will nod in agreement that love and marriage go together (I feel a song coming on..), and never learn what the Pope said and why he said it.

Too late now. The debate is over. The defense has rested. Or rather I should say the defense is rested-- which is understandable, since the defense never got out of its chair.

I often find dissident Catholics disparaging the "authoritarian and oppressive declarations" of popes without ever engaging the arguments made. This seems to crop up in outcries against the Church's moral teachings on contraception, marriage and homosexuality that make arguments using the natural law. I found the reasons given by the Church quite, well, REASONABLE even before I was considering becoming Catholic. It resonated true that sex was designed for the procreation of a new person. If one has some notion that God does things for a purpose and that it's bad to do things some other way, then clearly a deliberate frusteration of that purpose (like contraception) is to be avoided.

Here's Paul VI (emphasis added):

Observing the Natural Law

11. The sexual activity, in which husband and wife are intimately and chastely united with one another, through which human life is transmitted, is, as the recent Council recalled, "noble and worthy.'' (11) It does not, moreover, cease to be legitimate even when, for reasons independent of their will, it is foreseen to be infertile. For its natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of the union of husband and wife is not thereby suppressed. The fact is, as experience shows, that new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intercourse. God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidence of fertility in such a way that successive births are already naturally spaced through the inherent operation of these laws. The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life. (12)

Union and Procreation

12. This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.

The reason is that the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called. We believe that our contemporaries are particularly capable of seeing that this teaching is in harmony with human reason.

If you've never read this brief encyclical, you can find the full text of Humanae Vitae here.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The practicalities of chant

Jeffrey Tucker offers commentary over at The New Liturgical Movement about the June-July issue of Pastoral Music. The issue has an atypical focus on chant, but falls short of what Tucker would have like to see.

The articles are interesting and worthy, and cause for celebration. The authors are experts who are worth reading. They make some good points and some points that I personally find weak but this latter point is a matter of opinion.

But in another way, the issue and these articles miss the mark and this is not the fault of the writers so much as the editors here. This issue does not sufficiently address the top questions that Catholic musicians have about Gregorian chant: how to read it, how to sing it, what to sing, and when to sing it. These are the practical points that vex musicians all over the country when they think about this subject. In fact, only one of four articles addresses some of these points, and even in this article, the author doesn’t quite speak the language of parish musicians.


Musicians these days do not know how to read the notes. They are terrified by Latin. They fear the people’s reactions. They are dealing with skeptical pastors and Bishops. They have weak singers who use instruments as a crutch. Also, Catholic musicians tend to be a bit too satisfied with doing the same thing week after week, and there needs to be some inspiration to bring about change. To introduce chant is a major step. It takes work and there is a risk here. The musician will be called on to provide a serious defense. He or she has to believe. Doubt will lead to failure.


My fear, then, is that the novice will read all of these articles and still not have a strong rationale to take the next step or anything like an intellectual apparatus that will prepare them to pick up a single piece of music and sing it with their choirs and congregations.

As someone who is keenly interested in the practicalities of increasing chant within a parish (my own), I agree with Mr. Tucker that the basics of how to read chant and what to sing are the necessary foundation. For a good, brief introduction to reading Gregorian chant check out An Idiot's Guide to Square Notes co-authored by Jeffrey Tucker and Arlene Oost-Zinner.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Serpent in the garden

But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

So also said the Un-man who possessed the body of Weston in C.S. Lewis' second book of his space trilogy, Perelandra. I'm halfway through, and very much enjoying the books. They combine Christian truths with the existence of rational life on other planets. So much sci-fi is spiritually void or silly, or specifically non-Christian. I really like the reflections of our own condition that C.S. Lewis paints in the creatures of other worlds. Now, the worlds inhabited happen to be Mars and Venus (so far) which is of course impossible, but apart from a few annoyances I had in book one regarding the author's description of the effects of gravity, even I don't mind the stretch.

In Perelandra, Ransom has been sent by the Oyarsa of Mars (a good angelic creature) to Venus on some unknown mission by the command of Maleldil (God). He finds there a woman, the first of her planet, alone and without her king. Weston, Ransom's kidnapper from book one, arrives in his spacecraft and it becomes clear that he was merely used as a vehicle for the Bent One of Earth to enter and corrupt the innocent children Venus. C.S. Lewis writes long conversations, witnessed by Ransom, of the possessed Weston tempting the Lady to disobey Maleldil. So far "Weston" is unsuccessful, but it doesn't look good for the Lady, who eventually tires and lies down asleep. Ransom remains awake:

There was nothing to do but to watch: to sit there, for ever if need be, guarding the Lady from the Un-man while their island climbed interminably over the Alps and Andes of burnished water. All three were very still. Beasts and birds came often and looked upon them. Hours later the Un-man began to speak. It did not even look in Ransom's direction; slowly and cumbrously, as if by some machinery that needed oiling, it made its mouth and lips pronounce his name.
"Ransom," it said.
"Well?" said Ransom.
"Nothing," said the Un-man. He shot an inquisitive glance at it. Was the creature mad? But it looked, as before, dead rather than mad, sitting there with the head bowed and the mouth a little open, and some yellow dust from the moss settled in the creases of its cheeks, and the legs crossed tailor-wise, and the hands, with their long metallic-looking nails, pressed flat together on the ground before it. He dismissed the problem from his mind and returned to his own uncomfortable thoughts.
"Ransom," it said again.
"What is it?" said Ransom sharply.
"Nothing," it answered.
Again there was silence; and again, about a minute later, the horrible mouth said:
"Ransom!" This time he made no reply. Another minute and it uttered his name again; and then, like a minute gun, "Ransom ... Ransom ... Ransom," perhaps a hundred times.
"What the Hell do you want?" he roared at last.
"Nothing," said the voice. Next time he determined not to answer; but when it had called on him a thousand times he found himself answering whether he would or no, and "Nothing," came the reply. He taught himself to keep silent in the end: not that the torture of resisting his impulse to speak was less than the torture of response but because something rose up to combat the tormentor's assurance that he must yield in the end. If the attack had been of some more violent kind it might have been easier to resist. What chilled and almost cowed him was the union of malice with something nearly childish. For temptation, for blasphemy, for a whole battery of horrors, he was in some sort prepared: but hardly for this petty, indefatigable nagging as of a nasty little boy at preparatory school. Indeed no imagined horror could have surpassed the sense which grew within him as the slow hours passed, that this creature was, by all human standards, inside out -- its heart on the surface and its shallowness at the heart. One the surface, great designs and an antagonism to Heaven which involved the fate of worlds: but deep within, when every veil had been pierced, was there, after all, nothing but a black puerility, an aimless empty spitefulness content to sate itself with the tiniest cruelties, as love does not disdain the smallest kindness? What kept him steady, long after all possibility of thinking about something else had disappeared, was the decision that if he must hear either the word Ransom or the word Mothing a million times, he would prefer the word Ransom.
Then all at once it was night. "Ransom ... Ransom ... Ransom ... Ransom" went on the voice. And suddenly it crossed his mind that though he would some time require sleep, the Un-man might not.

It's clear so far that the Un-man is far more intelligent and smooth than Ransom, but Ransom has faith and is speaking the Truth and has won two bouts so far against the Evil One. Or at least two stalemates. We'll have to to see how it turns out.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The "Force" is not equal to ma

Lileks on The Science of Star Wars at the Science Museum of Minnesota:

I love "Star Wars," I can tell you why making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs doesn't mistake units of distance for units of time, so back off, fanboy. I have every intention of joining the geek queue for a chance to see actual real genuine props.

But let us not confuse the show with actual science. It's like the "Science of Lord of the Rings." Which would be ... metallurgy. And weaving. Gandalf wore a lovely white formal gown in the second one. You can imagine the ads: "Are the Orc factories that turned out legions of hellish warriors similar to our own attempts to genetically engineer better people?"

Well, inasmuch as we're not doing it in the service of rapacious evil bent on possessing a single piece of jewelry, no. That's what cosmetic surgery is for.

Suggested upcoming exhibits: "The Science of 'Sex In The City'," which explains the engineering principles behind Carrie Bradshaw's enormous dress-flower things. "How does she stay standing on heels in stiff winds wearing that thing? Learn the science behind the fashion!"
Then there's "The Science of Boosting Attendance Figures with Pop-Culture Tie-Ins." But like "Star Wars," that's more of an art.


Friday, June 13, 2008

It's Becky Schlegel!

Local bluegrass and country singer Becky Schlegel has a new album out that is breaking onto the national scene. Strangely (since I never really listen to music), I have a CD of her's. I saw her perform back in the summer of 2000 at the U of MN outdoor lunch concert series. I liked the sound so much that I bought a CD and asked her if she did wedding receptions! She was very nice, but the price was likely prohibitive. Plus, I think I had a bit of a crush on her which doesn't make for a good wedding combo.

Anyhoo, check out her new album if bluegrass/country is your thing!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The evolution of sacred music

Nathaniel Peters at First Things Blog shares a funny french comedy called Kamelott. "It’s a comedy show set in Arthurian times with colloquial modern language, and its episodes are all under five minutes in length." Here's a funny one about medieval music. WARNING: A few bad words in the subtitles.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Phoenix Mars Mission Lands Successfully

Radio signals received at 4:53:44 p.m. Pacific Time (7:53:44 p.m. Eastern Time) confirmed that the Phoenix Mars Lander had survived its difficult final descent and touchdown 15 minutes earlier. In the intervening time, those signals crossed the distance from Mars to Earth at the speed of light. The confirmation ignited cheers by mission team members at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.; Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver; and the University of Arizona.

As planned, Phoenix stopped transmitting one minute after landing and focused its limited battery power on opening its solar arrays, and other critical activities. About two hours after touchdown, it sent more good news. The first pictures confirmed that the solar arrays needed for the mission's energy supply had unfolded properly, and masts for the stereo camera and weather station had swung into vertical position.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Phoenix Mars Lander scheduled to touch down May 25

The Phoenix Mars lander mission is intriguing to me. It will land using thrusters, the first attempt since the crash of the Mars Polar Lander in 1999.

The real test will come during landing. Just before 5 P.M. Pacific time on May 25, the Phoenix lander is scheduled to separate from its rocket-powered "cruise stage" and dive into Mars's atmosphere at a speed of 12,600 miles (20,300 kilometers) per hour relative to the Martian surface.

What comes next is referred to as "seven minutes of hell." After four minutes, the craft will have slowed to 1,100 miles (1,170 kilometers) per hour under the protection of a heat shield. The lander will deploy a parachute at a distance of 7.8 miles (12.6 kilometers) from the surface, then jettison its heat shield, flip over to face its thrusters toward the planet and finally fire them in short, coordinated bursts, touching down at 4:53 P.M. Pacific time (taking into account the 15-minute communication lag between Mars and Earth).

I love scientific precision!

Visit NASA's Phoenix mission page for lot's more info and pictures.

Genetic screening of embryos created for IVF

A favorable headline leads a creepy report:
Better Baby-Making: Picking the Healthiest Embryo for IVF

There's new hope for the more than 7 million American women (and their partners) who long for a child and are plagued by infertility. Australian researchers have developed a method for screening embryos created through in vitro fertilization (IVF) to select the ones that have the best shot of developing into healthy babies.

Connect the dots! Does the final paragraph sound weird to anybody else?

James Adjaye, a biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin, Germany, says that further work needs to be done before scientists can be sure that the genes found in the new work are actually indicate that an embryo will develop into a baby. "Once this has been achieved," he explains, "we will be seeing a new era of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis aimed at, identifying disease-free blastocysts, identifying developmentally competent blastocysts among a cohort developing in vitro and achieving single blastocyst transfer in order to avoid multiple births."

Any other undisirable qualities you'd like to screen out? Sex? Sexual orientation? Darker complexion?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Katherine Kersten on polygamist raid in Texas

KK asks some important questions regarding the removal of over 400 children from a polygamist compound in Texas:

First, marriages involving girls in their early teens—and social pressures that encourage under-age marriage—is child abuse, plain and simple. There should be no liberal or conservative divide on this point.

But let’s think about polygamous living arrangements as a basis for this raid. Today, traditional notions of marriage are under attack. We hear everywhere that anyone who is “committed” to another should not be denied the “right” to marry. Our constitutional jurisprudence is warming to the idea that many aspects of behavior involve a “right to privacy,” and that marriage is within that zone.

As a result, what moral, social or legal response can we give today to members of Yearning for Zion who demand that polygamy be decriminalized?

This question is relevant not only to obscure Mormon sects. In Canada and Europe, some Muslims are already demanding state recognition of plural marriage. To the right of privacy and equal protection under the law, they add religious freedom as a justification.

Another point: The Texas raid wrenched hundreds of children away from their mothers. According to Time, 77 of these youngsters are under the age of two. The children are now living in a variety of temporary facilities and foster homes, and are being supervised by a foster care system that is already overtaxed. Was grave harm done to these children and their mothers when Texas authorities seized and refused to return them? The answer seems clear, and should make us shudder.

When this story first broke it reminded me that all of our talk of "tolerance" and church signs proclaiming "WE WELCOME EVERYONE TO OUR TABLE!" is really a mask for a whole lot of discrimination. We all discriminate by drawing a line somewhere. Religious freedom is not absolute: If you marry off 12 year old girls to 45 year old men as part of your religion you should be stopped. "Tolerance" in a church is not absolute: If the pastor who "welocmes all" hired an unrepentent child molestor as a youth leader, he has done wrong by welcoming the pervert.

It is not a choice between being "welcoming" or "intolerant." The question is simply, Where do YOU draw the line? In a culture where no foundation of universal morals is recognized, all that remains is the whim of public opinion backed by the power of the state. Might not my own marriage lived according to my religion be eventually viewed as dangerous to my children?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Osmosis update

Here is a thorough explanation by Uri Lachish of guma science with many links. I'm not sure what "guma science" is, but he seems to be a well published scientist.

Now, I'll just have to refresh my thermodynamics. Do you think Prof. Kakalios covers it sufficiently in The Physics of Superheroes? That's probably a better read than my old Thermal Physics text. :P

Monday, April 21, 2008

Mysterious osmosis

In college I took an intro biology course with a lab component. There was an osmosis demo that I found memorable due to the fact that nobody has been able to explain it to my satisfaction. The problem is that it was a bio lab, but I think the answer involves thermodynamics and biologists are generally not that up to speed on such things (a generalization, I know). But I didn't get along with my thermo prof and so can't remember enough to answers my own question. Here's the demo:

A U-shaped tube has a semi-permeable membrane at the bottom which allows water (the solven) to diffuse across it, but larger solute molecules are blocked (like salt). One side of the U contains fresh water while the other has some salt dissolved in it. The water levels start even on both sides. Leave it for a while (overnight) and the water will diffuse from the fresh side to the salt solution side diluting the solution in the process. The level of the fresh water will drop and the salt water level will rise. The rule is that the water will diffuse in order to "try to" equalize the solutions.

My question is this: A certain amount of work has been done in raising up the water level on the salt solution side. That risen water now has greater gravitational potential energy. I could run a little water wheel and use that energy for something. Where did that energy come from? What provides the energy for the work done raising the water level on the salt water side?

My lab TA in college didn't know. The PhD bio teacher here at my school doesn't know. Our chem teacher doesn't know. The internet is doesn't know (or is at least holding out). This Hyper Physics page suggests that the "internal" or "thermal energy" is responsible. I can sort of see how there might be a change in temperature to explain the gain in GPE.

Can anybody quantify this in a better way? I'm looking at you, PhD physics people!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Vespers, Wednesday of the Fourth week of Easter

With Pope Benedict XVI from the Crypt Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception! A beautiful vespers. I like how all the bishops could sing along without much help from their prayer book whenever the traditional latin chant was used (Deus in audiutorium meum, Magnificat, Pater noster). What a lovely expression of the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.

I'm still working on my simple setting of Sunday Vespers to propose singing at my parish on a regular basis. Mine is all simplified chant mostly in English similar to the Mundelein Psalter. Which, BTW, I highly recommend.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Rainbow Sashers confused in more ways than one

Courtesy of Uncle Di, I learned that the gay activist Rainbow Sash Movement is calling for "all Catholics of good will to take the Papal visit as an opportunity to shower the Pope mobile with ashes instead of confetti." Their press release could use a good editor:

Ashes are an ancient and appropriate greeting for a sinner who has caused the Church so much division and pain.

I am aware of the biblical habit of repenting in sackcloth and ashes. However, a sinner usually puts these upon himself. Have I missed some tradition of calling a sinner to repentance by throwing ashes in his face? "REPENT!" POOOF!

as sign of repentance his Holiness should be washing the feet of the
victims of clerical sexual abuse

Are we to understand that Our Divine Lord washed the feet of His apostles as a sign of His own repentance? Perhaps he's referring to the sinful woman who washed the feet of Jesus in tears. That makes a little more sense.

Ecumenicalism/Intra faith Dialogue - Freedom of conscience must be respected inside and outside church as it applies to the plurality of beliefs, religious or not. The recent Vatican Islam Forum that has been developed cannot continue without including the issue of human rights violations of women & gays/lesbians/bisexuals/transgender people within Islamic countries.

"Ecumenism" perhaps is more common? This is dialogue between Christians working toward greater unity, but they don't seem to mention this dialogue. "Intra faith" seems to refer to dissent within the Catholic Church. "Interfaith", which is dialogue between members of different religions, isn't mentioned. The context of a Vatican Islam Forum would suggests that "interfaith" would have been more apt.

The US Church is a basically a Eurocentric Church it is time for the United Council of Catholic Bishops to recognize this, and address it. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago as the President of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops should address the Pope’s Eurocentric selection of Cardinals and Bishops to the hierarchy

I've never heard of the United Council of Catholic Bishops. Might they mean the College of Bishops? Or did they just mean the USCCB both times?

We will not enter any Church’s but we will bring ashes to reign down on the Popes motorcade, and call on individuals to blow whistles at any public papal events such as outside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Ground Zero, St. Joseph’s Seminary, and Yankee Stadium as a sign of our disgust over the way the clergy abuse scandal has been handled under his leadership

As least they aren't entering any Church's. If your outside, be sure to bring an unbrella in case of reign.

Will you have pouty faces too? Give me a break. Talk about children throwing a hissy-fit...

Monday, March 31, 2008

Amy Julia Becker and Downs Syndrome of FT On The Square

A major annoyance of mine as a Catholic science teacher is when objections to certain kinds of research or medical procedures are brushed off as unscientific. The discipline of science has no internal means to judge the morality of any given experiment or treatment. Society can and certainly should limit unethical research. Indeed we do, which is why human trials are so difficult to conduct. There are lots of hoops to jump through to make sure it's relatively safe for the subjects involved. Amy Julia Becker shares a personal example at FIRST THINGS - On the Square:

I remember how I felt two hours after my daughter Penny was born, when I first found out that she had Down syndrome. I sifted through my brain for some scrap of information about this “thing” that had just happened to our family. All I could come up with was early death and mental retardation. The doctors didn’t help much. In the hospital, we received a list of all the things that might go wrong with our baby–heart defects, leukemia, Celiac disease, developmental delays. Despite the hundreds of thousands of people with Down syndrome in America, even the medical professionals didn’t seem to know much about it.


I heard a report on NPR about a new ethics recommendation from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ACOG has stated that doctors unwilling to provide abortions have an obligation to refer their patients to another physician who will provide the procedure. In the words of the spokesperson on NPR, “if a physician has a personal belief that deviates from evidence-based standards of care . . . they have a duty to refer patients in a timely fashion if they do not feel comfortable providing a given service.” Studies show that women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Trisomy 21 (the technical term for Down syndrome) terminate the pregnancy 85 percent of the time. Since new medical guidelines–“evidence-based standards of care”–suggest that all women, regardless of age, be screened for Trisomy 21, it is most likely that the number of prenatal diagnoses, and the number of terminated pregnancies, will increase. In other words, evidence-based standards of care result, more often than not, in the elimination of people like my daughter from our society.

As a result, I am somewhat skeptical about the standard of care offered to these mothers. I’m also skeptical when “personal beliefs” are pitted against evidence, therefore implying that a physician who is unwilling to perform an abortion has defied (“deviated” from) the evidence. I understand that many women face unbearably difficult choices in regards to the health of their babies. Some choose to terminate pregnancies because they have been given information about the near certainty of physical abnormalities leading to their child’s early death. And yet many women choose to terminate a pregnancy based upon probabilities, fear, and misinformation.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Exult now O ye angelic throngs of the heavens

Fr. Zuhlsdorf has a beautiful recording of the Exsultet chant from Easter Vigil. This is my favorite chant of the year, stunning in its simplicity and strength.

Here is Fr. Z's translation. Download his podcast here.

Exult now O ye angelic throngs of the heavens:
Exult O ye divine mysteries:
and let the saving trumpet resound for the victory of so great a King.
Let the earthly realm also be joyful, made radiant by such flashings like lightning:
and, made bright with the splendor of the eternal King,
let it perceive that it has dismissed the entire world’s gloom.
Let Mother Church rejoice as well,
adorned with the blazes of so great a light:
and let this royal hall ring with the great voices of the peoples.
Wherefore, most beloved brothers and sisters,
you here present to such a wondrous brightness of this holy light,
I beseech you, together with me
invoke the mercy of Almighty God.
Let Him who deigned to gather me in among the number of the Levites,
by no merits of mine,
while pouring forth the glory of His own light
enable me to bring to fullness the praise of this waxen candle.

Deacon: The Lord be with you!
Response: And with your spirit!
D: Raise your hearts on high!
R: We now have them present to the Lord!
D: Let us then give thanks to the Lord our God!
R: This is worthy and just!

Truly it is worthy and just
to resound forth with the whole of the heart,
disposition of mind,
and by the ministry of the voice,
the invisible God the Father Almighty,
and His Only-begotten Son
our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who, on our behalf, resolved Adam’s debt to the Eternal Father
and cleansed with dutiful bloodshed the bond of the ancient crime.
For these are the Paschal holy days,
in which that true Lamb is slain,
by Whose Blood the doorposts of the faithful are consecrated.
This is the night
in which first of all You caused our forefathers,
the children of Israel brought forth from Egypt,
to pass dry shod through the Red Sea.
This is the night
which purged the darkness of sins by the illumination of the pillar.
This is the night
which today restores to grace and unites in sanctity throughout the world Christ’s believers,
separated from the vices of the world and the darkness of sins.
This is the night
in which, once the chains of death were undone,
Christ the victor arose from the nether realm.
For it would have profited us nothing to have been born,
unless it had been fitting for us to be redeemed.
O wondrous condescension of Your dutiful concern for us!
O inestimable affection of sacrificial love:
You delivered up Your Son that You might redeem the slave!
O truly needful sin of Adam,
that was blotted out by the death of Christ!
O happy fault,
that merited to have such and so great a Redeemer!
O truly blessed night,
that alone deserved to know the time and hour
in which Christ rose again from the nether world!
This is the night about which it was written:
And night shall be made as bright as day:
and night is as my brightness for me.
Therefore the sanctification of this night puts to flight all wickedness, cleanses sins,
and restores innocence to the fallen and gladness to the sorrowful.
It drives away hatreds, procures concord, and makes dominions bend.
Therefore, in this night of grace,
accept, O Holy Father, the evening sacrifice of this praise,
which Holy Church renders to You
in the solemn offering of this waxen candle
by the hands of Your ministers from the work of bees.
We are knowing now the proclamations of this column,
which glowing fire kindles in honor of God.
Which fire, although it is divided into parts,
is knowing no loss from its light being lent out.
For it is nourished by the melting streams of wax,
which the mother of bees produced for the substance of this precious torch.
O truly blessed night,
in which heavenly things are joined to those of earth,
the divine to the human!
Therefore, we beseech You, O Lord,
that this waxen candle, consecrated in honor of Your name,
may continue unfailing to dispel the darkness of this night.
And once it is accepted as a placating sacrifice,
may it be mingled with the heavenly lights.
Let the morning star meet with its flame:
that very star, I say, which knows no setting:
Who, having returned from the nether realm,
broke serene like the dawn upon the human race,
and now lives and reigns forever and ever.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Possible ocean under Titan's crust

Cool! (literally)

Last year, researchers reported that radar mapping of Titan by the Cassini spacecraft had found a peculiar shift in landmarks on the moon's surface of up to 19 miles (30 kilometers) between October 2004 and May 2007.

Now investigators say the best explanation is a moon-wide underground ocean that disconnects Titan's icy crust from its rocky interior.

"We think the structure is about 100 kilometers of ice sitting atop a global layer of water … maybe hundreds of kilometers thick," says Cassini scientist Ralph Lorenz of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.

If confirmed, Titan would be the fourth moon in the solar system thought to contain such an internal water ocean, joining Jupiter's satellites Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. Researchers believe that heat from radioactivity in a moon's core or gravitational squeezing may melt a layer of frozen water.


Luckily, the group's model is testable. It predicts a quickening of Titan's rotation rate in the coming year or two followed by a slowdown—something that can be measured on succeeding Cassini flybys.

This last bit about the theory being testable makes this more interesting to me. It's a great example to share with students. My 6th grade class is beginning a unit on geology today after finishing a unit on astronomy. We'll be spending a good deal of time asking, "How do we know what is inside of Earth?" It's fascinating to observe scientists piecing together a model for another body in our solar system.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Ruling courtesy of the liturgical referee.

See Fr. Z for what's going on here.

New book from Darren Rousar!

Darren Rousar is a colleague of mine here at Providence Academy. He has recently published a book, Cast Drawing Using the Sight-Size Approach available from Amazon. From sightsize.com:

The first book of its kind, Cast Drawing Using the Sight-Size Approach by Darren R. Rousar teaches the student a systematic way to meet the challenges of cast drawing. Traditionally taught in classical art ateliers, Sight-Size is an approach to drawing and painting from life. It is through cast drawing that the basics of Sight-Size are learned. This approach is readily adaptable to other disciplines such as portraiture, still life, interiors, landscape and figurative painting as well as sculpture.

I've always been intrigued by Richard Feynman's stories about learning to draw as an adult. This book looks like a very systematic approach that appeals to me. Can anybody say summer project?

Darren R. Rousar attended Atelier Lack and Atelier LeSueur, both in Minnesota, as well as Studio Cecil-Graves in Florence, Italy. He was the assistant director and an instructor at Charles Cecil Studios in Florence, after which he became vice president of The Minnesota River School of Fine Art in Burnsville. He has been a professional artist and teacher for more than 20 years, focusing mainly on Christian themes. When not painting, Darren teaches art and art history at Providence Academy in Plymouth, Minnesota. His website is here.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Don't steal the Pope's story!

Fr. Neuhaus reflects about his friendship with John Cardinal O'Connor, who shares a birthday with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr:

One ordinarily does not repeat in public what the pope says in private conversation, but I asked and John Paul gave me permission to tell this one. When during the O’Connor years I had occasion to meet with the pope, he would always ask, “How is Cardinal O’Connor?” And I would always say that Cardinal O’Connor is flourishing and is an inestimable gift to the Church. One time I went on to say, “You know what Cardinal O’Connor said the other day, Holy Father?” “No,” he answered. “What did Cardinal O’Connor say?” “Cardinal O’Connor said that he gets up every morning and prays that he will go to bed that night without having discouraged any impulse of the Holy Spirit. Now isn’t that a beautiful thing for a bishop to say?” A pause of several seconds. “Yes,” said the pope, “that is a beautiful thing for a bishop to say. I told him that.”


Friday, January 11, 2008

Have I glimpsed my family's future?

Sally Thomas at the First Things blog contrasts the Lego affectations of her sons and daughters.

Now, presumably in the new Lego dispensation girls can play with whatever they want, though I haven’t met many girls who find Star Wars riveting enough to want to put together the Ultimate Collector’s Milennium Falcon (5,195 pieces). As I look at the picture of this item, here at my desk at home, the telepathic effect is such that my ten-year-old son, at choir practice right now, feels his heart rate go up inexplicably; while the teenager, sitting beside him, merely experiences a brief frisson of apathy and then swats him with her Voice for Life workbook and hisses, “Would you please not breathe so loudly?” Such is the telepathic effect of their behavior, that I can read it from a mile away.

Even my four-year-old, who likes to play Star Wars because she thinks Leia is pretty, and who also likes putting Legos together because that’s what there is to do around here, gives the Lego catalogs only a passing glance before her brothers seize them up in fevered hands and paw them to pieces. All those machines, she clearly thinks. And not a rabbit or a fairy or a pair of ruby slippers among them. Of course, she’s just this minute stomped with great purpose on some kind of Star Wars ship—it had a lot of clone troopers on it, that’s all I know—which her five-year-old brother undoubtedly left for a reason on the floor in the doorway to this room. This leads me to think that Lego has missed its mark with the ponies and the Sunshine House. What they really need is a line of Terminator Princesses who fight everybody.