Friday, December 23, 2005

Learn Something New Every Day

I was going to write this post on what I thought was a grammar mistake on the front page of CNN's website. Under a picture of travelers at LAX, the caption reads, "Travelers cue up at Los Angeles International Airport today." I was going to say that the proper word is "queue" not "cue," but then I double checked with Merriam-Webster. Sure enough, "cue" (main entry #5) is an alternate spelling for "queue."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Logic Lesson: The Four Forms of Propositions

In Aristotelian logic, there are four forms of propositions: universal affirmative, universal negative, particular affirmative, and particular negative. All declarative sentences can be properly characterized as one of these four forms.

For brevity, we may refer to each of these forms by a system of abbreviation, which was codified during the Middle Ages. The abbreviations are as follows: A = universal affirmative, E = universal negative, I = particular affirmative, and O = particular negative.*

If we use the letter "S" to stand for the logical subject and the letter "P" to stand for the logical predicate, the forms of the four propositions can be given as follows:
A: All S is P.
E: No S is P.
I: Some S is P.
O: Some S is not P.

Some examples: "All men are mortal" is in A form; that is, it is a universal affirmative proposition. "No ravens are white" is in E form. "Some politicians are corrupt" is in I form. And "Some politicians are not corrupt" is in O form.**

When we say a proposition is universal or particular, we are describing its quantity; when we say it is affirmative or negative, we refer to its quality. So, for example, how do we know that "All men are mortal" is a universal affirmative proposition? It is universal because it refers to all men, and it is affirmative because it says that all men are such and such, as opposed to saying that all men are not such and such. "Some politicians are not corrupt" is in O form because it talks about some politicians and says that they are not corrupt.

There are other finer details to go into, but we will put them off until later. Try your hand at some exercises given in the post below. Answers to the exercises appear when you click "Read more."

* The reasoning behind the abbreviations is that the Latin affirmo has as its first two vowels "a" and "i", and the Latin nego has as its first two vowels "e" and "o".

** More on the O in the answer to exercise 12.

Logic Exercises: The Four Forms of Propositions

These are excercises to accompany this post. Identify the form of each proposition. Answers appear when you click "Read more."

Easy ones:
1. Some pens are blue.
2. All cows are brown.
3. All philosophers with a PhD are poor.
4. Nobody is worth talking to.
5. Some books worth reading are worth buying.
6. All those who shop at Trader Joes are gourmands.

A little more difficult:
7. Most academics are liberal.
8. Most academics are conservative.
9. Everyone from New Jersey loves Bruce Springsteen.

Still more difficult:
10. Some wise guys are unwise.
11. All gods are immortal.

12. All ravens are not white.
13. Nobody doesn't like Sara Lee.

1. I
2. A
3. A (This is universal even though the "all" is qualified by "with a PhD." A proposition is universal if it refers to all the members of the class with which it is concerned. So even though "all philosophers with a PhD" does not include every philosopher (e.g., Richard Swinburne, who is a philosopher, does not have a PhD), the quantity is universal because with respect to philosophers with a PhD, it refers to all of them.)
4. E
5. I
6. A
7. I ("Most" still falls short of being all, and so logically indicates a particular quantity.)
8. I (Don't want to be accused of inserting bias into logic examples.)
9. A
10. I (You might think that since the predicate is "unwise" the quality would be negative, thus giving us an O. But the quality of the proposition is not negative -- it says that some wise guys are such and such -- even though the quality of the predicate is negative. Distinguishing between a negative proposition and a negative predicate is one of the trickiest parts of Aristotelian logic.)
11. A (Same reason as above.)
12. E or O. (The English in this sentence is ambiguous. In English, when we say "All ravens are not white" we could mean that there are no ravens whatsoever that are white. This would be consistent with the E form: No S is P. If we were trying to weasel out of something, we could also take "All ravens are not white" to mean that there are some ravens that are white. In other words we would emphasize the "all" in "All ravens are not white." It is because of this ambiguity that we give the E form as "No S is P" instead of "All S is not P," which is what one might have expected given the form of A, "All S is P."
13. E. (In logical form, this sentence would be "Nobody [is] [that which] doesn't like Sara Lee." For reasons discussed in answer 10, this makes the answer here E.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

How St. Nicholas Became Santa Clause

Here's one theory on what happened to the bishop of Myra.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Faith & Philosophy: A Short Spiel

What is a philosopher? A philosopher is a person who has an interest in studying the really permanent things, things that will last more than a few hours or days or years. So studying philosophy is time well spent because you know the subject matter really isn’t going to change in the next few years. And not a lot of other areas of study can actually say that.

Now being a philosopher doesn't make you boring. You might think otherwise because when you think of "philosophy" you think of old guys in tweed jackets talking in long, confusing sentences about whether the table really exists. No, no, no. That's a caricature of philosophy. It's what Susan Pevensie is like at the beginning of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. She wants to be realistic about everything and think things through, which are good things in and of themselves, but in trying to be grown up she's also become boring. Lucky for Susan, she realizes this and sees that she can be both realistic and jolly. As Aslan says in The Magician’s Nephew, "Jokes as well as justice come in with speech."

So a philosopher is not necessarily boring. But a philosopher is necessarily curious -- about the world and what it's really like.

Christians have always been interested in philosophy, not only for its own sake but for what it can help us understand about our faith. Many of the great philosophers have also been Christian, and many of these Christian philosophers have also been great Christians. In fact, in not a few cases, these Christians were great Christians -- real heroes of the faith -- not in spite of but because they were good philosophers: St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Pascal, even C. S. Lewis.

Philosophy is known in the Christian tradition as the handmaiden to philosophy. What's a handmaiden? A handmaiden is a person who serves another, greater person. In the case of philosophy, philosophy is a servant to theology. Philosophy helps us to understand theology -- our Christian faith -- better. So for Christians, studying philosophy is a way of helping us increase our knowledge of God. And why is that important? Because knowledge and love go hand in hand. The more you know about God, the more you are able to love him. You can't increase in love without increasing in knowledge.

But why would you want to study Plato? After all, he wasn't a Christian, and doesn't the apostle Paul tell us to avoid vain philosophy?

We have to keep in mind that the same apostle who asked the Colossians to avoid vain philosophy is the same one who also eloquently and knowledgeably addressed the best philosophy of his time when he visited Athens. So Paul was no stranger to philosophy, and he most likely knew some Plato, too.

And as for Plato, a twentieth-century philosopher has said that all philosophy is a footnote to Plato. Plato is the real beginning of philosophy. There isn't much in philosophy that Plato didn't intelligently comment about. So if we want to follow in the footsteps of the great philosophers, we'll want to begin with Plato.

Thirty or forty years ago, a common attitude of Christians to philosophy was "Bah, philosophy." But then some Christians began to realize that the alternative to philosophy was not to not have a philosophy at all, the "alternative" to philosophy was to have a bad philosophy. And studying philosophy doesn't necessarily make you proud. As Christians we want to develop the virtue of humility, but the opposite of humility is pride, not ignorance. Lewis says in one of his most famous books that God requires us to love him with all that we are, and that includes our mind. The command to be good requires that we be as intelligent as we can.

In college, almost all of the criticisms you'll hear about Christianity will be philosophical ones. It might seem otherwise but it's not. Has science really shown that Christianity is false? Well, that's a philosophical question, not a scientific one. Can we really understand the text of the Bible because, after all, don't we have biases when reading the Bible? Again, that's a philosophical question, not a literary one. Is there such a thing as the soul, or can I be just reduced to my brain and nervous system? A philosophical question, not a psychological or neuroscientific one.

So can studying Plato help you in your Christian walk? Yes, most definitely. Will an understanding of good philosophy help you become a better disciple of Jesus Christ. Yes, most definitely. And that will be a very exciting thing; it won't be boring at all.

Friday, December 16, 2005


Why is a martyr not guilty of suicide? The Christian church has approved of the former but not of the latter. Is it inconsistent?


In the case of the suicide, the person committing suicide is violating directly the moral maxim to not harm oneself. Generally, the person committing suicide wishes to bring about something (peace, relief of burden to others, etc.) and so acts in such a way to attempt to bring those things to pass. But the suicide's justification is not sufficient, for in attempting to bring certain goods to be he is directly violating a moral maxim, or as some would say, a "basic value."

In the case of the martyr, the martyr does not directly violate the moral maxim to not harm oneself. The martyr does not directly bring about his or her own death. Rather, the martyr is responsible for, say, defying the wishes or commands of the tyrant to deny the Christian faith. It is the tyrant who brings about the death of the martyr.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I Know It But I Can't Prove It, Really

Over at Joanne Jacobs, a commenter (the first one) claims:

In this forum, I once said that one of the two dumbest lines in detective stories is "I know he's guilty but I can't prove it." If you can't prove it you don't know he's guilty, you only suspect it. (There is at least one special case exception: if the proof depends on knowing you are telling the truth.)

Well, I don't know what exactly is meant by the "one special case" mentioned, but there's one very special case that wasn't mentioned, probably because it undermines the commenter's claim: Goedel's incompleteness theorem.

In short, one thing Goedel proved is that there are propositions that can be known but not proved.

Then the commenter goes on to say:

religion teaches making real-world decisions based on feeling and faith even if it means ignoring strong evidence. Christianity is harmless when confined to Sunday mornings. Base your schooling on it, and you have a disaster.

Two things. (1) This comment betrays a woefully inadequate account of what Christians have historically meant by "faith." (2) If you base your schooling on Christianity, what you get is not a disaster but the university.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Irony: Found in Translation

It is often remarked that the translation of a book from one language to another can never capture the author's genius. Something is always lost in translation.

While reading Richard Polt's translation of Nietzsche's Twilight of the Idols; or, How to Philosophize with a Hammer, I came across an irony that seems to have been added by the translation. In "What I Owe to the Ancients," Nietzsche says that "One will recognize in me, even in my Zarathustra, a very earnest ambition for the Roman style . . . .

In trying to emphasize the word "Roman," the translator has removed it from the roman style (of the typeface) and set it in italics. If I may equivocate on "Roman" and "style," the translator has frustrated Nietzsche's preference for the Roman style by removing his word from the roman style. I find this ironical; I'll forgive you if you don't.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Quiz!

What do these topics all have in common? (Answer when you click "Read more")


They were all covered in the first edition (1768-1771) of the Encyclopedia Britannica. In fact, these were the only topics covered in the first edition. Does the selection of topics seem strange (in a possibly good sort of way)? Some topics are expected, e.g., agriculture, chemistry, law. Others not so much, e.g., bleaching, brewing, horsemanship, midwifery, short-hand, tanning.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Help Andre

Help Andre

My friend Andre was seriously injured in a car accident a week ago. If you have some time, and perhaps a few dollars, take a look at his story. Clicking on the above picture will take you to a site where you can donate. Clicking here will give you a blog with updates on how he's doing.

Veteran's Day

Today we remember the veterans of our country's armed forces. My dad is one of them. Thanks, dad. He'll tell you that lots of guys his age were joining, and he was just going along with them. But just because lots of guys were doing a good thing doesn't make it any less good.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

"Rove remains his Machiavellian self "

Dymphna, who blogs at "Gates of Vienna" (see the blogroll) and "Neighborhood of God," thinks that Harriet Miers's nomination and subsequent withdrawal was orchestrated by Rove.

So what did her time at bat accomplish? Well, it sure galvanized the base didn't it? George W got the message: people are paying attention. So he paid attention back and gave them what he'd planned to give them anyway: a decent nomination. So now they like him again. And by nominating Harriet, he got his licks in for the evangelical base, too. And Laura could give us the party line about "needing to have a woman on the Supreme Court." Everybody's happy and now Harriet can go back to obscurity as the White House Counsel. Or whatever.

Meanwhile, the Dems are looking longingly backwards at Ms. Miers. They could have had a field day bashing her for weeks. And then they'd have passed her and she would have "grown in office" -- i.e., moved left.

I think she's right about this. That Rove is a sneaky fellow, and for all the ridicule Bush receives, he is, too. As Machiavelli says,

The choice of ministers is of no small importance to a prince; they are good or not according to the prudence of the prince. And the first conjecture that is to be made of the brain of a lord is to see the men he has around him; and when they are capable and faithful, he can always be reputed wise because he has known how to recognize them as capable and to maintain them as faithful. But if they are otherwise, one can always pass unfavorable judgment on him, because the first error he makes, he makes in this choice. (The Prince, ch. 22, trans. Manfield)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Don't click if you've got deadlines. You've been warned.



My high score on the grid game is 1524.

UPDATE: The Bourgeois Dad e-mails that he got 1807 on the grid game.

UPDATE 2: Thorgerson, who should have been grading essays, got 1867.

UPDATE 3: Mark, who should have been testing software, got 2138. He claims he was "testing" the grid game.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

When It Rains, It Pours

We've received a glut of bathroom reading material lately. It seems we went for a month or two without anything new. Here's what we've gotten recently.

1. University alumni magazine.
2. Bourgeois Wife's undergraduate honors program newsletter.
3. JCPenney home catalog.
4. Church archdiocesan magazine.
5. Pottery Barn catalog.
6. AAA magazine.
7. California special election information guide.
8. Graduate school quarterly magazine.
9. Intercollegiate Review.
10. Crate and Barrel catalog.
11. Vision Forum catalog.
12. Touchstone magazine.

Quite a goodly supply of material to keep one occupied while taking care of business.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Caring about Moral Problems

I noticed (or remembered) today that many students in my class on moral problems do not care about moral problems. "Abortion? Whateve." (Some students cannot be bothered to complete their words.) "Animal rights? [Shrug.]" (Some cannot be bothered to use spoken language.)

What is surprising, perhaps, is that these are not typical slacker students. They are not apathetic about other aspects of their lives, even other aspects of their academic lives. They are very interested in, say, biology or chemistry. They just do not care about moral problems.

Such apathy is also not to be confused with moral relativism. That I can respond to. Apathy, however, is difficult to respond to. The student is asleep and needs to be woken up. Since apathetic students often appear to not pay attention in class, the teacher may try some antics to get their "attention." But this is just to send a jolt through their bodies.

What needs to be awakened is their soul. How is that done? Socrates tried to wake up the soul by refuting the person's opinions. Sometimes this is easy to do, but then the problem reasserts itself when the one who is refuted refuses to admit it. What do you do in that case? Antics?

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Winningest Team in College Football

That'd be Michigan. I find it really curious that Penn State has been unable to beat Michigan since it joined the Big Ten (making the Big Ten the big eleven). Despite the losses to Michigan, Joe Paterno is still a living legend.

Anyway, on to other, more serious matters. What's worse than hearing a bad argument for abortion? A bad presentation of the basic issues involved in abortion given as a lecture to a class at a public university. If you're a Christian and you've ever thought that perhaps Christians who go into philosophy (or sociology, psychology, etc.) are wasting their time, think about the kind of person you'd like to have teaching your child's college class covering abortion. You have four options:

1. Incompetent Christian philosopher
2. Incompetent non-Christian philosopher
3. Competent Christian philosopher
4. Competent non-Christian philosopher

("Competent" and "incompetent" refer to the person's ability to present clearly and fairly the issues in the abortion debate.) Clearly, the first two are out. And if the Christian philosopher is sufficiently incompetent, then that's often worse than an incompetent non-Christian philosopher discussing abortion.

You might think that there is no real difference between 3 and 4. But this isn't the case. True, I'd rather have a competent non-Christian philosopher than an incompetent non-Christian philosopher. But just because the non-Christian philosopher is competent doesn't mean he or she wouldn't tell the students his or her own position on abortion. Some professors don't tell -- at least in the public lecture; they might do so in private -- the students their position on controversial topics; some do. And this influences students. So, who would Christian parents rather have influencing their students?

I should note that I'm using the labels "Christian" and "non-Christian" arbitrarily here. There are some Christians who don't think abortion is wrong, and some non-Christians who don't think abortion is right (Jews and Muslims come readily to mind, but there are others).

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Leo Strauss, Born September 20, 1899

"The flight to immortality requires an extreme discretion in the selection of one's luggage." (Persecution and the Art of Writing)

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Way Who Sees It?

The Bourgeois Wife informed me of Starbucks' "The Way I See It" campaign. The campaign consists of putting quotations on the side of their coffee cups. Starbucks says the quotations are meant to start conversations. Many conservatives are up in arms about some of the examples, which include the following from Armistead Maupin, a gay author commenting on why he didn't come out sooner:

I surrendered my youth to the people I feared when I could have been out there loving someone. Don't make that mistake yourself. Life's too damn short.

(See A Certain Slant of Light for more details.)

I think before we give ourselves over to outrage or boycott, it would be necessary to look at the list of people quoted, which Starbucks lists on their website. (It would also be nice to see an explanation of why certain quotations were chosen.) Starbucks says it was "it was hoping to inspire old-fashioned coffee-house conversations" by the campaign; so one quotation does not an agenda make.

The list of contributors includes Jonah Goldberg and Michael Medved, which means that there is a conservative voice in the campaign. In fact, Goldberg is featured on the "The Way I See It" portion of Starbucks' website.

So we have the quotation from Maupin; we have a quotation from Goldberg. (There's also one from John Wooden, but it's not listed. Does anyone know what it is?) In this context, giving a quotation from Maupin about how he wished he'd been more confident being gay doesn't seem to be promoting an agenda. It actually seems to be a good conversation starter: "Do you think Maupin is doing something wrong by being gay? Is it simply a 'lifestyle decision' which everyone should agree is okay?" Etc. etc. etc. Now, of course, we probably won't see a quotation by a former homosexual saying "All that time I spent being gay when I wanted to be straight was a waste; don't let peer pressure keep you gay"; so if you think such a quotation is necessary to balance Maupin's, then you probably won't be satisfied with Starbucks' campaign.

But as long as the opinion expressed by a quotation is taken to start the conversation and not to settle the issue, then I don't see a problem.

I'm making this judgment based on the Starbucks website, but the campaign doesn't seem biased. Of course, someone will probably develop a conspiracy theory discovering that more coffee cups are produced with liberal quotations than with conservative. Until there's proof of that, I'll keep drinking coffee from Starbucks.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Michigan Hands It to the Irish

Stupid Michigan.

But this is how they started last year. Lost to N---- D---. Won a lot of games. Lost to O--- S----. (Certain names should not be uttered.)

UPDATE: This certainly removes a little of the sting.

Friday, September 09, 2005

You've Gotta Hand It to the Irish

Newt Emerson. Irish Times. On Katrina. Thanks to Slugger O'Toole the article is now posted for general consumption.


My favorite lines:

As the full horror of this sinks in, thousands of desperate columnist are asking how a civilised city can descend into anarchy.

The answer is that only a civilised city can descend into anarchy.

HT: Hugh / Instapundit

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Something that should be said ...

Already I feel strange writing about this, but I'm inspired by the openness of Jonathans Health Bar. Have you ever had a conversation with a male friend about birth control and pregnancy? Of course not, but maybe you should have. Maybe at least with Dad. Perhaps you will say that conversation should occur off the record and behind closed doors, but you're reading the blog of a married man, and I am no longer afraid.

I am going to try to present this in a non-polemical way. Of all the couples Rose and I know from growing up, college, etc., there are less than half a dozen who even think partly like we do. So, I'm not trying to win any arguments. I simply think people should know about these things and think about the implications of what they do. If after that you still disagree, that is fine and lets go have a beer.

A thought for consideration: until 1930 every Christian church condemned the use of artificial methods of birth control or "child spacing." That is not an argument, though it is often brought up by those in favor of natural methods (or no methods) as such. It should simply make you wonder why and how it came to be universally accepted so quickly. Forms of sterilization have existed since ancient times, so though we are unique in the ease of access, use and effectiveness, modern man is not the first to encounter this issue.

More thoughts for consideration:
Read the labels on the pill. Every chemical birth control method has major side effects for someone, and those side effects are nasty, and studies are beginning to wonder if they do not make you universally more prone to certain cancers. No one seems to really know yet. Are you sure you want to rick THAT in your system, or your spouse's system, even if it doesn't seem to be having any effect?

A woman's hormonal cycle is a huge part of her psyche. One of the most common problems with chemical controls is that it makes women depressed. How many women fight that and don't say anything ... or don't stop to realize what is going on?

According to studies, the only 99% effective methods are pill, IUD and Natural Family Planning style natural method. All of these are really more like 100% when used correctly (note that the NFP method is effective because it combines all of the methods of naturally identifying the fertility cycle, thereby leaving no room for question).

Natural Family Planning requires the participation of both people. It is a beautiful thing to really understand the natural cycle of your wife's body and to let your love life reflect that (I'm not only talking about sex). It also helps a husband who is not naturally sensitive to the fluxes in a woman's emotions have some data to work with.

In terms of life philosophy, Rose and I obviously hold to using invasive or chemical measures as an absolutely last recourse, when any natural method does not work. People react to this is as anywhere from silly to immoral, but mostly that it is not worth the time and effort. Natural methods have an effect on your life. Labor and childbirth are really, well, laborious. You don't get to have sex like a playboy. You don't get shots just because everyone else is. You don't eat just because you have a craving. But a life lived out intentionally, sacrificially, is a life well lived.

So, whether you are male or female, married or single, I encourage you to consider this issue, educate yourself (which can on a basic level be done with the help of nothing but Google), and do so before these choices are forced upon you, because you certainely won't know what to think when The Event (whatever that may be) is upon you.

That actually wasn't so bad.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Did You Forget about St. George?

The Bourgeois Wife pointed me here, where I found a statement from my church's annual convention denouncing

support for same-sex marriage, support for abortion, support for ordination of women to Holy Orders . . . , and the labeling of other faiths and their leaders with hateful terminology.

All fine and good. However, the part I elided was not so good:

support for the concept of war which is "pre-emptive" or "justifiable."

In the document, support for any of these things is unequivocally called an "extremist position," and any Christian group that supports them is un-Orthodox and promotes positions "contrary to the teachings of the Holy Orthodox Faith." (The RCC is extremist!?)

Why this clause is even included among the others is puzzling. To see why, consider the support from the Bible and tradition for (1) same-sex marriage, (2) abortion, (3) ordination of women, (4) pre-emptive and/or justifiable war, (5) calling others hateful names. I suggest that there is no evidence for (1), (2), and (5), and exeedingly scanty support for (3). (Though it seems that the ancient church had a role for the deaconess; so one would like some clarification on "Holy Orders." Note: in the Orthodox church, the position of deaconess is a good way down on the ladder. It is not the same as a deacon in a Baptist church where the deacon is responsible for a good deal of what goes on in the church and where the deacon board is often the final authority in the church, perhaps only beneath the self-rule of the people.)

The evidence of support for number (4) on the other hand is at worst ambiguous and at best supportive. As a case in point, St. Vladimir's Theological Journal (the premier journal of Orthodox theology in America) recently had an issue in which Orthodox theologians debated the concept of just war.

I can't imagine any Orthodox theologian even debating whether or not abortion or same-sex marriage is legitimate. Debate is beyond the pale. On the topic of just war, however, debate is not beyond the pale, and the convention should have noted this distinction instead of lumping just war in with abortion. Defense of just war, in any case, is certainly not an extremist position within the Orthodox church. My fellow Orthodox might disagree with it, but it is not extremist.

(To go on a bit more, how can it even be debated that pre-emptive war is not a defensible concept? Perhaps the pre-emptive war in Iraq was not justified, but that does not entail that the concept of pre-emptive war is indefensible. Pre-emptive strikes are first in temporal sequence, but defensive in nature.)

For a good rundown of the evidence that there is a concept of just war in the Orthodox church, see Alexander Webster's The Virtue of War.

The Edges of the Lord

I've never really been able to write one of those clever don't-give-anything-away-but-make-you-want-to-watch-it movie reviews, so I won't pretend to try. So, I'll call this a movie analysis: if you want to watch the flick for the suspense of the drama, stop now.

The Edges of the Lord is written and directed by Yurek Bogayevicz, who does indie stuff. The DVD box says "In the tradition of Life is Beautiful" which I think means its about Jewish redemption/survival in the midst of WWII. It was released in Europe in 2001, but in the US went straight to DVD and only recently came out (in my Blockbuster it was in the new releases section!). It is set in WWII rural Poland, post Blitzkrieg.

A Jew struggles to retain his identity (which literally means to not lose his life). Romic (Haley Joe Osment)'s Jewish parents find a polish farmer who is willing to take him as a cousin "from the city" and hide him by integrating him with his family. The story centers around the ongoing dramatic tension of avoiding discovery by the Nazi's and the struggles of Romic to be accepted by the other children of the village.

There are a lot of things that the film makes the viewer think about. Most bothersome to me is the issue of a movie on "disturbed children". Not only was there a "fast forward" scene (the female child lead gets raped), ie., bothersome for one to watch. But in these sorts of movies, all I can sit there and think about is the fact that these kids have now role-played raping, getting raped and watching it. Nice. It makes me ill to think about the effects of that on anyone's development, especially now as a parent: "Dear, lets send Johnny to role play in this nice movie with a few murder and rape scenes, I think he'll get a lot out of it, and it will probably help him to develop into a better person." This parent would, of course, think my spanking my child is also the greatest sin I could possibly commit upon their psyche. But, enough on the ethics of child-actors.

Let me say positively about the movie that it is set in (I assume filmed where it pretends to be) the Polish countryside, which is really beautiful. I have only had one Polish friend with an authentic polish accent (ie., not raised in either US or UK), and it was delightful to hear the accent again (though I think the actors attempted to reflect a more countryside way of speaking). The acting itself was also quite good, especially for a movie that centers around kids. We recently watched (don't ask) 5 Children and It which had a lot of those moments where you feel like you need to help the kids say their lines, this one didn't have any of those.

Rose, who now has a NEW SITE -- the Earthlink Torg-us-borg is dead due to financial considerations (free versus not free)--and I spent over an hour discussing the central message/philosophy of the movie, and it is that which I will try to communicate.

The religious conflict of the movie is the Jewish boy trying to appear to be a Roman Catholic Pole. In that conflict, the two religions are presented in charicatures, which play out the theological theme of salvation. "Judaism" is a pratical religion which attempts to save by physically saving (ie., you literally save someone by stopping them from getting killed, or keeping them fed, etc.). This is set up in the initial scene when Romic's father is making him memorize the Rosary:

Fader, how can I say dis?

Do not vorry, Got vill unterstand.

Very practical: God is interested in preserving lives.

Christianity, on the other hand, is a very non-practical system. Early in the movie, Wilem Dafoe (the priest is never given a name in the movie besides "Fader") is instructing the children in the catechism when someone runs up saying that Germans are about to kill one of the kids' (Maria, the child female interest) parents. Apparently at this time you can get killed either for hiding Jews or for having pigs: this is a case of the latter. The priest rushes over, and the Nazi commander offers him a game: he has one minute to catch a pig: if he does, one of the parents live. If in the next minute he catches another pig the second parent can live. Dafoe feebly tries to catch a pig the first minute, fails and is so overwhelmed when the first parent is shot, he simply sits and stares as the second minute ticks by. In the next scene, Romic (Haley Joe's character, the Jewish boy) sees the priest whipping himself in penance. The priest may in some mystical sense be able to save his soul, but when it really matters he has no power (or will) to save his flock, his people, his family.

This is also played out by the youngest child in Romic's adopted family, Tolo. In the catechism class, the priest assigns a role-play and Tolo ends up being Jesus. He literally takes on the role, convincing the other children to let him baptize them (which of course Jesus never did but whatever) and then to crucify him (no they don't kill him). Tolo is innocence, or purity of heart, incarnate, which seems to be the writer/director's vision of the Christian message. But the whole point is that innocence really can't be incarnate: the priest is ethereal, and Tolo is half, if not fully, mad. More on how this plays out later.

On the other hand "Judaism" looks to the family and tries to save the family, again literally. I have "Judaism" in quotes because it is the writer's vision of, and because the Polish Farmer who adopts Romic lives out this vision, despite his creedal Catholicism. This father is shot by a neighbor in a complicated episode involving the sale of a contraband swine, but suffice it to say that he died trying to protect his family (it was getting too dangerous to keep the pig any longer) and feed his family: literal salvation. He only failed because he was betrayed by someone who should have been a friend. [[Aside: an interesting parallel to Judas: when you're really trying to save someone, a Judas can really stop you.]]

This neighbor family is the embodiment of the evil parallel to "Judaism": envy (whereas the Nazi's are the evil parallel to "Christianity": blind adherence to an ideology). They set up much of the story's drama, especially the final scene, which I will now skip to.

The two boys in the neighbor family spend their evenings hiding out by the train tracks, watching for Jews jumping from the concentration camp trains that go by. They then sneak up and rob them. When Vladek (the older brother in Romic's new family) learns that it is these boys' father who killed his own, he gets a gun and hides out also by the tracks. A robbery of Jews commences, Vladek steps out of the trees and demands that the Jews be let go, and ends up shooting the neighbor boy, partly in vengence for his fathers' death.

Romic is horrified and realizes what this will mean when people come (having heard shots). He grabs the gun and tells Vladek to run. In a quick series of events, the Nazis show up, but think that Romic has been robbing the Jews. He is acclaimed as a hero. The next day, Romic must choose between literally saving himself and robbing more Jews for the humor of the Nazi commanders, or spiritually saving himself and admitting his race. He chooses the former, which immediately puts him in a situation to save Vladek who had been mistakenly caught as a runaway Jew.

Romic has thus, like his father and like Vladek's father, decided that "Judaism" is superior to "Christianity": you are responsible for your family and it is they who you must at all costs preserve from death. This is salvation. The littlest brother, Tolo, on the other hand volunteers for no reason to be a Jew (he has now fully accepted his role as Jesus the Jew) and goes off to concentration camp. He saves no one, but his spiritual innocence is absolutely perfect.

The title and central image of the movie has to do with communion. Verbally, throughout the beginning of the movie, communion is discussed with the emphasis that it is the literal body (the priest cuts himself in the catechism class to drive the point home). This is further developed in a beautifully shot scene: in the sacristy amid shafts of light, Romic and the priest discuss his situation while the priest makes communion wafers. This is done (I had never seen the process before) by taking perfectly square sheets of wafers and using a cookie cutter to press the circles out of them. This leaves behind funny shaped little crosses, x's, or stars from the left over bits. The priest casually offers one to Romic, who in great fear refuses (he has very carefully learned the lesson of real presence).

Don't vorry, I never bless de edges.

Romic then lays out a little piece of wafer (from the Edges)for all of those who have died so far: his parents, Vladek and Tolo's father, etc. etc. (Interestingly, this is a visual parallel to the Eastern rite preparation of communion). What is important is that all of these have lived in the category of "Judaism". At the end of the movie, in one of those scenes where the director slows down the frames to signal that he thinks this moment is really important, Romic is offered communion and the priest gives him one of the "star"-shaped Edges: keeping him on the Edge (ie., preserving his Judaism), another visual parallel to his Jewishness: being marked with a star.

Thus the point: Innocence, even innocence incarnate--in Jesus, Tolo, the Priest (though hes a bit questionable) and the Wafers--is inadequate to do anything in the world, and actually serves to indirectly damn people by convincing them that these ethereal rites have any meaning. Those who actually save others are not innocent: they have to make real choices, and select those they can save (primarily their family). But they can and will save you from untimely death by the sweat of their brow.

Of course the dichotomy that the director sets up is a false one, created by limiting Christianity to ideology. To use the terms of Jaroslav Pelikan, the Priests' Christianity is one of "traditionalism" rather than living tradition. Or put another (visual) way, the director sees the Priests' Christianity as worshipping an idol, because what is there is what is there: if you don't see how a wafer can save you from the Nazis (or from starvation or from murder or from rape) that's because it can't, and that is what matters.

Therefore, the pure essence of "Christianity" (ie., living like Jesus) is comprimised when you try to save anyone through blood sweat and tears: therefore such salvation is called "Judaism" as it can no longer be that of Jesus. The presentation is coherent but unfair because it entirely relies on its (debateable) premise: Christianity is an ideology, and like all ideologies (Nazism) it blinds one to the brotherhood of men and the implications of that.

As Rose pointed out to me, this presentation of Christianity is the same as that of those who said to Jesus, "If you claimed you could save others, why don't you come down and save yourself?!" Christianity has real-world power--the ultimate: resurrection--but it also has other-world concerns and goals that at times madden even those who profess the faith. This does not relegate Christianity to the mere ideological, but is the reality of the sacramental: divine and human.

An artisticly brilliant film that should be seen as a challenge (in both senses of the word) to believers in an Incarnate God.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Real Reporting from Iraq

You've probably already seen Michael Yon's latest dispatch, "Gates of Fire." If you haven't read it, do so. Wow. One of the best lines: "I was going to run into the shop and shoot every man with a gun. And I was scared to death."

LTC Kurilla was wounded in the firefight Yon describes. He is currently doing well, but no word on when/if he'll return. Here is one of the speeches Kurilla gave at a memorial for some of his soldiers. (HT: Blackfive)

Where does the courage exemplified by Yon and Kurilla come from? It is an amazing thing.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Unexpected Part of the Democracy Learning Curve

From a CNN story about a television show in Iraq modeled on "COPS" (cue "Bad Boys" music). A portion of the show is devoted to answering calls from viewers. However,

It took Iraqis a while to master the art of the phone-in.

Further skills to focus on in the burgeoning democracy:

(1) Getting low introductory rates on credit card balance transfers.
(2) Checking out books from local library.
(3) Ordering pizza delivery.
(4) Learning the characters' names on "The Simpsons."

But these could wait until they figure out how to draft a constitution. Amid all the clamor that "the process is taking too long," have people forgotten how long it took to draft the American constitution? (Here's a hint: more than a month. And though there was some pressure at the Constitutional Convention to develop some rules that worked (i.e., not the Articles of Confederation), it wasn't anything like the unrest in Iraq today.)

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Willard on Science & Religion

Dallas Willard’s Web site is a treasure chest for Christians of any stripe (and non-Christians, too). This is from an article on science and religion.

The impasse of authorities confronting authorities (or intimidating others) begins to dissolve when prepared and thoughtful people devote themselves to the humble examination of facts and evidence rather than to defending their positions. It is difficult to imagine anything more necessary and Godlike than this. We must escape the cultural deadlock that is turning universities—and churches—into places of “right views,” rather than thought and knowledge, and producing a Christian personality split into a religious side and a professional, intellectual side which never come into contact.

Reppert on Motives of Christians and Non-Christians

Victor Reppert has an interesting post on the motives for belief and nonbelief. It addresses the question Do Christians or non-Christians have more nonrational motivation for their belief?

One of the commenters rightly noted: "The truth is permitted to have psychological advantages."

There's a related post from a while back at Bill Vallicella's site. Be sure to read all the comments (esp. from Reppert).

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Philosophers Who Know How to Party

The Maverick Philosopher has a post on why he likes parties:

I like parties. I derive considerable satisfaction from not attending them. There is such a thing as the pleasure of conscious avoidance, of knowing that one has wisely escaped a frustrating and unpleasant situation. If others are offended by my nonattendance, that I regret. But peace of mind is a higher value than social dissipation -- which is no value at all.

I agree with him, but I think it's important to point out that parties and peace of mind are not mutually exclusive. Consider the example of Socrates.

So Agathon was getting up in order to seat himself by Socrates, when suddenly a great crowd of revellers arrived at the door, which they found just opened for some one who was going out. They marched straight into the party and seated themselves: the whole place was in an uproar and, losing all order, they were forced to drink a vast amount of wine. Then, as Aristodemus related, Eryximachus, Phaedrus, and some others took their leave and departed; while he himself fell asleep, and slumbered a great while, for the nights were long. He awoke towards dawn, as the cocks were crowing; and immediately he saw that all the company were either sleeping or gone, except Agathon, Aristophanes, and Socrates, who alone remained awake and were drinking out of a large vessel, from left to right; and Socrates was arguing with them. As to most of the talk, Aristodemus had no recollection, for he had missed the beginning and was also rather drowsy; but the substance of it was, he said, that Socrates was driving them to the admission that the same man could have the knowledge required for writing comedy and tragedy -- that the fully skilled tragedian could be a comedian as well. While they were being driven to this, and were but feebly following it, they began to nod; first Aristophanes dropped into a slumber, and then, as day began to dawn, Agathon also. When Socrates had seen them comfortable, he rose and went away -- followed in the usual manner by my friend; on arriving at the Lyceum, he washed himself, and then spent the rest of the day in his ordinary fashion; and so, when the day was done, he went home for the evening and reposed. (Symposium, 223b-d; trans. Fowler)

Socrates, the consummate philosopher, is the only one left awake at the end of a raucous party in which he has given a beautiful speech (outdoing all the other speeches) on love. He had gone eagerly to the party (though he had been distracted by something on the way) and had even dressed up for the occasion. Here we see Socrates as both the paradigmatic party animal and rational animal.

However, at least in my case (and perhaps in the Maverick Philosopher's case, too), I am too feeble a soul to be both; so I try to live up to my nature as a rational animal and leave the partying to others.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Feeling Old?

So my twenty-ninth birthday is coming in a month or so. And the other day someone asked me what happened on a certain day (August 5, I think) fifteen years ago. So I started thinking: fifteen years ago . . . hmmm . . . that would be 1980 . . . not much happened that year . . . except wasn't Reagan shot that year? . . . so, yeah, I'll go with Reagan getting shot.

Then I realized: fifteen years ago was 1990. Saddam had just invaded Kuwait. I'm stuck thinking that everything that happened more than ten years ago happened in the 80s. I'm not sure I feel old, just confused.

But I can console myself with the knowledge that I now know more about, say, Reagan than any highschool student, not because I've learned something new; they just don't know. I'm starting to figure out how my parents knew so many of the right answers (er, questions) to Jeopardy! and Trivial Pursuit. They knew the answers to the questions involving Nixon and the 1970s because they were alive then. I used to be amazed at their knowledge; now I'm confused about how I came to know so much stuff without trying (and still amazed at my parents, mom).

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Meta or Meta?

Peter Leithart has a post about method.

Jean-Luc Marion points out that "method" comes from the Greek meta+hodos, and explains why phenomenology is not methodological: "The method does not run ahead of the phenomenon, by fore-seeing it, pre-dicting it, and pro-ducing it, in order to await it from the outset at the end of the path (meta-hodos) onto which it has just barely set forth." Conversely, philosophy influenced by Descartes is governed by method, which means that all its conclusions were determined at the outset. Methodological philosophy (and its cousin prolegomenal theology) knows from the beginning where it is headed; it immanentizes the eschaton.

Apart from coming near to the etymological fallacy, it seems that Marion (and perhaps Leithart) have left out of consideration the multiple meanings of the Greek word meta. Marion's analysis indicates that he thinks meta means "after"; this is the meaning of the preposition in the title of Aristotle's Metaphysics: the work Metaphysics is so named because in the traditional Aristotelian corpus it was placed after the work Physics.

The problem with Marion's clever point is that meta can also mean "with." (When paired with the accusative case, meta means after; paired with the genitive case, it means with.) Given our common-sense notion of method, it seems more likely that meta means with, so that meta + hodos = "with a way." The ancient (Homeric) meaning of method is "pursuit." To this is added, by the philosophers, especially Plato, the meaning of a principled way of proceeding. (Note that hodos means way or path.) The point of method is not that it determines or knows everything ahead of time (and so can wait at the end of the path (of experience?) but that it provides us an organized (to mix in some Latin) way of moving through the world.

Leithart says that "philosophy influenced by Descartes is governed by method, which means that all its conclusions were determined at the outset." If I understand aright, he means that philosophy influenced by Descartes is deterministic in the sense that the principles (or, conclusions) of that philosophy are set down in stone by the method. But for Descartes especially (and maybe Leithart does not include Descartes in those "influenced by Descartes"), method is the harmonious way of moving through the rational structure of the universe in order to discover the truths about the universe. It is harmonious because it requires the "methodist" to take what the world gives and not invent or tear the world. It is necessary because it is the only way that we can be sure that our conclusions are true. A careful reader of the Meditations will, I think, realize that Descartes's insistence on following the method is for just that purpose.

Aside: for some reason (perhaps it's Gilson?), Descartes is the whipping boy for many people today. Most of those who beat him show only a surface familiarity with him. Further, Leithart's association of method with Descartes is not completely accurate. After all, method is from the Greek methodos, which figures prominently in, among other ancient works, Plato's Sophist and Statesman.

Leithart then says that "Methodological philosophy (and its cousin prolegomenal theology) knows from the beginning where it is headed," which is false. Presuming it's safe to substitute "methodological philosophers" for "methodological philosophy," it seems that Leithart has mixed ontology with epistemology. It is precisely because we do not know what the conclusions are that we must adhere to some method. Without method, according to Descartes, we have no way of knowing what the world is like. We might as well make it up as we go along.

Now, I am not saying that phenomenologists like Husserl (or Marion) make it up as they go along. But they do have a method; it just might not be the Cartesian one.

Slightly related point: I have a friend who once had a bumper sticker with an allusion to the quotation (to which Leithart refers in his last sentence) from Eric Voegelin: "Thou shalt not immanentize the eschaton." (Actually, the quotation from Voegelin is "When the attempt is made, first merely in principle, to immanentize the transcendent eschaton (in the Christian sense of the term), then everything follows from the logic of the approach, right down to the historical fact as the answer to the meaning of self-interpreting existence" [Faith and Political Philosophy, p. 73].) It seems that Voegelin's point is also related to some kind of fixity ("everything follows from the logic of the approach"), but I don't know Voegelin at all and so can't say anything about that.

The White Path

The Burglar has had this site on the Burgling list for quite some time now, but I wanted to further recommend perusing it. As usual, I discover a site about a month or more after the illlustrious Burglar, only to realize that it has been on the blogroll for ages. My web-surfing is indeed amateur.

Mustafa Akyol is a Muslim who lives in Istanbul, and travels around Europe and occassionally the US for speaking engagements. He seems to be generally committed to Islam's incorporation with the ideals of the free-market of ideas and commerce in the West as far as can be accomplished without comprimising important doctrinal positions. I was directed to him by a comment from Phil Johnson, which I read in this month's Touchstone.

A couple of tidbits from this mornings read, and there are many more interesting looking posts I have yet to peruse like "In Defense of Mary the Virgin" and "Hating America Turkish Style -- This too shall pass" and The Parliament of this World's Religions and the Axis of Theism. Anyway, they all look interesting.

From Intelligent Decline, Revisited

"Actually it is members of the Darwinian camp who employ arguments from ignorance: "We don't know how this evolved, but it must have been somehow" is the kind of answer they give to many complex questions such as the origin of life, biochemical systems, genetic code or the animal phyla. What we find curious is why they ardently presume that every unsolved puzzle will definitely be solved through a materialistic explanation. The only reason is "an a priori commitment to materialism," as the arch-Darwinist Richard Lewontin famously acknowledged a few years ago."

See also, Akyol's Testimony to the Kansas State Education Board
"Most Darwinists have the opposite motive, which are non-theistic worldviews like secular humanism and atheism, which are all driven by the philosophy of Naturalism, also called materialism. And this is all fine; people on both sides of the debate might have motives derived from their philosophical convictions. The problem starts when they seek to impose those beliefs on the institutions of science and government so that their non-theistic worldviews will become the official state ideology. I think this is the current situation in American biology textbooks. Materialism has dominated them and does not allow other views to have a fair share, although it clearly lacks full scientific support."

Perhaps most bracing is "Bolshevism in a Headdress: Islamic fundamentalism has more to do with the hatred of the West than with faith"

Europe has turned out to be a perfect petri dish for growing Islamic radicalism. Muslim communities there consist mostly of poor immigrants living in closed communities. Such a social situation is fertile ground for radicalism, and disenchanted European Muslims have easily been recruited by radical groups. Antoine Sfeir, a French scholar studying Islamic radicalism in Europe, characterizes it as "a kind of combat against the rich and powerful by the poor men of the planet." Oliver Roy, another French expert on Islamic movements, notes, "To convert to Islam today is a way for a European rebel to find a cause; it has little to do with theology." Not surprisingly, Lionel Dumont, an Algerian-born French national suspected of links to al-Qaeda, said that he joined Islam because "the Muslims are the only ones to fight the system."

This fight against "the system" links Islamic radicalism to the Marxist-Leninist radicalism that preceded it. Marxism had a considerable influence on Islamic radicals like Sayyid Qutb, Sayyid Mawdudi, and Ali Shariati--architect of the Iranian Revolution. Shariati thought that Islam presented a better ideology and system than Marxism-Leninism for Muslims to topple the "imperialists."

It is thus not surprising to see ex-Marxists join the ranks of Islamic radicals. A compelling example is the recent "conversion" to Islam of Carlos the Jackal, the notorious Marxist terrorist now imprisoned in France. From his prison cell he has penned a book titled Revolutionary Islam. This brand of Islam, he argues, "attacks the ruling classes in order to achieve a more equitable redistribution of wealth" and is the only "transnational force capable of standing up to the enslavement of nations."

Here is my theory, and no its not very original. A-thiestic materialism has had its day. It has had a stranglehold on Western political, philosophical and scientific thought, but there is enough of a growing mass of intelligent, reasonable, educated people who have "tasted and seen and touched" and are tired of being ridiculed with "exclusivist rhetoric" (to turn a Berkeley phrase onto its head) into silence. Athiestic materialism will always be tolerated, but in a couple of decades people like Mustafa, and the current supporters of the ID movement will have won the day, and will themselves be in the position to be judged on their (our) ability to tolerate in the open marketplace of ideas. Advance the Day, I say.

Friday, July 29, 2005

When Disney Was Cool

From the CD insert "Brubeck on Columbia"

"... the 1957 album 'Dave Digs Disney' proved the jazz-worthiness of 'Some day my Prince will come,' 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'When You Wish Upon a Star.'

'That album came from Iola [Dave's wife] buying the yellow plastic 78's of Disney music for the kids,' Brubeck noted. 'We always had a turntable on the road, and the kids were always playing those tunes. We grew to love them, and Paul [Desmond - Sax] loved them too.'"

I'm going to have to check out this record. If anyone has heard it and has a review, drop me a line.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Michael Yon

I've added Michael Yon's blog to the blogroll. He's an independent "reporter" in Iraq. Read his blog for real information on Iraq, not the regurgitated cable and network "news." For some background on Yon, read his interview with Glenn Reynolds.

Other recent additions to the blogroll include Rogue Classicism and Novum Testamentum. If you've got a blog you think I should add, please e-mail me, and I'll take a look.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Living Martyrdom

I used to listen to talk radio all the time when I was commuting everyday to Los Angeles. My two favorite shows quickly became Dennis Prager and Hugh Hewitt partly because they are thoughtful men with good ideas about politics, but mostly because I appreciated the parts of their shows that did not have to do with politics, but with living and culture. Hugh has movie segments, wine segments, literature segments, and Prager has, among other things, the Happiness Hour on Fridays, which I think is one of the most interesting and meaningful mass media events around.

This morning his show happened to coincide with my (late) drive to work, and he started with the basic idea that taking time on a daily basis to make sure that some of your "happiness" needs are met is essential. His negative example of this was that "martyrs" (and I understood him to mean relational martyrs, rather than people who are willing to die for the sake of faith or ideology) are, inside, angry people. Sooner or later (usually sooner) their apparent martyrdom will explode in selfish rage.

At first this seemed somehow wrong, but Prager is a wise man and so I usually try to hear him out with benefit of the doubt: once again he was right. I think of the times in my own marriage when I have tried to go weeks of "sacrificing in love", giving the appearance of denying my own desires to always take care of those of my wife/family. I would make the bed in the morning, put away everyone's laundry, wash dishes, vacuum spontaneously, etc., etc..

It always became obvious to me after a couple of days or a week that this behavior was actually the most selfish, juvenile way to go about things. For one thing, my wife immediately knows every time that I am not happy doing these things. If I'm stomping through the house collecting laundry, I'm not helping anyone and wouldn't they just rather I let there be too much dirty laundry for today and instead spend (non grumpy) time with them? Secondly, if I did not confront myself before I self-inflicted martyrdom to the point of explosion, the anger would always come out as a "Why aren't YOU doing this sort of sacrifice for ME?!?" My supposed absolute gift of my time and energy was a most selfish act because I was doing it with the (not always conscious) expectation that I receive the same or like treatment. Thats the way marriage is supposed to be, right--total selflessness?

One of Prager's constant points is that taking care to be happy is at root unselfish because it relieves pressure from others, it actually makes them happy (who doesn't become more happy when a genuinely happy (not giggly or silly) person is around), and gives us the reserves to truly sacrifice when that sacrifice is actually and desperately needed. It is worth the strain (I am slowly learning) to say, "Honey, I need to spend an hour reading tonight." "Can we go have a cup of coffee, and just sit and relax and not say anything?" "I need to just get outdoors and play a game really hard for a couple hours." These can all seem selfish if they are done at a time when something of "higher value" is in conflict. There is also the obvious danger of self-indulgence.

But after thinking about this today, I have come to the conclusion (and I have done this before, but not as bluntly) that in marriage and family relationships where we have claims on each others use of time, it is essential to ask "What do you need to do each day (or just today) to be happy?" I think in Christian circles, and especially evangelical ones, there is the idea spread that "Jesus is our happiness or joy." "I am happy each day just knowing that Jesus loves me." This may actually work in practical application for some people, but I have never met them: it may be theologically true, but practically it does not happen just because we say it is so. If it does work for you, please pray for me.

If living a forced martyrdom is then bad, how can we tie the Christian life or repentance and sanctification (all of which the church fathers say is bloodless martyrdom) into the overall picture? Acknowledging that one has needs for happiness is not selfish, but honest and actually humiliating. "I'm sorry, but I just can't be happy for you, despite how much I love you, unless I can have some time for X." It is an acknowledgement of our true state, our actual needs, which is at the heart of spirituality, for true martyrdom comes from acknowledging our state of dependence upon the grace of God, Jesus Christ. Further, as Aristotle would tell us, happiness is not simply a fulfillment of desires. Even as one does that-which-can-make-them-happy, they must intentionally focus on becoming happy during that time, or the result will soon stop being achieved. We are come full circle: the work of being happy is done not because it is the fulfillment of all our desires, but for the sake of those who will be affected by us.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Hobbitual Side of Life

The Burglar has been posting his daily thoughts at a rate like never before and it has convinced me that I no longer have any good excuses to not post. I have recently proved the resurrection of the dead by taking up the practice of daily journalling, and perhaps the energy expended there is the reason for a lack of blogging enthusiasm (not to mention the new baby, who is infinitely more adorable than computers).

In any case, a couple days ago I ran into a vocabulary lapse in the English language and decided to remedy it. Of course, there very may well be a word that already covers this perceived hole, and I am simply unaware. Miro: what is the adjectival form of "hobby"?

I have a hobby of collecting baseball cards. Collecting baseball cards is a _______ activity? My first instinct was that hobby and habit are related, but that does not seem to be the case. Hobby has a slightly confusing entymology (see here and here, but it is certainely not related to habit. So, here is my solution, by association.

I have a habit of smoking.
Smoking is a habitual activity.
I have a hobby of collecting cards.
Collecting cards is a hobbitual activity.

This word is very pleasing to me, especially because of the Middle-Earth resonance (which I could expound upon at length, but will refrain myself, you are welcome). I think that hobbits should be understood as very "hobbitual" beings, for they partake of almost every activity in a very hobbitual way, from gardening to smoking, etc.

I actually think that this vocabulary lack says something about our culture. The reference to habitual(ly) immediately jumps into the negative connotations of something that is habitual, ie. addictive compulsive behavior. Why do we not talk about repetitive behavior in a positive light? Even when someone says, "I run habitually" there is the idea inherent that they have forced themselves into an addiction, and we immediately wait for the explanation: "Oh, I need to lose weight," "It calms me down" [Smoker!], or we sometimes accept the "I need to get away from the house" -- but still a compulsive activity.

I would further maintain (confirmed by a random conversation overheard last night) that any devotion to God is viewed, by the populace at large, to be just such an activity. I resent this because it is entirely improper. There are certainely behaviors that are habitual: constant smoking, brushing teeth, shots of liquor before bed, the way you tie your tie; but they are either the worst of addictions or they are mundane. There needs to be a word in common use that conveys those hobbitual activities of life: those activites that we repeatedly choose to do because we enjoy them as they are.

A further entymological point is the original meaning of the word "habit", now only used to refer to monastic garb. (And here I go off a little bit) Since our friend Charlie Marks has blessed us, the philosophical idea of clothes "habituating" us into our various social categories has taken over the concept of what a habit can do, and has given it those inherent negative implications. Further, it has made us afraid of "habituating" activities, most especially religious education or devotion, and Sayers-ian classical education. I maintain that the human will by nature is not automaton, and the fact that repetitive activity is something that is inherent to all humans is not something to be demonized, but celebrated in its right application. Nor should those bodies who take into account hobbitual man be demonized for their correct anthropology.

I propose a non-violent revolution. Use "hobbitual" with your friends and co-workers. Resurrect the hobbitual side of habits, and today freely and guiltlessly choose a repetitive activity that forms your soul and that you enjoy..

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

More Fishing Thoughts

For background, see here and here.

I missed the note in Lamb's translation of the Ion on the use of an ox horn in fishing. He says, "the nature of this device is still in dispute. Plutarch (De sollertia animal. 977) supports Aristotle's view that the horn acted as a sheath to protect the line from being bitten through by the fish."

The quotation in the Ion is from the Iliad 24.80: "Down sped she to the depths like a plummet of lead, the which, set upon the horn of an ox of the field, goeth down bearing death to the ravenous fishes" (trans. Murray). The word Murray translates as "plummet of lead" is molu/bdaina, which means a piece of lead and not, in case you were wondering (I was), something like a spear.

To review my interest in ancient fishing practices, in the Sophist, the visitor and Theaetetus agree to call the fishing done during the day by the name of "hooking" since all the fishing that is done during the day uses hooks. But that's strange, because people fish with nets during the day, and nets don't have hooks. So I am still wondering (1) what exactly fishing at night (with torches) looked like and (2) why the distinction between fishing at night and fishing during the day is where it is.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Sayre Gives It Another Try

Recall my earlier quandary about the night fishing described in Plato's Sophist. I examined a possible explanation from Kenneth Sayre's Plato's Late Ontology. Here is another explanation from his earlier book Plato's Analytic Method.

It is essential to specify that the angler strikes his prey from below, for example, to distinguish him from the net -- or spear -- fisherman; and if we assume angling without bait, daylight appears essential to enable the angler to see the fish he is attempting to hook. (143)

In a footnote to this sentence, Sayre states:

As described, in angling "a hook is used, and the fish is not struck in any chance part of his body, as he is with the spear, but only about the head and mouth . . ." (220E-221A). This suggests that Plato is thinking of a mode of fishing in which the prey is not induced to take the hook within its mouth.

Notice that this is a different explanation than his later one in Plato's Late Ontology. Maybe he found this explanation unsatisfying? I do.

First, I am suspicious that Plato has in mind fishing without bait. If there are any anglers reading this blog, I would appreciate any insight about the likelihood that one would angle without bait. Do the fish swim up to the hook out of curiosity?

Second, I don't see what about 220e-221a indicates that the fish is not induced to take the hook in his mouth. If one were trying to hook without bait, it seems one could try to hook the fish just about anywhere. I take it that the phrase "about the head and mouth" (peri\ th\n kefalh\n kai\ to\ sto/ma) is to specify which part of the head needs to be hooked. Would the angler hook him in the eye?

So the placement of a distinction between night fishing and day fishing in the account of the angler still puzzles me.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Pinsky on Dante and Computers

From the Atlantic Monthly a while back (subscription required):

Question: Edward Hirsch, in a review of your Inferno in The New Yorker, describes terza rima and says the effect is like "moving through a series of interpenetrating rooms . . . or going down a set of winding stairs." Is there any connection between the spiraling form of Dante's poem and the way computers appeal to our imaginations?

Pinsky: I think so: there is the elegance and compression of something systematic or technical; and then there is the wildness or variation of our feelings -- a grid, and a flow -- that is the essence of terza rima, and in a way the essence of the many swirls and dips and abundance that flow from the binary guts of computing.

All Quiet in the Apartment Complex

It's been quieter than usual in the apartment complex today. There's usually a good amount of screaming kids, but not today. I wonder if they're all inside reading the new Harry Potter. That'd be at least one reason to thank Rowling.

On an unrelated note, I saw The Fantastic Four with the Bourgeois Wife on Friday. My expectations weren't high, but I was still a bit disappointed, especially with the final fight scene. For a final fight scene in a superhero movie, it was too brief.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Seen on a T-shirt Today

"Feminist chicks dig me."

Friday, July 08, 2005

Fishing at Night

In the Sophist (220), the visitor from Elea and Theaetetus try to come up with a kind of definition of what an angler is. To do this they use the method of division, which is nothing more than taking a class of things and then dividing it in two by some criterion. For example, they divide hunting into hunting of land animals and hunting of swimming animals. Then they divide hunting of swimming animals into fishing and fowling. Then they divide fishing into fishing by netting and fishing by striking (with a spear or hook).

At this point in the division they make what seems to me to be a curious division. They divide fishing by striking (which includes both angling and spearing, since the spears (tridents) have hooks on them) into fishing at night and fishing during day. This division seems out of place. Why didn't it come prior to the division into fishing with hooks and fishing with nets. Can't both of them be done either at night or in the day?

Kenneth Sayre offers a suggestion about this division. "To the modern fisherman [this is] an unfamiliar form of angling, undoubtedly. A quotation from Homer at Ion 538d removes the puzzlement of why angling must be performed in daylight" (Plato's Late Ontology, 308n40).

Here's the quotation from Homer in the Ion: "And she passed to the bottom like a lead sinker which, set on a horn from an ox of the field, goes in haste to bring mischief among the ravenous fishes" (trans. Lamb). From what I can gather from this quotation, a fisherman would probably cut a small hole in the tip of an ox horn, put a line through the hole, attach a lead sinker to the end of the line, drop the horn in the water, and when a fish swam into the horn, he would pull the horn out of the water with the fish trapped in the horn. Clearly, this could be best (or only) done during the day since the fisherman would need to be able to see the fish swimming into the horn.

If this is correct, then Sayre's explanation cannot be right because, Theaetetus and the visitor having gone with the daytime division, the visitor clearly states that the kind of angling they're considering is "done with a hook" and hooks not "just any part of the fish's body but always [its] head" (220e-221a, trans. White). This description does not fit the one given in the Ion, and I remain puzzled both about what nocturnal fishing in ancient Greece was like and the placement in the Sophist of the daytime/nighttime division.

One completely unrelated point: when I was writing this I noticed that it was natural to write the phrase "fishing at night," but when I started to write the corresponding phrase "fishing at day" I noticed it didn't sound right. So I changed it to "fishing during day." I could also have said "fishing in day." Curious that modern English will allow "at night" but not "at day."

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Lord's Name in Vain?

From Plato's Sophist (248e-249a), translated by Brann, Kalkavage, and Salem:

Stranger: What the Zeus! Shall we be that easily persuaded that motion and life and soul and thought are truly not present in utterly complete Being? That it neither lives nor thinks; but awful and holy, not possessed of mind, it stands there, not to be moved?

Theaetetus: That, Stranger, would be a terrible account to grant.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Marriage a Sacrament

In my life, and probably that of most westerners, the months of May and June are the season of wedlock. In light of that I dedicate my reentry to blogging, Marriage.

I recently heard marriage defined as "an emotional attachment between two people." I think this is meaningless. I have an emotional attachment to my late dog, as well as to some very nice trees.

The Orthodox Church teaches that marriage is a sacrament, and I will try to elucidate this meaning.

As I have said previously, a working definition of a sacrament is a visible manifestation of invisible grace in the company of the Body of Christ. For marriage to be a sacrament means that it is holy and set apart as a special instance whereby the salvation and sanctification of those who partake is intended. Just like baptism, chrismation, communion, confession, or ordination, the Church's blessing on this act both sanctifies the institution and institutes sanctifying power into the act.

Importantly, to insist that marriage is a sacrament also necessitates that it be given this special meaning when it is partaken of within the body of Christ. Marriage is a communal act, but not just because friends and family party with us. Many Eastern Orthodox theologians point out the striking similarities in the Eastern Rite between the marriage and ordination services. In many ways, a priest is wedded to the Church (ie., the language of Ephesians ala Christ and the Church), and so the marriage institution should be seen as a similarly profound vocation. Where the priest will administer grace through his administration of sacraments, the couple administers grace to one another through their daily interraction of love.

I recently read a review on a book that argued for a confusion of the traditional social understanding of marriage (basically, a vague and flexible union; an informal arrangement to pass on property) by Victorian and Romantic conceptions of love inspired by Enlightment "self-fulfillment". This may or may not be the case for society at large, as the author's conclusion was "we're stuck with marrying for love and accepting the
consequences of living happily ever after—until someone better comes along". It is not, however, true of a truly sacramental marriage. If sacraments are manifestations of divine love (grace), marriage is no different.

A man and a woman will often have a very special emotional bond to one another, but in the end that is not what binds a sacramental marriage. It is rather a committment to Divine Love, which the two have chosen to make manifest through marriage. The Love of Christ to be made manifest between husband and wife.

In the Church, the priest manifests his love for Christ (and indeed, actually loves Christ) by loving his congregation. In the same way, the determination of the husband and the wife to love one another for the sake of Divine Love is a mode of salvation and sanctification for the couple.

As a counter example to explain my point. I was given a Bible for married persons, in which there was included a short story of a woman, bemoaning the fact that she had just had a beautiful devotional time (I am recalling from memory), and was "feeling very holy and close to God," she went to bed and her husband rolled over and gently touched her arm. "'I knew what that meant ... there went all my feelings of spirituality for the sake of a quickie.'" I am saying the exact opposite of this. There is no contrast between any part of a healthy marriage and the sanctification potential therein: the submission of one's self to the spouse and his or her well-being is administration of Divine Grace, and is profitable for salvation. "Self-fulfillment" is subsumed by submission to Divine Love first; the social contract "exchange of property" is fulfilled as Grace infiltrates the relationship; family becomes "little church" and man and woman become "little Christ's" to one another.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Blog meets Real World: A Second Opinion

Blog met real world for Thorgersen in several ways this last month.

I had the end of term madness that Burglar is now caving under, and then in an unprecedented real world encounter, internet got cut out of my old apartment, and the new apartment has now been a week sans internet due to the great customer service at Cal's residential computing offices. And yes, we are all going through withdrawal.

I do not intend to "continue posting" as I have been. My summer goal is to post something meaningful (relatively of course) once a week. I look forward to resuming the honorable endeavor of this website with my two accomplices in the near future. Until then, I await a real internet connection and continue to bemoan the travesties of the real world. May our faithful viewing public grant us patience.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Blog World Meets Real World

Well, my postings haven't exactly been prodigious, but lurking around the blogosphere eats up more of my time than I'd like to admit. I suppose I could just limit myself to posting, but for some reason I haven't been able to separate the minimally time-consuming posting here from the maximally time-consuming blog reading elsewhere. So I'm going to have to go on hiatus for a few weeks. I've got some very important deadlines (i.e., if I don't work to meet them, I'll end up out of grad school and in the real real world) and I need to dedicate my time to them. Though there may be some occasional Republic translations, since they correspond to some of my deadlines, this is it from me for a few weeks. Whether the other two burglars will "continue" to post, I do not know. I think Thorgerson and Le Complice must have gotten fingered and picked up.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Republic 330c9-d3

"You speak the truth," he said.

"That's entirely so," I said. "But tell me a bit more: Of the many things you have earned, what do you suppose is the greatest good you have benefited from?"

Stay tuned for Cephalus's answer.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

New Pollock Paintings Found

Jackson Pollock is one of my favorite painters, and I'm excited to see what will come from this somewhat startling find.

Pollock in person could be a real jerk, just like Edna St. Vincent Millay. Since I'm quite keen on (as the British say) both of them, I'm now trying to reassure myself that all the artists I like aren't jerks: T. S. Eliot (could be crabby), Ezra Pound (either insane or fascist or both), W. H. Auden (relatively nice guy; insecure), Mark Rothko (suicidal). Hmmm. With the exception of Auden, it's not boding well. Wait! Robert Pinsky.

Suspended Student Sues University

He was caught cheating on a corporate ethics quiz. Joanne Jacobs calls it "Corporate Prep."

This strikes me as similar to something a friend of mine once told me. He worked in a Christian bookstore, and he said the books most shoplifted were Bibles. Doh! You shouldn't steal Bibles, nor cheat on ethics assignments.

HT: Joanne Jacobs

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Republic 330b8-c8

"I bring this up," I said, "because you did not seem to me to care very much for money, and this is what many people will do about whatever they have not earned themselves. But those having earned it really cling to it twice as much as the others. For just as poets are fond of their poems and fathers of their children, so also those who have made money are serious about money, as their own handiwork, yet serious for the same reason as other people: for its advantages. Accordingly, it is difficult to be with them: they are willing to approve of nothing but wealth."

This is Socrates speaking to Cephalus. The grammar at one point is slightly ambiguous and leads to different senses of the passage. The sticking point is understanding the preposition kata at 330c6. With the accusative (th\n xrei/an) the best option in this context is to translate it as a purpose clause. Most translations go this way. However, Grube/Reeve (it's Reeve's revision; Grube originally translated it as "besides") translate the phrase as "they don't just care about it because it's useful, as other people do." Their translation implies that there is a difference between the place given to money by those who have made money and those who have not. Since this is the accusative case, translating kata as "against" is out. The only way to get a sense of opposition is by using the spatial sense of kata metaphorically. I'll just say that this seems unlikely since the genitive case is available.

So the grammar is against Grube/Reeve, but perhaps the sense is not. The analogy running through the paragraph is that poets and fathers treat their respective creations differently than others do. By extension, one would think that Socrates' point is that money makers treat their money differently than others do. But using the purpose sense of kata seems to go against the analogy: it's saying that money makers and non-money makers alike are serious about money because of its advantages.

However, I think that the analogy works if we limit its sense to the idea that people are fond of their own creations in ways that others are not. The point is that poets, fathers, and money makers all give pride of place to their "offspring." It is just that in the case of money, the money makers are serious about money for the same reason as others.

Reading Plato, or old books in general, reminds us that nothing much changes. There are still people who make money and think of nothing else, and it remains just as difficult to be around them.

Volokh on Facts and Values

Eugene Volokh, of the Volokh Conspiracy, writes:

Even if one believe[s] that certain things are objectively immoral, one should recognize that such a judgment is not the sort of thing that one should label "fact"; if anything, we should be teaching students to better distinguish facts from value judgments, even while recognizing that value judgments may be very important and even objectively right.

To my mind, this statement is a mess, but perhaps I'm not seeing clearly. There's a few things clouding my vision.

If I only believe something, I could be wrong. If I know something, I cannot be wrong. (This is not the same as saying that if I think I know something, I cannot be wrong.) For example, I can never know that I had oatmeal for breakfast this morning because it's false that I had oatmeal for breakfast this morning. Note that this is different from saying that I can never know the details of what happened in the duel between Hamilton and Burr. In the first case, I cannot have knowledge because the claim is false. In the second case, I cannot have knowledge because the evidence does not rise to the level of knowledge. (After examining the evidence available, I might lean one way or the other, but not enough to say that I know what happened.)

So when Volokh writes that "Even if one believe[s] . . ." I don't know whether he's playing on the distinction between believing and knowing. If he means that "Even if one knows that certain things are objectively immoral . . . one should [not label them as fact]," then I think he's wrong. If what Volokh means is that "Even if one only believes [i.e., doesn't know] that certain things are objectively immoral . . . one should [not label them as fact]," then he's right to say that we shouldn't label our judgment a fact. If we want to be responsible in our labeling, we should wait until we know that something is a fact before we label it as fact. Which of these Volokh has in mind is the first thing that is unclear to me. Here's the second.

What is the difference between a fact and an objectively correct value judgment? I take "fact" to mean the way things are. Not very illuminating, I know. The point is that facts are basic. A fact is the way the world is. So, if grass is green, then it's a fact that grass is green. If F=MA, then it's a fact that F=MA. Sometimes people use "fact" and "correct" or "right" or "true" synonymously. That's misleading. We say that a judgment about a fact is correct or incorrect, right or wrong, and that statements about facts are either true or false. If I judge that grass is green, then my judgment is correct. If I say "Grass is green," then my statement is true.

Volokh wants to distinguish between facts and "value judgments." In a trivial sense, I agree. A judgment is a mental act. A value judgment, then, is a mental act about values. A fact is the way the world is. Clearly, mental acts are not the same as the world's being a certain way, and though there are facts about mental acts, this should not lead us to conflate the two. To be precise, we should speak of judgments about value and judgments about facts. (Maybe Volokh thinks that one does not make judgments about facts. I disagree, but I'll save that for another day.)

But I do not think that Volokh meant to state the obvious that mental acts are not the same as the way the world is. Here are two possible further interpretations.

(a) He might mean that judgments about facts are not the same as judgments about values. In some cases this is true; in others, false. It is true in cases where the value judgment is nonnormative, for example, in the claim that I prefer strawberry icecream to vanilla. In this case, I can make no legitimate claim to normativity, that is, that everybody ought to prefer strawberry to vanilla. So in cases where the distinction is between judgments about facts and judgments about nonnormative values, Volokh is right to insist on a difference between fact and value.

But in cases where the value judgment is normative, for example, that one ought to be courageous (or, controversially, that one ought not engage in homosexual acts) then it is in the same boat as judgments about facts. Why? Because normative judgments depend upon there being a fact of the matter in order to be normative. Normative value judgments are significantly like judgments of fact: they are either right or wrong (and the corresponding claims based on the judgments are either true or false). What makes both of them right and wrong is the world's being a certain way.

(b) He might mean that facts are scientific or empirical or some other such thing and that values are nonempirical or nonscientific. This claim can only be supported by arbitrarily restricting our use of "fact." Facts are the way(s) the world is. Some facts are facts about the way the world is scientifically. They tell us about the chemical or biological parts of the world. Now the question is Is there a fact of the matter about the way the world is morally? If so, then let's call those ways facts. If not, then we can call them something else. The important point is that we can't say that we need to limit our use of "fact" prior to discovering whether there is a fact of the matter about the way the world is morally.

So here's why I'm confused. Volokh says that we can recognize that "value judgments may be . . . objectively right"; here he seems to think that there might be a fact of the matter about morality. But he also says that judgments about value are not the same as facts (or, to be precise, judgments about facts). These are incompatible claims.

Now, in both (a) and (b) there are issues of whether there are any normative value judgments and whether there are moral facts of the matter about the way the world is. I think that these are essentially the same issue. Since I haven't given an argument that there are any normative value judgments, one might think that my critique of Volokh is pointless. But, on the other side, in order to show that the usual (but false) distinction between fact and value is real, one has to give an argument that there is a difference. Volokh hasn't done this, and so my critique of his claims doesn't require that I show there isn't one.