Monthly Archives: May 2023

Apparently Some Bishops Are… Just Bad.

I wondered what was up with the Bishop of Fort Worth apparently going on a rampage against an 80 year old nun in a wheelchair, while she was still under anesthesia, and stealing all the Carmelites’ business assets that they use to live.

Well, he’s pulled this kind of stuff before. Keep reading until you get down to the personal testimony letters. Yes, that’s the kind of man you’re dealing with.

I mean, on the bright side he’s not raping kids or seminarians (I hope); but apparently he’s super-mean and likes to shut things down and demolish them, or to steal people’s possessions, or to fire them without notice or time for goodbye parties.

This makes it much more believable that he would charge in, and steal all the nuns’ phones and computers and donor information, and try to leave them nothing to eat, and no recourse but to abandon their property to the bishop.

So the problem is that bishops are not in charge of non-diocesan religious orders. Like Carmelites. Even if they left, the Carmelites would continue to own the Carmel. He is supposed to direct any problems he has with the Carmel to their superiors, outside the diocese.

It’s not his business to investigate anything or confiscate anything, much less violate canon law and threaten charges that don’t apply to religious sisters or nuns.

Also, this is why cloistered religious orders have doorkeepers, who are supposed to keep the door locked even in the face of crazy angry bishops. I’m sure the poor porteress is feeling pretty bad now… but how could she have known? It’s not like you expect a bishop to rob and pillage.

But then, I’ve never in my life heard of a bishop expelling a Catholic high school student, just for organizing a student pushback against cancelling their annual retreat.

Which he also had no right to do. Bishops don’t expel students. Bishops don’t ask principals to expel students. It’s an abuse of power, what they call “ultra vires” because it’s beyond a bishop’s legal powers.

It’s ridiculous for a bishop to forbid a priest to contact people in his old parish, especially when a priest hasn’t even done anything bad.

It’s ridiculous for a priest doing fundraising with award-winning artisanal beer, to be forbidden to practice his hobby and driven out of his parish, without any wrongdoing.

It’s ridiculous to throw out several effective pastors in a row, like he’s afraid they are competition, and to do it in such a way that even the Vatican reprimanded him.

And if sixteen parishes and 1500 parishioners were mad enough at you in 2020 to fill out polls… holy cats, everybody is mad at you. They’re just afraid to say so.

This guy, Bishop Michael K. Olson, is a disgrace. He needs to repent.

I don’t like to criticize bishops. There are worse than him out there, and it’s great that he’s not a heretic, either.

It’s possible that he has some kind of incurable pain, or is under some kind of unbearable pressure. Maybe he just has no empathy. Maybe he has a thing for employing security guards and law enforcement and professional hackers. Maybe he’s frustrated and insecure.

But obviously this guy is being Purgatory for all the saints in his diocese, which doesn’t mean it will be good for him. Please pray for his soul, and ask God to give him wisdom and humility.


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How to Stop Euthanasia

  1. Make it illegal to inherit any assets or powers from a euthanized person, if one was involved in any way in euthanizing a person or getting them euthanized. This should include governments.
  2. The person who actually kills, or sets up a killing machine, etc., or prescribes the drugs, becomes liable to pay all debts of the euthanized person, and must pay for any dependents including pets. If the euthanized is employed by a corporation, the corporation is also liable. Same thing with governments.
  3. The person who euthanized another person must visit that person’s grave once a year. (Unless the euthanizer is a serial killer who gets off on that.)


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Wing Chun History… in Dayton?

Yup, the Ving Tsun Museum opened up at some point before 2014, in Dayton, Ohio. Over on Brandt Pike, if that means anything to you.

It’s a real freaking museum, all about the history of the martial art of Wing Chun.

I had not heard anything about this, probably because I have missed a lot of local news. But wow!

They sponsored a Wing Chun tournament last year.

The website is somewhat inactive, but there are some nice YouTube videos.

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Mystery and Science in Yudkowsky

One of the things that drives me up the wall in Internet stories about rationality is their lack of rationality, logic, and general understanding of the world. Sadly, Yudkowsky is one of those bad examples.

Chapter 14 of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality has a long discourse on the word “mystery,” and it just reveals that he doesn’t understand its definitions. It is possible that some of his sources shared this ignorance, but we have dictionaries for this purpose.

So let’s talk about this.

The root word, the Greek “mysterion,” is from the Greek word “mystes,” initiate, one who has been initiated. A mysterion is what the mystes has been initiated into. So it could be a religious ceremony or a religious secret teaching. It was also what you called the religious artifacts used to conduct a mysterion religious ceremony.

Later (but still in classical/ancient times), the word was extended to mean things that had to be taught to students of the sciences by someone who knew those things. So every science textbook is a book of mysteries. (Which is hilarious, but sadly I didn’t know it when I began this post.)

Jesus talked about teaching His apostles “the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven;” and He was referencing the Septuagint translation of Daniel, which talks extensively about God as “the revealer of mysteries.” Paul also talks about God’s “mysteries” in many places. But the point is that these things are being revealed by God, even if people can only understand them partially now, in this life. Again and again, “I show you a mystery” and “He made known to us a mystery.”

If one does not understand a religious mystery, one is supposed to think about it and keep working on it. That’s the whole point of saying that something is a mystery. If the existence of a mystery hadn’t been revealed, you wouldn’t be able to think about it. Duh.

Moving along… in Latin, “mysterion” became “mysterium.” Again, the primary meaning was a religious ceremony, which eventually was more commonly known in Christian circles as “sacramentum,” an oathtaking, which referenced God’s covenant. The secondary meaning was a religious secret teaching, or any kind of secret.

From there we come to the English word “mystery,” which incorporates pretty much every previous meaning. The “mysteries” of a trade were proprietary techniques that you had to be taught. “Mystery novels” are stories about secret activities which must be riddled out.

The main problem with Yudkowsky’s understanding seems to be that some denominations, or teachers, seem to use “mystery” to mean an insoluble puzzle or question, whereas the normal theological meaning is that an answer exists but cannot presently be understood.

There’s even an assumption that parts of the answer can be figured out, in this life, because otherwise theology classes would be really short.

So if something is considered “a mystery beyond the reach of science,” does the person mean “right now, but not later”? Does the person mean “I think this is properly part of another field, and requires investigation with other techniques”? Is the person just a pessimist? Or what?

This is what Yudkowsky doesn’t seem to get. He throws everything together in a heap, and complains about things as if they were all the same.

One of the reasons that Western science got the jump on everyone else was that, unlike the Greeks, Romans, Chinese, etc., the early Christians and medieval Catholics all believed in an orderly Creation by God, Who is Logos. If all Creation was created with number, weight, and measure and with all the elements arranged in order (cf. Wis. 11:21), then there are indeed orderly and discoverable answers to all questions about the created universe.

The real methods of rationality are methods of Logos (or Dabar), and there’s nothing to complain about. If God were not running an ordered and discoverable universe with beings of free will, there’d be nothing to say or discover.

All that said… it’s still a good story, albeit with some indulgent bits.


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“Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality” Podcast

There’s a free audiobook podcast available, which is a professional-level recording of “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality” by Eliezer Yudkowsky. The reading is done by Jack Voraces, and he does a darned good job.

I’ve read this fanfic before, although I think I got sick of it at some point and stopped.

First, it’s not convincing as the story of a kid of HP’s age, even if HP had been a prodigy (which he wasn’t, in JKR’s book). There’s some fairly insightful stuff about Hermione’s level and type of intelligence, and about the fanfic HP’s level and type of intelligence. But this is not an elementary school kid’s story. Occasionally the fanfic author corrects for this, but not often.

Second, it’s culturally unconvincing. As bad as the Malfoys are, in JKR’s book, the idea that Draco, as an elementary school kid, would casually float the idea of the future rape of a young witch of his own age, is ridiculous. If wizarding Britain really were a Dark Ages or Bronze Age type society, Draco would have been restrained by the fact that she was a witch of good family and wide reputation, and was very likely to be a close relative of his.

Almost everyone in wizarding Britain, except Muggles, must be a close relative of everyone else, such that I suspect cousin marriage is almost unavoidable. So raping almost anyone would be raping a cousin, which would offend your own Noble House and every other Noble House; and the whole Bronze Age argument collapses. “We don’t talk about what happened” is an option, I suppose, but that’s hardly an issue of the rule of law. It’s the application of law.

There are places in Europe where a rich or noble young man might have been able to Do Bad Things without fear of law, but it’s not an Enlightenment issue in the UK. (And holy crud, the Enlightenment worship in this fanfic, without much knowledge of what was going on besides science. Or what happened to scientists who fell afoul of Enlightenment-era rulers.)

The rule of law goes quite far back in the UK. The Bayeux Tapestry seems to argue that because Saxon law enforcement had collapsed in England on some important cases, therefore it was righteous for William I to take it over (beyond his claim to having had the kingship bequeathed to him, in a matter that was of course illegal under Saxon law). The Plantagenets made the rule of law and a court system their priority, and we already see rich and noble men being prosecuted for rape and murder by the kings of England. (Scotland was under brehon law and various other law systems, so I don’t know much about it; but it wasn’t lawless.)

The fanfic seems to think that a rape trial in the Wizengamot would necessarily be a joke; but the historic analogy, being brought before a jury of peers, was extremely serious. Even if you had the votes, even if you had the blackmail, the practical upshot would be that Draco would be ruined socially. International wizard society would shun him, if nobody else; and being a criminal was historically not good for your credit rating at banks.

Who would marry him? How would you get heirs for House Malfoy? Obviously these things would concern Lucius Malfoy. Draco might go under house arrest for the rest of Lucius’ life, at that point, or be confined at some other Malfoy property. All sorts of things happen to bad heirs, if you really live in a lawless society. And frankly, there are tons of cousins whom Lucius could adopt as heirs. He’d be sad, but the Malfoy name would continue.

I suppose that one could argue that the “modern” features of wizarding Britain’s society would cushion Draco’s fate somewhat. But the whole thing is just over the top, and unbalances the story early on.

Of course, one could also argue that this was some sort of intuitive response to the current rule-by-corruption and separate rules of law, in the UK, US, and most European countries. But the HP books are set in the past, so it’s still a bad fanfic feature.

The rule of law, and fairness for members of society of every status, was of course a project that goes back to pagan times, and even back to Sumer. But it was God’s laws given to Moses, and the Gospel message, that really gave the project a solid basis of natural law. “All men are created equal” is hard to argue off.

But yes, let’s talk about the Enlightenment worship. A fair number of scientists got the guillotine in the French Revolution, so how’s that part of the Enlightenment helping you?

Now, you could argue that the compromises of civil society that had been negotiated by the end of the Enlightenment were beneficial. But most of that was built on the ideals of medieval academia and religion. And compromises do come with trade-offs.

But there are science errors also. The bit about linguistics is ridiculous. Of course there were early studies in childhood language acquisition, pretty much every time a king or noble went off his head and wasn’t stopped in time. They just weren’t ethical, because the control group was “lock a kid in a room and don’t talk to him.” But yup, that stuff did become vastly more common in the Enlightenment, so it was best to avoid being an orphan baby in the area of such “investigators.”

There are reasons why linguistics is primarily observational, when it comes to science.

Beyond that, of course Yudkowsky is ignoring every other facet of linguistics and philology, which were fairly fertile subjects for study from classical times onward. There’s no time when people weren’t delving into the study and philosophy of language. I just want to slap the author sometimes, which helps me remember why I stopped reading the fanfic way back when.

I did find one period detail of the book convincing — that a little kid had read Goedel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid.

Look, I was there. GEB was a bestseller. Tons of people with no interest in science or math had that book around the house, right next to Jonathan Livingston Seagull and other period pieces. So yup, probably lots of elementary school kids read that sucker when bored. It’s not proof of any kind of intelligence, though it does go for tenacity.

Antoine Lavoisier, guillotined in the French Revolution. Who taught Lavoisier? A Catholic deacon/abbe, of course, who was the man who named Halley’s Comet and fourteen constellations.

In 1793, all the learned and scientific societies were suppressed by the revolutionary government of France. More Enlightenment, eh?

Lavoisier was falsely accused of defrauding the state and of selling adulterated tobacco, whereas he had prided himself on producing a better and longer-lasting quality of tobacco than had been available before. After unsuccessfully defending himself against these trumped-up charges, he begged to be allowed to finish some important experiments before his execution. But the judge denied his plea, saying, “The Republic needs neither scholars nor chemists.”

Lagrange, who had previously been spared through Lavoisier’s influence, lamented that “It took them only an moment to cut off his head, but a hundred years might not be enough to produce his like.”

Other scientists executed during the French Revolution include the astronomer Jean Sylvain Bailly (who has a Moon crater named after him), the mineralogist Philippe-Frederic de Dietrich, the astronomer Jean-Baptiste-Gaspard Bochart de Saron (who collaborated with Messier and Cassini, and funded Laplace), the botanist Chr├ętien Guillaume de Lamoignon de Malesherbes, and the chemist Louis-Guillaume Le Veillard (a friend of Benjamin Franklin).

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Fashion Crimes, for Real

A fairly long collection of the crimes of a Chinese fast fashion company and app, SheIn.

Yes, there’s a shadier Chinese company than or Temu. Nothing like slave labor, lead paint, and stealing your data, as well as stealing designs.

The sad thing is that any non-shady companies in China have to compete with the shady ones, and are prone to forcibly being taken over by the CCP or forced to pay a cut to every greedy official who hears about them. A lot of Chinese are trying desperately to raise money to get out of the country or have gotten out; and a lot of companies are laying off workers; so a lot of companies may no longer have that one guy who tried to keep things safe.

Bonus expose: SerpentZa, the ex-South African guy from China Adv. talks about how his stint as an English teacher in China turned into a cultish nightmare. Spoiler alert: this company is still operating.

Another bonus expose: The recent giant jump in rich or middle-class Chinese illegal immigrants crossing the Mexican and Canadian borders to get into the US, or crossing from the US to get into Canada. Apparently if you pay enough and in volume, you get treated better by the cartels.

The China Adv channel started as a channel about traveling around China on motorcycles, doing cool things, and now is famous for The China Show, a long news show that covers all sorts of China news.

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Sermo Moderna: Outline and Memory Aid

I still haven’t put out my translation of St. Albert’s 32 sermons on the Eucharist, partly because I wasn’t sure how to present them.

I recently found a short book that explained a lot of my questions. It’s called Reading the Sermons of Thomas Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide, by Randall B. Smith.

I knew that St. Albert the Great was writing sermons in the newish style of Scholastics. What I didn’t realize is that this was a wildly popular style with normal people as well as academics, and was regarded as a fun and useful way to teach as well as preach.

See, the old standard style was what you’d expect.

The readings were originally chanted, according to Jewish tradition. Greeks chanted in Greek, and the Latin Rite chanted in Latin.

If the local vernacular had diverged enough that Latin was not understood, the sermon would begin with repeating the readings, in the local language.

Then the preaching about the readings would begin; and there would generally be some moral teaching related to it. Sometimes the moral exhortations would be most of the sermon, while just touching base with the readings occasionally.

But… there was only a one-year cycle of readings. Your lectionary might be slightly different in a different town, or in a different religious order, so you might hear different readings that way. But otherwise, it was always the same readings, year after year.

So the new idea behind the Sermo Moderna style was this:

Pick out a memorable Bible verse (often from the day’s readings). That’s your “thema.”

Give a prologue (“prothema”) talking about your verse and some other verse or saying, and raising the congregation’s interest.

Announce the general outline of your sermon, divided into parts.

Use each word of the Scripture verse as a subject heading for your sermon. (So instead of using boring headings like A, B, C, D, E — it’s “Ecce. Rex. Tuus. Venit. Mansuetus” — Behold. Your. King. Comes. Meek.)

Preach about whatever you want, although preferably something related to your memory verse, the liturgical season, the readings, etc.

Each time you move onto a new heading, you talk about the heading word you’re now using, and describe the subheadings underneath it. (First this, second that, third the other thing, etc.) Then you preach your announced sub-outline, and then maybe you sum up again at the end.

Possibly sum up the whole sermon again, at the end, and definitely end with a prayer.

In this way, your listeners would find it easier to remember your preaching, and recount it to others. And every year when a reading with that verse came up again, that sermon memory would come back, and other sermon memories could be added.

Meanwhile, within the sermon, the preacher had every opportunity to ask the congregation to pray for him, to draw them into considering various questions, to think about God’s love and providence, and to bring up memorable images and situations that would further drive in the point.

Today’s academics argue about how much peasants or townies got from this style of preaching. But St. Joan of Arc repeated almost verbatim things that her parish priest had taken from a famous book of sermons by Gerson. So obviously it was sinking into some people.

There were scholarly memory techniques out there, but there were also techniques used by everybody, like associating concepts or verses with pictures or places, or the joints of each finger on a hand. We don’t know much about them, but we do know that ordinary people could exhibit great feats of memory for songs, stories, or important lists of information.

Also, the breadth of potential subject matter allowed preachers to bring up all sorts of related Bible verses. This interested people, because they liked hearing about unusual verses from the Bible. And sermons were something you could think about during the week, when you were doing boring things. Common working people probably made the most of sermons as education and entertainment, as well as for spiritual growth and self-examination.

St. Thomas Aquinas was apparently a very popular preacher who was considered likable and holy, by normal townspeople who weren’t scholars. People liked the clarity of his explanations, and found his love of God and kindliness very convincing in itself. He also seemed to have a knack of constantly pointing out, subtly, that X is not about all those other people in ancient Judea, but that it is also about what is going on with you, there in the back row, personally, right now.

St. Albert the Great was also supposed to be a lively preacher, and I think that comes across in all his writings as well as his sermons. He likes the weird and memorable “similitudes” he draws between holy things and normal things — possibly because he was so big on visual observation of whatever was happening, and because he liked talking to normal people and getting their explanations of everyday things.

I think the exemplum stories and fables come along later. (Or maybe it’s just that Thomas and Albert had plenty to say already, and didn’t need filler stories to illustrate it.)

Anyway… the point is that medieval preachers were not going off-topic or drawing ridiculous conclusions about their thema verse. They were doing something else entirely, by using it as the foundation for a memory structure. You can like this or dislike it, but it is not something they did out of ignorance of Scripture, or as a way to fool laypeople.

Honestly, I never really thought about it one way or another, because I grew up hearing a lot of homilies that had no organizational structure whatever, much less a clear relationship to the readings. I just liked the nice outlined classroom lecture structure in St. Albert’s sermons. But apparently I was missing the structure’s foundation.

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The Other Sulpicias, Plus More Poetess Sulpicia

The “gens Sulpicia” was a really big, old Roman clan. It had tons of offshoots that were powerful clans in themselves. One of the offshoot clans, the Camerinae, used the name “Cornutus” a lot as a praenomen for sons. So if Cerinthus was Cornutus, he might have been a very distant cousin of Sulpicia’s.

Anyway, one of the Sulpicia clanmembers was a woman named Sulpicia who married Quintus Fulvius Flaccus, who served as consul four times. He also beat Hanno, Hannibal’s brother, at Beneventum, but was later defeated by Hannibal at the First Battle of Capua.

His wife was supposedly famous for being a very pure sort of matron, to the point that she was asked to dedicate for worship a new statue called “Venus Verticordia.”

There are various theories about what the title may have originally meant. But what the Romans meant by it was Venus Turner-of-Hearts — and it meant turning a woman’s heart away from lewdness, and towards chastity and faithful marriage.

So… it’s very interesting for a girl named Sulpicia to have been invoking Venus about not-so-great behavior.

There was also a satirist named Sulpicia, who was the wife of Martial’s patron, Calenus. Martial wrote a poem about her, which might have been consolation about her death, or might have been a satire on divorce. Shrug.

Anyway, she apparently was famous for writing frank poems about her husband and how she physically loved him. There are two lines by her that survive, which sadly do not seem to include any of her “sweet joke” stuff that other poets mention.

“If I should raise myself up, reclining together naked with Calenus, with the bed-cords of Cadurcian linen put back…”

Also, she lived under Domitian, which wasn’t a super-fun time. But at least we know she existed.

There’s a satire about the expulsion of philosophers which was apparently an imitation of her work, but it’s from a fan in the fifth century or so.

Moving along….

Names like “Sulpicia” weren’t really given names. “Praenomen”, a given name, was gradually falling out of fashion in Augustus’ times, and many men and women either had no praenomen, or it was used only by one’s family.

“Sulpicia” was really her nomen, her clan’s name, in feminine form. But if you were the first daughter, or if you married and moved out of your clan into another clan, where you’d be the only potential Sulpicia, that was what most people called you.

Cognomen was the name of an offshoot clan.

An agnomen was a fourth name, usually a personal epithet/nickname or title of honor. Sometimes it was the name of an offshoot of an offshoot of a clan.

And yes, St. Sulpicius Severus was also a member of the main clan, the gens Sulpicia. He married a consul’s daughter, but his wife died before they had any kids. This led to him becoming a writer, historian, friend of St. Martin of Tours, and a priest.

So it seems that writing talent ran in the family.

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