Friday, June 22, 2012

Seven Quick Takes Friday (v. 37)

Call me a college football heretic, but I don't think that many of the proposed "playoff" schemes will be much of an improvement. I'm a fan of a modified "plus 1" system in which only conference champions are eligible. Play all the bowls as usual (minus a BCS championship game), and after the bowls are over, the two highest ranked teams which won their conferences square off for the national championship. An 8-team seeded playoff tournament would be good, too, but then what about all the other bowl games? In any event, the current system is bad--everybody recognizes this--but many of the playoff proposals basically just involve expanding it to the top 4 teams by ranking (and not be any particular merit). Shy of the modified plus-1 or an 8+ team playoff, I would have to say that the old system (pre-BCS) is probably next best: there's at least less pretense that the APS/Coaches/Harris/Whatever national champion is indisputably the best team in the country.

 I spent most of this week recovering from the workshop/conference of last week. I haven't even begun to write up a conference proceedings paper yet. And I did a heck of a lot of grading earlier this week, plus spent time writing a new homework assignment (and the solutions) for my students. And there is a new guy in our group who may become my successor--which on the down side means that I have to start training him--so my project will not die off when I leave. Here is the summary slide I submitted to the conference:

Oh, and I've been machining/testing out some new photogate picket flags for the physical science classes. Basically, I decided that the acrylic flags which are made by Pasco just don't last very long, since they tend to get scratched and then to trigger the photogate in the "clear" parts of the flag which are supposed to *not* trigger the photogate. I therefore designed (and then machined) some flags for myself. When I tested these out, they actually ended up agreeing more accurately with predicted values for acceleration and speed than did the old (commercial, Pasco) acrylic flags. Here is the CAD drawing which I made of the new aluminum flags. The dimensions are in inches, and the aluminum is only 1/16" thick. This works for both measuring acceleration and for measuring speed:

On revisiting my earlier question about why I can't teach two summer sessions: honestly, I've made it most of the way through this session, and would be up for doing another session. The university's policies against letting its graduate students make more than a subsistence salary prohibit me from ding so.
Whatever happened to my book club? Last summer, we were reading through St Augustine's City of God; by the fall, only Andrew and I were still going at it. The goal was to be doing the Summa Theologica this summer*, but the group kind of up and dissolved. For my part, I'm reading through Aristotle's Physics at this point, and will probably turn to the Summa after the summer, by which time I hope to have also read Aristotle's Metaphysics and possibly also The Nicomachean Ethics.

*Speaking of which: I just inherited a nice three-volume set of that great work from a deceased Dominican friar.

Speaking of book clubs, I stumbled onto this post while browsing the comments at the Conversion Diary Quick Takes for this week. I must say that reading Russell Kirk's Roots of the American Order sounds like a pretty impressive book club, even if that isn't his best or more important work. I notice, though, that it is a pretty old post, which causes me to wonder if this means that their book club has the same troubles are ours.
My brothers (yes, plural) are coming to Austin this weekend. Let the good time roll.

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

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Student Art: Star Wars Edition

Another submission for my "things students draw on their tests/homework assignments/quizzes" archives:
The inset from "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" is my reaction. And for those who don't get the "Star Wars Gangsta Rap" reference:

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Quote of the Day: C.S. Lewis on Love, God, and Demons

The following is a long excerpt from C.S. Lewis' own Introduction to The Four Loves:
St. John's saying that God is love has long been balanced in my mind against the remark of a modern author (M. Denis de Rougemont) that 'love ceases to be a demon only when he ceases to be a god'; which of course can be re-stated in the form 'begins to be a demon he moment he begins to be a god.' This balance seems to me an indispensable safeguard. If we ignore it the truth that God is love may slyly come to mean for us the converse, that love is God.
I suppose that everyone who has through about the matter will see what M. De Rougemont meant. Every human love, at its height, has a tendency to claim for itself a divine authority. Its voice tends to sound as if it were the will of God Himself. It tells us not to count the cost, it demands of us a total commitment, it attempts to over-ride all other claims and insinuates that any action which is sincerely done 'for love's sake' is thereby lawful and even meritorious. That erotic love and love of one's country may thus attempt to 'become gods' is generally recognized. But family affection may do the same. So, in a different way, may friendship....
Now, it must be noticed that the natural loves make this blasphemous claim not when they are in their worst, but when they are in their best, natural condition; when they are what our grandfathers called 'pure' or 'noble.' This is especially obvious in the erotic sphere. A faithful and self-sacrificing passion will speak to us with what seems the voice of God. Merely animal or frivolous lust will not. It will corrupt its addict in a dozen ways, but not in that way; a man may act upon such feelings but he cannot revere them any more that a man who scratches reveres the itch. A silly woman's temporary indulgence, which is really self-indulgence, to a spoiled child—her living doll while the fit lasts—is much less likely to 'become a god' than the deep, narrow devotion of a woman who (quite really) 'lives for her son'....
And this of course is what we ought to expect. Our loves do not make their claim to divinity until the claim becomes plausible. It does not become plausible until there is in them a real resemblance to God, to Love Himself. Let us here make no mistake. Our Gift-loves are really God-like; and among our Gift-loves those are most God-like which are most boundless and unwearied in giving. All the things the poets say about them are true. Their joy, their energy, their patience, their readiness to forgive, their desire for the good of the beloved—all this is a real and all but adorable image of the Divine life. In its presence we are right to thank God 'who has given such power to men.' We may say, quite truly and in an intelligible sense, that those who love greatly are 'near' to God. But of course it is 'nearness by likeness.' It will not of itself produce 'nearness of approach.' The likeness has been given us. It has no necessary connection with that slow and painful approach which must be our own (though by no means our unaided) task. Meanwhile, however, the likeness is a splendour. That is why we may mistake Like for Same. We may give our human loves the unconditional allegiance which we owe only to God. Then they become gods: then they become demons. Then they will destroy us, and also destroy themselves. For natural loves that are allowed to become gods do not remain loves. They are still called so, but can become in fact complicated forms of hatred.
I quote this passage by way of expanding a footnote on an upcoming post which I am on which I am working. There are a few things I would like to note about this passage.

First, it should be noted that in our society, we are steadily slouching towards the point where even the animal or frivolous lust is treated as love, and hence hold the power over us that once was held by "pure" or "noble" love. This, too, is treated as a god, and so this, too, can become a demon. I suspect that every member of society has at some point heard that love is not lust, and lust is not love. Nor do I suspect that there are many people who would claim that lust is love, or that love is only lust. I do suspect that many people treat lust as if it is a part of love, whether important or not, so that it enters into their conscious or subconscious description of love. If this is not broadly true for many people, I suspect that it would be if we asked about that specific love eros between a lover and a beloved (as opposed to between father and son, or brothers, or friends).

But this is not at all true. Lust has no part of love, even of eros. To love someone is to want their good for them, to want them to be happy in the older sense of the word (as opposed to content). Eros might be properly thought of as "desire," which is a desire to complete the other person, and to some extent to be completed by that person. The Christian understands that this really means to unite so that the two become one flesh, a union which is sealed (or perhaps finally completed) by God. It thus is the desire to make a gift of yourself, of your whole self, of your life and your body and your soul, to that person, and to receive his gift of himself or her gift of herself to you. Lust is, on the other hand, the desire to use the other person for your own satisfaction: it is the total inversion of the highest of all loves, agape, but it is even the negation of the more human love eros.

The second thing to note is that we increasingly "give our human loves the unconditional allegiance which we owe only to God," so that these merely human loves replace God, and then become demons. We do this, not only with the merely human loves which are at their noblest, as C.S. Lewis notes, but also now when they are not really loves at all. For if we mistake lust for love, then a strong sense of lust for which we would grant allegiance becomes our god, and thus becomes our demon. Since we may more easily (and frequently) experience lust than love, this means that we have many more demons to conquer.