Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Looking Upon the Inner Truth

Do teachers hold that it is their thoughts that are perceived and grasped rather than the very disciplines they take themselves to pass on by speaking? After all, who is so foolishly curious as to send his son to school to learn what the teacher thinks? When the teachers have explained by means of words all the disciplines they profess to teach, even the disciplines of virtue and of wisdom, then those who are called 'students' consider within themselves whether truths have been stated. They do so by looking upon the inner Truth, according to their abilities. That is therefore the point at which they learn.

[Augustine in the De Magistro, from Against the Academicians and The Teacher, King, tr., Hackett (Indianapolis: 1995) p. 145.]

Monday, April 12, 2021

Nobis and Dudley on Abortion

 Nathan Nobis and Jonathan Dudley have an article in Salon in which they argue that the case against abortion is ethically weak, and it is so absurd as to be almost funny. The essential idea is right -- a very large number of pro-choice arguments do not touch on moral questions at all, or only obliquely, whereas almost of the primary pro-life arguments are moral to their root. But their grand argument that the pro-life arguments are weak is....an argument from analogy.

Their first step is based on living organ donation:

First, in every U.S. state and most countries, if a person elects to be an organ donor, their organs can be removed for transplant when that person suffers complete brain death—even if their body is still alive. Organ harvesting involves cutting living human beings open and their organs being removed one-by-one until, at last, the heart is detached and the human being dies, having been directly killed by the procedure. 

Almost everybody thinks that this is acceptable, they say, so it goes to show that really we all believe that "it's not always wrong to kill human beings", even innocent ones.

I'm afraid, alas, that I literally burst out laughing when I originally read this first step of their argument, and I'm still having difficulty keeping from doing so in going over it again for this post. There is of course one very, very important word in their set-up that complicates this supposedly lucid case, namely, that they explicitly say that they are already talking about human beings that are regarded as having already died for other reasons -- "complete brain death", i.e., irreversible cessation of brain functions so that the person can be regarded as dead. What Nobis and Dudley have really shown in their first step is that people generally don't think you can kill a human being who is already dead, so the moral worries that would come with killing a human being don't arise for people who have reached the point of their brain irreversibly shutting down so as to be classified as dead. Their argument depends on recognizing that a body can be dead one way (brain death) and still alive for a while another way (until heart death), and then assuming that only the latter actually matters. Needless to say, the people Nobis and Dudley are talking about are not treating the latter case as the point of death for the human being. Thus it's simply false to say that they are treating the case as one where it is acceptable to kill a human being, because they obviously hold that the human being is already dead and the body is just still undergoing its shut-down process, and the organs can more easily save lives if taken from this dead person now rather than late. Contrary to what Nobis and Dudley, suggest, there are in fact pro-life people who worry about the moral questions involved in such live organ donation, but the many who don't have a moral problem with it quite clearly do not themselves see it as killing a human being, no matter how Nobis and Dudley might think of it. We can even assume that Nobis and Dudley are right, if you'd like; it doesn't follow that people are actually interpreting the case in this supposedly-right way. Most people make the judgment of moral permissibility they do in this case because they take it that a person can be irreversibly dead while parts of their body are still alive, and thus assimilate to the case of taking organs from the recently dead (in cases where both brain death and the stopping of the heart have happened) for precisely the reason that they regard it as nothing but taking organs from the even more recently dead.

The second step of their argument is based on the case of anencephalic infants -- i.e., infants who are born without a large part of the brain. These are generally delivered and simply given palliative care; because they lack brains capable of adequate functioning, they eventually inevitably die. Nobis and Dudley say that this practice "ends their life, but is not morally wrong". Well, no, what ends their lives is not having a brain capable of supporting life for very long; reverting to only palliative care even for adults would not generally be regarded as 'ending someone's life', because that suggests deliberate killing. That is precisely not what is happening in palliative care cases; you have a reached a point where death is not actually avoidable, more aggressive interventions might make things worse, and so you focus instead on trying to make the inevitable easier.

Where they are heading with this is the combination argument: as we don't mind killing brain-dead people and we don't mind 'ending the life' of anencephalic infants with inadequately formed brains, we should not mind abortion in cases where the brain is not yet fully developed. The problem with this argument by analogy is that Nobis and Dudley clearly think that the morally key point of similarity among the cases is the lack of a fully working brain, whereas this is definitely not what pro-lifers regard as the key point in all these cases -- the fact that anencephalic infants are given palliative care is proof in and of itself of that. Rather, it's clear that the key issue in the moral decisions people are making about this is inevitability -- in particular, unavoidable death. Those who have undergone brain death have reached the point where nothing can be done to save their life; with organ donation -- as you will find people explicitly saying when asked why they are donors -- at least they can save other people's lives. Nothing can be done to save anencephalic infants (they are not infants born simply with survivable brain problems); they are given palliative care, just like adults who have reached a point of no return. In both these cases the reason for this is the brain, but it could happen in other cases for other reasons (e.g., palliative care for those with radiation poisoning), showing that the brain is not actually the essential component, and it is clear that what people take to be significant here is that we have reached a point where actual remedy is no longer possible at all. But while there are cases in which embryos are nonviable, and so forth, these are not what we are usually talking about in discussing abortion; most abortions are of embryos and fetuses that have not passed any point of no return. Their lack or limitation of brain function is because they are still developing, and it will pass in time. There is nothing inevitable about the death of the one in the womb in the case of most abortions; it's deliberately induced on one who would probably survive, and reach full functioning, if they were not aborted.

And it is very noticeable that, while the key analogy in an a moral argument should be directly linked to the acts taken in each case, this is precisely not the case as Nobis and Dudley frame it. We have the following cases and common responses:

BRAIN-DEATH: having received prior permission, we wait until they are pronounced irreversibly dead so that we cannot possibly save their life, and then take their organs specifically for the very major good of saving someone else's life.

ANENCEPHALY: as we are unable to save their lives, we give them palliative care until their inevitable death.

ABORTION: for reasons that vary quite widely, we surgically rip them apart to make sure they won't survive and usually throw away the remains as medical waste.

These are not the same kinds of moral actions. The analogy on the most salient point for moral questions -- our actual response to the situation -- is somewhat lacking. If, on the other hand, you tweak the circumstances of the last so that response can be closer to one of the other two, it quickly becomes obvious that pretty much any pro-life position can in principle handle these cases consistently. For instance, opponents of abortion almost universally recognize that cases in which you are saving the life of the mother are different moral cases for which the usual considerations are inadequate -- because (as with the organ donation case) you have introduced the great good of saving the life of another, in this case the mother. This makes both situation and response much more similar to the organ donation case, and you find correspondingly a general sense among opponents of abortion, regardless of their specific views about this kind of case, that this situation introduces further moral considerations that at least have to be addressed.  But in either direction -- whether one nuances and qualifies in this very specific case or not -- there is no fundamental inconsistency; it depends on exactly the role you see for the good of saving the life of another, and your conclusion can't be assumed to generalize to other cases in which this is not even in view.

And if we looked at making our response more like that of the anencephaly case, then we would be giving 'palliative care' until it was no longer necessary -- which, since most pregnancies are not inevitable death cases, sounds awfully like seeing the pregnancy through until they are born.

Thus the sophomore undergraduate attempt to force a dilemma doesn't actually work. Nobis and Dudley say:

Pro-life intellectuals argue that organ donors are not really "human beings." But surely they are human beings—they are living human organisms, with heartbeats. The pro-life premise that it's always wrong to kill human beings implies that organ donation practices are wrong, so this is a good reason to reject the assumption and its application to abortion.

It is in fact not the case that "it's always wrong to kill human beings" is a "pro-life premise"; for instance, defense to save one's own life or another's is often not considered wrong. (This is a problem throughout the argument, since Nobis and Dudley in all their reading of "pro-life 'intellectuals'" have apparently only managed to pick up a kindergarten-version of the pro-life position.) But Nobis and Dudley are committed to saying that you can kill people who are recognized as dead, which is the real point at which you are going to find people baffled here. The reason we call it 'brain death' is that it is regarded by people as a clear case of irreversible death. (There is, of course, 'reversible death', i.e., cases where people die in some sense but can be brought to life, which has always been recognized as a thing that rarely happens and in our age of medical wonders actually happens a fair amount. But even there we generally take it that if there's a real chance of reversing it, one should try. By definition, in the irreversible cases there is no point in trying.) Nobis and Dudley perfectly well could argue that 'brain death' is not death in the right sense for moral judgments here; there are (contrary to what they imply) actually quite a few pro-life people who hold this. What they can't do (but which they in fact are trying to do) is argue that people who do regard brain-death, an irreversible state, as actual death are being inconsistent in saying that they are dead and thus aren't being killed when their organs are used to save the lives of other people, or that they are inconsistent in holding that prohibitions against killing don't apply to those they regard as dead, but only to those that they regard as alive. And again, Nobis and Dudley perfectly well could argue that embryos are human beings in exactly the same sense as the brain-dead, but what they can't do (and yet try to do) is argue that people who think that this is false are inconsistent in treating it as false. (It is, of course, also the case that live organ donation of the sort being discussed is not so sacrosanct that concluding that it is wrong would danger anything in the way they suggest. There are lots of things we rightly refuse to do in order to have a supply of transferable organs; you can't just assume that the fact that something is one kind of organ donation that it is automatically a morally acceptable kind; this has to be established.)

A further fundamental problem is that arguing against "It's wrong to kill human beings" is not adequate. For instance, if I murder somebody and try to justify my actions by saying that there are rare cases where it's not wrong to kill human beings, even if we suppose I was right about those cases, it does not actually address the issue, which is that you can't just regard yourself as having the right to go around killing human beings. That is, the fact that there is some case to which we don't think the principle applies (if that is so) does not establish that in fact you need no justification to say it does not apply here. Thus, while it would establish that we couldn't completely handle the matter at the level of general principle, it wouldn't establish that if one case is fine the other must be; that would have to be argued at the level of specific justification. There are reasons people say things like, "It's wrong to kill human beings", even if this is just a shorthand for a much more complicated principle; and, not having addressed the reasons, you haven't actually established that similarities between the case are related to this more complicated principle in the same way. And it is, in fact, generally the case that it's wrong to kill human beings, and it remains generally the case even taking it in a sense in which it admits of exceptions, and therefore continues to be relevant. If I argue that I should be able to kill a sedated person for their organs because I claim it's a lot like the brain-death case, which shows that it can be OK to kill human beings, I would rightly be regarded as both intellectually stupid and morally obtuse. But this is precisely what both Nobis and Dudley are doing. The person who insists that killing a sedated person for organ donation can't be done because it's wrong to kill human beings is still at least more right and reasonable than someone who thinks it's enough to say that "Well, sometimes you can kill human beings" and then points out a few quick similarities between those supposed cases and this. No, even if you think there are exceptions (and as I've noted, almost everyone does to this particular statement as Nobis and Dudley insist on stating it), it's still a very good rule, and you still need a positive justification for why it doesn't apply here.

It's difficult not to be harsh about such a blatant case, but in fairness it should be said that on this particular point, Nobis and Dudley are making an error I often see people make, due to the fact that even professional philosophers often don't really have a very clear idea of how counterexamples work. If you have a general principle, P, and you have a counterexample, C, it's common to assume that C refutes P; but this is not in fact the case. What C does is show that, if there is a domain in which P is true, it is at least a domain that doesn't include C. The only way to refute P is to show that it can't apply to any relevant domain; counterexamples just show that the principle at least has to be restricted. And even if you've established a counterexample -- neither of which is this case in Nobis and Dudley's argument, since the principle is "It is wrong to kill human beings" but the examples are not cases that would usually be characterized as killing (in one case, the person is usually taken already to be dead, and in the other the person dies on their own because we have no way to help them) -- even if, I say, you've established a counterexample, any other example has to be established as sufficiently similar in precisely those points that contribute to the counterexample's being a counterexample. 

Suppose it is in fact OK to kill human beings sometimes. Does that establish it as OK in any given case? It does not. And all Nobis and Dudley have to offer for going beyond this is their own vague sense of analogy between cases -- not, as they repeatedly mischaracterize it, how people generally see the matter. This is very weak argument, since it really means that they've given an argument not that opponents of abortion should not have the positions they do but that they, Nobis and Dudley, given how they see it, are committed to rejecting the pro-life position. And it is an argument that depends for what little strength it has on assuming that Nobis and Dudley haven't missed important relevant differences (which, as we've seen, they have) and that there is not some other, more accurate principle involved that nonetheless still distinguishes these particular cases in the way the crude, rule-of-thumb way does (which they don't even consider).

Nobis and Dudley do at least try to give some kind of positive argument as well as negative argument for thinking abortion morally permissible. It isn't very good; in their formulation of it, based on the idea that interests are what grounds rights, they gloss over both the fact that there is a great deal of controversy over the best way to characterize interests and the fact that there are, in fact, arguments that those in the womb have interests from the beginning -- indeed, it's hard to make sense of most actual medical advice to pregnant women without assuming that they do, since it seems to be able to require being able to recognize healthy development, and health a reason for attributing interests, and to recognize that what you do now can affect their lives later, which is a reason for attributing interests. (Indeed, given that there have been arguments for decades that plants have interests, arguments that are increasingly popular, it's a little baffling that their argument depends on the by-now very old-fashioned assumption that all you have to look at is the brain. It's like being teleported to the 80s and 90s.)  And, of course, there is always the position, more common than Nobis and Dudley suggest, that interests, while relevant to rights, are not what actually grounds them (since, among other things, some of the ways we characterize some interests seem to suggest that we already are presupposing rights). Of course, one can still reasonably hold that some version of their argument holds by holding that this particular formulation is just a handy approximation  -- but as Nobis and Dudley don't allow any room for such formulations on the opposition side, they can hardly complain if someone refuses to allow them that same room.

The best I can handwave in favor of the authors is that their real audience is supporters of abortion rights, and that their real argument is not the permissibility of abortion but that it's reasonable for such people to stake their ground on definitely moral arguments. But that's a weak defense, since it would really require showing that the moral arguments have powerful bite when arguing against opponents of abortion, which they haven't really done. Their most substantive arguments depend on (1) assuming a controversial view of what cut-off we should regard as death specifically for moral purposes relevant to the killing of human beings and (2) treating a fact about whether the brain is functioning as in and of itself the decisive issue, rather than a contributing factor. But it seems doubtful that it's a good strategy for pro-choicers to chain themselves to the assumption that irreversible brain failure is not a morally significant change, and most people, I think, would hold, perhaps rightly, that it would be better to bypass assumptions like these if that's possible.

So, in short, it's true that the real issues here are moral, and it is plausible that this is where it is best to focus if possible (although it is entirely understandable that people would prefer to avoid this difficult terrain if they could); nothing in what I've said suggests that this can't be done by supporters of rights to abortion; but Nobis and Dudley's overly quick and amateurish attempt is not a model for doing so, and it is all the worse for not being someone's rough first-approximation but being put forward as if it were some kind of model. And, of course, this is all before we even get to the political and social complications; there are good reasons why the pro-choice movement has tended to do a lot of elaborate work to avoid any kind of argument that makes them sound like a Kill-Human-Beings movement, reasons that are obviously not being considered by those, like Nobis and Dudley, whose first instinct is to argue that it is morally permissible to kill human beings.

Abyss & Sea 7

After a light breakfast of smoked fish and small beer, Disan spent most of his day away from the Porphyry Mountain, meeting with the captain about whatever arrangements needed to be made for their departure the next day and visiting the markets. He bought several small trinkets for Baia and was for a short while sorely tempted to buy her a pair of monals from the Khalad mountains. Male monals were highly prized in the Great Realm because of the almost metallic shine of their feathers and the brightness of their colors -- in this case shimmering green along the crest, copper on the neck, and bright blue in the wings. He finally decided not to buy it, to the great disappointment of the merchant, upon reflecting that he did not know how Ker would feel about it.

Returning to the Porphyry Mountain, he met briefly with the High King to discuss specifics of the fleet-building plan, and then prepared for the great farewell feast that evening in his honor. The feast was lively, with jugglers, dancers, and musicians. The dishes were varied as well. Talans and Tavrans, who made up the majority of the court, were great eaters of beef, so there were great plates of roast beef, smelling of clove and nutmeg, and there was roast cygnet stuffed with beef, and heron stuffed with beef, and a pie of stork and beef. Disan, who was certainly not Talan, ate lightly of it, and mostly confined himself to the seafood; the chefs of the Porphyry Mountain did a passable imitation of Sorean mussels with garum. Mostly, however, Disan watched the entertainments and listened to the singers tell the tales of the realm: the raising of the land by Fulné and Trethin, Ardalan's wooing of Asaria, the humorous Song of the Valiant Carpenter, and so forth. But the one Disan liked best was the Song of the Cherry Tree Maiden, an old Sorean song, which was sung by a young Sorean woman. As it happens, it is of all the songs of those days the only one to survive in full, although as a translation of a translation, so it is fitting to write it here.

The Song of the Cherry Tree Maiden

Prince Essan held a mighty bow,
a hunter great was he,
and knew all paths and woodland ways
from river to the sea.

He hunted deer and hunted elk
and all their kin and kind
and one day set in swift pursuit
of silver-splendid hind.

By thicket, coppice, stream, and hill
the silver hind he sought
until it through the thick, dark trees
his winding way had brought.

And in the forest's ancient heart
he found a cherry tree,
around which danced a maiden fair
with hair down to the knee.

His heart was seized; it melted through;
he loved her then and there,
the maiden graceful in her dance
with foot and ankle bare.

"I love you well," the prince then said,
"come be my lovely bride;
such beauty like the cherry tree
should not in forest hide."

"I cannot go," the maiden said,
"to be your lovely bride;
by chantments greater far than you
I to this tree am tied.

"No human maiden can I be;
my soul is blossom-born
and if I leave this cherry tree
it shall be from me torn."

For many days Prince Essan came
to see her dance in shade,
and never would she come with him,
no matter how he prayed.

He ached inside; he could not eat;
no sleep would brush his face;
but though the maiden loved him well
she would not leave her place.

Upon a day Prince Essan came
with axe of steely blade
and set it to the cherry tree
that held the lovely maid.

"Now come with me, now come," he cried,
"that you and I be wed!"
And on the ground the cherry tree
was dying as it bled.

She took a step to go with him,
the sweetly dancing maid;
like mist she grew, and windborn cloud,
and then began to fade.

She took a step to go with him,
then vanished with a sigh;
for what is severed from its root
will surely come to die.

The entertainments of that night were many and bright, the dancer's costumes brightly colored, the songs and melodies sweet. But when Disan went to bed that night, it was the tale of the cherry tree that echoed in his head as he went to sleep, and it was still echoing there in the pause between first sleep and second sleep.

The Soreans began their journey back home in the early morning.


Baia was busy. She had been overseeing the temporary settling of the Visitation Court at a small manor, the largest in this rural area of the country, but a little small for the large-scale traffic of the royal honor, and thus had had to do a considerable of negotiation in order to get all of her Court housed and provisioned properly. Then one of her ladies-in-waiting, and her best seamstress at that, had married, and that had to be properly done; Baia suspected that the marriage was rushed for purposes of covering prior indiscretions, but the lady had always been one of her best. The wedding affair was as nice as could be quickly arranged, and all at the Queen's expense; and the lady was granted the honor of being Queen-for-the-Feast, which required making sure she had appropriately queenly gear. And, of course, she still held audiences to hear grievances and petitions.

In the midst of it all, Sosan came to her with a honey merchant from Tavra. Honey merchants are usually not exactly poor, but to make their money with a cart selling odds and ends as well as pots of honey, they spend most of their time in hard traveling, and Sosan had had some trouble locating him. He stood, hat in hand, his silk coat worn and a little ragged at the hem, and obviously unsure what to do in the presence of a Queen.

"Tell the Queen what you have told me," Sosan prompted. The honey merchant fumbled a bit, so Sosan went on, "You have a regular route from Tavra...."

"Yes, Your Highness," said the honey merchant to Baia, "I have a regular route from Tavra; hard work, but good money. Excellent wares, some even from the apiaries of the Tavran royal estates. Your minister," here he bobbed in Sosan's direction, "has asked me about my route, and it does seem to be my route, and I was likely in the area when he suggests. But," he said in a more anxious tone, "the honey I sold on that route was of the highest quality; it is a good part of the route for the royal honey. And I do not understand why I would be questioned about any death; honey is good, and even if the bees drink where they shouldn't, it could never be enough to cause harm, and the bees from royal estates have only the best flowers, and I would never harm my honey, because it is my livelihood, and I...."

Baia cut in. "Nobody accuses you of anything; we are simply investigating and so need your answers. Did you see anything amiss on your route at the time Sosan gave you?"

The honey merchant shook his head, "No, Your Highness."

"And you are reasonably sure that the honey you would have sold would have been from the royal estates of Tavra?"

He nodded, "I do not keep records of precisely what is sold where, but most of the honey sold in that area is so."

"How do you obtain royal honey?"

The honey merchant had a little flicker of the eyes and was a little slow to answer. "Well, Your Highness, it's like this, I have a cousin who works with the beekeepers, and when there is surplus, he lets me know, and I buy it at a fair price."

"Hmm," said Baia, looking off to the side a moment. Then, returning to the honey merchant, she said, "We thank you for your assistance. You may go now. Sosan, please make sure that this helpful merchant receives a gift for his assistance; a box of the extra ribbons from the wedding will do." Sosan nodded and showed the honey merchant out.

When he returned, he said drily to Baia, "I could ask, if you like, but I doubt that there is much in the way of record of this negotiation."

"Yes," said Baia, "but what passes under the table in Tavra is not our primary concern here. Whatever the deal was, my suspicion is that some of the honey he received for it was not the usual royal honey."

She spent a few minutes in thought while Sosan patiently waited, then she said, "Sosan, I will be in need of a new lady-in-waiting. Perhaps in the spirit of unity among the kingdoms, we should look for a Tavran girl of highborn family."

"I will begin to make inquiries," said Sosan.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Fortnightly Book, April 11

But that's another story and shall be told another time.

Michael Ende (1929-1995) can be said to have experienced the full range of the twentieth century. His father was a surrealist painter who, banned from painting by the Nazis, painted in secret; but most of his father's work up to 1944 went up in flames in the bombing of Munich. Michael himself, who had already developed a taste for Romantic poetry, became courier for a resistance group at the age of 16. He completed his high school education at a Waldorf School, run by the Anthroposophists who followed the ideas of Rudolf Steiner; there he fell in love with the Expressionist movement. He tried his hand at drama; that largely failed, although it made a lot of travel possible. He wrote a novel, Jim Button, in the 1950s, but struggled to get it published; publishers thought it a weird book, too adult for children and too childish for adults. When he finally did get it published, it became an instant award-winner, which was good for him because by that point he had become completely broke and in serious debt. He continued to do well, but without question the work everybody thinks of when they think of Michael Ende was the one he published in 1979, Die unendliche Geschichte: da A bis Z, better known in English by the title it received with its 1983 translation, The Neverending Story. It could originally only be obtained in a hardcover with red and green letters, like the book of the same title that Bastian steals from the bookshop. I have a paperback, in which form The Neverending Story will be the next fortnightly book. I don't think I've actually read it since middle school, so it will be interesting to come back to it.

In the US, of course, the title evokes the movie of the same name, which is a classic in its own right. Ende himself, while originally excited to be having a movie, ended up hating it with a passion, and actually tried to prevent it from coming out by lawsuit. The lawsuit failed, but Ende never stopped hating the movie, whose changes from the book he saw as fatal -- e.g., the fact that Bastian in the book is fat and insecure about his looks rather than the slim, good-looking boy played by Barret Oliver, and Ende's view that the movie depicts a perversely kitschy and distorted view of how imagination works. In any case, Ende or not, I will probably be re-watching it, as well.

A Poem Draft

The Poetry Workshop

The spirits came, my soul to steal,
so I put my soul in a spinning wheel
and kept it safe, as I ever will
when I walk in the shadow-realms.

and we will sing in darknesss
for a city we never knew

the silent stairway up my mind
to attic sunlight-filtered room

the Lord rides the willows
the clouds of glory are under Him

He is the Word
I am a word in letters

the brain
is a hurricane
swift with wind
thick with rain

when all our sins rise upward
we take their tally and their tale
with those who came before us
to fight the rod and flail
they march with us
they march in us
they march and will prevail

the highest form of military art
is to win battles before they start

gota del mar
like two drops of water, the mother and son
cool drops of grace
a little drop from the divine ocean
teacher of the sea of human souls
the exalted light of grace
the sea-fire
the sea-bitterness of the Passion
and there will be no sea in New Jerusalem

O maiden, maiden, I will die
unless you in my arms will sigh

in Soria Moria castle
I met my dream
it was foolish
I was foolish
but oh!
it glittered and gleamed

laughter touches lightly on the moon
the wishful whispers of the soul
time is twisted, death is near

the angels play like children
their puddles are the lakes
virtue is their singing
stars their sugar-cakes
their care-free happy laughing
is in the nova's fire
they run only by loving
and never tire

to be a Mine, not cattle,
a man might kill or die

from plain to plane it rises high
a flame as vast as endless sky
upon a golden-laden pyre
it rises high and ever higher
with rubicund and orangey hues
the burning all the world imbues
and tinctures with a boundless blaze
embroidery of golden rays

The shadows hunted in a time of pox,
so I put my skin in a strong oak box
and they were defeated by its silver locks
as I walked in the shadow-realms.

the meaning of a mime
the myth of mummery

the ruler in his castle
the canmore on his throne
however great and mighty
they all will die alone

where the hallways of the soul
become the highways of the realm
the roads of the philosopher-kings

like gold slimed over
human souls
shine out obscurely
the world grows darker,
ash on eye

we always die sideways
orthogonal spin
and fall out of living
we children of men

the iron wheels of history will crush us underneath
and we will dwell in little graves long days beneath the heath

above the sea of clouds the moon
in argent glow its wings extends
a path it races through the wisps
on far horizon lies a single star

the future blooms with flower
silent stars
sing with cantillation
as in the showers
here and there are falling
spring-time warm
the ghosts are in the hallway
and don't exist
like shining rain
or wafts of evening mist

Emerentiana near the Via Romentana
sought by holy union to have union with her friend

water-laden clouds on high
whisper wisps of lullaby

joyful are my feet on the mountain
although the trail is steep
good news is the fountain
from which my heart drinks deep

outlawed and outcast it moved
from pale to gold, and beyond the pale
it met its sunrise dawn

I was afraid when they sought my heart
but I placed it in stone by a powerful art
though I was wounded by a mistletoe-dart
as I walked in the shadow-realms.

the wishes ripple through the mind
with God all things are possible
sometimes they just stay possible

I almost love you sometimes
I guess it's a flaw in me
a shadow and a flicker
of a warm inconstancy

the candle lights the darkening room
in which the bride glides swiftly to the groom
the night is deep but holds no gloom
a child is woven on the loom

when all in heaven spake your name in awe
and I was captive by the chains of law
tired of face
weary of feet
standing in the saintless sleet
as icy-shower heavens fall

but angels die upwards
in splendor and grace
to wear greater joy
the life of their race

the beaver is building his dam in the stream
half of gnawed wood and half of gnawed dream
the breeze is now blowing perfume from the West
my head is now nodding in time on my chest

listening to words
we sit in chairs and yawn
thinking of lunch or dinner
wondering why that prig
sitting in the second row
just keeps talking
when no one cares what he says

I almost think about you
as I walk upon the way
maybe in the black of night
maybe in the day

my heart is halfway broken
burning like bright fires
a captive caught in tangles
born of deep desires

the power of a kiss to enchant and disenchant
there is a madness sprung from God
the sheen of rain on slate at night

the sea-wave rises up
falls down
and subsides

when stars are singing, full of flame
the canticles of sacred name
crafting great devices, swarthy elves
rule in halls of diamond

my pen I take to write a verse
and subtle sundry themes rehearse

the candle sheds its silent tears
it weeps for time, which burns away
in minutes stretched as long as years
the memories of yesterday

the softest words are heavy on the mind

entangled with Christ on His Cross

poetry is the most human thing
I guess
so nobody reads poetry
too busy growing the materials

I am pent with passion; its penalty is pain
misfortune made of misery beyond the lot of men

the spatters of the thunderstorm in sputters swiftly fall

a dialogue of afternoons
my heart is carved like marzipan
a phony jack-o-lantern smashed to smithereens

when the archangels of Zion
bring out their trumpets,
their trumpets blaring,
and the lambs lie down with the lion,
the asp its haven with child sharing

teak, teak ataki wheat
wheat eat teeth eat
teak, teak ataki sweet

the cat is leaping
nightly creeping
never sleeping save in day

all who love to read
bring to the task a mind
crowned with joy of deed
drawn from depths of time

the drooping boughs of trees are dripping droplets from the rain
rivulets of reason run through little rills again

the scrolling curve of time with gliding stroke moves on

who wills the end must will the means
or else a field of nothing gleans

followable way is not equal to stable way
to follow what can be followed is not changeless following
doctrines that can be spoken are not enduring doctrines

to speak the thing that can't be said
but buzzes still inside the head

On a dark, moonless night, they came for my eye
and then I was sure that I would soon die
'till I placed it safe on a mountain high
when I walked in the shadow-realms.

for the dead, weep not,
nor for him moan
for the exile weep
for he goes away
no more shall he return
nor see his native land

we are born at all adventure
in the happenstance of days
short our life, and soon our death
and tedious our ways
but we are made immortal
by a God who in our hearts
has placed eternal glory
and a thirst for higher parts
in the choir of the ages
where the angels sing His praise
in the music of the heavens
like stars we may yet raise
the envy of the devil
brought death unto our race
and death they find who turn away
from God's most holy face

you are the ark on trouble's flood

the sun is bitter in my eyes

far from the shallows, the pillars of shell
spiral like currents in byssal-deep sea
the maidens are moving and swaying in dance
lotus-dressed beauties pearl-crowned in the deep

without forgiveness, death prevails,
endless devils, endless hells

the world is worn like mummy-rags
I feel buried and sore
as if I had from broken crags
just fallen and failed to soar

all things fall and all things die
the world is but a gusting sigh

and I am sorrow-laden with the past,
moonlight-cloaked and burdened with a task

I wish, though I know it is a wish in vain,
that I could be a whole man again,
but then I know that I would be slain
as I walk in the shadow-realms.

diverse ways to one road leads
one road to diverse ways

standing there, soaking, dripping with doom
wreathed by the silence of flawless perfume

perhaps some day the gilding thins
upon my smile; perhaps some day
the sanctity is hidden under sins
the substance shadowed by its style

tell all among the nations
the Lord reigns from the wood

somehow folly whispers in my ear
a dash of hope with a pinch of fear
when the sight or hint of you draws near
the world becomes unsure, unclear

there is a world inside me
to Luthany I fly

the analogical angels, like anagrams
combine and ever combine in holy choir

and high in the sky
I see stars shining bright
but the moon hides its face
from our wickedness tonight

I know not why
your burning eye
upon my eye does rest
but if it cry
I surely die
for I do love you best

I quaff the dawn at sunrise
and drink the quiddity of life
the flagon of the heavens pours
the beverage into my mug

there is a god inside me
to Luthany I flee

the background angelic murmur of thought
music of the spheres
circles of the different and the same
the sempiternal conversation
the colloquium of minds

up to Limbo with its balance,
which the Buddhists call nibbana
the Cross upon the Lotus
adorned with God's salvation

in the heart is a star with a light that endures

The stones are made of wishing,
the goblets made of gold,
and winter winds come swishing
through hallways grand and old.

our words are wanton, written on air,
pollinating ready ear,
then all gone and never there
but words are written in the heart
deeper than the heart can hold
you are of God's plan a part
so be bold

Words of wonder, white as bone,
drifting through the world alone,
wraiths of music, subtle tunes,
wander lost beneath the moons;
magic made of heart's despair,
thunder-brutal, forest-fair.

I keep my words in a leathern pouch,
safe from the creeping beasts that crouch,
that follow me with hunting slouch
as I walk through the shadow-realms.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Sigrid Undset, Kristin Lavransdatter


Opening Passage: 

When the earthly goods of Ivar Gjesling the Younger of Sundbu were divided up in the year 1306, his property at Sil was given to his daughter Ragnfrid and her husband Lavrans Bjørgulfsøn. Before that time they had lived at Skog, Lavrans's manor in the Follo near Oslo, but now they moved to Jørundgaard, high on the open slope at Sil. (p. 5)

Summary: Kristin Lavransdatter is three novels, Kransen, Husfrue, and Korset, so it makes sense to divide the story along those lines.

I. Kransen (The Wreath): Kristin is born to Ragnfrid and Lavrans, and thus into an excellent family in the Norwegian gentry. Her mother, due to several infant deaths and a few other things, is quite melancholy in temperament, so her closest relations are with her father, an upright and decent man who takes seriously his role in upholding and maintaining the local society. It is a very good family life, for all that it has the sort of flaws any family life might, as Kristin will later come to realize. But it is impossible to shield children entirely from tragedy; Kristin's younger sister will be in a serious accident, and Kristin will be the victim of an attempted (but unsuccessful) rape, under conditions potentially harmful to her reputation, with the result that her closest friend dies and she must be sent off to a convent to get her away from the gossip and talk. She is betrothed to a young man from a respectable local family, Simon Darre, but in the convent she starts up an affair with Erlend Nikkulaussøn, a handsome, dashing, man with a wild past. In particular, he has been excommunicated for cohabitation with another man's wife, Eline, with whom he has a couple of children. Kristin breaks off her betrothal with Simon, and in the face of family opposition, stubbornly remaining devoted to Erlend; she eventually gets her way, and marries Erlend. At her wedding, though, she wears the bridal wreath reserved for maidens, despite the fact that she is pregnant, the pinnacle of the deception-entwined affair she has had. In part, but only in part, due to Eline's own malice, Kristin and Erlend are responsible for Eline's death.

There is a story that a reader wrote to Undset once, effusive about Erlend and his charm, to which Undset replied something like, "Dear ma'am, Erlend is a skurk (crook, criminal, villain)! Sincerely, Sigrid Undset." I think readers sometimes have a similar difficulty with Erlend that readers of Eliot's Romola have with Tito Melema; we have difficulty thinking of people who are charming and sincere as wicked. What Erlend does in seducing Kristin and encouraging the affair is quite frankly a kind of evil: he is violating his own prior obligations and hers, and he is violating the laws of God and rules of society. Kristin, to be sure, is not guiltless, but Erlend has grossly flouted his responsibilities. But Erlend also in some sense means no harm; his wrongdoing arises from his character flaw of taking the easy way out, not from any malice. His love for Kristin is without any question sincere; he is truly and honestly devoted to her in his way. He has many admirable qualities, and recognizing them is essential for understanding both the character and the story; he is brave, he is clear-headed in a crisis, he is willing to endure a great deal when he has to do so, he is extraordinarily resilient, he holds no grudges, he wants to do well by people and be responsible and be taken seriously. But he is a skurk because he has a certain kind of weakness of will and what the novel often characterizes as 'forgetfulness' -- i.e., he is not really bothered by his past wrongdoing, and thus does not really learn from it. He has a sort of perpetual youthfulness about him, which symbolizes his perpetually weak grasp on his responsibilities. There is a thoughtlessness to him that means he will do villainous things in an almost childish and boyish way. Even this is not wholly his fault; he has lived a coddled life, and being handsome and dashing and charming and valiant, had always been able to get away with almost anything -- although in the scandal over his affair with Eline, he had learned that 'almost anything' is not 'anything'. I say 'learned' but, as we shall see, 'learned' is a word a little too strong for the 'forgetful' Erlend.

II. Husfrue (The Wife): Actually being married allows Kristin and Erlend fewer illusions. Erlend has an impressive estate, but it has, due to the chaos of his prior life, fallen into disrepair. Kristin, coming from a well-managed and orderly family life, is shocked, but that sort of life depends on exactly the kind of respectabilities and rules that she and Erlend have been flouting. But Kristin takes the management of his estate in hand and slowly brings it into a kind of order and prosperity, having a number of children with Erlend. Being married brings a sort of respectability to Erlend, and he ends up being quite good at filling out the role of sheriff and magistrate -- he is intelligent and levelheaded; being charming, he is good at negotiating with and cajoling people, and being born and raised in noble family he has the habits of authority. But things are not wholly irenic. Their past complicities are a seed that keeps popping up as a kind of resentment between the two. Kristin often has guilt for her past sins. Erlend, used to adventure and adrenaline, is commonly in a grip of a kind of restlessness; unhappiness at home will eventually lead to his having an affair, and in the 1330s, he becomes involved in a plot to replace the (fairly unpopular) King Magnus Eriksen of Norway with his brother, Duke Haakon. The plot will fail catastrophically, and in the most humiliating way, since it will be Erlend's affair that will lead to its being discovered. Erlend loses almost everything, because he has betrayed almost everything, and those who are involved with him, however innocent, including his wife and children, lose almost everything with him. 

III. Korset (The Cross): Erlend's noble estate is forfeited to the Crown, and they now have to get by, much poorer, as a gentry-farming family at Kristin's family farm of Jørundgaard, despite neither Erlend nor most of his children being well-suited to farming life. It does not help that having notoriously betrayed the king is not a reputation that will endear you with neighbors. And Erlend's having ruined his children's inheritance, leading to continual worries about their futures, leads to more fighting in the marriage, and eventually Erlend handles it the way he always ends up handling a difficult responsibility: he evades it. He leaves his wife and children and lives on his aunt's dilapidated farm. Kristin and Erlend, both stubborn and proud, pass up every opportunity to reconcile, despite the difficulties it puts their growing sons through, until Kristin, to fulfill a promise to Simon Darre, is forced to visit him. They conceive another son, and Kristin returns -- Kristin expecting Erlend to bend and return home, and Erlend expecting Kristin to bend and return to him; their mutual stubbornness leads to tragedy, as Kristin birthing their newest son while Erlend is away leads to rumors given Kristin's past that will threaten to harm their family greatly, and that will lead to Erlend's death. Erlend's death is a fitting one for him, I think: in a sense quite honorable and noble, and wholly for Kristin, and wholly unnecessary because it is in great measure the fault of Kristin and himself to begin with. Kristin's son takes over Jørundgaard, and Kristin eventually ends up as a boarder at a convent until she dies of the plague at a ripe old age, having devoted herself to nursing the sick.

Heavily influenced by the family-focused historical saga, this is a book rich with characters:

KristinLavransdatter FictionalCharacters.jpg
Public Domain, Link

One of the continual failings of both Kristin and Erlend -- of Erlend more than Kristin, although Kristin is not at any point an innocent in this -- is a refusal (more than a failure, a refusal) to look seriously at how their actions affect other people. It's a very human flaw, but combined with even an occasional selfishness and pride, it leads to grave harms visited on other people, willful disruptions of life for which other people have to pay. One of Kristin's redeeming qualities is her capacity eventually to recognize this. But repentance is a little harder than merely recognizing the wrong you do and the harm you done. And in the end, the only things that are not things to regret are the good deeds we do.

Favorite Passage:

Now, whenever she took the old path home past the site of the smith--and by now it was almost overgrown, with tufts of yellow bedstraw, bluebells, and sweet peas spilling over the borders of the lush meadow--it seemed almost as if she were looking at a picture of her own life: the weather-beaten, soot-covered old hearth that would never again be lit by a fire. The ground was strewn with bits of coal, but thin, short, gleaming tendrils of grass were springing up all over the abandoned site. And in the cracks of the old hearth blossomed fireweed, which sows its seeds everywhere, with its exquisite, ong red tassels. (p. 1017)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.


Sigrid Undset, Kristin Lavransdatter, Nunnally, tr,. Penguin (New York: 2005).

Friday, April 09, 2021

Dashed Off VII

This ends the notebook that was completed February 2020.

"No truth stands by itself -- as each is kept in order and harmonized by other truths." Newman

People often do not seem to understand how often they offend others, the offense merely being endured until a new situation overrides it, or else quietly being forgiven.

artifical vs natural models // artificial vs natural classifications

Debunking arguments often make the mistake of treating as non-truth-tracking things that are truth-taking in a limited way or under certain conditions (e.g., self-interest, social stability, empathy, etc.).
-- And of course this is in great measure the sleight of hand one often finds -- imperfections in the process are treated as reasons to rule the process out entirely. The defective is treated as the useless, the fragile as the broken, the sometimes irrelevant as the simply irrelevant.

Apostles are guided by inspiratio, i.e., by a positive gift and charism, and adsistentia, i.e. by negative restraint in the office; popes, as such, receive an office connected to the latter, and thus are guided only by adsistentia in it.

three standards: craftsmanship, product specification, product goals

Historical events, like physical events, are measured by containments and cycles.

Human beings cannot be satisfied, or even patient, very long with mere repetition; they must see it as something having meaning in a broader story, however good in itself.

People with no sense of the consecrated are horrified at nothing.

heart-warming as appealing to 'warm' virtues, or at least our capacity for them -- sympathy, joy, love
-- heart-warming and comfort
-- heart-warming and human connection

four forms of fraternity: natura, gente, cognatione, affectu (sibling, compatriot, kin, friend)

the works of philosophers as rough drafts or preliminary sketches of wisdom

Reduction to Box (exceptionlessness) repeatedly and spontaneously arises as in accounts of how explanation works, for many different modalities.

the sublimity of God in the cradle, the sublimity of God on the Cross

(love of Christ → love of those in whom Christ dwells [love of the brethren]) → love of those in whom Christ can dwell [love of humanity]

mutual esteem, reciprocal concessions, and reasonable dealings

Human beings are teachers by virtue of being human.

the piacular as more fundamental than the culpable

States and governments tend to use divisions in the citizenry as an occasion for developing state-dependence in the citizenry.

The original root idea of aion (as well as aevum) seems to have been something like 'lifespan', which then gets used in extended meanings (generation) and in figurative and semi-figurative meanings (the lifespan of the world, an age or eon or epoch).
The Romans took the god Aion to have Aeternitas as his female counterpart; both were the guarantors of perpetual Roman dominion.
The Kingdom having no end (Lk 1:33), it is everlasting, aionion (2 Pt 1:11).
2 Cor 4:18 aionios vs proskairos
Timaeus: aionios as that of which time is the moving image
aye, aevum, aion
"the completness which embraces the time of the life of each, outside of which there is nothing, according to nature, is called the aion of each. For the same reason, the completeness of the whole heaven, and the completeness embracing all time and infinitude is aion, having received this name from existing for ever, immortal and divine." Aristotle
"In aion, nothing is passed, nothing is about to be, but only subsists." Philo (De Mundo 7)

A patron saint qua patron is a symbolic altar for prayer.

equations as expanded zeroes

etiquette & the cultivation of the appearance of cooperation in order to facilitate substantive cooperation

-- generally taken to be related to hospitableness (Exceptions are mostly obviously ironic)
-- suggests smallness -- roomy but cozy is not impossible but is oxymoronic and in need of explanation
-- coziness often goes with warmness

spookiness and creepiness as species of uncanniness

"Our minds make stories, and stories make our minds." Terry Pratchett

An enthymeme is reasoning from the thymos.

Despite the name, a hypothesis test in statistics is not really a test of the hypothesis but a method for proceeding to an acceptable solution in decision problems in which the false positive rate is centrally important and potentially costly.

the portability of religious practice (the history of Judaism shows that this can play a significant role in how a religion develops and adapts)

Space and time are two ways of measuring causal possibility.

Even the appearance of mobbing is absolutely antithetical to the professional ethics of academic philosophy.

numeracy and literacy as more like physical fitness than specific skill, a state of preparedness arising from a habit of practicing
-- integrity is perhaps like this in moral life

corporations as human self-instrumentations

compression, communication, and new-inquiry-making as marks of understanding

All reasoning starts from something deemed worthy of unfolding.

Scientific claims are often less conclusions than patterns of inquiry.

Disjunction introduction (Addition) makes disjunction into an also-in-the-universe-of-discourse operator.

Torah as "the message declared by angels" (Hb 2:2; cp Acts 7:38-39, 53; Gal 3:19; and Josephus Ant. 15.5.3)

Every ethos is mediated.

morality in root, morality in mediation, morality in reception

In ancestor Christology and angel Christology, one attributes a causal role (mediation) to Christ, but with remotion and eminence: Christ is the Angel whose mediation is higher than the angels, the Ancestor whose mediation is higher than the ancestors, the superangelic Angel, the superancestral Ancestor.

arguments against the view that St. Joseph was sanctified in the womb or sinless
(1) the doctrine is not found in Scripture, either by prophecy, or by explicit statement, or by figure
(2) attributions to Joseph, like those to Mary, must arise out of his role in the work of salvation. Joseph's role is not to be blessed, full of grace, or overshadowed by the Spirit, his flesh does not need to be prepared to be that from which the Word Incarnate comes; he has no extensive prophetic role. His role is to be, like the patriarchs, a righteous man, to betroth and to serve as protector. Thus is it is reasonable to consider him Protector of the Universal Church; this arises out of his role. But sanctification in the womb does not, and sinlessness especially does not.

officia and professional ethics

In argument as in swordsmanship, hasty strokes go oft astray.

autonomy or autarchy of reason // integrity of body

doublings in Genesis as emphasis of theme
Doublings in Genesis are too common not to be deliberate.

One of the important features of George Herbert's poetic approach is that the title is not just the name of the poem but also part of the poem.

It would be more accurate to say that our natality gives the events of our life meaning than to say that our mortality does; and more accurate still to say that it is our eternity that does so.

Trying always to be right leads inevitably to dishonesty.

Confirmation depends on what exists.

'Allies' is what you are in the face of designated enemies.

three elements of full ownership
(1) usus (right to use as is)
(2) fructus (right to profit from)
(3) abusus (right to alienate either by consumption or transfer)

'Theories of truth' are in general just theories of marks of truth.

Differences in possible punishment can change the standards of guilt.

"The modern mind is not single-minded: it eliminates from its progressive outlook the Christian implication of creation and consummation, while it assimilates from the ancient worldview the idea of an endless and continuous movement, discarding its circular structure." Karl Lowith

Planck came up with the Planck length as a natural unit of length, not as a minimal length; the use of it as the latter arises out of later theories to relate quantum mechanics and general relativity. (Planck's comment was that it would be meaningful for all times and even for extraterrestrial nonhuman cultures.)

'Tikkun olam' is usually translated as 'repairing the world' or something similar, but it seems more likely to me, based on its actual Talmudic use, that it is should be understood as something more like 'correcting (the defects of) the age'. That is, when the situation at arises leads to people simply ignoring the law due to misaligned incentives, or else evading it, or introduces elements making it practically impossible, the rabbis may by normal halakhic processes come up with a workaround. This seems to fit most reasonably with (e.g.) Hillel's prosbol enactment. When tikkun olam is given as a reason, the rabbis are always providing some workaround to bring people back to the law in a situation that is making it unnecessarily difficult.

What human beings most admire are virtue and skill.

testimony to how others imagine things would be

Discussions of immorality in literature regularly fail to distinguish object and act in a plausible way.

'Grounding' and 'grounded' are just 'prior' and 'posterior'.

the 'memory' or 'storage' of a proof
-- in linear logic, items are removed from memory, unless they are fixed in it by exponentiation; in classical proofs, the memory is taken to include all necessary truths, always, any non-necessary assumptions once assumed, and all conclusions once proved. (Contradiction explosion requires this perfect infinite memory.)

Oral traditions are simultaneously conservative and adaptive.

Some aspects of the behavior of proper names in modern languages are artifacts of legal systems, not intrinsic to proper naming.

"a common nature is the pledge of our union with the Son of God" Calvin

Stupidity is sometimes, even often, the right explanation, but it is rarely the simplest explanation.

If the mind were a pattern, it could be constituted entirely by absences (like a sort of negative space).

Intellectual humility is distinct from openmindedness; the latter under certain conditions is a sign of the former, but not under other conditions.

haunted as aesthetic property
-- it is true that people recognize 'haunted house' in aesthetic terms; it's how people who don't believe in ghosts take it, and people who do believe in ghosts are not missing this sense

Nature as indefinite might

the spooky as that, the mere ability to think which, shows a mental capacity to think of death as a dividing boundary

shiver : spooky :: laughter : comic

the languid sublime

the exemplary irregular as a mark of genius
Exemplary irregularity also seems to be a mark of prophecy (but it arises from an external rather than an internal source).

parent-child & overlapping autonomy

Scripture is in favor of the doctrine that receiving the gospel from the Apostles and those whom they set as overseers is sufficient for salvation, and that this unwritten gospel can contain all that is necessary for salvation.

We have certain knowledge that unwritten traditions integral to the life of the Church, like the canon of Scripture, come from God.

Original justice as not 'as a wreath upon a maiden's hair' but as an integral health and robustness of youth.

the Church as "a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ"

Article XXI of the Thirty-Nine Articles is patently absurd. Councils can and may obviously be gathered together simply by gathering together, and this has been so since the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem, which serves as model and exemplar of all others. Nor have princes been give authority by Scripture to call Councils, much less in such a way as to be essential to the process, a particular absurdity when one considers the early history of the Church. Further, the role of princes, even of such as Constantine, has always primarily been infrastructural more than anything else. And we were just told the Article before that the Church has authority to decree rites and ceremonies and to determine in controversies of faith, which is what general councils do.

Williams's argument on the undesirability of immortality makes the false assumption that only categorical desires prevent life from being dull. But for people not suffering health problems or hormonal balances, lots of things other than desires contribute to making life interesting.

Contrary to Smuts, most of what we do is not done under the urgency of our mortality. (Philosophers and saints have in fact often needed to exhort people with memento-moris when it mattered.)

Logic circuits don't mimic brain actions but brain outputs.

experimentalesque observations
-- the natural historian and field scientist need to develop a sense or taste for the experimentalesque
-- just as picturesque require frameability and composition, the experimentalesque requires relative spearability and trackability/perceptibility of elements

Every concept has a final cause.

philosophical dialogues as conceptual art.

virtues → (by way of roles) offices → noblities, policies, and duties

Each clause of the Paternoster is a ground of trust: fatherhood, eminence, sanctity, sure promise, authority, benefaction, mercy, protection, deliverance.

the role of indefinite problems in factional politics

"He who would tell a tale must look toward three ideals: to tell it well, to tell it beautifully, and to tell the truth. The first is the Gift of God, the second is the Vision of Genius, but the third is the Reward of Honesty." Du Bois

time loop // space loop (rectilinear circle) // inference-step loop (circular argument)

Good politics is more like horticulture than engineering.

the mind's faith in, and hope on behalf of, and love for, the body

the presence of the artist in the art, of the crafter in the crafted
-- art as an instrument of presence; this suggests a distinction between conjoined (music, dance) and separable (painting, sculpture) instrument -- poetry is peculiar in straddling the line, not through complexity of parts (like drama) but in some way at the same time, or at least indifferently -- but perhaps we could say the same of music and dance if thinking of the distinctions in proper media of record

"To learn by heart is to afford the text or music an indwelling clarity and life-force." G. Steiner
"... no epistemology, no philosophy of art can lay claim to inclusiveness if it has nothing to teach us about the nature and meanings of music."
"The text, the painting, the composition are wagers on lastingness."

Textual criticism is part of editing for better use of the text, and its only right mode of proceeding depends on that use.

An interpretation of a text should be consistent and unified (note that this is distinct from the text being consistent and unified), literarily pious (doing justice to author and audience), encompassing of the facts of the text, and actually derived from the text.

quasi-religion: pietistic sentimentalism (//kitsch), analogies of trouvism (buffet spiritualities), conceptual abstractions, analogies of avant-gardism

God - Christ - Sacraments - Heaven as the structure of the mission of the Church

the network of holy signs by which the Church fishes for men

the four senses and icons

the Church as seed, sign, and instrument of the Kingdom of God (Redemptoris missio)

A good reputation is one means by which we contribute to common good.

probabilities as measures of fit of means to ends

good architecture as a support and a refreshment for the soul

Truth values are a flattening of truth for the purpose of a model.

Deriving from the properly theandric acts of Christ, the sacraments are broadly theandric acts of Christ in His sacramental body.

'Oppression' does not signify a hierarchical relationship of any kind, although some hierarchical relationships are oppressive. Who cannot recognize non-hierarchical oppression cannot understand oppression, because the most basic kinds of oppression are not hierarchical.

In every political structure, dominant groups gain advantage by disempowering other groups, because this is what political structure is.

inherence, dependence, and reciprocity as three manifestations of final causation

holiness as love proceeding

Reasoning is the moving image of understanding.

Our knowledge is but a thimbleful, but not the less real for its minuteness.

Ex 24:1-1,9-11 sacred meal
Ex 24:3-8 blood of the covenant

"The solidarity of any civil society demands the presence of four common elements: one governor, one law, the same insignia, and a common end." Aquinas

As the Seven Days are to creation, so the Life of Christ is to our re-creation, as one is to nature, the other is to grace.

assumption : Box :: supposition : Diamond

salvation-history -- historia dispensationis temporalis divinae Providentiae (Augustine, De ver rel 7:13)

three aspects of Llull's homificans: understanding, memory, will

Humanitarian traditions are like faculties for human common good; this is related to why they must be guarded from perversion.

Christ's death qua satisfactory remedy the foundation of the penitential economy of the Church (martyrdom, indulgences, etc.)
Christ's death qua mystery of salvation the foundation of the sacramental economy of the Church

hospitality the mark/expression of royal munus

Each of the major sacraments is, qua visible sign, the Church itself expressing itself in specific form.

In the Creeds, each major point is tied to something historical: creation, the Virgin, Pontius Pilate, the prophets, the apostles.

Deck with Verdure Wood and Plain

April Days
by Amanda Theodocia Jones


Come through mist and dashing rain,
April days, April days;
Break the last light crystal chain,
Teach the snowbird livelier lays,
Deck with verdure wood and plain,
April days, April days.

Years are long--the years are three,
April days, April days,
Since my love went forth from me;
Craving neither gold nor praise,
But free scope for valor free,
April days, April days.

Sun-bright flags for marshaled men,
April days, April days,
Flung ye out o'er hill and glen;
All your winds sang battle-lays;
Southward soared your eagles then,
April days, April days.

Flaunt your sun-bright flags once more,
April days, April days;
For the ship is near the shore,
And he comes whom all must praise:
Northward doth my eagle soar,
April days, April days.

Gayly shine, oh, brightly shine,
April days, April days!
Wounded in the vanward line,
Victor of a hundred frays,
Welcome home this love of mine,
April days, April days!


Thursday, April 08, 2021

Yelling 'Fire' and Owning Tanks

President Biden:

"No amendment to the Constitution is absolute. You can't yell 'fire' in a crowded movie theater and call it freedom of speech. From the beginning, you couldn't own any weapon you wanted to own," he said, a line used during his 2020 campaign.

Neither of these claims is really correct. The claim that yelling fire in a crowded theater is not free speech comes from a court case in which someone was being prosecuted for handing out fliers criticizing the draft; it was later overturned, is widely recognized as a badly decided case, and is wrong. There are actions where it is recognized that freedom of speech does not necessarily excuse them despite the fact that they are done with speech -- things like defamation, obscenity, incitement to violence -- but precisely because of freedom of speech, the handling of them is very narrow and precise (and notably all such cases pre-exist the Constitution, so having narrowly defined laws against them does not restrict or infringe the freedom of speech people have always understood themselves to have). In any case, shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater is not one of these acts that use speech but are not wholly excused by freedom of speech.

And it is in fact the case that in the United States you can, in principle, own any weapon you want to own. It doesn't even make sense to say otherwise. In 'the beginning', the most important example of naval power -- warships being the most powerful weapons in the world at that time -- could be privately owned. The US Constitution literally has a clause assuming that Congress will issue letters of marque and reprisal, which are government authorizations for private ships to engage in acts of war. If you, as a private American citizen, want to own a tank or a fighter jet today, you are entirely within your rights to do so. (We don't have tanks and fighter jets everywhere because they are prohibitively expensive to maintain, and moving them around is immensely difficult. It's the same reason why, despite the fact that it is legal to own cannons, we have never had large numbers of cannon owners. Nothing prevents any of us from owning an aircraft carrier except that none of us could afford it. But a few tank enthusiasts, for instance, own their own fully functioning tanks and spend a large portion of their income every year maintaining them, just for the entirely legal fun of it.) Some things are very highly regulated, to be sure, but if you're willing to take the years to jump through the legal hoops, the only weapons you can't in principle own are cases where the impediment is incidental to owning the weapon itself -- like the patents being held by the military, or your attempting to store the weapon too closely to a population center, or not getting proper permitting and licensing for an alteration, or you are attempting to buy a weapon can't practically be made or sold for some reason. 

You can decry this, if you like, as unfortunate, but such is the American way. For all practical purposes, you can in fact say what you want to say and own the weapons you want to own if you are an American citizen, without the government prohibiting it, because the Constitution gives you that right.

In an absolute sense, no Constitution is absolute -- the fact that we can get rid of them or amend them is an obvious proof of that -- but, again, for practical purposes, Constitutional amendments are in fact absolute, in the sense that they are not supposed to be qualified or restricted except by Constitutional amendment. That's the whole point of a written constitution. Both federal and state governments are always trying to give themselves wiggle room in the interpretations, and perhaps sometimes this succeeds, but  the whole point of a written constitution as a safeguard is that neither legislature nor executive are supposed to be able to impose exceptions or qualifications on their own authority. Now, if President Biden wants to argue that there should be a new Constitutional amendment, he is entirely within his rights as an American citizen. But, unless we've just decided that Presidents should be able to do whatever they want, it takes a Constitutional amendment to restrict a Constitutional freedom.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Bound by the Spell of Some Enchanting Page

Fire-side Fancy
by John William Burgon

Oft as, at night, I sit and muse alone,
Bound by the spell of some enchanting page
Bard of old Greece, or half inspir'd sage
My kindl’d fancy takes a wayward tone:
And straight, I hear what seems the midnight moan
Of some poor restless ghost;--or, it may be,
The distant roaring of the sleepless sea;
Or unchain’d winds that howl from zone to zone.
Hark! is it not a voice? There seem’d to come
A soft sad wail;--but now, such carol wild
As a young Mother chaunteth to her child
Steals o'er the sense.--Go to--it is the hum
Of a huge city!.....while I thus inquire,
I turn, and find--the kettle near the fire!

Worcester College, 13th Dec., 1844.