Monday, December 17, 2012

The Week In Review: Done

Consummatus est. It is finished. First semester of double-master's program: complete. Tying up all the loose ends provided for a busy week.

On Tuesday I spent most of the day writing my research paper for Philosophy of Nature. I hope the result proved satisfactory, not only because that paper accounts for 70% of my grade in that class, but because I've submitted that paper for one of the program's requirements, the Research Readiness Paper. The RRP is supposed to be completed in the first semester as part of one's normal classwork (i.e. not an extra project on top of everything else) and is used to determine whether the student demonstrates the capacity for graduate-level research and writing. So, yeah. Kind of a big deal. But I think it went well.

On Wednesday evening the DSPT hosted a panel presentation and discussion on Pope Benedict's most recent book about the life of Christ, which focuses on the infancy narratives. The presenters were: Dr. Thomas Cattoi of the Jesuit School of Theology, an Italian by birth with degrees from universities in the US and UK; Fr. Bryan Kromholtz of the DSPT, an American with a degree from a German university; and Fr. Anselm Ramelow of the DSPT, a German teaching in the US. (The trio kind of brings the geography full circle, don't they?) Interesting thoughts and insights, but instead of sharing those with you, I'll advise you instead to read the pope's book. :)

Thursday featured my final class meeting of the semester, as we finished hearing presentations in Intro to New Testament. I worked in the afternoon, then came home and spent the evening getting caught up on NCIS and The Office. I'll spare you all my commentary about the trajectories of those shows, but suffice it to say they were enjoyable episodes from the last few weeks.

The last few days I've been slowly moving into non-academic mode, which mainly involves quieting the latent impulse that I ought to be doing homework at any given point. The next semester doesn't start until February 4, so I have a good six weeks to chill, veg, and otherwise relax. I'll be visiting home from Dec. 23 to Jan. 1, and will spend the rest of the break in Berkeley working part time. I imagine I'll blog a bit more often in that span, so stay tuned.

I leave you with an amusing story I read in an article about a growing appreciation among feminists of the concept and practice of chivalry. The article was punctuated well by the following:
A story from the life of Samuel Proctor (d. 1997) comes to mind here. Proctor was the beloved pastor of Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church. Apparently, he was in the elevator one day when a young woman came in. Proctor tipped his hat at her. She was offended and said, "What is that supposed to mean?"
The pastor's response was: "Madame, by tipping my hat I was telling you several things. That I would not harm you in any way. That if someone came into this elevator and threatened you, I would defend you. That if you fell ill, I would tend to you and if necessary carry you to safety. I was telling you that even though I am a man and physically stronger than you, I will treat you with both respect and solicitude. But frankly, Madame, it would have taken too much time to tell you all of that; so, instead, I just tipped my hat." 

Gentleman, may we all strive to act accordingly. Ladies, may you hold us to it.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Week in Review: Shemp for Heisman

I was depleted by a cold for most of last week. The bugger moved into my chest quite uninvited, and forced me to serve it an eviction notice (i.e. antibiotics). I was unable to go to class or work for a few days, but I made the best of the time by getting a few papers finished and a few others furthered. Thankfully, I'm nearly back to full strength now, just in time for The Big Push in this last week of the semester.

The school hosted an end-of-the-semester/Christmas party for the students and staff last Friday. It was preceded by a vigil Mass for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. They served delicious foods of many varieties and in large quantities and a good time seemed to have been had by all. One thing I learned during this evening: if a Polish Dominican says he doesn't know how to play poker but wants to sit in, don't believe him; pretty soon, every chip will be in front of him.

The evening was also an opportunity to express our thanks to our departing registrar, Teresa Olson, whose sterling work and solid presence will be missed.

I also attended a co-worker’s 50th birthday party this weekend–that is, it was a party for his 50th birthday; I don't know how many total birthday parties he's had in his life, though it may be close to 50, and I doubt that this was the 50th party for him this year. Anyway, it was a pleasant time in which I got to try some homemade wine produced by a 5-foot tall Italian immigrant from Genoa (really good), and engage in a Three Stooges-oriented discussion on the merits of Shemp and the demerits of Joe Besser. Good times.

The Heisman Trophy winner was announced this last Saturday, and sadly for us Notre Dame fans, Manti Teo did not win, but rather Texas A&M sophomore quarterback Johnny "Football" Manziel. Yes, sophomore Johnny Football. He's not a freshman. He'd been participating in college football for a year prior to this one, though not playing in games. It's misleading to tout him as "the first freshman to win the Heisman." Certainly he's the first redshirt freshman, and that's impressive enough, so there's no need to puff up his accomplishments with inaccuracies. Johnny had a great year, and gave a great acceptance speech. I have nothing against him. I am annoyed at the talking heads in the sports media, though, because the reasons they gave for Johnny winning over Manti, mostly centering on why it's hard to evaluate a defensive player's impact, were all just plain silly. This provides us an excellent opportunity to apply the fruits of philosophical study to real-life problems. Observe (note: these are actual quotes I heard repeated multiple times during the lead-up to the trophy presentation on ESPN Radio):

--"Teo plays as part of a unit." I may not be a football expert, but I'm pretty sure that quarterbacks play as part of a unit, too. Those offensive lineman, backs, and receivers would seem to have an awful lot to do with moving the ball down the field.
-- "If Notre Dame hadn't gone 12-0, Teo wouldn't even be in this discussion." But they did go 12-0, precisely because of the leadership and outstanding play of their senior linebacker. Why does Notre Dame's undefeated record count against Teo instead of for him?
-- "Johnny Manziel had that moment on the big stage against Alabama." This is the same argument as above, only reversed: The Teo partisan could just as easily reply, "If Texas A&M hadn't beaten Alabama, Johnny Manziel wouldn't even be in this discussion." Why does Johnny Manziel get more Heisman credit for one win than Manti Teo gets for 12 wins? Why does Johnny Manziel get credit for beating the top-ranked team, but Teo is marked down for being ON the top-ranked team?
-- "You just can't evaluate a defensive player in the same way." Then, as Mel Kiper, Jr. (and virtually every ND fan on my Facebook newsfeed) has said, call it the Offensive Player of the Year and be done with it. Drop the pretense that a defensive player has a shot at this award if there's no way to evaluate one. By the way, why is it that coaches, scouts, and sports writers have no trouble calling a defensive player the best in the country except at Heisman time?

I've spoken my part. I hope Johnny Football enjoys polishing his trophy while he watches Notre Dame beat Alabama for the national championship in a few weeks.

Ladies and gents, this is the final week of the semester. I have a short paper to finish, a take-home exam to polish up, and my big research paper to write. I've done all of the research and outlining and such (in other words, about 3/4 of the work); now all that's left is composition. Pray for me and my classmates that we make it through this week with our sanity intact. (And I will pray for you, as I know that a number of my readers are students as well.) St. Thomas Aquinas, patron of students, pray for us!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Week in Review: The Penultimate Countdown

You know how sometimes in the movies, the hero and the villain are fighting in an epic battle, and the hero delivers what he thinks is the knockout blow, and starts to walk away... then he pauses, and turns around, and finds the villain on his feet again? That sort of happened to me this week. I had all the early warning signals of the onset of a cold: extreme thirst, sore throat, light headed. I called in an airstrike of Vitamin C and felt better for the next few days. But then on Friday night, I got a tickle in my throat, which turned into a cough, which turned into a head cold, which promptly moved into my chest. Awesome. It's not too bad, really; I'm able to function, and should be back to fighting fit in a few days with the proper rest and hydration. I only mention it because I thought the analogy was funny.

My tickled throat did not prevent me from seeing Cloud Atlas with a bunch of DSPT folks on Friday, preceded by dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. If you're not familiar with Cloud Atlas, you probably still won't be even after you see it. It's a complex production that interweaves six different storylines from different time periods and different parts of the world, all loosely connected somehow and further complicated by the fact that the same six or seven actors play the important parts in each of the narrative threads, so that Tom Hanks is a 19th century doctor in one and a 1970s nuclear scientist in another; and Hugh Grant plays both a slave owner and a futuristic Korean restaurant manager. (Yeah, in the 22nd century Korean storyline, most of the main characters are white folks in prosthetic make-up made to look like Koreans. It's a little odd.) I liked the movie overall... I think. The more I think about, the more the pieces start to fit together. Still, I'll probably have to read the book to get a grip on it.

This is the last week of classes before finals next week. It's not quite time to play "The Final Countdown," and unfortunately there's no catchy 80s tune called "The Penultimate Countdown." I may not end up having any in-class final exams, but I will have one take-home exam, possibly another, a bibliography project, four short papers, and one long research paper to finish and turn in before the end of next week. So... yeah. I'll be busy the next two weeks. You may not get a mid-week post from me. But then we'll be on Christmas break, and I'll have all kinds of free time with which to compose more half-baked thoughts to inflict upon you.

As we're nearing the end of the semester, I thought it would be fun to provide you with some of my favorite quotes from classes:

Intro to New Testament:
"Time constrains me from multiplying examples, but..." (says the professor before proceeding to multiple examples.)
"We cannot escape the importance of knowing the languages these texts were composed in."
"We are transformed by the holiness of God into the holiness of God."
"Matthew is in some ways a very fussy stylist."
(This professor had many great quips during class, but most were too quick for me to catch with my pen, to my regret.)

Aristotelian Logic: 
"Would you take the next one, Brother...." (he says, trailing off, as he has apparently forgotten the Dominican student brother's name again.)
(after a visiting student correctly uses the Square of Opposition to make inferences): "You see, a child could do this!"
"'A universal is a relation by which a many is known as one.' Say it!"
(Beginning a syllogism with the premises, "All humans are rational" and "All Franciscans are human," he jokes): "Both of these are only probable, not certain."

Philosophy of Nature:
"If you start your philosophy inside the mind, you may never get out; that's the problem with most modern philosophy. If you start outside, with the external world, you might get somewhere."
Passing on a maxim from Scholastic thought: "Never deny, seldom affirm, always distinguish."

Ancient Philosophy: "Until you've read Gregory of Nyssa's Life of Moses, you're illiterate."
"Find any good Greek dictionary, and the entry for logos will be about the length of your arm."
"Everybody on the bus?" (the professor's way of asking if we understand or have any questions)
"If technology makes our lives any easier, we'll never get anything done."
About Socrates' past: "Think ex-Marine turned philosopher."
"There is a mischievous grin behind most of what Plato writes."
(Synecius of Cyrene was elected bishop of Ptolemais in 410AD): "That probably precipitated his baptism."
(About one of Basil of Caesarea's letters:) "There's nothing original here, which makes it so interesting."