Monday, May 22, 2006

The DiCaprio Code

Sent to me by a friend, the first paragraph from Dan Brown's next novel:


Planet Hollywood
Los Angeles, CA
11:49 PM

Award-winning restauranteur and entreprenurial franchise owner Franky Poisson stumbled over a cardboard cutout of Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger, posed under a title reading "Twins." He lunged for the nearest memoribilia-housing glass case he could find - a tall rectangular column showcasing the old woman's shawl from Titanic. Brandishing an elbow, the sixty-year old Frenchman shattered the glass and - being rather not un-sedentary - collapsed to the floor in gasping breaths.
I await the rest with bated breath.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Wrong Guy, just Being There at the Beeb

Too many Guys:

Instead of interviewing Guy Kewney, pundit of, on the legal battle between Apple Corp. (of Beatles fame) and Apple Computer (of iPod and Mac fame) over the latter's use of the "Apple" mark in selling music through iTunes, the BBC managed to interview Guy Goma, a Congolese gentleman looking for a job at the BBC. Goma, thinking the media interview was somehow part of the job selection process, managed to pass himself off reasonably well as a pundit. He's really on top of his game with this quote: "Exactly. You can go everywhere in a cybercafe. It's going to be very easy for everyone to get something on the Internet." You'd think this only happened in Jerzy Kosinski novels.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Everything old is new again?

Where have we seen this before?
The Canadian and Australian prime ministers expressed concern at unconfirmed reports that said Iran may force non-Muslims to wear colored badges in public so they can be identified.

The National Post newspaper reported Friday, citing human rights groups, that Iran's parliament passed a law this week that sets a public dress code and requires non-Muslims to wear a special insignia.
"Don't be stupid, /
be a schmarty, /
come join the Islamist party!"

Update: Malkin asks, "Is this true?" Stay tuned.

Update 5/24/2006: National Post retracts the story.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Da Vinci, die Bombe

Submitted for your approval: the startling truth about the Da Vinci Code, and Hanks's hair. Seek the Truth.
Minor quibble -- the book did NOT rock. The preview actually looks faithful to it.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The philosophy of every Tom, Jacques, and Ari

Last November Sheed and Ward reprinted Jacques Maritain's An Introduction to Philosophy. This primer, which Maritain first published in 1931, is a bit different from standard introductions to philosophical thought such as Will Durant's Story of Philosophy, Bryan Magee's Story of Philosophy, or Frederick Coppleston's exhaustive multivolume History of Philosophy.

To start with, Maritain is a Thomist, following in the intellectual traditions of St. Thomas Aquinas, who in turn draws upon Aristotle. Maritain's approach in this book is to first trace this history of philosophy up to Aristotle. For this, he posits primitive traditions, discernable from both theology and a reasonable induction from historical evidence, which contain wisdom that is common to all mankind globally. He seeks remnants of these traditions in pre-Greek Indo-European civilizations: Persian, Indian, and Chinese. After surveying these, he proceeds to Greek thought: the pre-Socratics, the Sophists, Socrates, Plato, and finally Aristotle. Maritain sees the ancient Persian, Indian, Chinese, and pre-Socratic Greeks as derived from healthy primitive traditions (although in corrupted form). The work of philosophy, in part, is to recover the ancient wisdom and ground it in a system of reason and dialectic.

Upon stating in brief form what he sees as Aristotle's achievements are, Maritain changes his method. He does not follow, as most historical texts would, with a discussion of late antiquity and modern philosophers. For example, do not get a sketch of Descartes in historical context. Rather, Maritain discusses the structure of philosophy as a body of knowledge. That structure is itself determined by Thomist philosophy. Maritain discusses the boundaries of philosophy -- how it is distinct from the empirical sciences, for example, and how it relates to them. He contrasts the Thomist view on philosophy with alternatives in modernity. He then gives an account of the fields of philosophy:
  1. Logic (a sort of preamble to philosophy proper)
  2. Theoretical philosophy (speculative, related to understanding of the world)
    1. Philosophy of mathematics and nature
    2. Epistemology
    3. Ontology and metaphysics
    4. Natural theology
  3. Practical philosophy (related to human action)
    1. Philosophy of art and technology
    2. Ethics
Walking through these fields (philosophical categories which themselves follow from his Thomism), Maritain points out both the Thomist and Aristotelian positions, and the modernist positions, which are usually contradictory extremes which the Aristotelian mean reconciles.

It's a very rigorous and systematic book with a good deal of common sense. It explains a lot of Thomism in a very detailed way and makes an excellent reference for those looking to understand this point of view. Thomism can be a bit dry. Maritain goes a long way to guiding the reader to see motivations and connections. For example, one can struggle Aristotle for years and not find as clear an explication of metaphysical terms such as essence (being inasmuch as it can be understood), substance (being inasmuch as it primarily is), and act and potentiality (being inasmuch as it is the subject of change and motion). For anyone interested in Thomism, this book is a find.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Making Sense Out of Suffering

Peter Kreeft wrote a book twenty years ago that I've just gotten around to reading. I wish I had read it twenty years ago.

Kreeft is a philosophy professor at Boston College, and his book Making Sense Out of Suffering is a look at the implications of suffering in philosophy and theology. His audience is the skeptic, the person of uncertain beliefs and convictions who is tossed about in this world of sorrow and pain and is struggling to find some way to understand existence in light of that raw fact.

One thing that I really enjoyed about his book was his attention to various traditions and schools of thought. He starts with this observation:
By the time you finish reading this book, ten thousand children will starve, four thousand will be brutally beaten by their parents, and one thousand will be raped.

If you took a poll asking who the profoundest thinker of all time was, the man who would probably come out second, after Jesus, is Buddha. Buddha's entire philosophy centers around his answer to the problem of suffering. How can we not hear him out?
Gotama Buddha's voice is only the first of many which we must hear out. If we follow Kant's suggestion that the great questions revolve around God, the world, and the soul, then the question of suffering becomes a question of the existence of a supreme being and its relationship to the human world. The difficulty of suffering, for belief is that we are asked to accept the following:
  1. God exists.
  2. God is all-powerful.
  3. God is all-good.
  4. Evil exists.
How can this be?

Kreeft summarizes the possible alternate theologies, which differ on these points, either bluntly or subtly. For examine, the atheist may deny that God exists. Or one may more subtly say that God exists, but only as a psychological concept, thereby draining Him of real force and existence. All of these alternate answers have implications for the meaning of human suffering.

Kreeft's goal on the other hand, is to affirm Christian belief and answer a resounding "yes" to all these questions. The task then becomes making Christian belief intellectually credible and defensible. His technique is interesting -- rather than argue from cohesive deductive principles, Kreeft takes successive passes at the problem and allows answers and ideas to emerge suggestively, tentatively, rather than authoritatively and dogmatically.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

MySpace for Catholics

BusinessWeek profiles a nun who is launching a second Web site for Vatican, in addition to

It will be interesting to see how this works. One concern is possible attacks and attempts to deface the site, but at this point a lot of the techniques for dealing with that seem to be in place to mitigate the possible damage (cf., Wikipedia).

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

History of Catholic Oppression, Headbanger Edition

A friend sends along this article on the tritone, the flatted fifth or augmented fourth in musical intervals. Fun piece, but has the usual historical ignorance about things medieval in the summary:
A new film about the history of heavy metal highlights the so-called Devil's Interval, a musical phenomenon suppressed by the Church in the Middle Ages.
No reference is provided, so it's impossible to tell what is being referred to. Color me skeptical about this. It's unlikely that people were tortured for compositions that used tritones.

I recall studying rules for voicing four part harmonies, and parallel fifths and octaves were "against the rules." It would be disingenuous to write that "music theory teachers suppressed parallel fifths in the twentieth century." In fact, the article itself notes that this interval (which is quite dissonant) was used "in presenting the devil [o]r . . . to portray the crucifixion."

But, for the record, I dig tritones. "Purple Haze" may be the definitive rock tritone intro. King Crimson also made a career out of the tritone. And you have to dig the name "Professor John Deathridge." Makes you want to be in a metal band with him (he has to skip the first name).

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