Monday, December 10, 2007

Please Show Some Respect and/or Restraint

I keep reading stories about the fact that "Led Zeppelin" played a show last night. People debate whether "Led Zeppelin" still have it or not. There is speculation about whether "Led Zeppelin" will go on tour again.

Excuse me? People, look: Unless John Bonham has come back from the dead to play drums, there is no Led Zeppelin, only "Led Zeppelin." So please stop talking about how great the latest Led Zeppelin show was. No John Bonham = no Led Zeppelin. Do I make myself clear?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

In Which on Rereading Plantinga's Warranted Christian Belief I Find a Description of Myself

From a passage by Alvin Plantinga on the difference between true belief and knowledge:

To see what warrant is, note that not all true beliefs constitute knowledge. You are an ardent Detroit Tigers fan; out of sheer bravado and misplaced loyalty, you believe that they will win the pennant, despite the fact that last year they finished last and during the off season dealt away their best pitcher. As it happens, the Tigers unaccountably do win the pennant, by virtue of an improbably series of amazing flukes. Your belief that they will, obviously, wasn't knowledge; it was more like an incredible lucky guess. (WCB, xi)

WCB was published in 2000, probably written in 1999, and the reference to the Tigers coming in last in the previous season (1998) fits with their 65-97 record and fifth-place AL Central finish that year.

Or, it's possible the passage refers to the god-awful 1996 season (Tigers finish last in everything with a 53-109 record but don't hit the bottom reached by the 2003 team: 43-119). This means that the pitching trade Plantinga refers to could be the one that sent then-closer Gregg Olson to the Astros and brought, you guessed it, Jones (!) to the Tigers.

Needless to say, the Tigers didn't win the pennant in either 1999 or 1997.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Curse of Barry Bonds

John Mark Reynolds pens (types?) an encomium on Brett Farve and the tremendous season the Packers are having. I think what he says is true.

I also cannot help (literally) thinking, "How is Farve able to excel at this point in his career? Is he taking any drugs?"

This suspicion that taints our enjoyment of athletic performance is the curse of Barry Bonds and all athletes who have taken performance-enhancing drugs to extend their productive careers. It isn't only that Bonds harmed himself and broke the rules; the problem is also that his actions continue to make us suspicious, and such suspicion impinges upon my enjoyment of the performance.

Perhaps we should have been more suspicious of outstanding late-career performances in years past. That's not the main point. The main point is that now we are suspicious even in cases where we don't need to be. I think Farve's season is one of those cases. You cannot even avoid suspicion by saying that Farve is an all around good guy who wouldn't take performance-enhancing substances. These days that rings hollow; the sports pages are littered with stories of all around good guys and girls who have been found out.

This is like public preoccupation -- or at least the media's preoccupation -- with homosexuality. As Sheldon Vanauken pointed out, regardless of whether male homosex is right or wrong, one effect of it is to undermine our confidence in genuine male friendship. Today, it's difficult for people to think about a particular male friendship without also suspecting an aspect of homosexuality -- and if we do not suspect, I think that at least the idea intrudes where it should not. For inasmuch as nonsexual friendship is a good, and inasmuch as public preoccupation with homosexuality makes us liable to widespread suspicion about the genuineness of nonsexual friendship, and (almost finished here) inasmuch as suspicion about genuine nonsexual friendship undermines the enjoyment and stability of that friendship (both in particular and in general), to that extent I think public preoccupation with homosexuality is not obviously a good thing.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Gambler's Coming Back, Too

Since Kenny Rogers just signed with the Tigers, they might win the World Series next year, but after that, Jones (!) and Rogers will head to the nursing home.

Another question: Is Scott Boras, Superagent, becoming persona non grata? First A-Rod negotiates without him; then Rogers fires him.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Seven Million Dollar Man

Well, like it or not, and I still can't decide, Jones is back. He's the Seven Million Dollar Man. Is this what Dave Dombrowski sounded like in the meeting when they decided to resign Jones?

Todd Jones, "relief" pitcher. A career barely alive. Gentleman, we can rebuild him, and by "rebuild" I mean "keep him around until Zumaya recovers from surgery." We have the technology, and by "technology" I mean "tubs of BenGay ointment." We have the capability to build the world's first "relief" pitcher, and by "'relief' pitcher' I mean someone who will give our fans ulcers. Todd Jones will be that man. (Note that that's NOT to say that Todd Jones will be THE man.) Better than he was before, by which I mean that he's been watching videos on how to throw a curveball. Better. Stronger. Faster (you know, his fastball will now exceed 85 mph).

Shoot me now.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A Fourth

A fourth point about the Tigers:

(4) Joel Zumaya will be out until at least the middle of next season. He hurt his throwing shoulder preparing to evacuate his Southern California home during the recent fires. This makes the Tigers' bullpen decisions even tougher, especially if Jones (!) leaves. Whoever started that wildfire has now incurred the wrath of Tigers fans everywhere. Also, whoever started that wildfire was a moron, an evil moron. (Unless it was started by natural causes, in which case one could argue that God caused the wildfire, and I gather it's not usually good for one's health to accuse God of being an evil moron.)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tigers Update

Three things of note for the Tigers.

(1) As most people know, Detroit signed Renteria from Atlanta because Guillen moved from short to first after Casey was let go.

(2) Jones (!) files for free agency. On the one hand, I won't be sad if Jones goes somewhere else. On the other hand, what will I blog about if he does?

(3) Schilling lists Detroit as one of the teams he's willing to sign with if the Sox don't want him back. Schilling would be a good one-year replacement for Kenny Rogers if he decides to retire. (As of this posting, Rogers had not made a decision about that.)

We now return to the regular (but not necessarily scheduled) blog silence.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Not All Evolutionistary Athiests Like Dawkins Either

A friend recently sent me a really interesting article by Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia, Moral Psycology and the Misunderstanding of Religion.

Not being a social psychologist, and so approaching Haidt with little to no baggage, I've found his ideas to be quite interesting, and the points he is currently trying to win in the public forum to be somewhat alligned with my own.

In this article one of his goals is to take people like Richard Dawkins out of the current debate on how morality and religion fit/don't fit into evolutionary theory. I'd rather talk with Haidt than Dawkins. With Dawkins, you are forced into proving religion isn't a gene mutation gone bad, which is certainely possible to do, but you really end up debating his premises, and when you win you've accomplished nothing productive. With Haidt--whose premise is: secular western liberals have only two moral categories, whereas conservatives and basically the rest of human society circa all time have at least five--you can argue over the conclusion: whether or not secular liberals are therefore the pinnacle of evolutionary development, or are they the evolutionary blip. This is a conversation that I do want to have. Thus, the end of this NYT article, you have Haidt basically saying "if secular liberals take over our society we're in real trouble." (Obviously he also thinks the opposite is true.) Note also, that in Haidt's own article, he is using his system to point out that Dawkins and friends are using non-scientific, not exclusively "scientific" thinking systems, to point out problems with religion, but rather are relying on the other three moral categories Haidt identifies as traditional/conservative intuition. Very clever, funny and true.

Another interesting idea Haidt has: change the categories on the debate about the role of that "gut reaction" in moral thinking. For instance, the old survey where people are confronted with two piles of laundry and have to make an instant decision about which they prefer and are "proven" to use emotive reactions over reason/cognition, is shown to be falsely construed. With Haidt's categories he gets to say, because moral cognition encompasses more than reasoned altruism and fairness, its still moral thinking to have a gut reaction to people having sex in the middle of the street and to base your decision upon that reaction--he is putting moral impulses like that in the realm of "intuition" and so saying, look, they are reasonable too.

He also has the sense to pick his head out of the petri dish and make broad, reasonable suggestions based on general, common sense observations to his fellow evolutionary athiests such as this:
"Atheists may have many other virtues, but on one of the least controversial and most objective measures of moral behavior -- giving time, money and blood to help strangers in need -- religious people appear to be morally superior to secular folk."

As well as this:

"... surveys have long shown that religious believers in the United States are happier, healthier, longer-lived, and more generous to charity and to each other than are secular people. Most of these effects have been documented in Europe too. If you believe that morality is about happiness and suffering, then I think you are obligated to take a close look at the way religious people actually live and ask what they are doing right."

I'm not going to be sending Haidt donations or anything, but I think he's trying to change the conversation in really interesting ways, I appreciate his fairness and level headedness, and I hope he becomes widely accepted enough to be an important part of the public debate on religion for a while.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

A Wind in the Door takes L'Engle

The genius of Madeleine L'Engle's Time series was the combination of the most homely and ordinary things with something totally unlooked for, fascinating, unsettling, and somewhat wierd. The illustrative image is Mrs. Murry interrupting experiments to cook spaghetti for Meg and Charles Wallace and the Twins over the bunson burner and discuss school as every mom and kid do; or, well, the first line of A Wind in the Door: "There are dragons in the twins' vegetable garden," who actually turn out to be much more than dragons.

What perhaps does not get said often enough about her, and many other remarkable 'children's authors', is that she wrote very, very well. I refer you to Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, 16. Use definite, specific, concrete language. "... the surest way to arouse and hold the reader's attention is by being specific, definite, and concrete. ... the significant details are given, and with such accuracy and vigor that readers, in imagination, can project themselves into the scene."

"... It was a still, chill pre-dawn. The grass was white with spider web tracings of dew and light frost. A thin vapor moved delicately across the lawn. The mountains were curtained by ground fog, although in the sky she could see stars." (Square Fish, 2007 reprint, Wind,p. 85).

The mountains were curtained by ground fog ... a perfect, memorable phrase of a vision that someone like me would have obscured with "... were so covered in fog it was as though they were draped in heavy curtains." [1]

L'Engle pushes a deep theology of love and mercy in a scientific mysticism, to a degree that I would not quite personally endorse, but it equipped her to embed piercing Christian truths in the midst of fantastic stories. Meg's challenge in Wind is to look at Mr. Jenkins (her principal) and name the true him simply based on her ability to know, and thus love, the real Mr. Jenkins. In the six months since I read the story, these scenes have stuck with me as I try to know and name those around me, especially those who are not exactly my favorite friends. Who are they, really; and how does Christ know them? Because knowing, naming someone is loving them sacrificially, for who they are -- its Christ on the cross saying, "... they know not ...". See, you know she gets it when every time you look up you see Jesus.

I say "she gets" in the present because despite the immediate loss, I trust that Madeleine L'Engle is singing the eternal song in company with the Cherubim, her feathered dragons.

[1] "One time a woman handed me a story she had written about her rather interesting childhood, a kid's story. I read it and said, "It's very interesting. But now I'd like you to rewrite it-only not for children this time. Write it for the people here in this group." She gave it to me the next morning. I told her, "That's how you write for children-not the way you first handed it to me." People think they need to write differently when they write for children. But they don't." (

Monday, September 03, 2007

Sign of the Times

August. That month in which the baseballwheat is separated from the baseballchaff, leaving a few interesting teams that could-just-get-it-together-in-time (see: Tigers, Detroit).

The Other Favorite AL Central Team of the Bourgeois Burglars (see: Twins, Minnesota) has both less hope to pull it together (at 69-68), and less to pull together anyway. This is, in general, ok with yours truly. The Twins have made it to the playoffs four of the last six years (counting this one), and though they always seem to get derailed by America's Favorite Team (The Yankees), the Kansas City Royals are a good reminder of how sweet it is to root for a perennial competitor.

On the other hand, it is hard to let go of that playoff rush, once experienced. You know its truly over when your team's website offers video highlights titled, not: "Stunning late inning comeback lifts Twins over reeling Yankees" or "Santana dominates Angels, striking out 15" but rather: "The Twins use small ball to get a run home Sunday Afternoon." Note, that we were playing the Kansas City Royals.

A couple weeks after the all star break,'s resident stathead, Rob Neyer, commented on how high he had ranked the Twins and how lowly they have performed (can't find the link) saying: "I did not conceive of how poorly their lineup would be managed." This was not Neyer coping out, it is something that Twins fans have been whining about increasingly all season long. The banner player for this phenomenon has been Nick Punto, the banner incident his multiple pop-up bunt attempts.

For documentary evidence of how pathetic a season Mr. Punto has had (and I wish him no ill, he is by all reports a fine, well-liked, hard working fellow ... just not a good major league infielder) the statistically WORST SEASON of all major league batters. The best measure of his performance is the new-fangled (not really) stat VORP (Value Over Replacement Player). The very basic definition of VORP explains that this is a calculation of "the number of runs contributed beyond what a replacement-level player at the same position would contribute if given the same percentage of team plate appearances. VORP scores do not consider the quality of a player's defense." Alex Rodriquez leads all major league batters with something ridiculous like an 82. Tori Hunter leads all Twins with a very respectable 39.2.

Mr. Punto, with his 128 games played and 467 plate appearances, leads all major leaguers with the line of -26.3. That means that Mr. Punto has taken away over 26 runs on the season that an absolutely league-average replacement level guy would not (see Jose Valentin, 2b, NY Mets). Punto is famed for his defense (which is, admittedly, very good and sometimes incredibly spectacular), but despite what Kelly Theiser argues in this article, even if you are Ozzie Smith you can't make up that many offensive miscues and bat .199. Seriously. Mr. Gardenhire, please stop putting Mr. Punto in the lineup.

In short, see you next season. Over the next month, Twins fans will enjoy previews of the incredible pitching rotation that is shaping up for next year, wring their hands at the idea of who will replace Hunter in CF now that he seems to be planning on hitting the big time free agent market, and hope God drops a decent Third Baseman into our laps.

Oh, and Go Tigers (Do you want to borrow a closer? We apparently have two, again, despite what this says).

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Classic Jones Gone Bad

Bottom of the ninth, Tigers up 7-5 against Oakland, at Oakland. They could pull even with Seattle in the wild-card race if they win; and they'd be 4.5 back from Cleveland in the AL Central. Note that Brandon Inge stranded a runner on third in the top of the ninth.

Strike, foul, foul, foul, line drive to right.

Ball, foul, homerun.

Game tied, 7-7. This is a Classic Jones gone bad.

Strike, strike, foul, single to center.

Ball, ball, foul, ball, ball, walk.

Ball, ball (Wild pitch! Runners go to second and third!), ball, ball, intentional walk.

Note that the bases are, how you say, loaded, and that there are no outs.

Piazza (the clean up hitter):
Strike, ground ball to short, double play (short to home to first).

Two outs, men on second and third.

Strike, ball, ball, ball, fly out to center.

Blah, blah, blah, Tigers lose in ten innings. Read this on Jones. Review the classic Jones criteria for homework.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Where is America?

As a foreign-raised American I am constantly perplexed by the different images of "What is America" that people propose and use as premises for heated debate. For instance, Rural America is that ideal where an overalled straw chewing farmer is sitting atop a John Deere tractor; Melting Pot America whose characteristic image is a black and white photo of a little Polish woman at Ellis Island; Hollywood America where good guys always win with glitz, glamour, and a good line (even if the 'good guys' are increasingly adulterous toadies); America the Brand Name where we are Starbucks and McDonalds; America the Fanatical where we are a crazed Red Sox/Raider/Lakers Nation; America the Chosen Land where a democratic republic and/or protestant Christianity and/or the Right to Self Determination are God's gift to the earth; and on and on. Which are we?

It is interesting to see the relationship between an American's core conception and how it informs political (as well as economic, religious, social, etc.) views: I live around a lot of Melting Pot Americans who believe America is about doing Yoga, lunch at PF Chang's, dancing at local Pow-Wow, sipping an afternoon cappuccino, attending public lecture on Post-Colonial Post-Structural interpretations of Melkite chronicles in Syriac and then heading to a local Taqueria with live Mariachi. These tend to unilaterally oppose the Rural-Americites on principle (I cannot count the number of times I have overheard comments dripping with hate about "Bush Country"). If you think "America" is really about being a multicultural melting pot of hip-ness, an area of racial hegemony (which of course means white folk) is simply not really American.

So, I was intrigued by an article in this week's Economist about Cerritos, CA (Los Angeles County):

... Such single mindedness [referencing a 96% approval of the state of City-run public services] is particularly striking given the city's diversity. In 1980 whites comprised more than half of the population. These days Asians do (and a very diverse lot they are, too -- see chart below). ... Yet the newcomers have not formed ghettos. The last census showed that whites and Asians were more intermixed in Cerritos than in all but 16 other American cities. Whites were even more mized up with blacks and Hispanics.

So, granted this is not by any means a perfect cross section of American races -- but overall (factoring issues other than race) its a pretty good representation of Suburban America; which is a lot of America. Does Suburbia have a popular culture image? If anything it is either malls and parking lots or inexplicable Columbine-violence and Rage-Against-the Machine disconnectedness. Peaceful, truly international, racial integration in a middle class suburban city; but it runs car dealerships and voted for George W. Bush; but it roots for the Dodgers.

Perhaps the fact that there is no easy stereotype for these, the-most-of-us, no easy free-throw to buy political capital, no defining image that captures the media life of this demographic, is proof of the fact that this is where the most of America is living, apparently unconcerned with its lack of profile, and probably laughing along with the Economist's ironic summation: "bland, car-oriented and suburban". America, know thyself.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Another Jones Relief [sic] Appearance

I haven't live-blogged Jones (!) in a while, but tonight against the Indians the perfect situation for a classic Jones is in place. The Tigers are tied for first with Cleveland; the game is in Cleveland. After scoring four runs in the top of the tenth inning, Jones comes on with a four-run lead. The score is 6-2. (Having a lead of more than one run is crucial for ensuring the possibility of classic Jones.)

Jason Michaels:

Michaels goes to second on a wild pitch.

Casey Blake:

NB: Runners on first and second, no outs. Looking good for a classic Jones.

Grady Sizemore:
Grounds out to first.

NB: Runners advance to second and third, one out.

Victor Martinez (clean-up hitter):

Travis Hafner:
Grounds out to short.

Game over. Tigers win and are now in first place by one game.

Let's recap the necessary and sufficient conditions for a classic Jones.

1. Jones must come on with more than a one-run lead so that he can give up at least one run.
2. Jones must get runners on the bases early from a fluke hit or error.
3. Jones must face one of the other team's top hitters.
4. Jones must benefit from a solid defensive play.
5. Jones must give up a run (often in exchange for an out or two).
6. Jones must let the other team hit into the final out; the motive here seems to be to avoid striking anyone out.

This game meets half of the first condition. Jones comes on with more than a one-run lead, but doesn't give up any runs.
The second condition is met, I think, by the wild pitch. Though Michaels didn't reach base on this error, he did get into scoring position because of it.
The third condition is obviously met since Jones faced the first five batters in the lineup.
The fourth condition was met by the solid infield play.
The fifth condition was not met.
The sixth condition was.

All in all, this almost warrants the label "classic Jones," but not quite.

I close this with a proclamation from MKR Mouse on Jones; let's call it Ave Jonesum: "Hail Todd Jones. May your skills in a brilliant career of comedy never diminish, and may you never come to my team. Amen."

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Next Two Weeks Are Make-Or-Break for Tigers

In the next two weeks, the Tigers play five games (three at home) against second-place Cleveland and eight (!) (four at home) games against the Yankees. What a tough spell. Here's hoping the Tigers can put the hurt on the Yanks and give cheer to worried Sox fans everywhere.

Zumaya and Miller might return to the pitching staff as early as next Tuesday. The Gambler should return shortly, too. All good news.

Also, I hear things about this game called "professional football" (not sure if I'm spelling that right) starting up again soon. I'm sure we could do without that.

And now, we return to our regularly scheduled reading of Boring Articles on Aristotle . . . .

Sunday, August 05, 2007

"We'd Like to Thank the Minnesota Twins . . ."

That's how the Tigers should begin their celebration when they win the AL Central. When you lose nine of your last ten games, you should be more than a half game back of the division leaders. But the Twins have been keeping the Indians in check by winning a number of one-run games.

Here's hoping the Leyland magic will kick in soon, or it could be the Twins at the end of the year saying, "We'd like to thank the Tigers for tanking royally in the second half of the season."

Friday, August 03, 2007

What Color Goes Best with "Overpaid"?

Detroit Tiger Neifi "Paintjob" Perez has tested positive for an illegal stimulant for a third time this season. Perez's stats for the season: .172 batting average, one homerun, 64 RBIs. Not sure what could stimulate that kind of performance.

Perez earned the nickname "Paintjob" from some fans because the Tigers could have used the money they spent on his contract ($2.5 million) to repaint Comerica Park. Since Perez has now forfeited almost half of his salary, maybe we could get that paintjob after all.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Tigers Get Destroyed in SoCal

Went to see the Tigers and Angels game tonight. I thought that since they'd gotten clobbered the first two games, and since Bonderman was pitching, that they'd probably pull this one out. Wrong. They got clobbered again (13-4), and in the worst way. The game was over by the second inning and completely out of reach by the third inning. Bonderman lasted only two and one-third innings. Then Leyland, understandably, pulled Ordonez, Guillen, and Polanco from the game. So essentially I watched the subs play six innings. I did get to see Jones (!) pitch an inning. Not a classic Jones situation, but always fun to watch him work.

The game started at 5:00, which is now my favorite start time for baseball games. It's not too hot, and you're out of the stadium by 8:30.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Thoughts on a Moral Issue in Harry Potter

I posted a response to one of the many questions asked by John Granger on his website. Since it's got spoilers for book 7 (and book 6, too), I'll just post the link to my comment. Follow the link only if you've finished book 7 or you don't care about finding out what happens at the end of book 7.

UPDATE: I've added another comment to the discussion.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Movies: Love, Emotions and The Honorable Thing

In which I have difficulty handling the Dynamic Between Cinematography and Script in a film as good as Casablanca (1942)

I’m not going to pretend that I have anything really innovative to say about this classic film of classic films, so I am going to dialogue with one of the dozens of useful reviews available online, this one by James Berardinelli )—the comments in his review represent what I found to be pretty standard views on the film (Berardinelli in red).

Being impressionable, I was absolutely floored by the cinematic craft in this film (see this image ) Best Years was clever and meaningful and thoughtful, Casablanca is rapturous and breathtaking, and especially so in black and white. Thus:

… while it's fascinating to examine and dissect all that went into the making of Casablanca, the greatest pleasure anyone can derive from this movie comes through simply watching it. …

and therein lies the problem … or rather the lesson I learned about film: these pleasures are a part, not all, of the story being told. The famous romantic triangle in the film involves Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, who had an affair in Paris when Bergman believed her husband, portrayed by Paul Henreid, was dead. Bergman leaves Bogart (without explaining) on a train platform in the rain with a penned note slowly washing away when she discovers Henreid’s character is still alive, until they all accidentally meet in Casablanca (French N. Africa) …

… When the two see each other, sparks fly, and memories of an enchanted time in Paris come flooding back. Bogart and Bergman. When anyone mentions Casablanca, these are the two names that come to mind. The actors are both so perfectly cast, and create such a palpable level of romantic tension, that it's impossible to envision anyone else in their parts (and inconceivable to consider that they possibly weren't the producer's first choices). Bogart is at his best here as the tough cynic who hides a broken heart beneath a fractured layer of sarcasm. Ilsa's [Bergman’s] arrival in Casablanca rips open the fissures in Rick's [Bogart’s] shield, revealing a complex personality that demands Bogart's full range of acting. As Ilsa, Bergman lights up the screen. What man in the audience wouldn't give up everything to run away with her?

Visually, emotionally, the movie drew me into the love relationship between these two. The strength of that portrayal is what continues to draw viewers, and what everyone walks away with. But as the movie finished I was completely caught off guard: what was the script trying to say about them? What is love and what does it mean in this story?

… Less known is Paul Henreid, a romantic lead who was on loan to Warner Brothers for this project. Most viewers know Henreid as "the other guy" in the romantic triangle, and, while his performance isn't on the same level as that of his better-known co-stars, Henreid nevertheless does a respectable job. …

At the very end of the movie, and it’s seventy years old, so I’m not apologizing for spoilers, when Rick/Bogart must decide whether he and Ilsa/Bergman go, or she goes with her husband Laszlo/Henreid (there are only two visas out of Casablanca), he decides against what his heart wants:

—“ Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it … ”
— “No.”
— “… Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life …”.

Bogart does not offer these words ironically, as though he’s trying to convince himself of something he doesn’t believe. We’re supposed to take this as a real, true answer, as the resolution of the plot.

… The themes of valor, sacrifice, and heroism still ring true. …

Yes. But, wasn’t the movie about romantic, overcome those social stipulations and free yourself to commitment, free, passionate love? Or at least, that was what my emotions, directed by the cinematography, were telling me!

I submit that the script, the story, is about Rick/Bogart and Ilsa/Bergman not really loving each other in a way that’s going to “amount to a hill of beans”—to misquote a line—anywhere but in Paris as the Germans march in, and in Casablanca. (Reading through the script later, the importance of the role of Sam the Entertainer stuck out—he’s the only one besides the lovers who understands their relationship at all and he refuses the play that song again because he knows the kind of person Bogart becomes around Bergman is bad for him).

Rick and Ilsa are the defining cinematic portrayal of love. Why? Well, they had that fling … and they have a song … and it was raining in the train station … and she gets all fuzzy whenever he looks at her—I’m not being sarcastic, those are the film techniques that worked on me emotionally, and to an extent they work that way in real life, too. However, when Ilsa asks Rick to think it through for the both of them, he concludes that she has to go with her husband because they love each other in the sort of way that will make someone ditch their Parisian fling on a train station in Paris to go nurse “the other guy” (aka, the husband) who is making her life painful when she could let him bleed to death in a box car and no one would know; how many people care that that is an amazing story, an amazing love?

Rick realizes he and Ilsa have what will last … in Paris and in Casablanca; Ilsa and her husband Laszlo have what will last them for the rest of life, because love—real love—is about sacrifice, not what Rick and Ilsa had in Paris. The script memorializes this in the line: “We’ll always have Paris,” to which in the end I (and I think this was intended) responded, “{Sigh}Yes, Rick, you poor sap, and that’s all you’ll have—that and that song you guys have to keep playing—and it kills us all, but it’s true.”

… the existence of two scripts for the last day of shooting (one version had the ending as filmed; the other, unproduced version kept Rick and Ilsa together) … .

So, they really did, very intentionally, make the choice and I’m not making this up. But, the adulterous relationship is so alluring[1], the characters so compelling, the visual eye candy so enrapturing that it takes a monumental effort to see past all of that and hear what is really being said. To illustrate the point:

If Casablanca was made in today's climate, Rick and Ilsa would escape on the plane after avoiding a hail of gunfire (Rick would probably be doing the two-fisted gun thing that John Woo loves). There would be no beautiful friendship between Louis and Rick. Who knows what would have happened to Victor Laszlo, but he wouldn't have gotten the girl. One of the things that makes Casablanca unique is that it stays true to itself without giving in to commonly held perceptions of crowd-pleasing tactics. [2]

Recalling again Mr. Berardinelli’s comment: “What man in the audience wouldn’t give up everything to run away with her?”

If the cinematic craft entices everyone (or at least the men) to think that, but then in the end Bogart doesn’t run away with her … you get a very powerful demonstration of Bogart’s character that is really difficult for the audience to process – if the audience is visual-ated into really wanting Bogart to run away with Bergman, are they able to be emotional-ated into coming away with great respect and admiration for Bogart’s character and a desire to emulate him, or a suppressed determination to run away with said girl should said opportunity ever present itself?

Other questions: is this a timeless question for the cinematic craft, or a question for the present trends among moviegoers? can cinematic craft, which works us up with so much emotional energy, effectively support the point of a story like Casablanca or is the conflict I am sensing one that has been conditioned in people of my generation because of what we have been led to expect from cinematic love?

Casablanca tells a love story that is truly joyful, though painfully so, where the characters all find a real love—interesting the real-life power of a heterosexual male friendship—and the sort of love that keeps families and marriages going. The danger of the medium is exactly that, as Berardinelli put it, Laszlo-The Husband is known to viewers as “that other guy” because the medium overwhelms the attention and emotions of the viewer. So, not unlike real-life flings, the moviegoer’s senses are so bombarded, the mind so intoxicated, it is no easy task to understand what the story (our conscience) is telling us: to walk away because that kind of love won’t last. Really they don’t, and shouldn’t be thought to, amount to more than a hill of beans, but you’ve got to think to realize it.

Online transcription of the Script

[1] Managed without showing us how they like to have sex and therefore more alluring and romantic.
[2] Though, I think this “now vs. then” thing can, and often is, overdone. For instance, we also recently watched Gene Kelly in American in Paris (also in the top 100 movies) portray exactly this sort of romantic-fling-conquers-all ideal. Really, its Gershwin’s music that makes the movie.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Tag, I'm It

Matt tagged me with this meme.

1. Let others know who tagged you.
2. Players post 8 random facts about themselves.
3. Those who are tagged should post these rules with their 8 facts.
4. Players should tag 8 other people and notify them they have been tagged.

I don't like tagging others, so I'll ignore number 4. Here are random facts about me:

1. I was part of the first team in my high school's history to win the state championship in basketball. (My team isn't listed on this chart, but we won the Division 1 title in 1993-94.) The final game was a bit anticlimatic; we won by thirty points. (It was a combination of a diamond-and-one half-court press, the flex offense, and a two-three match-up zone defense. We also milked the clock like crazy, making the other team play defense for long stretches of time. Do I sound like I'm reliving the glory days?)

2. I am a firm believer in the use of the serial comma.

3. When I worked at Borders Books and Music during grad school, I read the stories for children's storytime on Saturdays. My favorite stories to read were Where the Wild Things Are and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. Also, T. S. Eliot's poems about cats did not go over so well with the kiddies.

4. My cat, Mimo, is named after an outdoor cafe in uptown Whittier.

5. My favorite band is the Jayhawks. My favorite album is Sound of Lies. My favorite song on that album is "Haywire."

6. Growing up, I had subscriptions to Odyssey and Boys' Life magazines.

7. I once talked with Jonathan Lear for twenty minutes about original sin.

8. I remember watching the sixth game of the 1988 NBA championship in a hotel in Toronto with my family. We were on vacation. I remember lying on the waterbed, eating cheese puffs, and watching Isiah play his heart out with a bum ankle.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Why Care About Rome's Fall, Part I

In a vague and ranty comment on a previous post by Burglar I made the following comment:
This is slightly off topic, but I seem to remember reading about some other civilization that saw itself as "a continuation of the Roman Empire with no discernable breaking-off-point in administration, political theory, judicial practice, ruling imperium, economics or culture" and even went so far as to keep calling themselves "Romans" all the way up to the, oh, mid-1400s or something like that ... but darned if I can't remember what we call those guys. Maybe it was the "Dark Empire" or something like that.

The point, as was pointed out, was somewhat overly-obscured in my attempt to be facetious (I'll keep working up to my career as a satirist), but nonetheless one that is important not only for historians, but for those who read the “canon” of Western Great books and care about the story of Western Culture in general—and I hope that covers a large percentage of the avid readership of this blog. On the one hand, the story of Rome’s fall will always be important because of the continuous power of the idea in the life and thought of the West—one can think of Augustine’s City of God (c.413-426) and Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (c. 1776-88) as landmarks on each end of the development and use of the story.

On the other hand, scholars who work on the Byzantine Empire and Late Antiquity have done much work in the last decades (Peter Brown, currently at Princeton, is still the most important person to read on this topic and is quite readable) to show that however powerful and influential this story of the Fall of Rome, as far as understanding the life and times, and especially the political and economic structures, and the worldview and culture of citizens of the Roman Empire around the Mediterranean in the 5th and 6th centuries, it is downright false, and at best unhelpful when presented alone and as fact: my own stance is that it is helpful—necessary!—to present the truths present in each of the stories(Rome fell vs. Rome continued), but all of that is for another post.[1]

Today I came across a paragraph by a well-known Patristics scholar at Univ. of Durham, Andrew Louth, that succinctly and cogently explains the view that has come to be accepted by most scholars, and that should be read at least twice at breakfast each day until it is internalized:

The beginning of the [sixth] century saw Anastasius (491-518) on the imperial throne, ruling an empire that was still thought of as essentially the Roman Empire, coextensive with the world of the Mediterranean, however unrealistic such a view seems to modern historians, who have the benefit of hindsight. Although Anastasius ruled from Constantinople, ‘New Rome,’ over what we call the ‘Eastern Empire’, the Western Empire having been carved up into the ‘barbarian kingdoms’, this perspective is ours, not theirs. Through the conferring of titles in the gift of the emperor, and the purchasing of alliances with the wealth of the Empire—wealth that was to dwarf the monetary resources of the West for centuries to come—the barbarian kings could be regarded as client kings, each acknowledging the suzerainty of the emperor in New Rome, and indeed the barbarian kings were frequently happy to regard themselves in this light. The discontinuation of the series of emperors in the West, with the deposition of Romulus Augstulus in 476, was regarded by very few contemporaries as a significant event: the notion that East and West should each have its own emperor was barely of a century’s standing, and the reality of barbarian military power in the West, manipulated from Constantinople, continued, unaffected by the loss of an ‘emperor’ based in the West.[2]

[1] Note that just about every Medieval survey course you will find starts in 476 with “The Fall of the Roman Empire”. It's not that there aren’t respectable books published by very restectable institutions that still argue for the "old view"—see Bryan Ward-Perkins’ The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (2006) ); they just happen to be flat wrong. The caricature of the prevailing view cited in Ward-Perkins’ synopsis, that “there [was] no crisis at all, but simply a peaceful blending of barbarians into Roman culture, an essentially positive transformation” is a straw man argument which no one is saying. Look for a (brief and mostly rant-free, I promise!) review of this book later in the summer in which I will try to focus on why the current orthodoxy is important to get across to anyone who reads from or teaches the Canon of Great Books.
[2] New Cambridge Medieval History v. I: 500-700, p. 93

A "Post" While on Vacation

From St. Augustine, The City of God, book 11, chapter 25 (trans. Dyson):

. . . the philosophers have wished to divide their discipline into three parts (or, rather, were enabled to see that there is such a threefold division; for they did not invent it, but only discovered it): of which one part is called physical, another logical and the third ethical. . . .

. . . . Plato, however, is said to have been the first to discover and recommend this division, and he saw that only God could be the author of nature, the giver of intelligence and the inspirer of the love by which life is made good and blessed. Also, it is certain that, though opinions differ as to the nature of things, and the method of investigating truth, and the good to which we ough to refer all that we do, it is to these three great and general questions that all the efforts of the philosophers are devoted. Thus, though there is much disagreement as to which view each man ought to take in respect of any of these questions, no one doubts that nature has some cause, science some method, and life some purpose.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

(Don't) Dare to be Indifferent

Sometime in my teens I developed the now well-established habit of reading several books at once. One of the current reasons for this practice is that many of the books I read professionally are the sort that you either skim in an afternoon to get the jist, or are so dry they need to be spread over several days and interrupted with things that are wild and open and free (Aubrey/Maturin is a frequent refuge) to prevent dry rot of the mind.

Another is that reading several (good) books at the same time allows for interesting connections, and sometimes ideas arise from one book that help to explain something from another, however unrelated they may seem.

Today’s example: George MacDonald’s Lilith (1895) and Philip E. Johnson’s The Wedge of Truth (2000).

Johnson’s book is sort of a summary of “where we are at, what we are about, and why we will win” of the Wedge movement. If you are unfamiliar with what this is, Google search and you will find lots of interesting and important things to read. I will do a post of Johnson’s book on its own later this summer. For now, I simply want to point out how Johnson helped to explicate MacDonald’s project.

One of the first things you will find out if you read anything about MacDonald—everyone seems required to make it part of their opening salvo, so why should I break the trend?—is that he was all but forced out of his Congregationalist pastorate in 1853 because he was accused of positing that “with the heathen the time of trial does not cease at their death”—ie., that people can come to salvation in Christ even after they have died.

This view is certainely prevalent in MacDonald’s fantasies, especially because in these texts it is often impossible to tell whether or not MacDonald’s characters have physically died—as we know and understand death—or not. MacDonald believed we were presented with the opportunity to spiritually die all the time, and that these were the meaningful deaths because out of them would come real, true, life. Physical death was only significant insofar as it aided and pointed to a spiritual death and rebirth.

Lilith is entitled for the woman, Lilith who, as queen of a city, has set herself up to oppose Adam (yes, that Adam) who is also Christ, who also happens to be her father (don’t try to figure it out, just go with the flow). She is not quite Satan, but at least an anti-Christ in the sense of being totally and completely opposed to Christ/Adam and devoted to stopping any and all from finding Christ/Adam and doing what he wants for them. Despite all the weird evil nastiness in the book, including Lilith herself who is the queen of Nasty and Evil, they all (!SPOILERS FROM HERE ON!) are led to salvation in the end.

All, that is, except one group of people, and this is what is missed by the people who quote the doctrinal opposition to MacDonald and then move on. They are the “giants,” and are the children who stopped being children. Lona (Queen of the Little Ones—read: “childlike souls”) explains this to Mr. Vane (“a person who is readily changeable or fickle”, the protagonist of the work) in Chapter 13:

“The giants were not made always. … If a Little One doesn’t care, he grows greedy, and then lazy, and then big, and then stupid, and then bad. The dull creatures don’t know that they come from us. Very few of them believe we are anywhere. They say Nonesense!—Look at little Blunty: he is eating one of their apples! He will be the next! Oh! oh! he will soon be big and bad and ugly, and not know it!”

And a bit later …

“The giants have lost themselves … and that is why they never smile. I wonder whether they are not glad because they are bad, or bad because they are not glad. But they can’t be glad when they have no babies! I wonder what bad means, good giant!”

Now, to make the next point I’m going to have to interpret the text a bit, but I trust the reader will allow it, and in any case, I am pretty confident that this is right because it fits (my reasoning for those who have read the text is below).[1] At the end of the text, MacDonald is describing the world reborn in that last and triumphant day. As I stated above, Lilith and practically everyone are (being) saved except …

“We came to the fearful hollow where once had wallowed the monsters of the earth. It was indeed, as I had beheld it in my dream, a lovely lake. I gazed into its pellucid depths. A whirlpool had swept out the soil in which the abortions burrowed, and at the bottom lay visible the whole horrid brood: a dim greenish light pervaded the crystalline water, and revealed every hideous form beneath it. Coiled in spires, folded in layers, knotted on themselves, or “extended long and large,” they weltered on motionless heaps—shapes more fantastic in goulish, blasting dismay, than ever wine-sodden brain of exhausted poet fevered into misbeing … every head the wicked flower that, bursting from an abominable stalk, perfected its evil significance.

“Not one of them moved as we passed. But they were not dead. So long as exist men and women of unwholesome mind, that lake will still be peopled with loathsomenesses.” (Chapter 45)

For MacDonald, even those totally opposed to Christ can, and will, be saved (ie., Lilith). Perhaps because their very stance of opposition to him necessitates that he exists. There are, in his fantasy, however, those who cannot be saved, who have turned off the light, who follow the path of greediness to badness. The path of selfishness to the place of indifference. In the fantastic imagination of MacDonald, indifference is the chief, the unforgivable, damnable sin.[2]

The question that arose for me is: what sort of emphases in Christian salvation led to this view of the world and of Christ’s work? Why, now that we know MacDonald does believe in certain souls really truly damning themselves, is indifference that unforgivable sin? Enter Johnson (emphasis mine of course) [3]:

“… to distinguish between theoretical and practical problems of Christian theology. At the theoretical level, for example, there is the perennial question of whether the existence of evil and suffering can be reconciled with God’s goodness and omnipotence. At the practical level, the Christian traveler wants to know how to overcome evil and bring goodness out of it. … Christian travelers, knowing the reality of sin from within, want rather to know how they can be saved from it.”

MacDonald is writing for a ‘practical’ Christian, the Christian on the path. Non-Christians, Liliths, may be on the wrong path, but they are really on an anti-path which, once they are shown what is what, can be led along that correct path. The point is that they are trying to go somewhere.

MacDonald writes as a traveler, to fellow travelers. Those who are excluded from this audience are those who would rather sit at home in front of the telly and not be bothered at all. And in this context, I think I have to agree with MacDonald that for the Christian traveler with practical concerns it really doesn’t matter when, “with the heathen, their time of trial ceases” so much as it matters how we journey and what we try to say to them, and what we make of our own state of sin, for in the end, God is the singular righteous judge. It ain’t gonna make Aquinas happy, but it may be a bit more helpful day-to-day; a bit more capable of showing what are the effects of sin and why to turn from it, and how to die to self.

So, write it on your inside cover when you next sit down to read MacDonald: “A practical Christian on how to overcome evil, bring goodness out of it, and be saved.” Thanks, Uncle Phil.

Relevant Links:
The Golden Key Website
A brief and cursory summary of George MacDonald’s emphases in his understanding of salvation
Lilith notes by his son and also biographer, Greville (interesting in method of composition—understanding what MacDonald wanted his texts to do to/for the reader)
Questions while reading Lilith (I found some, not all, of these to be helpful)
An essay by Robert Trexler on MacDonald that makes the argument that since CS Lewis redirected people'e attention to him, MacDonald has almost always been read through the lens of the effect he had on Lewis (ironic, then, the pamphlet in which it appears!); also some helpful thoughts on other works about MacDonald; this CSL Society issue also includes a bibliography of GM and images of places he lived.

[1] The argument is that the first valley through which Vane passes parallels the second. In the first you have Mara and her cats, who ward off the ghoulish spirits; in the second you have Lona and her Little Ones, who fight against the Giants. The evidence for their overlap is in the passage about to be cited where MacDonald goes directly from describing the ghouls in the lake to describing the same sort of people—unwholesomenesses—that the Giants are said to have become.

[2] I’m not trying to offer Biblical defense for his theology, but the idea immediately made me think of Revelation 3:15-20 (to Laodicea, last of the seven):
“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”
[3] Who actually is playing with an analogy from J.I. Packer, see page 143-145 of Wedge.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Is That Legal?

Tigers trade pitcher Mike Maroth to the Cardinals. While this answers some questions about who's going to be in the starting rotation now that the Gambler is back (tonight!), the thought of trading a good pitcher to the team that beat you in the World Series is weird.

Also, the Cards GM had this to say about Maroth: "He is an established starter who is going to provide us with innings and help take pressure off of our bullpen. We think the change in leagues will also benefit Mike."

What's that last sentence mean? Two options: (1) Maroth is a good hitter and will now get the chance to swing the bat -- not likely. (2) The hitters in the NL are crappy -- more likely.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

When Achilles Becomes a Soda Jerk

(And then becomes a Real American Hero)

Taking the cue from the incomparable Bourgwife, my wife and I have signed up for a netflix plan and are now faithfully viewing our way through the America’s Top 100 Movies list, attempting to learn how to watch and what to watch for along the way.

I won’t really try to write real reviews or plot summaries—taking my cue from Burglar, I will provide links to people who know how to do that at the end of the post, if you’re unfamiliar with the film perhaps go there first—rather, the focus will be on notes towards film literacy (being able to “read” the film-making techniques correctly) with some forays into meaning and message. I also would like to apologize now for being rambly: I don't really know what I'm doing so it takes me a while to say something.

Take One: The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Film vocab I learned: “Deep Focus Photography”—allowing the director to have the main subject(s) in the foreground, and important action in the background that is still clearly visible [example: when Dana Andrews and Teresa Wright chat at the Drug Store with the owner, on the second floor and far behind them, visibly keeping watch]. “Long takes”—just what it appears to mean, allows the viewer to become intimate with the story as we occupy a stationary observation point. Employed to an extreme in Hitchcock’s Rope to prolong the suspense of fear. “One-camera setup”—going with long takes, the camera can move, but here the director only sets-up-one-camera, taking away the possibility of cutting in for a close face shot, etc.. The cinematographer for this film is Gregg Toland of Citizen Kane fame.

There are a lot of really memorable takes in this film. Director William Wyler (important/famous in the post WWII era) begins this movie on servicemen returning home after the war with the arrivals gate of an airport terminal; the camera is at an angle to the gate; Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) comes out and walks towards camera, at an angle to everyone else (civilians) and the foot traffic patterns in the terminal; walks up to the ticket counter and the airforce captain can’t get a plane ticket home while a plump businessman walks up, slaps down a wad of cash and gets his overweight baggage on board. Function: set up the plot for the arrival home; Message: the servicemen don’t fit, they are at odds with this society, and everything that held their world together in the army means nothing anymore. Emotion: disjointedness (is that an emotion word?).

There are many memorable camera shots: the three male leads flying home in the nose of a bomber, looking out at acres of junked airplanes (“... wish we’d had those in ‘42!”) [note: deep-focus photography]; taxi ride home looking at Boone City through the front window, with the shell-shocked servicemen in the rearview mirror; Dana Andrews finally finding himself while wandering amidst the carcasses of his formerly glorious war stallions (bombers), Fred Derry (Andrews) and Sgt. Stephenson staring at each other in a booth at Butch's Bar while they discuss whether or not Derry is in love with Stephenson's daughter, and what to do about it. There is a moment at the end of the film, however, where Wyler shoots the wedding of one of the men, and he tries to visually wrap up the film just a little bit too quaintly. Every one of the leads is fit into the same shot, all in different physical spaces—quite a technical feat. It is worth pausing the film here and noticing all of the spatial relations and lines of sight, etc., because they are all meaningfully thought out (trying to explain them here, however, would take about a page and I don’t feel like photoshopping a screen shot). However, this is just a little too heady, and for my price of admission, Wyler is getting a little too wrapped up in making it all carry the right meaning and no one stopping him to say, “Wait, Will, it just looks weird now.”

The acting is incredible, as one can expect from anything on this list. One blemish: the first time through, young Rob Stephenson (Michael Hall) really annoyed me because he was extremely awkward. The second time through I decided he was affecting that, and it makes sense to do so (the son and the father don’t understand one another: again the effects of the war, and tantamount to a prophecy from Wyler about the baby boomer generation and post-Korea views of War in America) but Hall went just a little overboard so that it’s one of those moments where the viewer is squirming in his seat – anytime there is a hiccup in suspension of belief someone messed up. On the opposite end, a performance for the ages was given by first-timer Harold Russell (read about it below). Hoagy Carmichael gave the best delivery of the best line in the movie, and Al Stephenson was hilarious on multiple occassions.

One of the most fascinating portrayals for me was of a Stephenson family discussion in the parent’s bedroom [note the setting and use of mirrors], where the adult daughter (Teresa Wright) confesses her desire and intention to “break up that marriage [Dana Andrews and Virginia Mayo]” and commit adultery with Fred. Her father rebukes her (which she accepts!!), and then confronts her desired Fred [D. Andrews] later. But this genuine, believable dramatic depiction, completely void of any shred of irony, of a family that has such conversations—and children who do not regret them but want and need them—floored me. Take that, Foucault.

Message. Overall, Wyler and Producer Samuel Goldwyn do an extremely convincing portrayal of the difficulties and emotional struggles of men who return from war and those who love them; this alone, however, could not have held an audience happily captive for three hours (and you are held a willing captive!). Best Years also presents how the three men came to understand themselves, what they learned from the war, and what they and that knowledge are good for back Home. The solutions are not easy (Virginia Mayo’s “Just get over it, will ya?!” is rejected as a solution, as is Harold Russel’s inclination to brood and internalize, or the anonymous Peace-Monger’s rejection of the reasons for going to war in the first place and blame of the government), but point is that real solutions are there, and they are attainable, and ultimately fulfilling. These are all better men for having come back from war and learning to accept themselves and those around them.

Next time: a shorter post.

Related Links:
On Visuals.
On W. Wyler and G. Toland.
On Harold Russell
On the film’s place in American Film-making (brief)
A Contemporary NYT Review of Nov 22, 1946

On What Can Be Beautiful

Aristotle, in Poetics, says, "the beautiful is in both the magnitude and the arrangement. Wherefore neither the very small should become a beautiful animal (for since the vision [of it] occurs in a nearly unfelt extent of time it is confused) nor should the very large (for the vision [of it] does not happen all at the same time, but the single and whole thing is gone from the vision of those who see it, if, for example, the animal should be a thousand stades long)" (1450b35ff, Thorgerson trans.).

In Plato's Timaeus, Timaeus says that the cosmos is beautiful: it is the "most beautiful of things born" (29a); the god "joined together the all so that he had fashioned a work that would be most beautiful and best in accordance with nature" (30b); and "the god wanted to make it as similar as possible to the most beautiful of things grasped by the intellect" (30d-31a).

Now I take it that the cosmos counts as a very large object. So is Aristotle disagreeing with Plato/Timaeus on this matter?

But there's more. Timaeus says that the four elements (fire, air, water, earth) are "preeminent in beauty" (53e). Naturally, these elements are very, very small (though not the smallest of things). So now Plato/Timaeus seems to also be disagreeing with Aristotle about the possibility that small things can be beautiful.

I'll look in Aristotle's De Caelo to see if he makes similar comments about the universe.

But now I wonder who's right? We might say that pace Aristotle, microorganisms are beautiful. But our saying this depends upon looking at them through a microscope, by which a larger image of the organism appears to us. So is the microorganism beautiful, or just its larger image?

Similarly for the universe. We often say that the universe is beautiful. But don't we just mean that an image (usually a picture) of some region of the universe is beautiful?

Plato's way out: Defend the position that what is most beautiful is not visible.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tempting Fate

Here I tempt the Fates by saying that the Tigers beat the Nationals 15-1 tonight, and had Jones come on in "relief," not even he could have made it interesting.

In related news, I hope today is the beginning of the end for those pretenders in Cleveland. The Tigers are tied with the Tribe for first in the uber-tough AL Central.

Disciple of Jones?

Twins fans hope not. But on last Sunday night, Joe Nathan, Twins closer extroardinaire, did his own very creative impersonation; and, perhaps hoping to make up what was left out of the most recent instance of Classic Jones and emphasized, in a way previously thought impossible at the Major League Level, Classic Jones criteria #2:

1. Jones must come on with more than a one-run lead so that he can give up at least one run.
2. Jones must get runners on the bases early from a fluke hit or error.
3. Jones must face one of the other team's top hitters.
4. Jones must benefit from a solid defensive play.
5. Jones must give up a run (often in exchange for an out or two).
6. Jones must let the other team hit into the final out; the motive here seems to be to avoid striking anyone out.

This was not just any old Jonesy-flukey play: this was a play you quite literally cannot see in any other major league baseball stadium (highlight link under "multimedia"), and probably never will again in the Metrodome ... ever ... again (so we pray).

Top of the ninth inning. The Twins have been slowly blowing a 9-2 lead over the Milwaukee Brewers, and it is now 9-7. Enter Todd Jones with a Joe Nathan mask on.

Batter 1: Prince Fielder steps up, and on a 1-1 count, hits a routine fly ball to center. The substitute center fielder, Lew Ford (Torii Hunter had left the game with a hand bruise), loses the ball in the teflon grey of the indoor stadium's roof. He decides to run around aimlessly looking up. The ball lands about ten feet from where he had started, bounces once, and dies in the synthetic grass. All 6 ft., 260 lbs. of Prince Fielder ... well, he makes it around the bases in time. For a lack of adequate verbage, I give you the Twins' announcers (Dick Such and Bert Blyleven), shell-shocked comments:

"He won't be able to catch his breath until tomorrow."

"He ran the bases like he was on roller skates ... but he got there."

Minnesota still up 9-8

But, no! What is that you say? The Classic Jones theme must continue to develop?

This single play was so incredible, Nathan developed a visible twitch, and continued to throw Jones-esque warm up pitches, just to get things really heated up:

Batter 2: Hall hits a pathetic ground ball bleeder through the right side of the infield.
Batter 3: Estrada liner base hit to right. Runners on 1st and 2nd.
Batter 4: Jenkins base hit to center.

At this point we have: bases loaded for Milwaukee, none out; Nathan 16 pitches thrown. Then, Nathan begins the Classic Jones wind-down.

Batter 5: Graffanino: Strike Out. One out.
Batter 6: Counsel: Short sac fly to center, two out. Hall Scores: Game tied, 9-9. Batter 7: Hart (already had 2 home runs in the game); the count goes to 1-2, the Brewers double steal: Runners at second and third; Hart then strikes out swinging. Inning Over.

So, to sum up the pitching performance ala Jones: Criteria 1 and 2 clearly met. Criteria 3: well, Nathan faced pretty much the whole lineup. 4: no. 5: yes. 6: no. Here, Nathan has difficulty completing the Classic Jones in #'s 4 and 6 because of his propensity to strike batters out, and so does not need the solid defensive play, and is not able to induce a hit-into-final-out. We now realize it cannot be Jones in a Nathan mask, but perhaps Nathan was temporarily hypnotized by the idea of the Classic Jones by watching recent Tiger highlights over and over and over on his cell phone. We can only speculate.

To finish the story, the Twins' reigning AL MVP, Justin Morneau comes up first in the bottom of the ninth, and on the second pitch, parks it in the right field bleachers (see highlight at Morneau's link under "multimedia"), and walks off, 10-9. Twins fans everywhere exchange emails with their Tigers fan friends in commiseration.

Dick Such:"The Twins snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. What might have been the most gripping loss of this season, and they end up on top anyway."

The essence of Classic Jones.

Poetics 1450a

And it is an imitation of action, and especially because of this, of the men acting.

Third, the “thought”.

And this is the ability to say suitable and appropriate things, which indeed, in the case of words [1], is the work of the politician and rhetorician. For the ancients crafted people [2] who spoke politically and moderns, rhetorically. And “character” [3] is the sort of thing which clarifies choice, the sort [of choice] in which a person is not clear whether he choose or flee; wherefore those speeches do not have “character” in which there is nothing at all which the speaker chooses or flees. But “thought” is in those [speeches] that declare how something is or is not, or what it is generally considered [to be].

And fourth, of the things under “language”, is diction. As was said previously, I mean “diction” to be expression through language which, in the case of meter and the case of prose, has the same capability.

And of the remaining matters, song craft is the greatest of the ornamentations[4]; but the persuasive visual element is most unskillful and the least natural to the poetic craft, for tragedy is powerful even without the assembly and the actors, and moreover the skill of the fabricator (or 'costumier') is more authoritative as regards creating of the visuals than the skill of the poetic-crafters.[5]

7. These things having been defined then, after these matters, let us say what sort of arrangement is necessary for the arrangement of the actions, since this is the first and most important element of tragedy.

And it was laid down by us that tragedy is an imitation of a whole and complete action possessing some magnitude; for something is whole and has not magnitude.

And, something whole possesses a beginning, middle and end: and the beginning is that which is not by necessity after something else, after this some other thing comes to be or to become; and the end is that other sort of thing which comes to be after something else either by necessity or as in the majority [of the time], and after this there is nothing else; and the middle is that thing which is after another thing and after it [there are] other things.

It is necessary for the stories to be well arranged, neither happening to begin from wherever nor chancing to end at whatever point, but to express the forms that have been discussed.

Moreover since the beautiful—in respect to both an animal and whatever sort of deed which came together from some [causes]—it is not only necessary to have the arranged things [6], but also the magnanimity possessed not by chance occurance; for the beautiful is in both the magnanimity and the arrangement. Wherefor neither the very small should become a beautiful animal (for since the vision [of it] occurs in a nearly unfelt extent of time it is confused) nor should the very large (for the vision [of it] does not happen all at the same time, but the single and whole thing is gone from the vision of those who see it[7] if for example the animal should be a thousand stades long).

[1] epi (LSJ, A.I.2.f: “in the case of” or A.III.4: “in respect of,” “concerning”) twn logwn
[2] I think this means people in the plays – ie., the “doing” or “acting” men of the first sentence. [3] The LSJ definition of “ηθος” for Aristotle is dramatis persona, so “character” in the sense of drama.
[4] One translation says “enrichments”. The root of the word is the idea of sweetening something.
[5] Ar. is making a negative rhetorical argument: the costumier (for instance) has more say over the visual elements of the play than does the writer of the tragedy, so how can something that our hero, the guy who “synthesizes the plot elements,” has no control over be an essential part of tragedy?
[6] I understand this to mean, essentially, “fate” or “destiny” which Ar. validates in the next phrase—he is contrasting the things that must necessarily happen to someone, and the things that they make happen by their “magnamity” in action.
[7] Making use of the possessive dative; not sure this is correct.

One Way to Learn Greek

The learned Dr. Gilleland informs us of one way to learn Greek. Also be sure to follow the link on "Portrait of a Greek Teacher."

Monday, June 18, 2007

Yet Another Classic Jones!

I commented in a recent post (on a game against the Phillies), "Jones appeared again tonight, but with a four-run lead. And not even he could make that interesting."

How wrong I was. Todd Jones's outing tonight against the Nationals had so many classic Jones moments, but the clincher was the fact that he came in with a four-run lead and did in fact make it interesting. Let's review the criteria for a classic Jones:

1. Jones must come on with more than a one-run lead so that he can give up at least one run.
2. Jones must get runners on the bases early from a fluke hit or error.
3. Jones must face one of the other team's top hitters.
4. Jones must benefit from a solid defensive play.
5. Jones must give up a run (often in exchange for an out or two).
6. Jones must let the other team hit into the final out; the motive here seems to be to avoid striking anyone out.

I'll spare you the details of the game, but tonight's "relief" appearance met the first, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth criteria. Note that the fact that Jones failed to meet the second criteria is not comforting, since the Nationals didn't score on a fluke; instead they pounded the crap out of Jones: they hit a few singles, a double, and a triple. Note also that Jones did get one strikeout, but the last hitter grounded out.

But the fact is that Jones managed to give up three (!) runs in the ninth inning before even recording an out. And I think that makes up for missing the second criteria.

On one hand, watching the Nationals' fans getting excited about their chance at a comeback amused me. Don't they know a classic Jones when they see one? Apparently not. I pitied the fools.

On the other hand, the line between a classic Jones and a classic Jones blowing up in your face is very fine, and one is never (repeat, never) convinced that Jones won't actually choke (as he did against the Indians on June 1).

If the Tigers make the playoffs, and Jones is still their "closer," please just shoot me.

On the good news front, set your VCRs for Kenny Rogers's first start this Friday.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Poetics 1450a

For by story I mean this: the synthesis (putting-together) of the actions; and by characters I mean that according to which we say the ones acting are of a certain sort, and by thought I mean that in which, while speaking, they demonstrate something or declare their opinion. Necessarily, therefore, there are six parts of all tragedy, according to which tragedy is of a certain sort. And these are story, characters, thought, appearances, diction, and poetic song. For two parts are those which they imitate [1], one part is how they imitate, and three parts are what they imitate; and there is nothing in addition to these. By these, therefore, not a few have been used to say that [something is a tragedy] by these forms.[2] For even appearance has all [of tragedy] [3], and in a similar way, character, story, diction, song, and thought.

But the greatest of these is the synthesis (putting-together) of the actions. For tragedy is an imitation not of human beings but of actions and of life.[4] Both happiness and wretchedness are in action and the goal is some action, not a quality. On the one hand, they [human beings?] are of a certain sort according to their characters, but actions [are of a certain sort] according to happiness or the opposite. So they do not act so as to imitate the characters, but they include characters on account of the actions. So as the actions and the story are the goal (telos) of tragedy, the goal is the greatest of all of them. Moreover, without action tragedy could never come to be, but without characters it could come to be. For the tragedies of most of the latest poets are without characters, and generally many poets are such as this: like the painter Zeuxis is to Polygnotus. For Polygnotus is a good painter of character, but the paintings of Zeuxis do not have character. Yet if someone lines up a row of declarations about character, having made them well concerning speech and thought, he does not make that which was the function of the tragedy, but a tragedy, having supplied these things, is lacking less than one having both a story and a synthesis (putting-together) of actions. In addition to these, the greatest thing of tragedy is the parts of the story that lead the soul: reversal and recognition.[5] A sign of this is that those who attempt to make poetry are first able, like nearly all the first poets, to accurately put together the speech and the characters more than the actions. Story, therefore, is the ruling principle and like the soul of tragedy, and the characters are second. (And it is pretty much the same with painting, for if someone smears on the most beautiful colors in heaps it would not give as much pleasure as an outline of an image in black and white.)

[1] I'm not sure what the 3rd plural "they" is referring to.
[2] The text of this sentence is, to use a scholarly phrase, all jacked up (from the Latin, allus jactus upus). The basic sense seems to be that sometimes tragedy is identified with a particular one of its six parts.
[3] This phrase = a.j.u.
[4] Christ's text includes an extra kakodaimonias ("wretchedness") after biou ("life"). A variant excises it. I followed the variant because I wouldn't know what to do with an extra kakodaimonias.
[5] From LSJ, peripeteia = "sudden reversal of circumstances on which the plot in a Tragedy hinges, such as Oedipus' discovery of his parentage"; this passage from Poetics is cited. And anagnwrisis = "recognition," again a technical term in tragedy, and the Poetics is cited (1452a29 and 1454b19).

Friday, June 15, 2007

Good to See

You know what's annoying? At the end of a televised baseball game, when the announcers are describing the best defensive or offensive plays of the game, it's annoying when they ascribe the best play of the game to someone on their team even when there was an obviously better play made by an opposing player. That's annoying.

To watch the Tigers-Phillies game on tonight, I had to watch the feed from Philadelphia. At the end of the game the Phillies announcers gave the best defensive play of the game to Tigers second-baseman, Placido Polanco, for a crazy-good play to throw someone out at first. And then they awarded player of the game to Ivan Rodriguez.

I appreciated the lack of bias. I thought people should know.

Jones appeared again tonight, but with a four-run lead. And not even he could make that interesting.

And now I must finish my Aristotle translation I was "working on" while watching the game.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Husserl on Science

I read recently of a man who enjoyed philosophy until he discovered that every philosophical "truth" was debatable. So he ditched philosophy for science because he thought the scientific method provided the best way of discovering truth. (I suppose science is so good nowadays that its truths aren't even debatable?)

Evidently, this gentleman is not a student of the works of Husserl, who says in The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology:

[Galileo's idea was] remarkable because the hypothesis, in spite of the verification, continues to be and is always a hypothesis; its verification . . . is an endless course of verification. (p. 42)

And later Husserl says,

In geometrical and natural-scientific mathematization . . . we measure the life-world -- the world constantly given to us as actual in our concrete world-life -- for a well-fitting garb of ideas, that of the so-called objectively scientific truths. . . . Mathematics and mathematical science . . . represents the life-world, dresses it up as "objectively actual and true" nature. It is through the garb of ideas that we take for true being what is actually a method . . . . (p. 51)

So, the "obvious" certainty that science holds to is illusory; recalling the opening points about philosophy's alleged ignorance, I say with Husserl that science cannot provide solid answers without first changing the questions. In Husserl's terms, natural science is a method masquerading as something that itself really is true. But how could a method be true? It certainly is an impressive method, but its great impression does not change its nature. More on this later.

Poetics 1449b

For the archon[1] also allowed the comedian a chorus at some late date but they were volunteers. And writers mention crafters (poets) of it (comedy) at the point when this (comedy) already possessed some forms, [2] but who assigned it masks or prologues or a number of actors and any element it has [3] is unknown.

But crafting stories [4] in the beginning came from Sicily, and of those in Athens Krates became the first one who left off the iambic form wholly to craft speeches and stories.

Epic poetry is consistent with tragedy up to the point that it was an imitation by speech with meter of men of substance [5]; but they differ in this respect: by (epic) having the single meter and being narrative, and, morever, in regards to length: on the one hand tragedy especially because it attempts to be under the period of one day or to exceed it just a bit, but epic poetry is without boundary in time and in this respect it differs though at first this was done [6] similarly in tragedies and epics. But in regards to the sections, some of these are (similar) and some particular to tragedy.

Because whoever knows about weighty or trivial tragedy also knows about epics, for the things which epic poetry has belong to tragedy; but the things which tragedy has are not all in epic poetry.

6. We will speak about the mimetic art in hexameter and about the comedic art later.

But concerning tragedy, examining it from the things said so far let us speak about what became the extent of its essence: tragedy, then, is an imitation: of a virtuous action possessing magnanimity in its completion; by means of language sweetened seperately by each of the forms in the parts; and of the men accomplishing the thing, effecting the dissolution of such experiences [7] not through narative (but) through mercy and pity.

With respect to “sweetened language” I mean (language) that has rhythm and harmony and tune; by “the forms separately” I mean that only some things are effected through meter and again other things through song.

And since those men who act craft the imitation, first then, by necessity, some part of tragedy [8] would be the beauty of appearance, then poetic song and diction; for by means of these they craft the imitation.

With respect to “diction” I mean the arrangement of metres, and with respect to “poetic song” the whole apparent sense which it has.

But when the imitation is of an action, and is acted by some people acting, who necessarily are some certain sorts (of people) according to both character and thought—for we say that through these things actions are whatever sorts that they are, and it is by nature that [9] the two causes of actions are thought and character, and people all both hit and miss the mark in respect to these things—indeed the story is the imitation of the action.

[[Note to Burglar: I went past my allotted section but could not find a decent breaking off point—editing of the post is welcome]]

[1] Archon (Plural: Archontes) from the OCD: “In Athens by the 6th century there were nine annually appointed archons … in the bth century BC the archons and in particular the one entitled archon were the most important officials of the Athenian state … in the later 5th and 4th century BC the archons’ duties were particularly religious and judicial … the archon was responsible for a number of religious festivals …”
[2] An awkward sentence to translate literally: the meaning is that by the time we hear about comedians the comedic form already had its basic elements.
[3] Greek is the idiom: “hosa toiouta”
[4] Staying consistent with Burglar: the Greek word is “mythos” ie., myth, which is a problematic concept to translate into English.
[5] mechri + gen = measure or degree: “in so far as; up to the point that”; end of sentence the text has been significantly disputed, I followed R. Kassel, Oxford, 1965: “mechri men tou meta metrou logwi mimesis” because it was the only rendition that made sense to me—which does not necessarily imply it is the correct rendition! Also, I think I have translated “spoudaios” differently every time: here “men of substance” a few sentences down “weighty tragedy”.
[6] poeiw
[7] katharsis twn toioutwn pathematwn. Because Aristotle’s “catharsis” is one of the few ideas from the Classical period that you can mention at a party and not get sent home early, in addition to the above context I offer the reader a summarized dictionary entry for the word:

I. cleansing from guilt or defilement, purification [sense used in Christian texts]; cleansing of the universe by fire, [Zeno and Chrysippus]; cleansing of food by or before cooking.
II. clarification [Epicurus]
III. Medical: clearing off of morbid humours, etc., evacuation, whether natural or by the use of medicines [cf. Galen.17(2).358]; purification of the menses in women, [Hp.Aph.5.60]. Aristotle’s use is understood under this category:
a. τραγῳδία . . δι᾽ ἐλέου καὶ φόβου περαίνουσα τὴν τῶν τοιούτων παθημάτων καθαρ. Aristotle, Poetics1449b28; see also Politics 1341b38.
IV. pruning of trees.
V. winnowing of grain.
VI. clearing of land.

[8] I understand Aristotle to be still discussing tragedy’s essence.
[9] LSJ: phuw: B.II.1: “the pf. and aor. 2 take a pres. sense, to be so and so by nature