Thursday, December 21, 2006

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

UPDATE: The Hogwarts Professor (aka, John Granger) has inaugurated his blog with a huge post on "deathly hallows." As always, it's much deeper than you think it could be.

ORIGINAL: This is the title of the last Harry Potter novel due out (one hopes) next year. Of course, we all know that "hallow" is associated with being holy or being venerated (usually because of holiness), hence the phrase in the Lord's prayer "hallowed by Thy name." But the OED gives many definitions of "hallow." I think the relevant definition of "hallows" is the following: "In pl. applied to the shrines or relics of saints; the gods of the heathen or their shrines." In this case, though there has been speculation about graveyards (e.g., Harry's parents, or a graveyard at Hogwarts) as the hallows, I think it must be a reference to Voldemort's you-know-whats. Hence, the deathly hallows.

Or, Rowling is throwing us all off the scent and is thinking of another meaning of "hallow" in the OED: "The parts of the hare given to hounds as a reward or encouragement after a successful chase." Run away! Run away! It's the deathly rabbit parts! (No longer undetached, for you Quine readers.)

And, I don't think the reader ("Sirius") quoted in the news story linked to at the beginning of this post realizes what his worry reveals about his understanding of the Harry Potter series. He said, "This title has me a bit worried. For one thing, it has me concerned that Harry's gonna die . . . which I really DON'T want to see happen." Yes, death is a serious thing, even for a fictional character. But the worry that Harry will die indicates that the reader hasn't taken to heart a basic message of the books: there are things worse than physical death and if faced with a choice between death and doing right, one should do right with the assurance that love remains stronger than death.

I don't want to see Harry die either. But if it comes down to it, I'd rather see Harry die than not do the right thing. Perhaps the concerned reader, in his heart of hearts, thinks that, too, but is afraid. That's understandable, though we hear from reliable sources that perfect love casts out fear.

One last thing, if Harry does die, will that make the ending of the series better than the end of the Lord of the Rings with Frodo's "I do not choose to do this," etc.?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Madison, WI, Figures It Out

Because my wife needs science to back her up.

"A study by a University of Virginia neuroscientist has found that happily married women under stress show signs of immediate relief when they hold their husband's hand, with this clearly seen on their brain scans. ... The effect on men of hand-holding was not studied but researchers intended to do so in the future."

Read the article.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Platonic Solids

Have hours of fun!

This is part of a Web page for a really interesting conference. There's added incentive (is "added incentive" redundant?) to attend: a $50 prize will be awarded to the person who comes up with the "best original joke involving a triangle, square, or Platonic solid." (Think I'm joking? Check out their space.) So, a triangle, a square, and a Platonic solid walk into a bar . . . .

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas Music

Well, Christmas is coming, and here's some devotional music to help you get into the spirit. (Requires Quicktime. A Real Audio version is here.)

Saturday, December 02, 2006

On Mirth

Patrick O'Brian. The Ionian Mission.

'Wittles is up, sir, if you please.'
It was a cheerful meal. Jack was a good host, and when he had time to concern himself with them he was fond of the little brutes from the midshipmen's berth; furthermore he was in remarkably high spirits and he amused himself and the young gentlement extremely by dwelling at length on the fact that the country they had just quitted was practically the same as Dalmatia - a mere continuation of Dalmatia - so famous for its spotted dogs. He himself had seen quantities of spotted dogs - had even hunted behind a couple of braces - spotted dogs in a pack of hounds, oh Lord! - while the town of Kutali was positively infested with spotted youths and maidens, and now the Doctor swore he had seen spotted eagles ... Jack laughed until the tears came into his eyes. In a Dalmatian inn, he said, by way of pudding you could call for spotted dick, give pieces of it to a spotted dog, and throw the remains to the spotted eagles.
While the others were enlarging on the posibilities, Graham said to Stephen in a low voice, 'what is this spotted eagle? Is it a joke?'
aquila maculosa or discolor of some authors, Linnaeus'* aquila clanga. The captain is pleased to be arch.** He is frequently arch of a morning.'
'I beg your pardon, sir,' cried the midshipman of the watch, fairly racing in. 'Mr. Mowett's duty and two sail on the larboard beam, topsails up from the masthead.'

In addition to the fun of vocabulary exercises, the exuberance over naturalistic science in its hey day, and the romance of the 'high seas' there are things that draw me to O'Brian that I cannot properly put into words. One of them is mirth.

It is not simply that there is mirth: it is the context, the participants, and its literary role.

The books are about naval warfare in the 19th century, mostly between England and France. It is bloody and to us primitive. But it is carried out by men who (some at least) repair to their very small cabins and ply away at Scarlatti, craft poetry and dream of glory, foreign lands and home. They are stories where the journey is the heart of it, that revels in dwelling on what these men do when stuck in a calm more than in the crack of the battle. In the above quoted book, the story ends before the obvious, main "plot climax" is even reached, but the real story has already been told.

What I am calling O'Brian's 'Mirth' is one of the key elements that makes all of this work together. It is blatantly masculine, often corny, comes in the most unexpected moments and results in a most unexpected level of enjoyment. The 'spotted dogs' is not really funny in an isolated presentation ... but because I've been engrossed in the whole book (or in this case the last ten as well), found myself laughing out loud.

As an author O'Brian manages to make characters engaging enough for the reader to take part in their mirth (which simply makes him a good writer), but he also manages to make real mirth a part of life (which potentially makes him a good human being). An even greater task would be to live a life that facilitates mirth in others by allowing it to well up from oneself (which would truly make one a person worth loving). If O'Brian is showing the way, then batten down the hatches, hoist the topgallants and clear for action ... but first, a little Corelli and a little port.

*c. 1758
**arch2 –adjective: 1. playfully roguish or mischievous: an arch smile. 2. cunning; crafty; sly. –noun 3. Obsolete. a person who is preeminent; a chief.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Home for the Holidays

From "The Journals of Alexander Schmemann" Friday December 14, 1973
I love my home, and to leave home and be away overnight is always like dying--returning seems so very far away! I am always full of joy when I think about home. All homes, with lit windows behind which people live, give me infinite pleasure. I would love to enter each of them, to feel its uniqueness, the quality of its warmth. Each time I see a man or a woman walking with shopping bags, that is, going home, I think about them: they are going home, to real life, and I feel good, and they become somehow close and dear. I am always intrigued: What do people 'do' when they do not 'do' anything, when they just live? That's when life becomes important, when their fate is determined. Simple bourgeois happiness is often despised by activists of all sorts who quite often do not realize the depth of life itself; who think that life is an accumulation of activities. God gives us His Life, not ideas, doctrines, rules. At home, when all is done, life itself begins.

5:17 glowing in my blurred and stuffy vision and one of them fussing in the other room. Pillow under arm stumbling across the hall knocking over the one year old fussing. Nigh Nigh. Five minutes fussing and kicking the neighbors's wall. No: it's still nigh nigh time. Dozing to more fussing but now there's a light under the blinds. That raspy little voice: Juuuuuuse? Now snuggling on the couch, mussy hair and a warm little body in crazy striped tights. Who put you to bed in that? Quiet. The house is clean and that makes it easier to be at rest. And the windows lighten. Mukk? Stillness broken by a fridge light, click the oven light, hot water started, mukk from the fridge, and might as well get the cereal in my Foggy Head Routine. Is it foggy again; no, I can see lights. Wipe the windows and rattle them open. Crisp, Cold, clears my eyes out. Some tea for my head. Eating sounds behind me and a comfortable chair to enjoy the view. An extended pause for this is good air to be breathing.

Christ was homeless not because He despised simple happiness--He did have a childhood, family, home--but because He was at home everywhere in the world, which His Father created as the "home" of man. "Peace be with this house." We have our home and God's home, the Church, and the deepest experience of the Church is that of a home. Always the same and, above anything else, life itself--the Liturgy, evening, morning, a feast--and not an activity.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Good Game; Bad Result

The Michigan-OSU game was a good one.

All I can say now is go Cal!

And then next week, go USC and Florida State!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Bo (1929-2006)

There are a few things that are parts of my growing up years: Reagan was always president, Tigers won in 1984, Atari games were the state of the art, and Bo was always coaching Michigan.

I hope they give him a moment of silence at The Horseshoe tomorrow, and I hope the OSU fans there are sufficiently mannered to observe it.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Dr. Tom Slade

Dr. Slade was my dentist while I was growing up. He was a great dentist. Before he was a dentist he played quarterback for Bo at Michigan.

After a battle with leukemia, Dr. Slade passed away on Sunday. May his soul rest in peace.

UPDATE: Here's an obituary on Dr. Slade.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Look Out Karl Rove, It's the The Bourgeois Mother

Mom ran as a write in candidate for her local library board of trustees. After mounting a vigorous write-in campaign, which lasted a grueling six days, she has unofficially been declared the winner for her seat by an "overwhelming" margin. Way to go mom! (I think she's the first person in our family to ever hold an elected office.)

The Plato-lover in me is especially happy since mom didn't want to run. Her boss suggested she run for the seat, and she agreed. It reminded me of the philosophers in the Republic -- they are the most qualified to rule the city, but they must be forced to do it.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Much Needed Research

Oxford University Press has a good blog. Now it has this much needed information. Buyer beware!

Friday, October 27, 2006

That Was Bad

After Verlander's throwing error at third, I couldn't watch anymore. I turned off the television, and the wife and I watched "My Fair Lady" on the DVD. It was that bad.

UPDATE: The more I think about it (and I'm trying not to), the Tigers' World Series performance wasn't just bad, it was ugly. Literally. And the performance by the Cardinals wasn't necessarily good (though it was adequate), and it wasn't necessarily beautiful. I think there is something beautiful about a pitcher's fielding a nicely bunted ball, turning quickly, and throwing accurately to the third baseman. To fail to do so is ugly. Why? That's a good question with a long answer.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Spoken Like a True Tigers Fan

My wife bought me a new Tigers fitted cap for my birthday. I used to wear a raggedy Tigers hat from the 1980s (it's made of mesh), but now I've retired that one.

So I'm wearing my new Tigers hat at the grocery store, and the grocery clerk asks me if I'm a real Tigers fan. So I explain about the new hat, old hat, etc.

The clerk asks me, "Do you have a good feeling about the Tigers winning?" I say, "No. It's the Tigers."

He says, "Spoken like a true Tigers fan."

Even at this point I can't bring myself to think that they'll actually win. Or I think they'll sweep the Cardinals.

I do hope that Matt picks the Cardinals.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

God as Logos; Allah as Will

Interesting interview with a Catholic bloke.

"Radically" and "New" Are Two Words of which I'm Not Really Fond

But now they're being applied to the Greek lexicon coming in 2010 (2010! Doesn't that year only exist in movies?) from Cambridge University Press. (HT: LTA.) Move over Liddell, Scott, and Jones; here comes something more radical. But who wants a radical Greek lexicon?

Well, I suppose I'll give it a try. It's a bit tiresome going to LSJ for meanings and finding "thus," "whithersoever," and other such nineteenth-century holdovers.

But when people, even editors of Greek lexicons, start saying things like "It has allowed us to jettison the classifications that exist and start again," I can't help but think of the N.I.C.E.:

The N.I.C.E. marks the beginning of a new era--the really scientific era. Up to now, everything has been haphazard. This is going to put science itself on a scientific basis. There are to be forty interlocking committees sitting every day and they've got a wonderful gadget--I was shown the model last time I was in town--by which the findings of each committee print themselves off in their own little compartment on the Analytical Notice-Board every half hour. Then, that report slides itself into the right position where it's connected up by little arrows with all the relevant parts of the other reports. A glance at the Board shows you the policy of the whole Institute actually taking shape under your own eyes. There'll be a staff of at least twenty experts at the top of the building working this Notice-Board in a room rather like the Tube control rooms. It's a marvellous gadget. The different kinds of business all come out in the Board in different coloured [sic] lights. It must have cost half a million. They call it a Pragmatometer. (Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 38)

Forget the old categories! We've got Pragmatometers and radically new Greek lexicons.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

In Which I Display a Really Cool Screenshot

In case you can't read that, it says "Michigan State 13, Michigan 31" and "Yankees 3, Tigers 8." (Eight runs! Were the Tigers playing a National League team or something?)

Bring on the Oakland As. I already know that I'm not going to like that Scutero guy. I even dislike his name: "Scutero." He's pretty good, but there's just something about him I don't like. (In this respect, I classify him with Christian Laettner when he played with Duke and Rick Fox when he played with the Lakers.) I haven't asked Thorgerson about it, but I think he shares my Scutero animosity. (In case you missed it, check out Thorgerson's ill-fated trip to the last Oakland-Twins game. It's good to see that his daughter is being brought up well.)

And now the wife has kicked me out to make way for her friends and a baby shower.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Tigers Are Winning

It's only in the second inning, and it's only 1-0, but who cares?

I'd never seen a picture like this of Yankee Stadium, very striking and pleasant to look at.

UPDATE: Tigers win 4-3! I really hope the Tigers can knock the Yankees out of the playoffs so I don't have to listen to any more games announced by so-called neutral announcers, who are obviously in love with the Yankees. It's pretty bad when they get more excited about a Derek Jeter popout than a Tigers homerun.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Tigers' Secret Weapon

It's their manager.

Thorgerson has me optimistic that they won't get swept. So now we'll just wait and see.

El Mimo: Hard at Work

A Piercing Question

From the Bougeois Wife: "How can the Tigers lose three in a row to the Royals and still be playing for the division title?"

From my post on September 7: "There's no way the Tigers will make the playoffs. But if they do make the playoffs, it will be as a wildcard."

In that post, as faithful readers will recall, I gave six indications of the Tigers' demise. Let's see how I did.

(1) Losses to Mariners: The Tigers finished the season on a 10-12 "tear" after the second loss to the Mariners on September 6. Those losses to the Mariners were a sign, and not a good one.
(2) Released Dmitri Young: Okay, maybe he couldn't keep his nose clean.
(3) My fear about playing the Royals: Uncanny.
(4) Carlos Guillen: Well, he came back and is doing well. But he's only one guy, and he doesn't pitch.
(5) Todd Jones is the next Jeff Reardon of 1992: He did okay in today's game against the Royals. But my jury's still out on him. He was, after all, only pitching against the Royals.
(6) Jeremy Bonderman: Is 4-1 since September 7, but gave up four runs in 4.1 innings today (to the Royals).

In short, will the Tigers avoid getting swept by the Yankees? No.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Tigers Dodge Bullet

Bad news: Tigers lose to Toronto. First place in central division in jeopardy.
Embarrassing news: Twins lose to Kansas City on the same day.
Good news: Tigers still in first place in central division.

UPDATE: Scratch that. Tigers just shot themselves in foot, and this time Minnesota squeaks by KC.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Saddam's iTunes Playlist

A recent picture from Saddam's trial reveals he's not really paying attention. He's rocking out.

(I think he's beatmatching. His right hand appears to be working one of his turntables.)

This is what's on his playlist:
1. Jimi Hendrix: All Along the Watchtower
2. Johnny Cash: Folsom Prison Blues
3. John Lee Hooker: I'm Prison Bound
4. Otis Redding: Chaingang
5. Jefferson Airplane: No Way Out
6. Grand Funk Railroad: We Gotta Get Out Of This Place
7. Pink Floyd: The Trial
8. Patsy Cline: A Church, A Courtroom, and Then Goodbye
9. Queen Latifah: Court Is In Session
10. Les Miserables Soundtrack: Who Am I? [Saddam apparently likes to shout out "24601" at random moments in his trial.]
11. The Byrds: Life in Prison
12. Eric Clapton: County Jail Blues
13. Wesley Willis: He's Doing Time In Jail
14. Iggy Pop: Little Electric Chair
15. Ice Cube: When I Get To Heaven (from the "Lethal Injection" album)
16. The Cardigans: Hanging Around

And don't forget Rock, Paper, Saddam!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

My Pessimism about Tigers Reaches a Season High

Since August began, I've had that nagging voice in the back of my head: "There's no way the Tigers will make the playoffs." I've kept this to myself until now. I'll just come out and say it: There's no way the Tigers will make the playoffs. But if they do make the playoffs, it will be as a wildcard. Why?

(1) The Tigers just lost two games (at home) to the Mariners, who hadn't won a road game since Reagan was president.

(2) The Tigers released Dmitri Young. What? That guy (if he can keep his nose clean) will be in the hall of fame.

(3) A month ago I was excited about the fact that the Tigers' last nine games of the season are against the Royals (six games) and the Blue Jays (three games). But the Royals recently have taken two of three from the Twins, two of three from the White Sox, and one of three from the Yankees. What's the deal with that? That's respectable. That's not the Kansas City team I've come to know and love.

(4) Carlos Guillen is injured (considered day-to-day).

(5) Todd Jones (you know, the Detroit closer) has a 4.56 ERA. Color me unimpressed. Remember when Jeff Reardon was pitching for the Braves in the 1992 World Series? Everyone said he was supposed to fill their need for a closer. But Ed Sprague took Reardon's fastball for a ride over the leftfield fence to win game two. Todd Jones reminds me of that Jeff Reardon.

(6) Jeremy Bonderman hasn't won a game since July 19.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Rowling on Why It's Good That Voldemort Is So Bad

I have always felt that cardboard baddies make weak heroes and that Harry deserved a really deluxe model, so I have done my best to make Lord Voldemort a real person, red eyed and snakelike though he might be. He, of course, is one of the reasons the Harry Potter books are often banned, but I remain of the firm belief that we need our imaginary villains, the better to brace ourselves for the ones we need to fight in reality.

There are a few other comments from JKR here.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Tigers Lose; I Blame Apollo

Did you see the Tigers-Angels game tonight? Tigers ended up losing in ten innings.

The Tigers were one out away from winning in the ninth, but Izturis reached base on a throwing error by starting shortstop Carlos Guillen and moved to second on an infield single by Cabrera. Vladimir Guerrero then blooped a tying single off Jones, ending his streak of 19 successful save opportunities.

Now why did Guillen miss on what would have been the final throw to first base? There didn't seem to be any reason why that throw should have been wild. But having recently reread the Iliad (Fagles trans.), I suspect some foul play on the part of the gods. Their intervention is quite often noted by Homer, but one of the most blatant ocurrences is in book 16, ll. 914-24:

Then at the fourth assault Patroclus like something superhuman--
then, Patroclus, the end of life came blazing up before you,
yes, the lord Apollo met you there in the heart of battle,
the god, the terror! Patroclus never saw him coming,
moving across the deadly rout, shouded in thick mist
and on he came against him and looming up behind him now--
slammed his broad shoulders and back with the god's flat hand
and his eyes spun as Apollo knocked the helmet off his head
and under his horses' hoofs it tumbled, clattering on
with its four forged horns and its hollow blank eyes
and its plumes were all smeared in the bloody dust.

Just so, Apollo must be an Angels' fan to descend to give such a heavy blow to the unsuspecting Guillen. (And later in the game, Guillen injured "himself" running out a double; or was his injury also due to Apollo? Did Guillen somehow offend the lord of the silver bow?)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

More Baseball

This time from Bill Simmons, on who's likely to win the World Series. I love the opening:

Not only has the National League transformed into Quadruple-A, as far as I can tell the Dodgers and Mets are the only two NL teams capable of doing anything in October. And by "anything," I mean not "getting swept in the World Series."

Friday, August 04, 2006

Important Questions Asked and Answered

But not necessarily in that order.

Wouldn't This Be a Great Job?

This may sound strange to some of you, but I think this would be a great thing to do for work.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Meno 72b-d

I started my translation of this dialogue a while ago. I've already posted some of it here, here, and here. Here's the next installment.

Socrates: Indeed, I seem to have furnished myself with some great fortune, Meno, if by my inquiring into virtue I have discovered some beehive of virtues lying near you. But, Meno, going with this image about the beehive, if after I asked about a bee, concerning [its] being (ousia), [b] what it is (pot’ estin), you said them1 to be of many and of all kinds, what would you answer me, if I asked you, "Are you declaring there to be many, of all kinds, and different from one another? Or in this2 do they differ in nothing, but [they differ] with respect to other things -- beauty or size or another of these things?" Speak, how would you answer having been asked?

Meno: I would say this, that they differ in nothing (they are bees) the one from the other.3

[c] Socrates: If then I were to say after that, "Now tell me just this, Meno: By what4 do they differ in nothing but are entirely (apasai) identical (tauton)? What do you declare this to be?" You'd have, perhaps, something to tell me?

Meno: Indeed.

Socrates: Thus indeed, concerning virtues, too. Even if they are many and all kinds, they have some form (eidov) entirely (apasai) identical (tauton) by which they are virtues, by which perhaps the person answering, having looked to [it] beautifully, is to make visible to the one asking what he hit upon [namely,] [d] the being of virtue. Or do you not understand (manqaneiv) what I’m saying?


1. autav: pl. fem. acc; the plural number is a bit odd because Socrates (in answering his own question!) began with the singular (a bee) and switches to plural (themselves, them). But note that if Socrates had been consistent in his number, his question either would not be coherent ("if I asked you about a bee, would you say it is of many and all kinds?") or as clear ("if I asked you about bees, would you say they are many and of all kinds?").

2. toutwi: sing. masc. dat, the antecedent is unclear; is it ousia? To back up a little, Socrates says, "if I asked you to tell me about the being of a bee, and you said they (see note 1) were all different, then I might ask you if you meant they were all different, but they are not different in this but in some other way." What is Socrates referring to when he says "in this"? Or is there no direct antecedent?

3. This translation is awkward. Most translators opt to treat the phrase hi melittai eisin playing the role of "qua bees." But that seems to be add too much to the text; this is, after all, Meno’s speech, and I am not convinced he has grasped the concept expressed by "qua."

4. Sing. masc. dat. of ov, taken in an instrumental way; note the singular number corresponds to the second question What do you declare this to be? Not to lean on the grammar too much, but already it is clear Socrates is looking for one thing in virtue of which the same things are all alike.

With Friends Like Johannes Myronas . . .

Scientists finally uncover, using x-rays, lost texts of Archimedes. (Go, Science, go!) They had been painted over by a monk in Jerusalem, Johannes Myronas, so that he could write down more prayers. (I'm sure there's a metaphor for history or culture in that: "You see, the prayers of the religious are written over science. . ." or "In the actions of Johannes Myronas we see once again the hegemonic desire of 'orthodoxy' as it (literally) effaces what to it is the obscene writing of an 'other' embodying the unembodied mathematics of difference, etc. etc. ad nauseam . . . .")

Thanks a lot, Johannes. Couldn't you have at least scribbled out something more uselesss? Aristotle, for example? Or maybe that pesky gospel of Judas?

Warning: Don't Click if You've Got Work to Do

I've been playing this game from Dyson. I've finished all the regular levels, grandmaster levels, block levels, and half of the Christmas levels. I've also worked out a few of the transporter levels. (Of course, I should be studying.)

My interest in the game was sparked by a recent purchase for which I plunked down all the pennies I'd been saving for a Dyson vacuum. I mean, I was really saving, a, lot, of, pennies: I haven't bought a new (or used) book in a long time. And it was only made possible by a sale at Best Buy.

Now I love to vacuum (seriously), and it actually gets the carpets clean (behold the power of the Dyson 07 "Animal.")

When I was a tyke, it was my job to vacuum, and I hated it. Sometimes when mom asked me to vacuum, I just took the vacuum in the bedroom and turned it on for a few minutes. I always wondered how mom could tell that I hadn't actually moved the vacuum around. Perhaps it was all the stuff on the floor that is invisible to the eyes of little boys.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Dalrymple on Zidane

Theodore Dalrymple comments on reactions to Zidane's head-butt (such an ugly word) in the World Cup final.

On Writing

Joseph Pieper says in his book Enthusiasm and Divine Madness, on the Phaedrus of Plato,

The very great teachers do not write. Few will guess that this . . . sentence is an almost literal quotation from the Summa theologica of Thomas Aquinas, who specifically mentions Socrates in connection with this statement. Thomas asks whether Christ should not have set down his doctrine in writing -- and answers that the higher mode of teaching is proper to the greater teacher, and that that higher mode consists in impressing his doctrine upon the hearts of his hearers. (101)

Monday, July 10, 2006


Everyone wants to know what was said.

Of course, the King's ignominous act cannot be forgotten either, but in the case of Cantona, he seemed to learn something from his suspension and found some redemption when he returned to play. What is Zidane to learn from this, for he will never return to play?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


I'll always be partial to the King, but Zidane is my new French soccer hero. He even has a flashy Web page.

UPDATE: a great picture of Zidane's penalty kick against Portugal.

Friday, June 30, 2006

On Rhetoric

For the record, Fonseca Bin no. 27 is my favorite annual port (meaning it is produced every year and so is widely available ... truly high quality sweet wines are only produced when the grapes are just right and so are unpredictable).

A good friend thoughtfully gave me the Loeb with Plato's Symposium, Lysis and Gorgias for summer reading, and I have decided to work through Gorgias. If I keep an average pace of about 15 pages per week I should easily finish during the summer. I'll post comments here to keep myself accountable (cough).

As an opener: So far, Mr. W.R.M. Lamb ("sometime fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge") seems to have been an ironic choice to translate the dialogue on rhetoric, for his translation robs the speakers of some of their best demonstrations of wit. This is so important because Gorgias is the supreme rhetorician whose craft, as Socrates will demonstrate, has nothing to do with true knowledge and so is not a craft at all; besides, as we shall see, Socrates is better at it than everyone else.

Very Beginning (my own):
Kallikles: As they say, Socrates, you desire a war and battle so as to get a share (ie., just to get the spoils).
Socrates: Rather do you mean the saying, we have come too late for the feast?
K: Indeed and a most urbane feast. For just a moment ago Gorgias put on a varied and beautiful display for us.
S: Chaipheron here is to blame, having forced us to spend our time in the market place.

Get it? Kallikles has just listened to a display of rhetoric, but has learned nothing (because rhetoric has nothing true to teach) since he immediately proceeds to quote a useless proverb at his new quests. Kallikles calls the feast urbane; Socrates puns on the word complaining that he was stuck in the market (ie., the center of the city). Who's the rhetorician now? Who's the true teacher: the one at a feast giving a self congratulatory display of words at a posh dinner or the one in the market place with his students? Ta da, the themes of the dialogue summarized and proven in the first four lines. All of this is missed in Lamb's translation thanks to his unimaginative diction.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Thoughts on JKR

(1) Rowling said recently that two characters will die in the final Harry Potter novel. All fine and good. I want to know if any of them will come back to life.

(2) While reading Plato's Phaedrus to prepare to lead some discussions on it, I came across this passage:

For the prophetess in Delphi and the priestesses in Dodona when mad have accomplished many beautiful things for Greece both in private and in public, but little, or rather nothing, when of sound mind. And if we should speak of the Sibyl and others, who used divinely inspired prophesy to foretell in the future many things to many people and guide them aright, we would draw it [our speech] out at length, saying things that are clear to everyone. (244a-b, trans. Nichols)

Is this description not a deadringer for Trelawny? What was her first name again? Sibyl? I also wonder if Trelawny's penchant for sherry is based on her desire to lose herself in something other than herself so that she may prophesy. For she does not prophesy under her own power, but only when influenced by . . . ? What? God?

I've thought for a while now that the only thing in Harry Potter's world that is truly supernatural is prophecy. What about the magic, you say? Two things about the magic make it not so easily supernatural: it has to be learned by great study (that is why the students are at Hogwarts) and a fully developed natural science would be indistinguishable from magic. (Here I could throw in some quotation from Lewis's Abolition of Man about how magic and science both spring from the same desire, but you already know all that. But consider anyway this article describing how scientists will probably make something like Harry's invisibility cloak.)

John Granger has written a wonderful article on Harry Potter. Everyone should read it, especially critics. Among other things, the article points out in various places the tenuous nature of our understanding of the distinction between natural and supernatural. What is it to be supernatural? Is alchemy natural or not?

One thing I would add to his article is a mention of the existence of prophecy in the books. I think it is one of the clearest indicators Rowling's world is supernatural. And immersing ourselves in that world is indeed a powerful ally in helping us to live "fully human, which is to say 'spiritual,' lives" (Granger, last para.).

Thursday, June 15, 2006

My New Pastime

Listening to the Dan Patrick Show on ESPN Radio. I grew up watching and playing sports, but I've drifted from those roots (mixed metaphor, I know) in the last ten years or so. But now I'm moving back to more sports.

The Dan Patrick show is on during the time when I drive back home from teaching a summer school class in logic. At first, I just listened because the long pauses between his sentences made me think something was wrong with my radio. Then I loved the fact that when people call in to the show, they give their height and weight.

What I like about the DPS is that it's not just about sports for sports' sake. I mean, he isn't talking about who's the greatest running back of all time. The last two days have covered interesting ethical issues.

(1) Does Ben Roethlisberger have a duty (obligation) to wear a motorcycle helmet?
(2) Was it immoral for Ozzie Guillen to tell his rookie pitcher, Sean Tracey, to hit Hank Blalock? And then was Tracey justified in not hitting Blalock? And was Guillen justified in demoting Tracey to triple-A ball for not hitting Blalock?

I'll actually discuss what I think are the relevant issues in (2) later.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Bernard Lewis on Islam

A lengthy but worthwhile read.

About Time

The Tigers beat the White Sox (for the first time this season) to hold on to first place and the best record in the league.

Five Best Mystery Novels

Glad to see that DLS makes the cut, though it's not the one I would have chosen. Rather surprised that there's nothing from Agatha Christie, though perhaps the designation "crime novel" rules her out. Perhaps she's good at crime, but not so good at novels. Same for Doyle.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

I Am . . .

an impending father. The little one is scheduled to make an appearance in November.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Remember that Case about the Evolution Sticker in Georgia?

It's back.

A federal appeals court essentially told the judge who made the ruling that there are problems with the evidentiary record.

. . . in determining that the sticker unconstitutionally advanced religion, the lower court judge said the school board had considered placing the disclaimer on textbooks after receiving a petition signed by 2,300 local residents. But, according to the appeals court, no such petition appears in the evidentiary record.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Eighteen Volts of Manliness

I am now the proud owner of this:

When I went to the store to buy a drill, I was only thinking of getting the 14.4 volt one, which is all I (the Southern California apartment-dweller) really need. But then the 18 volt was on sale and only $10 more: an extra 3.6 volts for only $10? Sign me up!

Thursday, May 18, 2006


From Doug TenNapel:

"Poorly written, poor Bible scholarship, made for Americans ignorant of the most basic Christian principles; are we talking about DaVinvi Code or Purpose Driven Life?"

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

While munching on a lonely dinner I visited John Cleese's web site, where you can watch the great man explain why it just makes sense to believe the founders of religions were esoteric (read: intentionally not making sense). Not that Python is where I would like to expend my thinking energy, but the popular idea (I at least hear it a lot arount here) of mystics being incapable of communicating in a "literal minded way" just doesn't fit when you actually study mystics. Sure, you have people who just say and do really weird stuff (in my studies, Symeon Stylites, Symeon the Holy Fool). However, this picture is the product of our lack of evidence of Late Antiquity and does not mean that the utterances of mystics are or were beyond intelligent interpretation, or that they even intended them to be such. (see Michael Dols, Majnun: The Madman in the Medieval Islamic World or Sergei A. Ivanov's Holy Fools in Byzantium and Beyond who elsewhere argues that in imperial Russia these holy mystics speak the same "language" as the Tsars, but that is a whole different debate.)

The extremely popular (available in any Borders) Jelaluddin Rumi, the 13th century Anatolian mystic who is one of the figures that people like Cleese most latch onto is one I am studying. The reason you can think people like this are not understandable in the most basic sense is because you are reading one-page selections of their strangest poetry and sayings in your highly illustrated coffee-table volume. It annoys me because the underlying assumption is that these people were supra-moral, supra-political, supra-social, etc.. Whereas in reality all of the founders save one of the 13th century mystical movements that I am studying (both Christian and Sufi) were explicitly politically involved, and a huge percentage of that remaining one's disciples were political figures, so either they all didn't "get it" or Cleese isn't "getting it". In any case, all of them were quite willing and capable of explaining things in rational statement about God when they wanted to.

The basic argument for Cleese seems to be: God is That-Which-Is-Unexplainable. Mystics experience God. Mystics can only express their experience of Unexplainable by being inexplicable. The thing is, they aren't. If they do want to be non-sensical, they only want to be so to "the uniniated", so they explain things in ways that only their disciples can understand. I think this is obvious and it is not worth belaboring the point.

There is, to be fair, a very true idea at the core of the Cleese-doctrine. It is impossible to positively explain the experience of a relationship. But I don't think it is limited to God-relationships at all. Try to explain in positive statement to anyone what it is is to love your lover and you'll soon be stuck as well. However, contra-Cleese, this does not mean that those who experience God cannot communicate about God, or that God cannot communicate about Himself. This is why we use negative statement and metaphors -- not to render ourselves inexplicable, but because they actually explain more.

What I can't figure out is why people like Cleese stick to this goofy line so fervently. To me it seems a) uninteresting and unstimulating, because you have backed yourself into a position where to actually say anything begs the question and b) strikes me as an excuse to keep doing whatever it is that you do unless you happen to be hit by the Unexplainable, which is highly unlikely, since we like to think of mystics (and their God) staying on The Mountain (or on our bookshelf in the "Multi-Faith Chapel of JC"). To come full circle, this is the irony of the site, which is dedicated to John Cleese unashamedly marketing every bit of himself (see the Ring Tones page) and his California Ranch so he can keep collecting Lemurs and Gyneth-Paltrow-the-Emus.*

*None of this changes the fact that Monty Python is the best comedy group of the Modern Era and will continue to make me giggle.

Monday, May 15, 2006

From the Onion: On the Detroit Tigers

"Jim Leyland Accused of Jumping on Tigers Bandwagon"

Rest in Peace, Dr. Pelikan

Jaroslav Pelikan died Saturday of lung cancer. He wrote what is certainly the best history of Christian doctrine published in the last hundred years. He gives one reason (among others) why he wrote it:

For those who believe that you don't need tradition because you have the Bible, the Christian Tradition has sought to say, "You are not entitled to the beliefs you cherish about such things as the Holy Trinity without a sense of what you owe to those who worked this out for you." To circumvent Saint Athanasius on the assumption that if you put me alone in a room with the New Testament, I will come up with the doctrine of the Trinity, is naive. So for these readers I have tried to provide a degree of historical sophistication, which is, I believe, compatible with an affirmation of the central doctrines of Christian faith.

A devout Lutheran for much of his life, he was received into the Orthodox Church in America in 1998. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Friday, May 12, 2006

New Book on Tolkien and the OED

Details are here. It looks quite good.

A while ago, I searched the online OED for illustrations of word usage drawn from Tolkien. There were about 150, which for someone who isn't Shakespeare is quite a good number. And hobbit is in the OED.

He also has his own adjectives: Tolkienian and Tolkienesque.

I still maintain the best book yet written on Tolkien (though I haven't yet read the one mentioned above) is by Tom Shippey (J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century).

By the way, for those who don't know (for a long time I didn't): OED stands for Oxford English Dictionary. If you want to buy my friendship, a good start would be with a copy of the OED. Of course, if you look up friendship in the OED, the first example is from Beowulf.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

In Which I Answer a Pressing Question

(If you haven't read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and don't want the story ruined, don't read on.)

The Leaky Cauldron has a list of questions left to be answered in the seventh book. One of them is "How does one destroy a Horcrux, anyway?"

I'd have thought that one was obvious: Stab it with a basilisk fang.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

You Know It's Not Going to Be a Good Neil Young Album . . .

. . . when reviewers preface their comments with "While this is not as bad as Landing on Water . . . ."

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

In Which I Am Amazed by the Success of the Detroit Tigers

They're only a half game out of first place. The pessimist in me predicts they will fall below .500 by the end of the season. (By the way, Thorgerson, in case you missed it, the Tigers clobbered the Twins a while back.)

UPDATE: Of course, the day after I post this, the Tigers get spanked by the Angels, 7-2.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

In Which I Pose a Fairly Easy Question from Alcuin, the Monk

Alcuin was head teacher in the palace school of Charlemagne at Aachen. Here is one of the questions in his Propositiones ad acuendos iuvenes:

An ox plows all day long. How many tracks does he leave in the last furrow?

For the answer, click "Read More."

Answer: None. The plow removes them all.

(HT: Percival Blakney Academy)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

In Which I Help You Understand Why Gas Prices Are So High

Read this short piece by Lynne Kiesling of the fine economics blog "Knowledge Problem."

Doing Bad vs. Being Bad

From Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics, 1151a6-11 [trans. Joe Sachs]):

It is clear then that unrestraint is not vice . . . since the one [dissipation] is by choice and the other [unrestraint] is contrary to choice; however, they are alike as far as actions are concerned, as with the words of Demodocus to the Milesians, "It's not that Milesians are stupid, just that they will do the sort of things that stupid people do"; and while unrestrained people are not unjust, they will do injustice.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Frothier Side of Life

Still on just my third brew, I think this will be the first truly enjoyable to drink (I'm just being honest).

The recipe: Thorgersen's Nut Brown Ale
Inspired by Byron Burch, Brewing Quality Beers, 2nd ed., 1992

6 lbs. Light Liquid Barley Malt Extract, Extra Malty
9 oz. Carmel 20 Barley
4.5 oz. Chocolate Barley
(Crush and cook barley)
1/4 t salt
2 oz. Malto Dexterin
2 oz. Nugget bittering hops (cook 1 oz. 60 minutes, 1 oz. 30 minutes)
1 oz. Willamette aromatic hops (cook 8 minutes)
English Ale Liquid Yeast

The picture is after a little more than a day of fermenting, and is a much better head than I've ever got before. The batch should make around 50 bottles, and at about 30-35 dollars for ingredients, this figures to be quite the hobby. If everything turns out I'm going to try a fruit ale next (ahem, for the Mrs.).

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

It (Sort of) Makes Sense When You Think about It

Biola University, a conservative evangelical university in southern California, is giving its Phillip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth to Antony Flew, one of the staunchest defenders of atheism in the past century. Of course, Flew is no longer an atheist.

I recall some people mocking Biola last year for giving the Phillip E. Johnson award to (who else?) Phillip E. Johnson. I wonder if those people will mock this year. Seriously. Would they claim that Biola is just giving the award to Flew because he converted from atheism (in part because of things like intelligent design -- read the interview in which he discusses this)? Would Biola have given the award to Flew even if he were still an atheist?

Monday, March 27, 2006

In Which I Wonder if Rowling Alludes to Socrates

In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Rowling introduces the character of Luna Lovegood. Luna is loony but proves to be a good friend to Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Her father publishes a newspaper called The Quibbler, which ends up playing an important role in the story: It is the vehicle by which an important truth is made known. However, it is maligned throughout the novel for its reputation for printing pointless conspiracy theories and other nonsense; in short, for quibbling instead of employing words for more serious matters, like the oh-so-serious Daily Prophet. (OED's first definition of "quibble" is "to pun, to play on words.")

In Aristophanes' play Frogs, we find the following description of Socrates:

So it is refined not by Socrates
to sit and chatter
casting aside the pursuits of the Muses
and neglecting what's most important
in the art of tragedy.
But to spend time idly
in pompous words
and frivolous word-scraping
is the act of a man going crazy.

(trans. Dillon)

Here we have the perfect description of a quibbler. (Klein, in his commentary on the Meno, actually refers to Socrates in the Aristophanes passage as a quibbler.) Aristophanes -- who was at least not bosom buddies with Socrates -- describes Socrates as engaging in idle chatter. But if we take Plato's word, Socrates was not interested in chatter but in seeking the truth. Of course, it is easy to see how Socrates, who was always talking (discussing), could be mistaken for a word-scraper, or, in general, how one who seeks (even dispenses) the truth by conversing with others could be mistaken for a quibbler.

(I hope I need not remind my readers that Rowling has a degree in classics.)

Saturday, March 25, 2006

In Which I Guess that All the Harry Potter Novels So Far Lead Up to This Speech by Dumbledore about Voldemort

". . . he was in such a hurry to mutilate his own soul, he never paused to understand the incomparable power of a soul that is untarnished and whole" (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, p. 511).

Rowling's genius has now exposed millions of people all over the world to this beautiful idea.

Friday, March 24, 2006

It's Like They're Animals

Our cats. I woke up this morning to find that one of them (Rosemary, I'm looking in your direction) had vomitted all over a placemat on the table. I left it just in case the culprit wanted to have it later for a snack. Sometimes they do, and it saves me having to clean up.

"I for one am all for scraping ancient barrels"

On the publication of the 500th volume in the Loeb Classical Library, A.N. Wilson has thoughts on the significance of Greek and Latin today.

HT: Michael Gilleland

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

In Which I Complain about the Froufrou Naming of Colors

So I bought this jacket for my wife for her birthday. According to, the color of the coat I ordered is called "persimmon," and in the color sample "persimmon" looks quite red, does it not?

When I received the jacket today, I discovered that persimmon is actually orange. Now I have no idea if persimmons are orange, and I really could care less. But it would have been much clearer if the Weatherproof jacket company had actually named the color of the coat "orange."

Monday, February 27, 2006

In Which I Attempt to Sum Up the Row Over Intelligent Design

Aristotle says, "The causes responsible for things seem to be nature, necessity, and chance, and also intelligence . . . ." (NE, 1112a30ish).

The Darwinist says, "The first three causes Aristotle lists are the only legitimate causes."

The Designist says, "Let us also admit the last cause Aristotle lists."

Thursday, February 16, 2006

An Interpretation of King Lear, Act 1, Scene 1

The play opens with three people: Kent, Gloucester, and Edmund. At first I was puzzled about why Edmund is there. Kent and Gloucester, being part of the king's council, I could handle. But why Edmund, the villain? Here is my attempt at explaining Edmund's presence.

Shakespeare represents with these three a whole soul: reason, spirit, and appetite. Kent, being the king's advisor, is reason. Gloucester, the king's loyal friend, is spirit. Edmund, greedy for power, is appetite.

Kent's first words are "I thought . . ." Thinking is exactly what reason does.

In the Platonic tradition, the spirited element of the soul mediates reason and appetite. In the opening scene, Gloucester introduces Kent to Edmund.

Lear enters then and, in his madness, which is already upon him, tears apart this whole soul: he sends Gloucester to attend to the dukes of France and Burgundy. (Edmund, though not addressed by the king, leaves with Gloucester.) I say that Lear is already mad, or at least (lit.) unreasonable, because there is no good reason to disrupt a whole, well-ordered soul. A whole soul (or city) is a beautiful and good thing, and there can be no good reason (or no reason at all) to tear it apart. But Lear does tear it apart; I conclude that Lear is not governed by reason even from the very beginning of the play.

Tragedy ensues. What else would one expect to follow in the wake of such a mindless disruption?

After Lear has made the tragic decision to banish Cordelia, each of the three parts of this original triad proceed thusly. (1) Kent tries to dissuade the king from his course of action. But Lear will not listen to reason, and reason separated from spirit and appetite can affect no change. (2) Gloucester, eager to assist the king, overplays his hand since he is not guided by reason. (3) Edmund, unbridled from reason and spirit, dwells on and pursues his base passion for power.

Thus, Edmund's presence is explained by the necessity of appetite in the city/soul. Appetite is not bad; but appetite following its desires leads to ruin. Perhaps Kent and Gloucester together could have saved Edmund. Consider Gloucester's urging Kent to remember Edmund as Gloucester's honorable friend and Kent's statement to Edmund that "I must love you, and sue to know you better." Kent however is prevented from taking Edmund under his wing, and so Edmund is not tamed, as he might have been. Apart from Kent and Gloucester, Edmund ruins both Gloucester and himself. (Reason seems to survive.)

Last thought (for now): It is true that Lear's division of his kingdom among his three (or two) daughters is the obvious source from which the rest of the play flows. But his disruption of the Kent-Gloucester-Edmund tripartite city/soul allows the second division (the division of his kingdom) to proceed. I suggest that if Gloucester and Edmund had been present, they (with Kent) could have functioned as a well-ordered unit to prevent (or at least soften) the disasters brought on by Lear's decision.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

In Which Manolo Sees That Agathon Was Wrong

Manolo says, ". . . the designers of the Project Runway, they are not the handsome peoples. This it is not the handicap in the world of fashion, as it is also true that many of the famous fashion designers, they too are ugly. The Manolo, he theorizes that this it is because the ugly they are naturally drawn to the beauty."

Plato in his Symposium (201a-c, trans. Benardete) creates the following dialogue between Socrates and the playwright Agathon:

"And if this is so, Eros would be nothing else than love of beauty, but not of ugliness?" He [Agathon] agreed.

"Hasn't it been agreed that that of which one is in need and does not have one loves?"

"Yes," he said.

"So Eros is in need of and does not have beauty."

"Of necessity," he said.

"What about this? That which is in need of beauty and in no way possesses beauty, do you say that it is beautiful?"

"Certainly not."

"Do you still agree then that Eros is beautiful, if this is so?"

And Agathon said, "It's probable, Socrates, that I knew nothing of what I had said."

"And yet spoke you beautifully, Agathon," he said.

So the fashion designers of which Manolo speaks are in the same boat as the god Eros: they are both in love with beautiful things because they themselves are ugly.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Meno 70c-72a

Here's a longish passage from my translation of the Meno. It begins in the middle of a speech by Socrates.

But here, friend Meno, it has turned out the opposite. It’s as though there has been some drought of wisdom, and it’s possible [71a] for wisdom to have gone from these places to yours. At any rate, if you wish to ask someone here about this, there is no one who will not laugh and say, “Stranger, it’s possible I seem to you to be someone blessed -- at any rate, to know whether virtue is taught or what manner it comes to be -- but I stand very much in need of knowing whether virtue is taught or not taught, and am not as one who happens at all to know what virtue is.”

[b] So I, Meno, am even one such as this; I am poor with my fellow citizens about this matter, and I find great fault with myself thus, not knowing about virtue at all. But if I do not know what a thing is, how do I know what sort of thing it really* is? Or does it seem to you to to be like this: if anyone does not learn to know at all who Meno is, this one’s to know whether [Meno] is beautiful or rich or even well-born, or the opposite of these? Does it seem to you to be thus?

Meno: Not to me. But you, Socrates, do you truly [c] not know what virtue is, and is this what we’re to report about you back home?

Socrates: Not only this, comrade, but also that I have not met another who it seems to me did know.

Meno: What then? Did you not meet Gorgias when he was here?

Socrates: I did indeed.

Meno: Then he seemed not to you to know?

Socrates: I am not entirely mindful,** Meno, so I am not able to say in present circumstances how it seemed to me then. But it’s equally possible he does know, and that you know what he spoke; so remind [d] me how he spoke. And if you wish say yourself, for doubtless it seems to you however [it seemed] to him.

Meno: To me, yes indeed.

Socrates: Therefore, let’s be done with him, since he is not here, but you yourself, by the gods, Meno, what do you declare virtue to be? Speak and do not be grudging so that I will have fabricated a most fortunate lie if you and Gorgias, as ones who know, were to bring it to light, though I’ve stated I never yet have met with one who knows.

[e] Meno: But it’s not difficult, Socrates, to say. First then, if you wish, the virtue of a man, it’s easy; this is the virtue of a man: to be competent to manage the city, managing to do good to friends and harm to enemies, and himself taking care not to suffer any such thing. But if you wish the virtue of a woman, it’s not difficult to go through: she must economize the household, both preserving what is in the home and listening to the man. And there is also virtue of a child, both female and male, and of the old man, if you wish, of the free, or if you wish, [72a] of the slave. And there are very many other virtues, so that there is no impasse to speaking about what virtue is. For according to each of the practices and stages of life there is a virtue for each work of each of us. And I suppose it’s like this, Socrates, for badness, too.

* Including “really” because of the force of “an . . . ge . . .” Or perhaps it should read, “how do I really know what sort of thing it is”?
** Chosen instead of the usual “I’m rather forgetful” or some such to bring out the continuing ambiguity of “entirely,” “at all,” etc. (cf. to parapon at 71b3 and 71b5). I.e., does Socrates not remember at all, or does he just not remember all of it?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Say What You Believe

John Mark writes that Hugh Hewitt's recent interview with Joel Stein is "one of the finest examples of Socratic questions leading to bewilderment on the part of the victim of Socratic reasoning I have seen in some time."

I want to point out that Hugh insisted on one of Socrates' rules of discussion: say what you believe.

The most important rule for a Socratic discussion (apart from being brief with your answers) is to say what you believe.

There are two reasons why Socrates requires his interlocutors to say what they believe. The first is to make sure the interlocutor is being honest with his argument and the second is to test the interlocutor's seriousness about pursuing the truth.

The elenchus has not only the philosophical objective of discovering the truth; it also has a practical one. It aims to discover how every human ought to live (the philosophical objective) and then to test that single human being who is doing the answering -- to find out if he is living as one ought to live. But unless the interlocutor has given Socrates his actual beliefs, the elenchus cannot meet the second objective.

In the Protagoras (trans. W.R.M. Lamb), Protagoras tries to get out of an argumentative jam by saying (331a-c):

I do not take quite so simple a view of it, Socrates, as to grant that justice is holy and holiness just. I think we have to make a distinction here. Yet what difference does it make? he said: if you like, let us assume that justice is holy and holiness just.

But Socrates replies:

No, no, I said; I do not want this "if you like" or "if you agree" sort of thing to be put to the proof, but you and me together; and when I say "you and me" I mean that our statement will be most properly tested if we take away the "if."

Compare with Hewitt and Stein:

Stein says,

And honestly, I think that all these . . . for people who don't believe in the war and are putting up these stickers saying they support the troops anyway, my fear is that it's prolonging the war and putting them in further danger they don't need to be in.

But Hewitt replies, in Socratic fashion:

But Joel, I'm talking about you. I'm talking about what you honor, and you obviously don't honor military service.

Later, we have this bit, where Hewitt reminds Stein to say what he believes:

HH: And the people who've died in Afghanistan. Have they died in vain?

JS: Well, if they haven't, what have they accomplished?

HH: I'm asking you, Joel. You wrote the column. You tell me. Have they accomplished nothing?

JS: Well, um, do I think that I, as an American, are safer because of what they did?

HH: That wasn't what I asked. I asked did they accomplish anything in going to Afghanistan.

JS: If I were an Afghani, I would probably . . . if I lived in Kabul, I probably would think that they accomplished something, sure.

Now Hewitt isn't Socratic in the sense that he does not point out directly to Stein that some of what he said contradicts other things he said, but, then again, if you do that too much you might end up like Socrates.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Meno 70a-c

In response to Meno's opening question, Socrates says,

Meno, before now the Thessalians were famous among the Greeks and honored for horsemanship and for wealth, but now, it seems to me, [they are to be honored] also for wisdom (sophia) and not least [of them] the fellow citizens, Larissians, of your companion, Aristippus. The cause of this [happening] to you all is Gorgias. For after coming into the city, he took from the Aleudai lovers both of the foremost kind, [lovers] of wisdom -- among them your lover Aristippus -- and other Thessalians. And in particular, this is the habit to which he has accustomed you all: to answer fearlessly and magnificently whatever anyone would ask, as is fitting of those who know, just as also he offers himself to whoever of the Greeks wishes to ask whatever anyone would wish -- and there is no one he does not answer.

Socrates is not done, but we'll pause here to note the importance of Gorgias. Is Gorgias's influence a good one? Perhaps not, though his reputation as one who answers any question posed to him is demonstrated in Plato's dialogue, Gorgias.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Meno 70a

Here begins my translation of Plato's Meno. (I will go back at some time and pick up my translation of the Republic.)

Meno: Can you tell me, Socrates, whether virtue is taught, or not taught but had by practice, or -- neither had by practice nor learnt -- comes to men by nature or in some other way?

So begins Plato's dialogue on, among other things, teaching and learning.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Some Answers about Fishing at Night

Michael Gilleland has come up with a partial answer to my questions about what fishing at night in ancient Greece was like.

My original posts on this matter are here, here, and here.

Aside: After Dr. Gilleland linked to me, my ranking in the TTLB ecosystem went up to a "Wriggly Worm" and then "Crunchy Crustacean," two fine specimens for fish bait. Coincidence?