Saturday, May 26, 2007

Gut Check for Tigers

UPDATE: Getting swept at home is never a good sign, and after tonight's loss against the Indians, what I said originally seems stronger. The Tigers need to take at least three games against the Indians this weekend to redeem themselves and two games to keep in the fray of the AL Central. It's not the end of the world, though, even if they don't win two since they play eighteen times this year.

ORIGINAL POST: Don't let the Tigers' record or their close second-place standing fool you. They're not a big-time club yet this year. My criterion for this assessment is how they've fared against quality teams. This year, they've played two quality teams: Boston and Cleveland. They've lost three out of four to Boston, and they've just lost two in a row to Cleveland at home. A big test will be tomorrow against Cleveland and then next weekend's four-game jaunt in Jacobs Field. Not winning at least three of their next five games against Cleveland will put a damper on things, and they might fall into company with the Twins at the back of the AL Central. (The Royals don't count in the AL Central standings since they're always in the very back.)

But don't think that my pessimism has reached its limit. The Tigers are doing well for being without Kenny Rogers and Joel Zumaya. And Jim Leyland won't let them stay down too long.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Which Merchant Is Which?

I assigned The Merchant of Venice for one of my classes this spring. Two students made passing comments in their essays that they thought Antonio was the title character. I've always assumed it was Shylock (or, as one student insisted on writing in his essay, "the Shylock").

So that got me thinking about whether the title refers to Antonio or Shylock. And that got me thinking about the titles of Shakespeare's plays in general. It's always difficult to categorize his plays, but their ordering in The Riverside Shakespeare reveals a pattern: With the exception of Troilus and Cressida (and does that play deserve to be called a comedy?), none of the comedies have a proper name in the title. Those titles that refer to someone always have a description (e.g., The Two Gentleman of Verona, The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Taming of the Shrew). But all the tragedies are titled for a particular person (e.g., Hamlet, Othello, King Lear).

(Now, I know that Shakespeare may not have been responsible for titling all his plays, but at least the tradition has settled on this pattern.)

(1) I wonder if there is any significance to this pattern. I can't think of any except that the tragedies are more arresting in their ability to teach the audience. That is, "You don't want to end up like Hamlet, do you?" On the other hand, it's difficult for audiences to take the comedies as having any didactic purpose; I say it's difficult, though I don't think Shakespeare thought of tragedies as more profound than comedy (see the end of Plato's Symposium on tragedy and comedy). Perhaps the eponymous tragic figure makes the title more appropriate.

(2) I still don't know who the merchant of Venice is. I think it's Shylock, and I think the best way to figure it out is to examine the other comedies with titles describing members of the dramatis personae. Since I'm supposed to be writing a dissertation, that extracurricular research will have to wait.

(3) But what will it matter if the merchant of Venice turns out to be Antonio and not Shylock? That seems to be the question to consider moving forward.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Liveblogging Todd Jones's "relief" appearance against the Angels (5/23/07)

Top of ninth, Tigers lead 8-6

Reggie Willits
1: Strike
2: Ball
3: Foul
4: Foul
5: Hit (infield single off Jones's glove)

Orlando Cabrera
1: Ball
2: Ball (some controversy about whether Cabrera swung; it seems he did); Willits steals second
NB: Classic Jones start: Get a runner on second, nobody out.
3: Foul
4: Base hit to left

NB: Still on track for a classic Jones: Nobody out, runners on first and third, now facing the other team's best hitter.

Vladimir Guerrero
1: Foul
2: Hits into double play; run scores

NB: More classic Jones: Give up a run, get two outs.

Gary Matthews, Jr.
1: Ball
2: Flies out to center

As you can see, this outing meets all 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.

Perhaps you can also surmise from this that Jones is the leading cause of anxiety among Tigers' fans.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Using RSS for School (Really)

I discovered that a number of academic journals that I should be keeping up with publish their tables of contents via RSS feeds. I now have a list of about twenty journals in my Bloglines, and I don't have to worry about whether I've missed the latest edition of Mind or Arabic Sciences and Philosophy or The Classical Review. And since I have access to a major university library, all the articles are usually available for me to read online. But you don't have to have a subscription to the online version of the journal in order to get the RSS feeds.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The "Truth Connection" an Excuse to Be Rude?

Andrew at Ratiocination reminds us of Plantinga's defense against de jure objections to Christianity.

Alvin Plantinga distinguishes between de jure and de facto objections to Christian belief. De facto objections say that some Christian doctrine is false, while de jure objections say that some Christian doctrine is inappropriate, irrational, or unjustified. Plantinga also famously argues that a successful de jure objection requires a successful de facto objection. The truth of the matter about Christian belief is linked to its epistemic status in at least the following way: if it’s true than it’s warranted.

Andrew dubs this the "truth connection": if an objection is true, then it is permissible to make it; otherwise, not.

Then he discusses whether the same point can be made in other contexts. For example, some current criticisms of Jerry Falwell's opinions have been decried as improper. Couldn't one think that the de jure objection, "that's improper," depends upon a de facto objection, "what Falwell believed really was false or bad."

But doesn't the context of the objection matter? For it seems there's a healthy place for observing manners and etiquette. If someone is overweight, and I tell them in front of a huge crowd that they need to lose weight, someone should tell me I'm out of line. I don't think it will do for me to say, "Well, that's just a de jure objection, but it's really true that so-and-so needs to lose weight so you ought not tell me that I shouldn't have said that."

Similarly with Falwell. I don't think people are suggesting that Hitchins might not be right about Falwell. The reasonable objection seems to be that what he's saying ought not be said right this very moment.

I take it Plantinga's response to de jure objections doesn't need to take into account contexts like this. He's discussing the rationality and truth of Christianity in abstracto.

Another Difference between Tolkien's and Jackson's LOTR

Matt at Mere Orthodoxy discusses one point on which Peter Jackson's movie version of The Lord of the Rings seems to miss an important point of Tolkien's book. I'd like to suggest another: the cause of the Ents' going to war.

The Ents, one of Tolkien's most original creations, are characterized in the book as being, above all, not hasty. The Entmoot (a council meeting for Ents) at which the Ents decide to go to war takes a long time: at least a couple of days. As Treebeard says, "we are not hasty folk." But the meeting takes such a long time because Treebeard wants to acquaint the other Ents with the facts concerning Saruman. But, says Treebeard, "deciding what to do does not take Ents so long as going over all the facts and events that they have to make up their minds about." In the book, after deliberating for three days, the Ents decide to go to war.

This is in accord with the teaching of Aristotle; he says in the Nicomachean Ethics that "one ought to be quick to do what has been deliberated, but to deliberate slowly" (1142b).

In the movie, as many readers know, the Ents decide at the Entmoot to not go to war. The hobbits then decide, reluctantly, to return home and ask Treebeard to carry them to the edge of the forest. When they come to the edge, they discover that Saruman has destroyed much of the forest, including many trees under Treebeard's care. As a result of this discovery, Treebeard goes into a rage and summons the other Ents to war.

Now, one might claim that three-day meetings between talking, walking trees do not make for good movies. That's probably true. (In this respect, filming the Council of Elrond is much more difficult because there the viewer needs that information.) But I don't see why the movie couldn't have filmed the Entmoot as it did and then stayed true to the Ents' choice as they make it in the book.

One conclusion that may reasonably be drawn from the movie's "adaptation" is that the screenwriters think the decision to go to war cannot be the result of careful deliberation. It must be the result of a hasty action, which itself is done as a result of passion (usually anger).

Or, at least if the screenwriters don't believe this, they believe that audiences will not find the book's version convincing. But that seems to be because modern audiences do not find the method employed by the Ents of the book as a plausible way to make decisions in general. That is, the majority of people make decisions based on an overwhelming feeling. Perhaps acting decisively after careful, lengthy deliberation is too foreign to many moviegoers today.

Aristotle would not be pleased (and, in fact, would not even deign to call what the Ents do in the movie "making a choice," since he thinks that choice requires deliberation).

I don't think it's a stretch to suggest that this particular difference, though in some sense minor, reveals Tolkien's receptiveness to Christian just-war doctrine and the moviemakers' discomfort with that doctrine. Though in this judgment, perhaps I am being too hasty.