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