March 2nd, 2009

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Ritual does not save us from games of telephone

This month's Lodge meeting is going to be the Third Degree -- we're raising three brethren to the status of Master Mason. It's always a big deal, and as so often, my Lodge is doing it as a Past Masters Night: instead of the usual line of officers, the ritual will be performed by past Masters of the Lodge. As Ritualist, my main task is going to be herding the cats on rehearsal night (which I expect to be no small trick, given that many of these guys are thirty years older than me), but I am of course also going to take part.

For a change, though, I'm not doing any part of the ritual itself -- instead, I'm going to deliver the Charge. This is a speech given to the newly-elevated brethren, extolling their new status and charging them to walk uprightly as Masons. There's no set ritual for the Charge: often, it's just an extempore speech. But for years now, I've been looking for an opportunity to deliver the so-called "Canadian Charge", which one of the old past Masters of the Lodge, Carl Atlas, used to give. It's a poem, typically delivered with the lights down, and done well it can be ferociously dramatic.

[Digression: I just turned off the television, which had been playing the weather reports. It just switched over to Days of Our Lives, whose introduction always amuses me, because it is so screamingly Masonic: the sand-through-the-hourglass metaphor for life is one of the better speeches in the Third Degree.]

Anyway, I didn't have a copy of the Canadian Charge to hand, so I went online to look for it: there are no secrets contained therein, so I figured, correctly, that I could find it. What I hadn't expected was that I found half-a-dozen copies of it -- all different. They're all recognizably the same poem, but under several different names, with no two quite alike. They don't even agree in case: some are first person, some second. Some have six verses, some seven.

After staring at them for the past week, I just sat down and started to hybridize: if there is no One True Answer, I may as well pick and choose the bits I like. I started with the version from Lawrenceville Lodge, mixed in some bits from Phoenix Masonry, adjusted a bit from Ed Halpaus' excellent historical essay, and a few further tweaks from the Iowa Masonic Library. I'm still contemplating whether to include the elegant preamble from Warren Lodge (whose version is otherwise identical to the original Lawrenceville version).

I'm still tweaking and tuning, but it's starting to sound right: the scansion is improving, the mouthfeel of the words is getting smoother, and I'm picking and choosing the details of the symbolism. (A word changed here and there can radically change the meaning of a version.) I've included the fifth verse (missing from several versions), and the line in verse six that is missing from the Lawrenceville and Warren versions (and which is necessary to make the verses line up right poetically).

For those who are interested, here's my current working draft:
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The dangers of an highly flexible language

Scala (my new language of choice) is a delight in many ways, and I'll be talking about one of the serious ones shortly.

However, it has its dangers, particularly in the sheer degree of metaprogramming it allows. This is surely nowhere better illustrated than in the recent scala-lolz library. This entirely functional but horrifying piece of code adds such things as:
  • The ability to throw exceptions with OH NOES !! and test them with OMG

  • Equality testing with IZ

  • Assertions !!!!!!!! (non-null), ?!!? (true) and Can has (general)
As a technology demonstration, it's actually kind of impressive. But the opportunities for obfuscating code in new and terrible ways are positively Lovecraftian...