Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Father Brown : Chesterton :: Socrates : Plato?

I just read a G.K. Chesterton Father Brown collection for the first time: The Innocence of Father Brown. I was anticipating enjoying it, but I didn't. I mean, they were entertaining enough to keep me occupied for most of a sick day drifting in and out of consciousness, but really I was disappointed.

From a plot perspective, there is a crisis in fiction's requisite suspension of belief: the stories simply cannot all be true. For example, the initially thief, later comrade to Fr. Brown, Flambeau, shows up as the crook in way too many for it to be surprising that Fr. Brown figured him out ... again (Did you not recognize him? What is going on here?). For an innocuous country priest, he shows up in way too many random locations (unless he is really an absentee bishop); his own village is frustratingly undefined and between the stories there are just too many odd people, rich and suspect types around to be likely.

From a character perspective, Fr. Brown is a bit flat and frankly just a little bit annoying probably because he is not amusing (or rarely so); he's just a little bit too 'intuitive' for me: in quotations because often intuitive turns out to be "oh yes, I also happened to read the will which says X, which is the answer." Hmmm, very clever of you, Fr. Brown. He (both Fr. Brown and Chesterton) also plays all of his cards close to his chest -- usually in mysteries you expect to have to guess just one or maybe two random pieces of information to get the game.

So, Fr. Brown is more in the Sherlock Holmes type of loner genius, but he doesn't have any problems and he doesn't have a mysterious past, he's just apparently heard the detailed (meaning exactly how I did it) confessions of every type of criminal, and he is pure, and very philosophic (also kind of obnoxious to me).

In other words, the books are a bit tedious because they present Chesterton's almost apologetic for his take on the Catholic worldview versus the rest. He seems to have been more interested in making points about priests (being "cloistered and pious" doesn't mean they don't know the ways of the world; in fact they know the ways of man more intimately than anyone else because that is their "profession"), in general the Catholic Church's teachings (confession of sins is simultaneously both freedom and a sufficient penance; Catholicism is the worldview of reason; the fundamental thing that must be seen about mankind is that we must look inside and admit that everything is not alright, the church's approach to sin and sinners - confession - gets many more and better results than that of society, etc.), skewering various groups in society for their incompetence, destructiveness, insufficience (socialists, new pagans, English evangelicals, teetotallers, calvinists, etc.), or making a sort of broad moralizing point: as man lives in sin his sins get smaller and smaller (meaning I think more and more personal), and meaner and meaner (meaning more and more vicious).

Through each of his stories he gets across fairly bluntly a related point on one or several of these. Now, I grant this is a point I usually find interesting and most always agree with. What I object to is use of the genre, which caught me by surprise. Perhaps if I pick up a Father Brown collection again, my approach would be to try to read them as Platonic dialogues. The plot is not exactly an accidental happenstance to the philosophy therein, but it is definitely subservient to the point being made, though in the best dialogues the plot is itself also that point. It is as though Chesterton formulated a moral truth to himself and thought, 'now how can I get a Fr. Brown case to exemplify this?' Thus, in their own way these tales are enjoyable, but don't expect the literary delights of Dorothy Sayers.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sunlit Silence

I like to classify poets in my own mind in a couple of ways; or rather, there a few major categories of things that I think poets do, and some do some categories better than others: the best poets in their best poems strike a perfect balance. One set of my categories is "idea" and "music". George Herbert was such a fantastic poet he usually was musical, but I think his poems are more driven by thought/idea. T.S. Eliot is the same; but for both, their best poems cannot be understood without reading them as music, without sounding them. Gerard Manley Hopkins was the paradigm "music" poet -- in many of his poems, I have no idea what he is saying, but I will read them again and again just to hear the birds singing. Another set of categories are the senses -- poets usually focus on a couple of the senses when they create a scene; again with Eliot as an example, I think he focuses on sound and movement, less so on smell and textures, little on sight.

Wendell Berry is one of the easiest to categorize, I think: in my categories he is an "idea" poet and a "sight" poet. Thus at his best he is a good but not great poet; at his worst he is an essayist pressing "enter" every couple words and after a handful of poems you feel as though you've read several philosophy essays, and you can see a lot of birds and trees, but can't hear or smell or feel them very well. For instance what if his poem (left) were just lightly edited with an eye (haha) to its sound (yes, I am making criminal presumptions, but the sound of the last line as he wrote it criminally offends the injunction therein and if he did that intentionally then he is too clever by half and that proves my point anyway):

... Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

Accept what comes from silence.
Of the little words that come
from the silence, like a prayer
prayed back to one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence whence it came.
~from Further Words, "How to be a poet (to remind myself)"

On the other hand, here are some of his poems I have been enjoying, in order of increasing excellence.

"The Future."
For God's sake, be done
with this jabber of "a better world."
What blasphemy! No "futuristic"
twit or child thereof ever
in embodied light will see
a better world than this, though they
foretell inevitably a worse.
Do something! Go cut the weeds
beside the oblivious road. Pick up
the cans and bottles, old tires,
and dead predictions. No future
can be stuffed into this presence
except by being dead. The day is
clear and bright, and overhead
the sun not yet half finished
with his daily praise.
~In a Country Once Forested
{See? Some good lines, but mostly the essayist who presses enter a lot}

When we convene again
to understand the world,
the first speaker will again
point silently out the window
at the hillside in its season,
sunlit, under the snow,
and we will nod silently,
and silently stand and go.
~ Sabbaths 2000
{Now, there is some "sound" here, but mostly this is the marriage of vision and idea with the emphasis still on idea; the next with a more balanced role for vision}

As timely as a river
God's timeless life passes
{though "passes ... passes ... past", I would
prefer "flows ... flows ... through"}
Into this world. It passes
Through bodies, giving life,
And past them, giving death.
The secret fish leaps up
Into the light and is
Again darkened. The sun
Comes from the dark, it lights
The always passing river,
Shines on the great-branched tree,
And goes. Longing and dark,
We are completely filled
With breath of love, in us
Forever incomplete.
~Sabbaths 2000

And finally, Wendell Berry at his very best (which is very good):

"VI. (for Jonathan Williams)"
The yellow-throated warbler, the highest remotest voice
of this place, sings in the tops of the tallest sycamores,
but one day he came twice to the railing of my porch
where I sat at work above the river. He was too close
to see with binoculars. Only the naked eye could take him in,
a bird more beautiful than himself killed and preserved
by the most skilled taxedermist, more beautiful
than any human mind, so small and inexact,
could hope ever to remember. My mind became
beautiful by the sight of him. He had the beauty only
of himself alive in the only moment of his life.
He had upon him like a light the whole
beauty of the living world that never dies.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Panic! Averted.

The title of the article that caused my panic: "Jones Returning as Tigers' 'Pen Coach."

What! How could they bring back Todd Jones to coach their bullpen! Our bullpen is ruined.

Wait. Did that say "Jeff Jones"? Okay.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Only Slightly Disappointed

I just finished reading a book of poems. The poems in the book were not what I expected them to be. I suppose that if a Pottery Barn catalog were converted into a book of poems, the result would be something quite like the book of poems I just finished reading.

Friday, September 05, 2008

I have no idea

The following quote was written about a particular candidate in the upcoming presidential election. I am keeping the author and the candidate in question (if you really want to know, you could google a phrase) to illustrate the point that this comment could be said about any person and their support of any candidate, anywhere. We can only hope that, when the author of this comment read his own article in the paper the day after writing it, in a flash the irony struck him and he chuckled at himself.
This is one of the many points at which narcissism becomes indistinguishable from masochism. Let me put it plainly: If you want someone just like you to be president of the United States, or even vice president, you deserve whatever dysfunctional society you get. You deserve to be poor, to see the environment despoiled, to watch your children receive a fourth-rate education and to suffer as this country wages -- and loses -- both necessary and unnecessary wars.
It is cool that I get to determine the society I will live in based on the simple tell-all inclination of whether I want someone "just like me" to be president or not.

I think, if we were to take the author seriously the choices before all of us are:
1. Live a reprehensible life and wish for someone morally upstanding to take over my government for me because I am busy choosing to be despicable.
2. Live a morally upstanding life and wish for someone who is a moral turd to take over society simply so that I will not deserve the hell that I will thereafter live in.

Further suggestions from the floor are welcome.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


Sometimes what you keep hoping is true, really is.

Jane E. Brody is our heroine.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Reading Lakatos and Plato's "Timeaus" in the Afternoon after Babysitting in the Morning

Insight may be nothing more than guessing --
modestly, courageously -- but still some
questions answer themselves as if divined.
For example,
"Why should we notice the little girl
whose budding humanity -- in full
bloom already -- makes it difficult
to put the cap back on the
juice and easy to love the
cosmos in its all-fangled beauty?"

Sunday, July 27, 2008

End of an Era (a.k.a., Sales of Antacids Will Now Be Falling Off)

No more Jones. It was fun (or something) while it lasted.

The new closer is Fernando Rodney.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Big Talk

In the previous post, I brashly claimed that the Tigers would sweep the Twins in the upcoming series. Well, so far I don't have to eat my words. Tigers take the first game 5-4. What's better: Jones did not make a relief (sic) appearance. Zumaya pitched in the eighth and ninth innings. That saved me a couple antacid tablets.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

When You're Not Playing Very Well . . .

. . . maybe what you need is a good fifteen-game swing through the National League.

The Tigers have gone 7-2 against the NL and now have the Twins in their sights. (Twins are are 1.5 games back of the White Sox; Tigers are 5 games back.)

There's still six more (!) games to go against the NL: Three against St. Louis and three against Colorado, all in Detroit.

Who knows whether the Tigers can keep the same level of play against AL teams. Maybe their current play is like beating up on the practice team and then getting clobbered in the real game.

UPDATE: The Tigers just polished off the Rockies to make their record on this interleague swing 12-3. Next up: A three game sweep of the Twins.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Maybe It's Time to Switch Verbs

From the ESPNSoccernet report on the Euro 2008 game between Turkey and Croatia:

Victory came at a cost as Tuncay Sanli, Arda Turan and Emre Asik will be banned for the semi-final after picking up yellow cards. Nihat Kahveci also appeared to pick up a groin strain.

"Picking up" yellow cards. Maybe that works. But really, Kahveci picked up a groin strain? "Hey, what's this here? Should I pick it up? [Picks it up.] Oh, that wasn't such a good idea."

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tigers Update

In general, I don't like interleague play. One reason is that the Tigers do not have a natural National League rival. I can understand the draw of Yankees-Mets, Dodgers-Angels, or even Marlins-(Devil) Rays. But the closest NL rival the Tigers have is the Reds. Not too awe inspiring.

But this time around the Tigers are playing teams from the NL West. They've been manhandling the Dodgers at Comerica (the benefit of this matchup is that I can catch the games on local radio and television), and then they come out west for games against the Giants and Padres. I'm trying to finagle a way to San Diego to watch one of the games. I've heard great things about Petco Park, but I wouldn't usually be interested in driving down there to see a random game. But the Tigers' series there changes the formula. We'll see what happens.

Before the season opened, I said the Tigers would either win it all or end up somewhere around third place. They've been playing really good baseball of late -- the kind that everyone expected them to play at the beginning of the season -- but will it be too little, too late? Currently, they are eight games back of the White Sox. Having seen the Tigers' play of late, I think they'll make up some ground and end the season over .500. But whether they catch the White Sox is mostly up to the White Sox. If the White Sox crash and burn, and if the Tigers' pitching holds up (which is a medium- to big-sized "if"), and if the Tigers' bats stay moderately hot (i.e., score an average of five runs a game), then they have a shot at least at the wild card (we also need the (Devil) Rays to peter out for the wild-card race).

In short, the hole the Tigers dug for themselves up to this point is too big for them to climb out of without help from other teams. Their destiny is not in their own hands.

P.S. Happy Father's Day, dad!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Fill in the Blankety-Blank-Blank

From Jim Leyland, on the current Tigers situation (i.e., last place). provides the brackets. There are so many it's comical:

"I don't give a [care] what [effect] it has," he said. "When people start making weak excuses in the newspaper, diversionary tactics and [stuff], that rubs me wrong. I don't give a [care] what effect it has. It can't have a bad effect, because we've been as [bad] as you can be. So it can't hurt. I'm not looking for problems here, but I'm a man. I look in the mirror. When I'm [bad], I'm [bad]. And there's a few [players] in that clubhouse right now that are [bad] too. And they need to look in that mirror. Don't look at mine, look at theirs. And don't look at the guy next to them. Look in the mirror yourself. Don't be pointing fingers over here and why we're not doing well. That's all weak [stuff]. Grilli's [stuff], some of that other [stuff] I read in the paper today, that's weak [stuff]. Weak."

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A Good Sports Day in Detroit

The Pistons beat Philadelphia to advance to the next round of the playoffs.

The Red Wings complete their sweep of the Avalanche and move on to the conference finals.

The Tigers complete a three-game sweep of the Yankees.

And since it's the NFL off season, the Lions are unable to mess things up.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

An Ideal Situation, Sort Of

This article highlights the fact that Jones (!) has not had many save opportunities this season. The reason? The Tigers (so far) either blow out the opposition or get blown out by them.

This is an ideal situation for the Tigers and Jones. He's not a high-priced guy, and (despite what the overly casual reader of this blog might conclude) I think he's a fairly good closer. (Note that "fairly good" does not mean "good for one's acid reflux problems.") The trouble will be in those few, important one-run games where the Tigers have to rely on Jones to close the door.

Last night's save against the Yankees exemplifies the current Tigers-Jones relationship. Jones comes on in the ninth. Tigers up by three runs. He walks Matsui, moves him to second on a wild pitch, and then allows him to score by giving up a hit to Giambi. He then gets two ground outs and a strikeout. A Classic Jones if ever there was one. But note that the Classic Jones is less anxiety-inducing this year because the Tigers score more runs. And that's a good thing, sort of.

Of course, who wouldn't want someone like Papelbon in the 'pen instead?

P.S. Is Curtis Granderson amazing? I say yes.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Eye Exam: Timaeus 28a-b

The most difficult test of vision
Is to see that which cannot be seen.
I tell you, and so too will St. Paul,
To look -- There! -- for the unseen thing, which
is not the clear water only seen
through nor the aim of the basilisk
stare now fixed by time’s moving image.

“Tell me:
Better one, two, about the same?
Better three, four, about the same?
Now look at that and tell me what you see.”

“T, O, K, A, T, A, T, A, U, T, A, E, CH, O, N.”

Beautifully done.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Frank Sinatra, Rationalist

Define "rationalist" as one who thinks that the truth of the matter is best arrived at through the use of reason rather than by empirical means.

For example, Plato says that by the mind alone is truth seen (Republic 527e) and that when one tries to distinguish, say, what is big from what is little, "the intellect [is] compelled to see big and little, too, not mixed up together but distinguished, doing the opposite of what sight did" (524c).

Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz stand in this tradition, too. (Probably many others as well: Aristotle, Aquinas, Husserl.)

So does Frank Sinatra. Proof text: "Why not use your mentality, step up, wake up to reality?"

Actually, Cole Porter is the rationalist since he wrote the lyrics. But why not suppose that Frank's cover of the song entails endorsement of its epistemology?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Awesome, Awesomer, Awesomest

Q: You know what's awesome?
A: That the full Greek text of Proclus's commentary on Plato's Timaeus is available online at Google Books.

Q: You know what would be awesomer?
A: If I could read it faster than ten lines per hour.

Q: You know what would be awesomest?
A: If the anonymous commentary on Plato's Theaetetus were also available online.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Brahms on Christian Comfort

The first paragraph of the liner notes says Johannes Brahms’s A German Requiem “may be the most comforting, humane requiem ever written.” What exactly is meant by “humane” is beyond the bounds of inquiry, but “comforting” is certainely borne out by the text. The central, and most moderately paced sections invoke the promise of comfort explicitly: IV. Mäßig bewegt: “Wohl denen, die in deinem Hause wohnen; die loben dich immerdar!” (Well-being to those who dwell in your house; who praise you forever!) and V. Langsam: “Ich will euch trösten, wie einen seine Mutter tröstet.” (I will comfort you, as one’s mother comforts him.)

Identifying the theme, however, is less then half the battle. To say Brahms’s piece is a study in, or a presentation of, comfort begs the question: what does he mean, exactly, by comfort? I will modify this question and ask, what does Brahms have to say to us about Christian Comfort?

The Requiem opens with a text (the texts for the Requiem are all selections from the German Bible) from the Beatitudes: “Selig sind die da Lied tragen; denn sie sollen getröstet werden.” (Blest are those who bear grief, for they shall be comforted.—Matthew 5.4) It is interesting that Brahms begins a requiem with the focus on those who have gathered, on the still-living: you here, you are blessed; because you grieve (for the dead), you will be comforted. In other words, you who have come here, rejoice for you will go back in joy (“kommen mit Freuden”). Fantastic. Thank you Herr Brahms, and I genuinely look forward to a 90 minute exercise that will turn wailing in the streets into armchairs and hot cocoa.

Brahms, however, is not a sentimentalist and hot cocoa does not make an appearance, which is a relief for anyone who was hoping for real life comfort that does not run away from dealing with very real death. The introductory passage above is gramatically parallel to the first and last clauses of the work’s final piece (VII. Feierlich): “Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herren sterben, von nun an. ‘Ja,’ der Geist spricht, ‘daß sie ruhen von ihrer Arbeit; denn ihre Werke folgen ihnen nach.’” (Blessed are the dead … for their works follow after them.) This seems anything but comforting, and instead somewhat haunting for we who have now been forced to think of dying ourselves. Most of us, I believe, would rather our works not follow us into the afterlife, or at least that we would be able to chose the few works that tag along. We are now both a bit pensive about our own impending death, and still agrieved for our friend’s.

The complete text of the final stanza offers a bit more on how Brahms desires to explain comfort: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. ‘Yes,’ the Spirit spake, ‘that they rest from their labor; for their works follow after them.’” Thus, the beginning and end stanzas together offer:
To the Living: Those grieving will be blessed (thanks to their grieving) with comfort.
To the Dead: Those dead in the Lord will gain (thanks to their works) rest.

This final stanza is taken from the Apocalypse of John, chapter 14 where the Lamb and the one hundred and forty four thousand redeemed pure ones are revealed, three angels proclaim, in succession, God’s coming judgment, the fall of Babylon, and the punishment coming for those who enslaved themselves to her. The subsequent verse (14.12) restates two ideas already mentioned in chapters 12 and 13: “Here is the perseverance of the saints (13.10b); here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus (12.17b).” Previously these phrases had referred to the saints martyred by the Beast; now they refer to those same saints who are rendered the pure ones in light of God’s judgment. The point: remember those who were persecuted and killed? Here they are, the ones not tortured but blessed in the end. This is the context of the Requiem’s conclusion, which I will give once more: “Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors for their works follow them.’”

By paralleling these passages (and there are also musical parallels, so it is clear on multiple levels that they are meant to be understood in conjunction), Brahms has emphasized the eschatological context of Matthew’s Beatitudes. I believe that the Beatitudes quite clearly have an eschatological context all on their own, but a parallel with the Apocalypse makes that even more clear. We living will be comforted. But this Christian Comfort that Brahms explicates has an eschatological timeframe: we are to be comforted in Christ’s kingdom, not—at least not fully—at this instant. If the comfort is to come when we dead in Christ shall rise, then we must look at the description of that final time for an explanation of how our grieving will bring about comfort in Christ. In summary, Brahms presents Apocalpyse 14.13 as an explanatory gloss on the promise in Matthew 5.14, probably the most natural passage for a Christian to turn to for comfort, but one that needs explaining.

To expand a bit further, I believe Brahms to be saying several things. The grieving in the Beatitudes is not just any grieving: it is grieving as a labor, a work unto Christ because that is the context of the explanatory gloss of Apocalypse 14.12-13. Even more specifically, one could argue an interpretation that it is grieving for those who are actually martyrs, though I think Brahms intended the idea more for Christians generally. Therefore, the grieving that we do now, for the sake of Christ and in Christ, for anyone who has died, will be one of those very works that follows us through that great and final judgment, and which helps to bring about our heavenly rest: when we possess that final and true comfort. Or, in Brahms’s text: “Sehet mich an: ich habe eine kleine Zeit Mühe und Arbeit gehabt, und habe großen Trost funden.” (Look at me: I have had toil and labor for a little time, and have found great comfort. Ecclesiasticus 51.27)

Christian Comfort, then, is an obedience to Christ here and now that is motivated by an eschatological expectation that our labor is not in vain. Brahms offers that we can take comfort in the knowledge of this relationship, but that the true comfort that is promised in the Beatitudes comes only when we have followed those we mourn into the hereafter, having faithfully obeyed the commands and will of Christ. This idea sends us back once more to the Sermon on the Mount: “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophseied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ Therefore, whoever hears these sayings of Mine and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock …” (Matthew 7.21-24). Christian, take the promise of comfort in grief, says Johannes Brahms, but know that Christian Comfort is a first of all a command; though a command with a promise.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Dr. Gilleland tells us that an aptronym is a "name that suits the nature or occupation of the bearer." I've also seen some good aptronyms at the maverick philosopher's blog.

Now I add my own, from a paper to appear in an upcoming issue of The Philosophical Quarterly, titled "Fixing Perceptual Belief," by Gerald Vision. (I note that the maverick philosopher lists Vision on his list, too, but sans clever title.)

Monday, April 14, 2008

When You Have the Worst Record in Baseball, Maybe What You Need Is a Homestand against the Twins

Sorry Thorgerson, but I couldn't resist.

Tigers win for the third time (!) this season: 11-9 against the Twins.

I missed the game, but this sounds familiar:

Todd Jones almost needed the two-run cushion his teammates gave him, putting two on with two outs before earning his second save. It was the 303rd save of his career to pull into a tie with Doug Jones for 19th on the career list.

UPDATE: Game 2 goes to the Tigers, too. A two-game winning streak! Note also that there appears to have been a classic Jones moment in the ninth: Jones came on with a two-run lead, gave up a triple, got a ground out, gave up an RBI single (to former Tiger Craig Monroe), got a fly out and a strike out.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Five (or Six) by Lewis

John Mark Reynolds has listed the five books by C. S. Lewis that influenced him the most. For what it's worth, here's mine, in order of most influence to least.

(1) The Abolition of Man
Education is always in some way (even a fundamental way) an education of values. The educator cannot escape this fact. Better to own up to it and make the conscious decision for objectivity than to ignore it and be a functional subjectivist.

(2) The Screwtape Letters
The book of Lewis that almost everyone reads first is the one I read last. Still, I was left at the end with a sense of awe at Lewis's ability to describe the human condition in all its twists and turns. And, of course, many parts of it felt like they were written with me in mind.

(3) "Christianity and Culture"
An essay not a book, but nonetheless it has a pithy warning that needs to be kept in mind: "culture is not everyone's read into Jerusalem, and for some it is a road out."

(4) That Hideous Strength
There is so much to think and feel about in this book that it usually overwhelms me when I read it. And when it doesn't overwhelm me, it almost does.

(5) An Experiment in Criticism
For someone who likes to make fine judgments, this book reminded me that for all practical purposes the distinction to make in literature is that between great and everything else.

(6) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
One word: jollification.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

In My Opinion: Timaeus 27d-28a

The bloom of what in every way is and the
almost flash of what comes to be must
always be the most different, must almost

come to be in all ways different.
The flash, born to be seen by the eyes alone;
the bloom, unbegotten, is unseen.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


John Mark Reynolds writes (way down at the end of his post):
I will admit I can get little or nothing out of Menexenus other than Plato making the point that statesmen often make horrifically tedious speeches in the name of patriotism. This is true, but one doubts Plato’s genius was need to demonstrate it.

Hmm. I would have thought the point of the Menexenus is that Socrates can ape the speeches of the politician spectacularly well. And one point of doing it "spectacularly" is that the philosopher does it in such a way that the politician doesn't know he's being mocked; he thinks the philosopher is doing a dull impression of the politician. What he doesn't realize is that the philosopher is giving an accurate impression of the politician, which the politician takes to be dull. The dullness of the politician is due to his neglect of two things: justice and the divine. (Collins and Stauffer make this point in their introduction to their translation of the dialogue.)

Whether this amounts to more than what Reynolds has noticed is an open question.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

0-5, and Now This

This will only make sense if you are both a baseball fan and an "Office" fan.

Over at Bugs and Cranks, someone put together a list comparing MLB teams and "Office" characters. There's some funny points, but the painful bit is that Tigers = Andy Bernard. Andy!? Oh, man, that's not a good sign.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Dear Tigers,

In case you hadn't noticed, you just got swept by the Royals, and your potent offense scored a grand total of five runs during the series. Also, Granderson, Sheffield, and Cabrera are already hurt.

The Pessimist

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Pessimism or Reality Check?

I figured it was time to make my prediction for the Tigers this year. I admit to being of two minds.

On the one hand, I agree with the experts at ESPN who have picked the Tigers to win the whole kit and kaboodle.

On the other hand, I can't ignore the adage that good pitching beats good hitting every time. And consideration of said adage leads me to think that the Tigers will finish in third place in the AL Central and completely miss the playoffs.

Why so pessimistic you ask? Think about all the things that need to go right with the pitching. Whom do we know besides Verlander who can pitch reliably? No one. Sure, it's possible that Rogers and Robertson could have a year like they had in 2006, Willis could turn his numbers around from his last few seasons, Bonderman could recover from whatever was wrong with him at the end of last season, Zumaya could be back on the team by the All-Star break (haven't we heard that before, though?), and Jones ekes out forty saves by getting hitters to ground- and pop-out.

But it's equally likely that Rogers is over the hill, Robertson has another ho-hum season, Willis continues his slide, Bonderman doesn't recover from what ails him, Zumaya doesn't return until mid-August, and Jones blows just as many saves as he makes good on.

My point is that that's a lot of ifs on the pitching side of things.

The worst case is that my pessimism turns out to be well-founded and that results in the removal of Leyland and Dombrowski because they did so poorly with a team that "should have won it all."

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Book

I'm reading Aristotle East and West: Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom by David Bradshaw. I'm only a few pages in, but these sentences made me chuckle:

It is only by seeing both the eastern and western traditions as developments out of a shared heritage in classical metaphysics that they can be properly understood. Doing so also has the benefit of shifting the focus of comparison from questions of dogma and ecclesiology to questions of fundamental metaphysics. (p. xii)

I chuckled at his statement that our understanding of what divides the traditions will be benefited by a shift to "questions of fundamental metaphysics." It's not that I think what he says is false, just that I don't see how fundamental metaphysical questions are any more tractable than those of dogma and ecclesiology.

Menu: Timaeus 27a-b

For the first course:
a mix of
on the cosmos,
and everything
else, prepared
by our best

The second course
(eaten first),
is an ideal
blend of justice
and the good
on a Bed of

The third course,
which can't be
finished, makes
men of us all.

Don't forget
to say grace.

Friday, March 28, 2008

In Which on Reading a Passage from the Republic I Get Teary-eyed

The passage in question is 608d. Here is Bloom's translation:

"Haven't you perceived," I said, "that our soul is immortal and is never destroyed?"

And he looked me in the face with wonder and said, "No, by Zeus, I haven't. Can you say that?"

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Atlantis: Timaeus 20c–26e

Truth is strange, not just stranger than fiction,
But a good story is a goodly store
Of truth when heard from a friend of a friend.
A good story—beginning, middle, end—
Makes philosophers kings, but no rhetor
Here looks so good and speaks with a diction
Sufficient to get around the truth of
The matter: Only in the olden days
Were men so good with laws to make stories
Out of them. One of Numenor’s glories,
So the myth goes, taught that he who obeys
Pleases the gods and those whom the gods love.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

How Not to Start a Party: Timaeus 17a–20c

When one of us misses the feast, the others must pick up the slack in proportion and fill in what’s now left out. When one of us happens to miss, I’m sure the guest host says to himself, “Well, now, this is awkward.” And the reputable etiquette guides all counsel never to count on proportions turning out the way we know they should. But how one could know all this at the beginning, is not easy for two or three to say.

“Did you all remember your assignments?” is not what I want to hear at a party. And then, afterward, my friend asks, “What kind of party was it, anyway?” But there I was, the life of it. If I were someone else, I’d want to shoot myself for that.

When the conversation turns to politics: We all know what the etiquette guides say about that (even the disreputable ones agree): “Subtly turn the conversation to something more suitable.” Are there any good movies you’d like to see? A war movie? My, I didn’t think you were into those sorts of things.

(Take my advice: A languishing party, like a sleeping tiger at the zoo—not the sort of thing to engender much enthusiasm. Best at that point to start drinking or leave. Whatever happens next, won’t be worth remembering.)

An Occasional Series

I'm going to start an occasional series of poems inspired by Plato's Timaeus. The first entry follows. (Caveat lector: No one said it will be good poetry.)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Jones Watch 2008

This doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

The Tigers closer pitched a perfect inning against a major league club for the first time this spring Thursday, lowering his ERA from 24.55 to 19.29.
. . . .
In his one inning against the Braves, he got two pop outs and a ground out.

Let's see: two pop outs and a ground out. That's exactly what I want in a closer. Strike outs? Overrated.

Monday, March 10, 2008


In his (in)famous article, "The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits," Milton Friedman argues that businesses are not the sort of thing that can have responsibilities. Only people, says Friedman, have responsibilities.

But why not say that he's got it backwards? One should reason that since people have responsibilities and since businesses are (at least partially) composed of people that businesses have responsibilities, too.

Or at the very least, Friedman should give us an argument that the reasoning should run in the direction he says it does and not the other way around. But he doesn't.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

A Post! A Very Palpable Post!

Now that spring training is under way, there's something to live for again.

Anyway, the Tigers held a charity auction in which the winner gets to sit in the dugout with Tigers manager Jim Leyland during a spring training game and make managerial decisions. The winner, one Steve Nagengast, said he didn't think he knew enough about baseball to make it as a big-league manager. Leyland replied that Nagengast shouldn't be too hard on himself since the media think anyone can do the job. The kicker:

Leyland, a longtime smoker, then added he'd probably have Nagengast chain-smoking by the third inning. "If you want to be the real Jim Leyland," Leyland said, "you better bring a carton of Marlboros."

Cover the children's ears lest they start puffing away trying to be the real Jim Leyland! I'm sure Leyland got a call from the commissioner's office for that comment.

But we can have some fun with this formula: "If you want to be the real _________, you better bring _________."

I'll go first with an obvious one: If you want to be the real Roger Clemens, you better bring a good supply of needles.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Kelly tagged me.

(1) One book that changed your life. Plato's Timaeus
(2) One book that you have read more than once. Plato's Timaeus
(3) One book you would want on a desert island (besides the Bible). Plato's Timaeus
(4) Two books that made you laugh. Plato's Timaeus and Ion
(5) One book that made you cry. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
(6) One book you wish you'd written. Plato's Timaeus
(7) One book you wish had never been written. Aristotle's Physics
(8) Two books you are currently reading. Plato's Republic, Richard Swinburne's The Coherence of Theism
(9) One book you've been meaning to read. Plato's Laws

***For the 1-2-3 meme, the directions are:
(1) Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
(2) Open the book to page 123.
(3) Find the fifth sentence.
(4) Post the next three sentences.
(5) Tag five people.

The nearest book is Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. It's a bilingual edition, so I'll give you the English version of the requested sentences on page 123 (trans. G.E.M. Anscombe):
There is a related case (though perhaps it will not seem so) when, for example, we (Germans) are surprised that in French the predicative adjective agrees with the substantive in gender, and when we explain it to ourselves by saying: they mean: "the man is a good one."

I won't tag anyone, but I'll ask whether anyone sees the Timaeus joke in the rules for the 1-2-3 meme.

Marital Harmony

These tend to make me tired a couple questions in, but I haven't done one in a long time, and have been commanded to complete the task.

1) One book that changed your life.
The Philokalia, Volume II, especially the writings by Maximos the Confessor, and especially the 400 texts on Love. "Just as the thought of fire does not warm the body, so faith without love does not actualize the light of spiritual knowledge in the soul."
2) One book that you have read more than once.
The highest number of re-reads goes to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings which I've read at least a half dozen times, perhaps more.
3) One book you would want on a desert island.
They asked me this in my undergrad entrance interview, and I will use the same strategy: I will assume I will eventually get off the desert island, so what book would keep me really really interested for a really really long time that I currently want to reread? St. Augustine's City of God. After a couple years of that I will stop waiting and build a raft.
4) Two books that made you laugh.
A) Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey-Maturin series. I'm on the eleventh, and have laughed out loud at least once during every book.
B) Little Bear Goes to the Moon by Maurice Sendak.
5) One book that made you cry.
I have never cried over a book. I am a barbarian.
6) One book you wish you'd written.
My dissertation. Or I would actually exchange that labour for the rights to The Elements of Style. William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, (which is straight poetry and wit).
7) One book you wish had never been written.
A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. by Kate L. Turabian. Bureaucracy in the Academy: it strangles me.
8) Two books you are currently reading.
The Magic World. E. Nesbit (Because the World is Magic)
The Historian's Craft. Marc Bloch (Because History is writing about how Magic happened)
9) One book you've been meaning to read.
After Virtue. Alasdair MacIntyre. (Because I want to talk about virtue again).
10) The 1-2-3 meme game: 1) Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).2) Open the book to page 123.3) Find the fifth sentence.4) Post the next three sentences.
"After a few centuries of having been cobbled together with such rules, the structure of Roman law had taken on the look of a house to which every generation of occupants added rooms without ever looking at the place from the outside; hallways that didn't connect with one another, stairways going nowhere. The confusion engendreed by two emperors legislating only in the part of the empire in which they reigned simply accelerated the process. Even without an overarching dream of reunion with the west, the empire urgently needed a new code."
William Rosen. Justinian's Flea. (New York, 2003). p. 123.

Oh my. Now, I'm going to go take a stairway to nowhere, where I will deposit Mr. Rosen alongside of Ms. Turabian.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Small Market Baseball

I believe the Tigers actually had the biggest trade of the offseason in acquiring Miguel Cabrera (3B) and Dontrelle Willis (SP) from the Florida Marlins during Baseball's Winter Meetings, but the Minnesota Twins certainely generated the most sustained press while all of baseball fandom speculated where Johan Santana (the active pitcher with the most consistently astounding flame throwing excellence) would be traded. Red Sox, Yankees, and Mets were the frequently cited destinations.

Long (and it was long) story short: Johan finally went to the New York .... Mets -- the fact that he did not go to either the Red Sox or Yankees being the current best argument for the existence of God. A number of Twins-supporting media types have taken the opportunity to bemoan the fact of this impending deal (see here or here): why do "small market" teams like Minnesota always have to lose people like that? Why can't those owners open those deep pockets (the Twins owners, the Pohlad family, are the richest sole owners in all of baseball) and buy out a superstar or two? Just once, pretty pretty please.

I, for one, am actually glad they didn't. Yes, that's right, for the price he was asking, I'd rather see the perennial Cy Young favorite walk in exchange for a handful of blue chip prospects than guarantee him $20+ million for six years. My reasons:

1) No matter how good a ball player one is, there is no one who can predict the trajectory of a major league career. Some incredible players have bottomed out when they hit 30. There are a million things that can go wrong for a pitcher -- even if we are talking about Cy Young himself, do you really want to bet 10-20% of the payroll on everything going right for half a decade?

2) Prospects are really fun to watch. Not a whole team of them, mind you (see Royals, Kansas City or Devil Rays, Tampa Bay) but having a team with 2-4 (depending on position) truly promising rookie players is great fun. Is there more true joy when someone hits their first major league home run or their 756th? Watching a rookie sprint around the bases and forgetting to touch second because he is so thrilled out of his mind (yes I have seen that) is worth the price of admission ten times over.

3) It's always more fun to be the underdog.
3a) How often does your team need to win a championship for you to feel there is some hope in rooting for them? (I apologize to Cubs fans throughout the world.) The Twins won it all in '87 and '91. That was a pretty exciting stretch that I was lucky enough to be aware of my innate Twins-fandom for. The 1991 World Series often won (until ALCS 2004) and is still always in the top three of best-playoff-series-ever votes. We got to the playoffs (though were often crushed) a lot in the last five years. That is pretty fun. There are a lot of fans of a lot of teams who have been nowhere near that in the last twenty years. I could see the Twins miss the playoffs for the next three years (no jinx, please!) and still be a very happy and hopeful fan.
3b) It is NOT fun to be the favorite, and it is even less fun to be a 'dynasty'. Why? Do you know any Patriots fans? The primary emotion going into the game-which-everyone-already-expects-you-to-win is nervousness; you are not allowed to "just be happy to be there"; you can't really just go out and play really hard and possibly be a little too crazy but that often seems to work out anyway; and the smile at the end (if you win) is relief, not surprised joy: it all feels pre-programmed and stale, and like a "really historic statistic". Basically: boring. (An aside: wouldn't the best thing for Red Sox baseball fandom right now be if they didn't win a World Series for 10-12 years and then ripped off another one? or two? With this core group of players, every additional World Series now starts to feel ... dare I say it? ... Yankee-ish).

In short, I think it all amounts to keeping the real ability to hope as the dominant feature of rooting for a sports team. We have a chance, it might happen, it very well could not, but there's a real chance. And that is really, really fun. If the Twins have to see people like Torii Hunter and Johan Santana leave after five to eight years of young stardom in order to keep that alive, so be it; and I'm perfectly happy for Mr. Pohlad to keep on being the richest owner in baseball. I just hope he has something to hope for too.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A Nice Description of the Difficulties of Interpreting Plato Correctly

The interpretive problem emphasized here is the tension between demands for systematic meaning and the unresolved variety of Plato's thought. This opposition is invited by hints of unity on the one hand and by diverse manifestations of the philosophy--apparent contradictions and seeming gaps--on the other. The latter are aggravated by the indirections of the dialogue form, by exposition through differing speakers, and by electing variously mythic, dramatic, logistic, and poetic modes of presentation.

From William Sacksteder's review of E. N. Tiegerstedt's Interpreting Plato, a book I discussed back in the day.