Saturday, August 11, 2012

Noel Coward, Future Indefinite


Opening Passage:

Present Indicative was the story of my life from birth until the age of thirty-one. It finished just after the production of Cavalcade when, with Jeffrey Amherst, I embarked on a voyage to South America. The last line of the book was:--"When we came up on deck there was no England left. Nothing but sea and sky."

Summary: Future Indefinite is not an immediate sequel to Present Indicative; rather it makes a leap to when Coward was thirty-nine, and concerns Coward's doings in the years between 1939 and 1945, when, for everyone in Europe, the future was very indefinite. Seeing it all unfold through Coward's eyes is quite an experience: he was a propagandist for the British war effort, did some minor spy work (although he is very coy about most of it here), and entertained the troops. There are quite a few funny and droll anecdotes throughout the work. We also get, front and center, Coward's attitude toward journalists, who regularly considered him an open target (after all, he was an entertainer who traveled all over the world, not uncommonly on public dime), and whom he regarded with an attitude that ranged from disdain to contempt bordering on hatred. Coward's personality is also everywhere in evidence throughout the book: haughty and melodramatic but also (to use his own favorite compliments, which apply very well to himself) kind and common-sensical. Because of his fame, the book is full of the major names of the period: Churchill (Coward's relationship with Churchill was polite and sociable, but they didn't understand each other), Roosevelt (Coward is a fan), Mountbatten (one of his best friends), stars of stage and screen.

Favorite Passage: Here is Coward trying to solve the problem of a rogue radio station (whose signal could be used by German bombers on the way to England), and, unable to speak to the busy Winston Churchill himself, he talks with Duncan Sandys, Churchill's son-in-law. Coward had previously, much earlier, asked Churchill for advice about how he could help the war effort and had been told that he should devote himself to keep people's spirits up by singing.

We sat down in two heavily brocaded chairs and I proceeded, as intelligibly as I could, to put the facts before him. Perhaps I was overeager; too emphatic; perhaps my sense of drama overcoloured and overweighted my argument, because I felt, while I talked, that my words were falling on stony ground. He was polite and attentive and listened indulgently, but there was something in his manner that gave me the impression that he was humouring me, like a benevolent uncle who nods understandingly when his small nephew announces shrilly that he has just seen three full-blooded pirates int eh back garden. After the interview, when I rose to go, he smiled charmingly and said what a good idea it would be if only I could write a gay, morale-lifting war song, something on the lines of "Mad Dogs and Englishmen." I knew then how dismally I had failed and, with a sad heart, left him, reflecting on my way back to the office, that the Churchill family's passion for "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" verged on the pathological. (p. 104)

Recommendation: Certainly recommended for light reading. It is very uneven, but overall quite an amusing easy read, and, of course, it's a light look at a very dark time by someone who was everywhere in the world at the time, and so would be interesting just for that. There are parts of the book that are hard to put down.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Generation is Not Creation

Apparently it's the time of the year again when ID theorists again try to co-opt Thomists and other scholastics. "Uncommon Descent" has a post trying to make the argument that Thomists should be entirely in favor of ID theory, instead of usually skeptical at best -- at least in this case it's a little less clunky, in the form of a dialogue between SB and Saint Thomas. I can prove easily, though, that the Saint Thomas who appeared to SB is not the real Saint Thomas. The key paragraphs:

SB: I agree, but the neo-Thomists also have very strong ideas about God’s process of creation, and they associate them with you. According to them, you say that God creates only through secondary causality. In other words, God doesn’t tweak his material creation—ever. God, they say, always fashions his handiwork through intrinsic finality and never resorts to external finality.

ST: How did they arrive at that novel interpretation?

SB: I asked them to provide the relevant quotes, but they didn’t get back to me.

ST: Clearly, they are misreading me. Among other things, I said that God created man’s body by forming him out of dust, directly and immediately. So, obviously, my philosophy of nature, though acknowledging the fact of secondary causality in the physical realm, does not rule out primary causality, external finality, or tweaking. Yes, I taught that God can create through secondary causality, but nowhere did I ever say that God creates exclusively through secondary causality. The neo-Thomists are just making that up. Did you explain that to them?

Saint Thomas would never, ever, ever claim that he taught that God can create through secondary causality in this context at all. Creation is inherently, by definition, primary causation. To say that God created by secondary causes would be the same as to say that creatures can be instruments of creation. However, Aquinas is quite clear that this is not possible. Peter Lombard had suggested that it was, and to the Lombard's argument he responds:

But such a thing cannot be, because the secondary instrumental cause does not participate the action of the superior cause, except inasmuch as by something proper to itself it acts dispositively to the effect of the principal agent. If therefore it effects nothing, according to what is proper to itself, it is used to no purpose; nor would there be any need of certain instruments for certain actions. Thus we see that a saw, in cutting wood, which it does by the property of its own form, produces the form of a bench, which is the proper effect of the principal agent. Now the proper effect of God creating is what is presupposed to all other effects, and that is absolute being. Hence nothing else can act dispositively and instrumentally to this effect, since creation is not from anything presupposed, which can be disposed by the action of the instrumental agent. So therefore it is impossible for any creature to create, either by its own power or instrumentally--that is, ministerially.

If we ever say that God creates by way of creatures, we can at best be speaking metaphorically. In a proper sense, only God can create, and that means that creation is in and of itself a form of primary causation. Likewise, no Thomist in trying to be accurate about the relation of the world to God would say that God creates through secondary causes, because this is to confuse generation and creation. And this is part of the problem many Thomists have about ID attempts to co-opt Thomistic theological ideas as IDistic: ID is in Thomistic terms not an account of creation at all. It is an account of generation: it claims to tell, on the basis of the natures of things, how they were originally generated. But that means that Thomistic accounts of what God can do are simply not relevant: the Thomist is going to look at ID and say -- "Is their account of the natures of things correct? And is their inference supported by a reasonable causal principle?" Note that God doesn't enter into the matter at all. It's true that God can do by primary causation what can be done by secondary causation, but ID theorists don't claim to provide a Thomistic account of divine providence and draw conclusions from that: they claim to provide an account of the natures of things and how those things are generated. And it is on this that they will be judged. ID is a theory of a particular kind of secondary causation, namely the generation of certain kinds of structures and organizations in a population; it tells us nothing about primary causation.

This is of some importance. God in Thomistic terms did not create the human race 'by means of evolution'. God creates the human race by being the primary cause on which every human being, every one who has ever existed and every one who ever will, always depends for its existence. Evolutionary theory doesn't tell us anything about creation; it's an account of how populations of organisms with certain characteristics are generated from populations of organisms with other characteristics. But creation is not generation. Individually, you and I are created by God but generated by our parents. And that's a big difference. There's a loose, figurative sense in which your parents by their generation were participating in God's creation, but all that means is that you are God's creature and the particular creature you are has as one of its characteristics the particular parentage you had. And it's not a sense relevant to the sorts of things ID talks about.

Fourteenth Army

I occasionally play Civilization IV, and one of the scenarios I have -- I think it's on one of the expansion packs -- is the World War II Pacific Theater. I've played Australia several times, and one of the most effective strategies I've found is to build up the Australian military enough to hold off any Japanese attacks on New Guinea and Australia itself (Australia was caught as much off guard by Pearl Harbor as the US, and it was even more of a disaster for them -- the overwhelming bulk of its military was in Europe fighting Hitler, and Australia was absolutely not prepared to fight a full-scale Pacific War as well; and the Japanese in reality very quickly occupied New Guinea, which was an Australian territory and is right to the north of the mainland, to such an extent that the campaign to retake New Guinea still wasn't completely finished by the end of the war), then start sending surplus ships and troops like crazy to help the British in Burma and India. The British by that point are in bad shape and falling back, but if you can manage to hold the line and start pushing the Japanese back, however slowly, the British gather their forces and then smash across China. Once I had Australia conquer Japan in 1944 that way. The reason for it is that, while you can change things in the scenario, some things happen more or less as they happened in history, and in 1943 the British Fourteenth Army, fortified with new air support, began to push back against the Japanese, after previous forces had suffered some humiliating defeats. The strategy gives the British a massive headstart by this point in the scenario, and the help of a large number of Australian reinforcements that weren't in reality available, so the resulting Commonwealth combined forces go very far very fast.

In real life, of course, the Burmese theater was harsh and terrible, and the Commonwealth forces in the British Fourteenth had no headstarts at all -- by the time it was formed, the Japanese had pushed almost to India, and almost the first thing it had to deal with was a massive Japanese offensive. The head of the Fourteenth Army, Field Marshal William Slim, wrote a memoir, Defeat into Victory, and the title summarizes exactly what he and the Fourteenth did. The stunning and very difficult campaign was one of the most important in the war. Yet, at the same time, the British Fourteenth became known as the Forgotten Army because the press hardly mentioned it -- this besides the fact that, by the end of the war, the Fourteenth Army was the largest army in the world. But the Pacific War would have gone very differently without Slim's brilliance and the Fourteenth Army's indefatigability; the Japanese became tied up in Burma to such an extent that they ran themselves into the ground there. Those were tens of thousands of men who would have been fighting the U.S. in the island-hopping campaign. Or, for that matter, fortifying New Guinea.

What brings this all to mind is that I am, of course, reading Noë Coward's Future Indefinite, and he talks about visiting the Fourteenth Army, and notes that troop morale was really hurt by the 'Forgotten Army' nickname.

In Comilla I lunched with General Slim and he talked, unsentimentally but with moving sincerity, of the Fourteenth Army. He referred with sudden bitterness to the phrase "Forgotten Army," which had been coined by some zealous newspaperman who was evidently more interested in mots justes than noblesse oblige. The general explained that although the morale of the troops had remained astonishingly high throughout all the vicissitudes of their repeated advances and retreats, this label "Forgotten Army" had really stuck in their minds like a prickly burr and hurt them out of all proportion to its actual significance. The trouble was that there was a germ of truth in it. They realised, when papers were sent them from home, that as far as news value was concerned the war they were grimly fighting year in year out was apparently not important. Columns were devoted to raids on European strongholds, to air battles and sea battles, but their exploits, if mentioned at all, were usually relegated to the back page. General Slim asked me if I could do anything ot remedy this situation when I got back to England and I promised to do a broadcast at the earliest opportunity.

[Noë Coward, Future Indefinite, Doubleday (New York: 1954) pp. 312-313.]

Coward would keep his promise.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Unpretentious and Transparently Clear

Today is the feast of St. Teresa Benedicta a Cruce, OCD, but she is most often known by her secular name: Edith Stein. St. Edith was born to a Jewish family; she became an atheist as a teenager. She went into philosophy, and became one of the most talented students of one of the most important philosophers of the day, Edmund Husserl. Stein edited some of Husserl's works. She tried to get an academic position, but could not because she was a woman. In 1921, she read the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, and converted to Catholicism. She did a lot of work in education of girls, and in 1932 took a position at the Institute of Pedagogy in Münster, but unfortunately the next year she was forced to give it up because she was Jewish. She became a Discalced Carmelite, hence her religious name, and as things began to get dangerous, the order sent her and her sister, who also converted, to the Netherlands, where it was safer. For a while. The Nazis of course invaded the Low Countries. A bunch of different church groups joined in on a plan to denounce the Nazi regime publicly, the idea being that if everyone were united the Nazis could not do much about it. (And they were probably right, if they had been successful; documents later recovered showed that the Germans were very worried about Protestant-Catholic cooperation on the matter.) The Catholic Church in the Netherlands, for instance, had denunciations of Nazi anti-semitic laws read throughout the land one Sunday. However, the result didn't quite work as planned, and the Nazis simply started coming down harder on the Dutch. And, of course, the Nazis with ruthless efficiency after a while started rounding up all the Jewish Catholics who had originally been sent to the Netherlands for safety and had not been able to get out. Edith Stein and her sister Rosa were sent to Auschwitz, and are thought to have been put in the gas chamber on August 9, 1942.

From one of her letters, to fellow philosopher Walter Warnach, who had sent her some poems:

Your verses require no apology for being either too harsh or too gloomy. It is probably a sign of your great sensibility that you yourself consider them that way. Of course, theya re not easily accessible. I can't say taht even I can understand every word. But I believe I can understand something of the spiritual wanderer's frame of mind out of which they were composed. And I believe the closer he comes to the summit the better able he will be to make himself understood. In places, he is already managing it. Perfect poetry is--I believe--like perfect wisdom and sanctity, unpretentious and transparently clear.

[Letter #267, Self-Portrait in Letters 1916-1942, Koeppel, tr. ICS Publications (Washington DC: 1993) p. 279.]

Music on My Mind

Deas Vail, "Atlantis"

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Hot Tadpole

Noël Coward being very unimpressed with Soviet Russia:

Presently, when I had finished unpacking and had my coffee, I decided to shave and have a bath. The bathroom was large and encrusted with marble; the rusty shower refused to work, so I turned on teh bath tap marked "Hot" and was startled to see a tadpole come out of it and vanish down the plughole. Later on, when I had dressed and gone downstairs, I spoke to the manager about it. I explained, as politely as I could, that, although he might consider what I was saying to be alien propaganda, in England when we turned on a hot tap, as a general rule, hot water came out of it, whereas if on the other hand we wished for a hot tadpole, we turned on a tap marked "Hot Tadpole" and, owing to the efficiency of our capitalist state, a hot tadpole usually appeared. The manager received this gentle reprmiand with the utmost courtesy and I walked out into the streest of Leningrad.

[Noël Coward, Future Indefinite, Doubleday (New York: 1954) p. 39]

I do hope to get a post on Jane Austen and the picturesque at some point this week, but substantive posts will likely be light this week as I try to get some things finished for the summer and try to get a bit ahead of the game for this coming fall term.

And some more Coward, in a different medium:

Texans are like Englishmen at least to this extent, I suppose. Coward has some funny passages about the burden of being so completely associated with this song that he was unable to convince people like Winston Churchill that he was capable of doing other things.

The Other Hobbit Novel

Tim Newcomb on the upcoming Hobbit movies (ht):

The massive J.R.R. Tolkien novel was originally slated to span two films, but an announcement came last week that Warner Bros. planned to expand the franchise into a trilogy, allowing Jackson to explore both the book’s original text and the wealth of stories in the appendixes.

The only charitable reading of this very baffling passage that I can think of is to assume that this sentence was accidentally mashed together out of several sentences in revision, and that it wasn't read closely afterward.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012


My age today in dog years, which are, as many websites helpfully tell us, a nonstandard unit of measurement based on popular folklore; and if there is any way I should be measured, it's with nonstandard units of measurement found in folklore.

Monday, August 06, 2012

False Analogy

I've complained at endless length about characterizations of the so-called "fallacy of false analogy", which are in practice, like most of the philosophical folklore that floats around, a bit of an incoherent patchwork, since they typically use arbitrarily picked bits of Mill without any of Mill's account for those bits, and without any coherent account to replace it. (And all the bits of Mill are themselves extraordinarily problematic even in their proper place in Mill's account, because Mill's account of false analogy is not very good. But, then, as I've said before, I am Humean, not Millian, about analogy, and it makes a big difference.)

(I have to say, though, that part of me feels sorry for the confusion I certainly cause students who, no doubt trying simply to finish some assignment, type in the words "what is the fallacy of false analogy" and end up landing on a post in which I argue that it's not even clear that there is any such thing. I doubt it makes things easier for them.)

I've picked on Wikipedia a number of times -- not from any Wikipedia hate, but simply because its struggles to say anything even remotely coherent on the subject always end up summing the actual incoherence of the folklore on this topic. I went by the false analogy article recently and noticed that they cleaned it up a lot. But they're still struggling. Here's their current example:

A further clear example is:

Sam: "I think that people can have some affection for their cultural heritage."

Michelle: "You're just like Hitler!"

In the above example, Michelle has evaded a reasoned discussion by tarring Sam with an irrelevant association to an idea that Hitler used. Of course no one person is identical to another to the extent that their proposals can be disparaged by a mere reference to that other person. It is a form of ad hominem: Attacking the messenger, rather than the message.

Not so clear, I think; not only do we have cross-contamination from a completely different fallacy, but it has the "just like" shift, whose status is unclear, and it's not clear that we are dealing with analogy rather than just classification according to common features (although, admittedly, depending on one's theory of classification those two might be interrelated). This particular explanation is interesting in one respect, in that the explanation makes the false analogy a fallacy of irrelevance. In general, though, fallacies of irrelevance involve a shift in meaning, due to equivocation, or due to a mismatch between means and ends, neither of which are clearly involved here. Conceivably there could be some other kind of fallacy of irrelevance, but the mention of ad hominem suggests that the irrelevance is practical, due to a mismatch of means and ends. We don't know, however, any of the context, so we don't know what the ends are here. They could be stipulated, but then the example is not a clear example.

Wikipedia is not the only place that has a problem. I just noticed that has in its discussion of false analogy:

In an analogy, two objects (or events), A and B are shown to be similar. Then it is argued that since A has property P, so also B must have property P. An analogy fails when the two objects, A and B, are different in a way which affects whether they both have property P.

This doesn't work, however. The major problem is that it's simply not necessary to analogy that there be a shared property P at all. It is entirely possible, and arguably much more common, to say that since A and B are very much alike, and since A has property P, B must have a P-like property Q, i.e., where you are simply matching properties without making any claim about what they have in common. Analogical arguments don't necessarily require that they have the very same property, even when we are talking only about obviously reasonable analogical inferences. They allow a little mutatis mutandis. But if this is so, then the characterization of false analogy is not going to work.

A Poem Draft


Lord, in Your light may we see light!

Alas! These eyes of carnal flesh
Your glory cannot see or guess;
it is beyond all hope or wish
of eye to see or tongue confess.
Alone of that which in us grows
our heart of hearts can come to know,
can bear the weight of glory's load,
can burn with flame like cherry-coal,
can catch the light and not be blind.
For in us, deep and hard to find,
is glory's wick; within the mind
a blaze may burn as heaven's sign.
That blaze is love; not foolish heart
but flame more shining than a star
when fed by faith and hope which are
the fuels for beacons burning far
into the darkness of our night.
We see in some small glimpse its like,
as sparks that from the kindling fly,
but light is there beyond our eye
as spectrum past the rainbow runs;
so too it shall like endless suns
beam out from God both Three and One
unseen until our work is done.
Then love with everlasting flame
shall need no fuel, will be self-same,
on every creature lay its claim
and mark us all with God's own Name.

On the Feast of the Most Holy Transfiguration in the Two Thousand Twelfth Year of Our Lord.

Feast of Glory's Light

I've said before that I think Christians should pick one of the major solemnities or feasts as 'their' particular feast, the one that most sums up their perspective on the Christian life, in somewhat like the way people pick patron saints. Such feasts are universal in some sense, but in dealing with the truths of revelation we are dealing with things so big that people will have a greater affinity to some feasts than to others. There'd be lots of Easter people, I'm sure, perhaps even more Christmas and Epiphany people; but some Christians are effectively Christians of the Annunciation, and others are Christians of Pentecost, and so on through all the others. Mine would be today, the Feast of the Transfiguration. If I had to choose one feast to sum it all up, this would be it. Past, present, future; Heaven and earth; veil and revelation; it has it all.

The three major seasonal holy days of the Jewish calendar are Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Each of these has a corresponding feast on the Christian calendar. The links between Passover and Holy Week are well-known and obvious. It's less known, but still recognized, that the Christian counterpart of Shavuot is Pentecost. What is even less known, and only very rarely recognized at all (due in part to chronological detachment), is that Sukkot, which is often known in English as the Feast of Tabernacles, also has its Christian counterpart, and the closest counterpart of Tabernacles is Transfiguration. While the Bible does not explicitly associate the Transfiguration with the Feast of Tabernacles (it is explicitly mentioned in the Gospels, if I am not mistaken, only in John 7, in a different context), but Jesus seems to have at least fairly regularly gone to Jerusalem for the major pilgrimage feasts (Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot, again), and Peter's mention of booths or tabernacles or tents is a pretty clear indicator that the feast was going on at that time, especially given the way it is linked with the story of Peter's confession six days earlier. Sukkot is a memorial feast commemorating the wanderings of the Israelites in the desert; it is very much a thanksgiving feast, being also associated with the fall harvest. It is a big celebration, seven days long, and a sharp change from the previous major holiday, Yom Kippur. Water libations on the altar were a notable part of the celebration; when Jesus talks about water in John 7, he isn't bringing up the subject randomly -- the feast was, among other things, quite literally the feast of the waters of salvation (Isaiah 12 was, and still is, associated with the festival).

Thus we begin to get a sense of the background of Peter's thought in the story:

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone by themselves. There in their presence he was transfigured: his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. Then Peter spoke to Jesus: "Rabbi," he said "it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." He did not know what to say; they were so frightened.

And a cloud came, covering them in shadow; and there came a voice from the cloud, "This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him." Then suddenly, when they looked round, they saw no one with them any more but only Jesus.

As they came down from the mountain he warned them to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They observed the warning faithfully, though among themselves they discussed what "rising from the dead" could mean.

Every single sentence of this story is striking. But we have past (Moses, Elijah) and present and future (looking forward to the Resurrection) here; we have Heaven meeting earth; we have hidden mystery and unveiling of hidden mystery simultaneously. And we have the Kingdom of God. From a sermon by St. Gregory Palamas on Matthew's version of the story:

The first thing we should consider in this Gospel passage is from what point in time Matthew, Christ's apostle and evangelist, counts the six days preceding the day on which the Lord was transfigured. Six days after which day? Six days after the day when the Lord taught His disciples, saying, "The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father" (Mattt. 16:27), and adding, "There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom" (Matt. 16:28). He was referring to the light of His transfiguration as His Father's glory and as His own Kingdom. (p. 267)

This is both present and hidden:

According to the theologians, when Christ was transfigured He neither received anythign different, nor was changed into anythign different, but was revealed to His disciples as He was, opening their eyes and giving sight to the blind. (p. 272)

And yet it looks forward as well. As St. Thomas Aquinas says (ST 3.45.4 ad 2):

Just as in the Baptism, where the mystery of the first regeneration was proclaimed, the operation of the whole Trinity was made manifest, because the Son Incarnate was there, the Holy Ghost appeared under the form of a dove, and the Father made Himself known in the voice; so also in the transfiguration, which is the mystery of the second regeneration, the whole Trinity appears--the Father in the voice, the Son in the man, the Holy Ghost in the bright cloud; for just as in baptism He confers innocence, signified by the simplicity of the dove, so in the resurrection will He give His elect the clarity of glory and refreshment from all sorts of evil, which are signified by the bright cloud.

I like the phrases here: the mystery of the second regeneration (sacramentum secundae regenerationis), refreshment from all sorts of evil (refrigerium ab omni malo).

One could go on forever talking about it; that is what it is to be a holy mystery: a holy mystery is an inexhaustible truth.


Quotations from Palamas are from St. Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, Mount Thabor Publishing (Waymart, PA: 2009).

Oak Creek Gurdwara Shooting

You may have heard of the shooting at the Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin. Very sad; but it is also somewhat a relief that the shooter arrived in the morning, when the only people around were those involved in preparations for the day, rather than at the afternoon services when there would have been hundreds of people in the building. God go with them all.

The humble servants of the Lord are absorbed in the Name of the Lord, Har, Har. The pain of birth and the fear of death are eradicated.

They have found the Imperishable Supreme Being, the Transcendent Lord God, and they receive great honor throughout all the worlds and realms.

[Sri Guru Granth page 13, line 11 (also page 171, line 9)]

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Book a Week, August 5

For this week, I thought I would do nonfiction: Noël Coward's Future Indefinite. It's actually the second volume in his autobiography, but I don't have the first, which is called Present Indicative (there was also an unfinished third volume, called Past Conditional). So we start in Coward's 40th year or so. Noël Coward, born in 1899, died in 1973. He is best known as a playwright and songwriter; comedy is his strength in both cases. Should be fun.

Noël Coward, "There are Bad Times Just Around the Corner"

What a Country!

Talking of Russian comedy set me thinking of this famous comedy act.