Thursday, June 23, 2005

John the Baptist

Today is the eve of the Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist, one of Christianity's oldest Holidays - St Augustine of Hippo composed eloquent homilies for this solemnity. The date June 24th was chosen because it came three months after the Annunciation on March 25th (i.e., six months before Christmas). This is about the date you'd expect based on Luke 1:36 - "And behold, thy cousin Elizabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren." So if Mary conceived when Elizabeth was six months pregnant, you'd expect her son to be born six months after Elizabeth's.

So why isn't St. John's celebrated on June 25th? After all, Christmas and the Annunciation both fall on the 25th. This is due to the old Roman custom of counting dates down. The 25th of March is the 8th calends of April, the 25th of December is the 8th calends of January, so the birthday of the Great Forerunner of the Dawn is on the 8th calends of July, a.k.a. the 24th of June, since June is one day shorter than both March and December.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Defence of Marriage

Here is an excellent article on the value of tradition from an unlikely source. In sum, Lee Harris makes an excellent case for the value of marriage.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

NPR, PBS, and the Soviet approach

Ken Tomlinson, chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, is getting a lot of heat from the Left for his criticisms of leftist bias at NPR and PBS. The most hysterical reactions I've read so far come from our perennial favorite, Bill Moyers, and "On Point" host Tom Ashbrook. I'll skip over Moyers' remarks right now, because they're too long for the brief comments I have in mind. But Ashbrook recently wrote an op-ed piece in the Boston Globe, in which he stated, "When government media masters ask broadcasters to replace news with music, watch out. That was the Kremlin's way on bad days in Soviet-era Moscow."

Wow--a leftie using "Soviet" as a criticism? It must be a first! But seriously, Ashbrook has stumbled onto a good analogy, although not in the way he meant. (As my dad often says, "even a blind hog finds an acorn every once in a while.") As I see it, Tomlinson's attempts to change the public broadcasters are like Gorbachev's ("May his name be praised") attempts to change the Soviet Union. Gorbachev wanted to save Communism by reforming it. Make changes to strengthen the Soviet Union and socialism, even if it meant losing some of those precious restrictions on personal freedom.

Tomlinson has explicitly said this is his intent with regards to the public broadcasters: "It was my responsibility as CPB chairman to preserve public support for public broadcasting by doing something about the bias."

As for me, I want the government to cut off all funding for NPR and PBS, period. Let them survive on their own. I like listening to NPR, despite the bias (and it is smothering, at times), but they have no right to my money.

Incidentally, as Ashbrook claims that NPR listeners are perfectly evenly distributed in politics, and that fewer than 15% of listeners hear any bias in war coverage or reports on the Bush administration. Right. For my own impressions, let's make a list of NPR shows I'm familiar with, along with their biases:

Morning Edition: LEFT

Weekend Edition: LEFT

Weekend Edition Sunday: LEFT

All Things Considered: LEFT (This is the show that got my dad and me to speculate that "NPR" stood for "National Pinko Radio")

The Diane Rheem Show: leans LEFT, but with a good fraction of conservatives as guests.

Day to Day: leans LEFT

Talk of the Nation: (don't listen often enough to know)

On Point: LEFT (So far left even my liberal former girlfriend says it's out of touch)

On the Media: LEFT. Hilariously far left. A parody of the Left. Absolutely ridiculous.

This American Life: LEFT Hilariously far left. And boring. I did hear a nice show they once did on life aboard a Navy carrier, though. Still boring, and it was the lone exception to the leftism I hear on the other episodes of the show.

The various BBC news shows they import: LEFT Anti-American Left, at that.

The CBC news show they import (what's it's name...? I used to hear it late at night in D.C.): LEFT Caricature of Canadian Leftism. Also, just weird.

Car Talk: Thankfully, this one avoids politics. Whew! And who would have thought that a couple of Massachussetts Yankees would have good taste in bluegrass?!

What Do You Know?: LEFT

The Prairie Home Companion: LEFT (I love the show, but it's on the Left.)

Fresh Air: LEFT (Terri Gross does a great job as an interviewer, though.)

For comparison, here is the prime-time lineup at Fox News:

8:00 Bill O'Reilly: RIGHT (right-leaning populist)

9:00 Hannity & Colmes: two opposing hosts--takes both sides

10:00 Greta van Sustren: leans LEFT

Now, I do think FNC is a right-leaning station. The prime-time lineup isn't all they broadcast, but it's what most viewers see. Here are some of the other shows I can think of:

Fox & Friends: RIGHT

Special Report with Brit Hume: leans RIGHT (but with a balance of politics in the "Roundtable" panel)

Fox News Sunday: leans RIGHT (but with a balance of politics in the "Roundtable" panel)

Whatever the name of their all-day newscast is: RIGHT

In Fox's case, I think the conservatism of their news broadcasts comes through in the choice of stories. They're the ones we conservatives are more interested in. This is also prevalent in NPR's news reporting. But in Fox's case, they have a prime-time lineup that is amazingly balanced. Not so at NPR. Any equivalent set of shows you put together (there's not the same "prime time" on radio) at NPR comes out solidly liberal.

Saturday, June 04, 2005


The Anchoress reveals a disturbing new "translation" of the New Testament. "Corrected to Reflect that Christ Was a Woman" (that's from the title)

I'm imagining the title page. Know how editions of the King James Version have that "and compared with the most ancient documents in the original tongues" line under the title (I'm paraphrasing from memory, here)? I'd love to see this edition put "and compared with the most recent fashions and politically correct nonsense." Yeesh.

The Anchoress also notes in passing the existence of Nativity sets you can buy with “'Mary and Josephine' figures and a 'Baby Christine.'” For goodness' sake, why?! If I were a male chauvinist (of a parallel with the female chauvinists involved with the above), should I throw out the Mary from my Nativity set and replace her with a "Mark," or some such thing? None of this really makes any sense.

Logic, people, logic!!

Friday, June 03, 2005

Breaking news: Possible hijacking

Virgin Atlantic Airlines flight 45 from London to New York (JFK) has been diverted by Canadian authorities to Halifax, Nova Scotia. I'm hearing this live on G. Gordon Liddy's show right now. Honestly, I've half been thinking he's setting up a rather elaborate joke, but I don't really know.

From what Liddy's said, the pilot has activated the hijacking alert signal. The procedure is for the authorities on the ground to ask the pilot once whether he intended to activate the signal. If he says "yes," that's it, and they'll scramble jets to intercept the plane. Liddy says that by Canadian law, they have to scramble two jets--one with an English-speaking pilot and one with a French-speaker. That's why I wonder if Liddy's making a joke. But...who knows...maybe Canadians really did pass such a law.

UPDATE: The Virgin Atlantic spokesman says it's a false alarm. The plane will still be diverted, of course, just in case.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Interesting language blog


Figulus, you ought to check this one out. Among her general and wide-ranging language posts, she includes a healthy dose of obscure Latin (especially Catholic) items.


Got back from a weekend trip Tuesday afternoon and delivered a public talk in the planetarium on Einstein and relativity's influence on modern culture. I drew in a handful of people outside of my students, which is encouraging enough, given that this is the last week of classes. A newspaper reporter came to interview me about this, with the angle of how we use the planetarium in our classes.

I tried to have the talk make more use of the planetarium than merely projecting Powerpoint onto the dome, by putting the stars and celestial sphere up there at a point in the presentation. My point was to show how the classical and mediaeval world-view of a geocentric universe was fairly reasonable, given their understanding of physics. But then once that model was shown (by Copernicus and Galileo) to have unresolvable internal contradictions, there was a period of crisis. The old physics (Aristotle's) was shown to be wrong, but there wasn't anything to replace it. Galileo made some progress on this, but it wasn't comprehensive by any means. There was about a 200 year period before Newton managed to save physics with his Principia Mathematica, an apparently comprehensive replacement for Aristotle.

I finished by making the point that we're in a similar period today. Einstein, with his theory of relativity and his contributions to quantum mechanics, helped to overthrow Newton's "classical" physics. But now we're in a period in which the replacements, relativity and QM, don't play well together. Each works fine in its own realm, but they don't work with each other. What we're looking for now is a new "comprehensive" theory of physics, and this is the fabled "Grand Unified Theory," in whatever form it will finally appear.

This talk was a dry run for this Fall, when three of us will give a series of public lectures on the centennial Einstein's annus mirabilis ("year of miracles"), 1905. At least now I've got something to start with for my part of it.


Got back to my place late that night, pretty exhausted. Earlier Tuesday, I had stopped by a Barnes & Noble and seen their buy-2-get-1-free deal on DVDs. Happily, I found two DVDs I'd been looking for, Metropolis and Forbidden Planet. Since I've gotten an early German silent film before (Frau im Mond) and liked it, and I'd already seen how good Metropolis is, I decided on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari for my freebie.

I zonked out on the sofa before midnight, with Dr. Caligari still playing. Man, that is one weird movie. Interesting, nonetheless, and I'll have to rewatch it in the daytime to take it all in. The film was in black & white, technically, but they'd tinted it, so in some scenes it was blue & white, others orange & white, and some other shades elsewhere. The English intertitles are more recent, and they use black, blue, and white in very subtle shades. Wild lettering styles, and really amazing to look at.

The scenery is intentionally nightmarish and totally unrealistic. I only knew of the term "German expressionism" from discussions of this movie, so now I've got some idea what it meant. "Houses" are set off at crazy angles and forced perspective. Odd curlicues are painted on "walls" and alleyways.

The whole thing is really amazing, and it goes far beyond any art film of today. I wonder if this was commercially viable at all, back in 1919.