The Voynich Manuscript

In a dusty Jesuit library in 1912, Wilfrid Voynich found one of the strangest texts extant. This collection of 116 parchment folios bound in a blank vellum cover apears to be from the late 1400s, but a letter written in Latin was found attached to it that attributed it to the Franciscan friar Roger Bacon, who lived from 1214 to 1294. Emperor Rudolf II of Bohemia paid the equivalent of $50,000 (600 gold ducats) for it in the late 1500s.

Nearly every page is lavishly illustrated, and the subject matter seems to run from botany to astronomy to biology, with a healthy dose of naked women as well. The thing is, no one has been able to translate a word of it.

It's written in an unknown language and script, which appears to be an elaborate code of some sort. At least two scholars tried to decode it in the 1600s, and countless others have tried since it resurfaced. Although it defies translation, it has certain characteristics that make researchers want to believe that it is a language - or a very elaborate hoax.

For example, word lengths in Voynichese form a binomial distribution. Words with 5 or 6 characters are most common, and the distribution of words of greater or shorter lengths forms a bell-shaped curve. There is remarkable regularity in the text, and words are frequently repeated, suggesting perhaps, poetry. Using the European Voynich Alphabet (a way of romanizing the text), one oft-quoted line reads, "qokedy qokedy dal qokedy qokedy."

Anyway, should you desire to see this wonderful thingy, it's right here.
There is probably a chunk of money in it for the person who translates it.

qokedy to you all...

Open Wide

Why must dentists always try to converse with you? He's got both hands in my mouth up to the wrist, digging away at my already bleeding gums and he says, "So, your mom tells me you just got back from Ireland. How was it?" You'd think that after 20 years of private practice he'd at least know to confine himself to yes/no questions.

I came out of there with a clear prognosis - about $3000 dollars worth of dental work to be done in the next 6 months or so. I need two crowns and multiple sessions of a fun little procedure called "deep root scaling." Not bad, considering that Reagan was in office the last time I had a checkup...

After he explained to me what needed to be done, I have decided that the teeth are a poorly designed organ. Back when our lifespans were 30-40 years it was no big deal, but now we need teeth for twice that long, and evolution is just not keeping up. I want bone ridges like lizards - tough, low maintenance, and totally lacking in pesky crevices that need flossing.

Yes - the moral of this post is FLOSS. I can't stress enough how much this deep root scaling thing is going to suck...


It was all very low key, nonthreatening, and new age. Diffused lighting, gentle music, and many salmon colored surfaces... but in the end, it was your standard finger stick.

Total cholesterol = 198
Should be under 200 so I am ok for now, but given my family history, it is likely that it has been rising over the past few years.

HDL cholesterol = 37
This is the "good" cholesterol - should be 40 or more. Can be modified by exercise - and since I have been largely sedentary of late, it shouldn't be too hard to fix.

LDL cholesterol = 112
This "bad" cholesterol is supposed to be under 100. This can be corrected by weight loss.

Triglycerides = 244
This is the real bad news, but it isn't all that severe. It should be under 150, but my score is not outrageous; 500 is considered very high. This is treated with niacin and aspirin.

The doctor told me exactly what I expected to hear - lose weight and exercise more. He was pretty cool actually; no mention of my crack habit or the paranoid delusions that accompany it. I think he's not telling me everything - because they are waiting for me to keel over so they can harvest my organs for the black market! But I'm way ahead of them. I've been slowly preparing my body for years now. When they split me open they will find that my organs are covered in a thick coating of diet coke residue and oreo middles - useless for transplant! Ha! That will show them!!

Pork - the other white meat.
Because your heart can take it.

I love the banner ads that run above my blog. Today, I found this charming reminder of Ireland floating up there...

The plate depicted there is pretty accurate. You've got to love a country where 4 differrent kinds of pork are the norm for breakfast. People say the Irish drink so much because they have always been oppressed, but I'm convinced it's simply an attempt to keep their blood thinned enough to hold arteriosclerosis at bay.

Speaking of health issues... I should have the results of my various physical exams in hand soon. I'm not thrilled about the prospect; as many of you know, I prefer to think of myself as "40 feet tall, invisible, bullet-proof, and made of pure plasma."* I feel that it's likely that my armored exoskeleton is simply a colorful candy shell... and my core of liquid-hot magma is just rich milk chocolate and creamy nougat.

Um...yeah. Anyway, I am going through the whole gauntlet of appointments. The dentist visit should suck, as I haven't been to one for quite some time... like, several presidents ago. The doctors are doing a full blood workup; lipids, cholesterol, glucose, etc., and much to my chagrin, I may have to have a quick "butt-o-scope" as well. That, coupled with the old "San Francisco handshake" (officially called "testicular palpation"), should make tomorrow a pretty crappy day.

Soon, I will have an itemization of specific ailments to put with my current vague list of complaints. To prepare myself, I am working under the assumption that I have something completely terminal - I may have but moments to live as we speak. That way, when they come in and say, "Mr. Callahan, I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but you have cancer of the eyelashes. We fear it may have spread to the brows as well..." it won't seem so bad. By being prepared to die, I can face any triple-angio-bypass-colon-root-canal-ectomy they have to dish out. Of course, I'll be starting a strict chemical intoxicant regimen right after the blood is drawn... just to keep me on an even keel while we wait for results.

Wish me luck - because, let's be honest; this world would suck without me.

*Just to clarify, I am only 40 feet tall in my morphed form.

Sunday Sermon
"Celtic Bushido"

I know that many of you have been lost without my guidance recently. For those of you keeping score at home, it's been 68 days since a proper sermon; a problem soon remedied.

I have been a blue salmon,
I have been a wild dog,
I have been a cautious stag,
I have been a deer on the mountain,
and a stump of a tree on a shovel.
I have been an axe in the hand,
A pin in a pair of tongs,
A stallion in stud,
A bull in anger,
A grain in the growing,
I have been dead, I have been alive,
I am a composer of songs,
for I am Taliesin.

-Taliesin, 6th Century A.D.

A dear friend from my sword-slinging past coined the phrase 'Celtic Bushido' - she defined it as "long periods of deprivation and training, followed by intense bursts of passionate self-abuse."

I tucked that seemingly incongrous little gem away in a dark recess of my mind, and it has bubbled to the surface periodically over the years. Each time it comes out of the depths, I refine my understanding of it. It used to mean weeks or months of sweating in hot armor before a big tournament or war, then drowning myself in women and alcohol for a night or three when the fighting was done. Oh, thank goodness those days are over (sniffle...whimper).

Over the last few years, it has come to operate on a semester schedule. I work and struggle and immerse myself in school, then try to kill time and brain cells with visiting family and (a tiny bit of) alcohol during the breaks.

During such a time recently, Celtic Bushido emerged once again, and shook like a wet dog all over me. A few days into the trip I sat eating dinner at O'Neils, a wonderful old pub in Dublin. Well into my third pint of Bulmers, with a steaming plate of colcannon before me, something subtle shifted. The work and love and lust and worry and joy and death all coalesced in robust concert. The times of training and the times of passion took their places, and I could hate neither, for I was both. The truth of Taliesin's verse became clear to me, as it became clear to Master Hakuin some 1200 years later...

All sentient beings are essentially Buddhas.
As with water and ice, there is no ice without water;
apart from sentient beings, there are no Buddhas.
Not knowing how close the truth is,
we seek it far away
--what a pity!

-from 'Song of Zazen' by Hakuin Ekaku Zenji, 18th Century A.D.

The truth is with you at all times - in fact, you ARE the truth. Take the time to know that.

If you understand, things are just as they are...
if you do not understand, things are just as they are.

-Zen Proverb

Go in Peace.

"The Irish are the blacks of Europe, so say it loud. I'm black and I'm proud."
(If you don't understand, rent "The Commitments" this weekend...)

I have returned. My trip to Ireland was... words fail me.

While I process it a bit, here are some choice things I (re)discovered in the motherland.

For those who don't care for Guinness, there's Bulmers. A wonderfully refreshing hard cider, it's available on tap in virtually every pub in Ireland. Sold in bottles in America under the name Magners, it makes a perfect gift for the pastor of your choice...

If, like me, you find football (soccer to us) about as exciting as watching paint dry, try Hurling. It's like hockey or soccer with out those pesky offsides or icing rules. I went to a game in Carrigtwohills (don't ask me how to pronounce that...) and it was amazing. These guys are tough - so tough they make hockey players look like little girls. During the game, one of the players got a bad cut on his forehead (unbelievably, helmets are optional), and I watched them put three stitches in his head with no anesthetic. As if that wasn't proof enough of his warrior status, he exchanged his blood-soaked jersey for a clean one and returned to the game, still without a helmet! The girls play a similar game, but it's called Camogie.

In the morning, the Irish believe in fueling up thoroughly. This means a "full Irish breakfast." It consists of poached eggs, toast or scones, clotted cream, smoked salmon, bacon, tea (with cream and brown sugar), and the best part; black and white pudding. White pudding is suet and oatmeal packed in sheep intestine. Yum. But wait, there's more... Black pudding is congealed pig blood and oatmeal in a sheep intestine. Despite this, both are excellent. As with most sausages, it is best not to think about the ingredients - just dig in.

The good people of Dublin celebrate "Bloomsday" on June 16th - the exact day that Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom wandered the streets of Dublin in James Joyce's Ulysses. This year it is especially important, as it is the 100th anniversary of the day depicted in the book. If you haven't read it, you must. Now, while you are young. Don't "put it on the long finger" as the Irish say; do it now, while you are thinking about it. You'll be glad you did.

While in Killearney I heard a piper playing the Uilleann Pipes (pronounced "illan"). Now, I like bagpipes as much as the next guy, but I could never see learning an instrument that sounds best from about 50 yards away... The Uilleann pipes, however, are an indoor instrument, and their tone is not so wailing (or loud) as the highland pipes. I have decided to get a set - just as soon as I have $1500 to spare...

As time goes by, I'll post more bits about the trip but for now, it is enough to say that I am back in the states, trying to recuperate, and really wishing I had a cold pint of Bulmers and a plate of black pudding...