Saturday, September 08, 2018

Moral Credibility

One recurring theme in a lot of discussions about the current crisis in the Catholic hierarchy that worries me a bit is that of 'moral credibility'. People will say things like, "The bishops have lost moral credibility". And this, I think, fundamentally fails to grasp how morality actually works.

We probably can make some kind of sense of the notion of 'moral credibility', but it's not straightforward. You can see how in general it would be better to get moral advice from a saint than from someone who has done evil things, but we also tend to tie credibility to experience, and we can also make perfect sense of the notion that a sinner sometimes giving better advice about the moral pitfalls of a sin he knows too well than a saint who had never had that particular temptation to overcome. But neither of these really seem relevant here, anyway. One can well make sense, in addition, of bishops being regarded as less trustworthy for their failures; but this is just ordinary personal trustworthiness, in the same sense that people don't regard politicians as being very trustworthy, regardless of whether they think they are saying the right thing. Politicians don't, as politicians, do anything that depends on a quality of 'moral credibility'. And while that's really obvious, the problem with concerns over moral credibility is that nobody else actually seems to do so, either.

Nor is this surprising, because this is how morality works in general -- it has its own standards. If an adulterer exhorts you not to commit adultery, what is at stake is not the credibility of the adulterer, but of what the adulterer is saying in itself.

One can of course have suspicion of episcopal motives. A few years ago I started noticing that bishops tended to start preaching against detraction after they had been criticized online for something. Contrary to popular belief, I don't think there is actually a special problem with detraction on the Internet -- people are, to be sure, often petty and malicious, and you can find genuine detractors here, as you can find them anywhere. But even when people are being nasty to each other, detraction, which is a very specific kind of sin in moral theology, is not generally the problem. In all my years on the Internet -- and not just on the Internet, but actively arguing with people on the Internet -- I have met endless numbers of people who were being impatient, sharp-tongued, dismissive, or too quick to believe negative comments by others, and indeed have been all of these things myself at some point, but I think I have only personally interacted with one person who actually was engaged in a definite act of detraction that could definitely be identified as such. Such people exist, but that's not what most people online are doing, even at their worst, and even if they were actually doing it, it's hard, just reasoning from the actual evidence you get online, to be sure that they are doing it. When an argument gets too heated, that's not itself detraction; when criticism gets sharper and less restrained than it should be, that's not in itself detraction; even a single act of passing on malicious gossip, which is certainly in the vicinity and the kind of thing a detractor might do, has many other possible explanations. Even if you thought detraction a much more common thing than I do, it's obviously suspicious that bishops would specifically preach on it when they themselves were being criticized; it looks rather like poisoning the well, and any halfway aware person who was aware of the circumstances would put question marks above their motives. It looks like the same sort of thing as people piously talking about the importance of forgiveness when they might have done something wrong. But note that motives are not doctrines. The standards governing whether the bishop's claims about detraction are credible are entirely different from those governing whether they are making the claims honestly or out of self-aggrandizement.

I think part of the issue is that we in this age have a strong abhorrence of the idea of hypocrisy. Note that I say 'of the idea of hypocrisy'. A large amount -- indeed, an absurd amount -- of our political interactions consist of trying to convince people that our opponents are being hypocrites, because it is one of the few charges that still can inspire general revulsion when it sticks. And everyone who has engaged in any amount of political argument at all has at some point or other experienced someone trying to discount what we say, not by engaging with what we say, but by trying to convince others (or sometimes themselves) that we are in fact saying it hypocritically. Now, hypocrisy, unlike detraction, is without doubt extremely common because it doesn't actually require much, and even people who are very decent by common standards may at times be extraordinary hypocrites. But their hypocrites doesn't say anything whatsoever about whether their claims are true; indeed, since people are only hypocrites by trying to look good, if someone is a genuine hypocrite that they are trying to dress themselves in something that would be regarded by many people as genuinely good. Those many people might be right or wrong, or the hypocrite could just be incompetent in his selection of good things, but hypocrisy never means trying to associate oneself with bad things. Thus even if there were some kind of moral credibility at which the hypocrite fails, this would not affect the credibility of what they are saying; that has to have an independent source of credibility, or at least a perceived independent source of credibility, by the very nature of hypocrisy. The hypocrite is a thief of appearances; the whole point is that the appearances have some kind of value independently. All of the hypocrisy-hunting in modern politics is entirely irrelevant to anything; it is political smoke. Discovering that a politician is a hypocrite on a particular point may give you reason to want someone more sincere in the office, but it doesn't tell you much about policies or causes, particularly given that hypocrisy is easy and there's no way to vet your political allies for sincerity, because hypocrites mimic people who are regarded as good. I guarantee that you are in league with hypocrites, no matter where you are on the political spectrum.

In any case, I suspect that the reason for all the talk about 'moral credibility' is tied to our abhorrence of 'hypocrisy' as a classification. In reality, it is all irrelevant. The whole point of an episcopal hypocrite is that he is trying to cover himself with the genuine moral appearance -- we can call it 'credibility', if we want -- of the entire Church and of Christ from whom the Church springs. And none of that appearance depends on the bishop himself. Nor should anyone have ever been caring whether bishops have 'moral credibility' rather than whether they are actually saying and doing morally right things. And this is all in some form true well outside the arena of ecclesial scandal. It is no doubt foolish to trust a known hypocrite to do justice -- but that's a completely different question from the question of what justice is in the first place. It makes sense to ask Cardinal Wuerl to resign because there is reason to worry that he cannot be trusted to uphold faith and morals, or because there is reason to doubt that he can be trusted with such a large amount of responsibility over people. But this doesn't reflect anything about the responsibility, or the faith and morals, or even those positions Wuerl himself advocates; all of these have their own standards, and it seems a rather serious wrong to suggest that these things should be held to the standard of Wuerl's credibility than to insist that they be judged according to standards actually relevant to them.

Bishops aren't, and shouldn't be, dispensers of personal moral advice, at least as bishops; if they do give moral advice, they should be making a sharp distinction between that and what they are doing as bishops. If a bishop is using his episcopal role only to give personal moral advice, the problem with him is not moral credibility; the problem is that he has failed in being a bishop in the first place. Bishops are there precisely to give what they have received, not to be originators; Bishop X not there to preach Bishop X's Faith and Morals, but the faith and morals of the Church, which they are there not to make but to proclaim. And indeed, the whole standard for good bishops is nothing, nothing at all, more than this: that they proclaim the faith and morals of the Church and that they protect its sacramental economy. They must be held accountable to this. But the credibility of the faith and morals of the Church does not in any way depend on the bishops, for which Catholics everywhere and through all of history might say, "Thank God."

Friday, September 07, 2018

Dashed Off XXI

A healthy public sphere must first and foremost be honest.

the 3 elements of Catholic Action (Peter Maurin)
1. Teaching of Christian Doctrine
2. Daily Practice of the Works of Mercy
3. Reconstruction of the Social Order

The tendency to think in terms of predicate calculus has led to an unnatural separation of sense and reference, with senses stuck on references like flags on poles, and, of course, both of these are separated from other aspects of meaning. It is as if one treated steering a ship as one thing, its hydrodynamics as another, its materials as another, all just glommed onto each other, without starting where we actually start, the ship and how it moves.

Hume scholars tend to focus on ideas, but Hume himself is often more interested in the transitions; it is not a static view but a dynamic one.

Much of Hume's theory of imagination makes a very good theory of guessing.

"When people find themselves every moment in danger of being robbed of all they possess, they have no motive to be industrious." Adam Smith

good government as the union of authority and usefulness

Priests who sneer at legalism are often in fact sneering at the rights of the faithful.

Veto and prorogation both provide much needed checks and balances (it is a weakness of the American system that it lacks the latter); but prorogation to be appropriate needs to be done with public conditions (usually time limit and a condition relevant to the resolution of the problem requiring prorogation).

monarchical sources of revenue
(1) demesnes (rents, working estates)
(2) civil list (salaries, pensions)
(3) taxes reserved for monarch
(4) grants (e.g., by parliament)

Popular sovereignty requires that citizens, operating as citizens, have executive, legislative, and judicial authority of some kind. Only to the extent that (1) they clearly have this and (2) other authority is clearly dependent on their having this, is it reasonable to say that the people are in some sense sovereign.

"Moral repair is the process of moving from the situation of loss and damage to a situation where some degree of stability in moral relations is regained." (Margaret Walker)
"Moral repair is the task of restoring or stabilizing -- and in some sense creating -- the basic elements that sustain human beings in a recognizably moral relationship."
"Repair cannot mean return to a status quo, but must aim at bringing morally diminished or shattered relations closer to morally adequate form."

'external' in 'external world' as analogous to 'other' in 'other mind' (perhaps there are analogues of external, independent, and continuing in 'other')

"All other values are relative for, of, or in a person." TH Green

absolute idealism : metaphysics :: coherence theory of truth : logic
-- this raises the question of the metaphysical analogues of other theories of truth

least means (Rosmini)
as considering means: secondary causality
as considering leastness: excluded superfluity
-- from both of these comes permission of defect
as exclusion of superfluity involves using secondary causes to answer needs of secondary causes: systemic totality
as considering distribution for greater good: continuous gradation
as uniting continuous gradation with secondary causation: variety in actuation and modification
as uniting variety and excluded superfluity: excluded equality (excluded redundancy)
as applying least means maximally: unity of action

If PSR is principle of causality plus note of intellect, one would expect reason-principles analogous to causal principles.

three parts of law of germ (Rosmini)
(=seminal reasons!)
(1) all beings have been created in a state of involution or germ
(2) Germs produce other germs by evolution.
(3) Original germs should be no more in number than is sufficient for the purpose.

ordered or directed analogy (this can make some sense if one thinks of analogy as act of analogizing)

Just as a community cannot make all wrongdoers accountable, it cannot validate all victims.

real being & rational being (being of reason) // real truth & rational truth

"Where would such an idea, say as that of God, come from if not from direct experience?" C. S. Peirce (6.493)

now -> always -> ground of always
here -> everywhere -> ground of everywhere
allowed -> obligatory -> ground of obligation
this -> all -> ground of all

Aquinas takes the oblation to be the genus and sacrifice to be a species of it involving making-sacred (i.e., doing something to what is offered rather than just giving it).

happenstance eclecticism vs principled eclecticism

nice example of anti-skeptical retorsion in Nyayasutra 2.1

rethinking the structure of philosophy of religion
God, the tutelar, the beyondgrave, the preternatural [by: what is met]
address, oblation, taboo, commemoration [to: the priestly]
inspiration, revelation, miracle, union [fro: the prophetic]
loyalty, liturgy (semiotic economy), adeption, superliminality [with: the communal]
genesis, providence, eschaton, alterity [in: the forum of meeting]
lure, gift, repair, mystery [through: the mode of presence]
religions proper, disenchantments, as-if religions, fictional religions

at least minimally personal: God, tutelar, some beyondgrave
impersonal: some beyondgrave, preternatural

kinds of tutelar: (1) transcendent, (2) imminent
(1) are tutelars starting to receive Divine attributions (Zeus being the obvious case). Likewise, beyondgraves may be tutelar (gods of death, demons), or human (shades, ghosts), or preternaturals (poltergeists).
Demigods as human tutelars, personifications as preternatural tutelars
pure preternaturals: Ideas (qua 'more divine than the gods'), karma, Lifeforce, mana, eternal Veda
-- How would Brahman be classified here? Will obv. depend on exact school, but prima facie seems a God/preternatural overlap
--All of these overlaps mean that we really need precise and principled definitions.

kinds of arguments for tutelars
(1) religious experience (e.g., Greer)
(2) design
(3) custom
-- (1) can be (a) direct (cf Epinomis) or (b) visionary (which is what Greer seems to have in mind) or (c) indirect (Muse)
-- (2) is obv. particularized. In a sense, Kant's complaint is that the design argument as such does not rise above the tutelar. Design + argument from evil (which are, strictly speaking, not inconsistent with each other) a possible reason for particularizing.
-- (3) seems to need to reduce to one of the others + testimony (although the source may be unknown)
-- Pluralism a reason for particularizing (1) to tutelars.
-- We may need (4) more purely causal as well -- cp Aristotle on first movers, if you don't take it to be (1a) or (1c).
--Is the impossibility of an ontological argument a distinguishing mark of the tutelar domain (or perhaps tutelars and beyondgraves)? Could you have a promiscuity of ontological arguments, as in mathematics? A possibility: A view like Platonic Forms but treating them as tutelars. (Abstract tutelars getting preternatural features seem most promising Tutelars getting divine attributions, on the other hand, are indistinguishable from God when get to an ontological argument.)

tutelar/devata, deity/Ishvara, preternatural/brahman
--this raises the question of where bhagavat fits; it seems extrinsic (based on devotional relations)

demiurge as tutelar with strongly divine attribution

It seems best to think of tutelar et al. as *kinds of attribution* rather than kinds of things.

Veneration of the Cross as a proxy for Eucharist on Good Friday

Recognizing incongruities requires counterfactual reasoning.

sophism // joke

kinds of incongruity in joke
(1) misassociation
(2) absurd effect (disproportion)
(3) impropriety

Since whether a characteristic is observable or not depends on suitable circumstances whether a term designating it is an 'observation predicate' depends on circumstances and whether an assertion involving it is an 'observation sentence' depends on circumstances.

All governments are some extent mixed constitutions; but there may be cases where on part is mostly residual or occasional.

"In searching for the principles of government, we may divide them into two kinds: the principles of authority, and the principles of power. The first are virtues of the mind and heart, such as wisdom, prudence, courage, patience, temperance, justice, etc.: the second are the goods of fortune, such as riches, extraction, knowledge, and reputation." Adams

Any society of popular government, if it is to be just and stable, must be pervaded by the common expectation that gods are to be worshiped, parents to be honored, elders to be respected, and customary laws to be obeyed.

etymological splitting and doubling in the enrichment of language
tradition -- tradition and treason
ratio -- ratio and reason
holiness (from Germannic) and sanctity (from Latin)
watch (from Germannic) and observe (from Latin)

God has unlimited standing to forgive because He is the Good Itself, the First Good which all other goods participate. All wrongs are primarily against Him, and all standing to forgive derives from Him. (None of this is true, of course, of us.)

Liberalism corrupts beliefs through pleasure-pressures; authoritarianism corrupts beliefs through utility-pressures.

"Truth, expressed in practice, is called Justice." Soloviev

contiguity as resemblance with respect to causal reach (resemblance in how one would get to it causally)

the importance of encouraging poor entrepreneurs

Counterfactual reasoning for large, variable populations tends to fail because there are so many things that could shift the population behavior -- thousands and thousands of things that could affect voting or buying patterns, for instance. One is often best advised to look at narrow ranges of shifts, and even then one may have counterfactual explosion.

parsimony & the need to make experiments as useful as possible

two kinds of trivial maps: empty (Hunting of the Snark) and identity (Sylvie and Bruno Concluded)

Sankara's use of the principle of noncontradiction against the Jains

convertibility of being and being causal (not, of course, being caused)

syadvada as a modal logic

(cp. Loke)
Resurrection experiences: either (1) no disciples had purported resurrection experience (legends) or (2) some disciples did.
if (2), either the (2.1) experience was actual or (2.2) merely purported (false testimonies)
if (2.1), either the experience as (2.1.1) real or (2.1.2) hallucinatory
if (2.1.1), either ( the person experienced was the same person as Jesus or ( it was not (mistaken identity)
if (, either ( Jesus did not die (mistaken death) or ( he died and rose
if (, either it was because ( He was never actually crucified (escape) or because ( the crucifixion was botched (swoon).
if (, either he rose ( because of a chance cause (scientific anomaly) or ( because of a divine intervention or miracle (resurrection)
-- Each alternative requires positing a defective cause of the testimony.
-- Note Strauss's argument against the swoon hypothesis in Life of Jesus
-- Note that the Gospels are structured so as to eliminate each branch that is an alternative to resurrection, and they do this fairly explicitly, emphasizing evidences of death, eyewitnesses, multiple witnesses, extended interactions, physical interactions, etc.

(cp. Loke)
empty tomb: assume either (1) there was no crucifixion or (2) there was.
if (1), this is either (1.1) because the story is made up (invention/legends) or (1.2) because the crucifixion was evaded (escape)
if (2), either we should assume (2.1) there was a burial or (2.2) there wasn't (unburied and destroyed)
if (2.1), either we should assume (2.1.1) there was a real change or (2.1.2) there wasn't (remained buried, but misplaced or lost)
if (, the change is due either ( to a human cause or ( to a nonhuman cause.
if (, either ( Jesus removed himself or ( others removed him.
if (, either ( he was there due to swoon or ( he rose by anomaly.
if (, either ( the cause was natural (anomaly) or ( the cause was supernatural (resurrection)

exploitation of citizens and their alienation from public work

Academia conceals its existing-for-others by failing to consider its dependence on the good will and support of the community, that it is, in fact, made possible by the sacrifices of others in the expectation that it will do general good.

In a genuinely free society, citizens can treat support of the functions of governments as a way of expanding their freedoms.

genius, taste, and spirit (there seems little aesthetic work on the last, although cf. perhaps Campbell on rhetoric)

Sometimes by 'hope' we merely mean patience.

Epistemology of any field simply reiterates the field from the perspective of knowing. The same is true of axiology from the perspective of known willing.

values as the qua of willing

"All defects are possibly remediable, otherwise they would not be defects." Ferrier

Marxism is often not bad when it comes to diagnosing the plight of the worker, but it has no actual solution to it because the response always amounts to, "Eventually the workers will fix it themselves."

The responsible citizen puts his life into the common good; but the danger is that this may make his life belong no longer to him but to those who have managed to find their way into the roles and offices that have been given power to care for the common good. The danger is that the latter may lay a trap with the common good as bait.

Working well under just conditions
(1) to act and be treated as a person
(2) to meet human needs of self and others in appropriate ways
(3) to be involved in fair exchanges
(4) to be an active member of society

Labor, work, is merely a material of civic participation.

creative citizenship: in which one's citizenship is an expression of one's person, a culmination of oneself as social, a good willed, something more than getting by -- a matter of honor, of which to be proud

Educational institutions estrange people by intensifying the emphasis on expertise while refusing serious recognition and respect to all expertise but their own.

Poem a Day V

The One Who Whirls Each Star

The One who whirls each star,
who sews the turning globe
to heaven's endless robe
in pattern none can mar,
who, born of holy maid,
made Peter as a stone,
and bore the world alone,
as God, His Father bade,
that Power formed your line,
gave music to your voice,
your spirit breathed inside --
and made you be not mine,
beyond the grasp of choice,
a stone to tomb my pride.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Poem a Day IV

Human Hearts Are Clumsy Hearts

Human hearts are clumsy hearts,
like bulls that dance in china shops;
you turn and bump my fragile soul
and it goes crashing to the floor.

And soon our loves like heirloom mugs
are glued together piece by piece
and dignity, so often dropped,
has half a dozen cracks at least.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Evening Note for Wednesday, September 5

Thought for the Evening: The Pseudo-Scotus Validity Paradox

The Pseudo-Scotus Validity Paradox gets its name from the fact that it occurs in a commentary to the Prior Analytics that was attributed at one time to Scotus; since it uses technical vocabulary that we have reason to think was only invented some decades after Scotus's death, and have no other serious candidates for authorship, it gets tagged with the 'Pseudo'. The paradox given in that work is:

God exists; therefore this argument is invalid.

The author, of course, takes 'God exists' to be a necessary truth; nothing actually depends on the content of the proposition, so you can substitute any necessary truth that you'd like. A standard definition of validity is that an argument is valid when, if the premises are true, it is impossible for the conclusion to be false. Then it follows that if the above argument is valid, it will have a true conclusion if its premise is true. Its premise is necessarily true. So if it is valid, the conclusion is true, and it is invalid. So, since its validity implies its invalidity, it must be invalid. But we have also just proven that if its premise is true, it must be invalid, and therefore it is impossible for its conclusion to be false. So it is valid.

There are a number of things that could be done here.

(1) Exception. If I recall correctly, Pseudo-Scotus's own solution was to argue that our account of validity is incomplete; that it in fact should have an exception: An argument is valid when it is impossible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false, unless it denies its own inference. A difficulty with this is that it doesn't deal with all kinds of arguments like this. For instance, the following argument is a similar paradox that is not affected by this exception:

This argument is valid; therefore God does not exist

where, of course, the conclusion is taken to be impossible (so you could substitute any impossible proposition; I think Buridan uses "A man is a donkey"). But one could perhaps generalize the idea to saying that an argument is valid when it is impossible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false unless assuming it to be valid implies that it is invalid.

(2) Logical Form. One could perhaps argue that the definition was incomplete in a different way. When we talk about validity we often talk about logical form. So one could argue that an argument is valid only when, if the premises were true, it would be impossible because of its logical form for the conclusion to be false. The validity paradox does not work entirely by virtue of its logical form (the conclusion does not follow strictly formally from the premises and it requires knowing the content of 'This argument is invalid'), so this would work nicely if there were any generally accepted account of logical form. Unfortunately, there are lots of disagreements about the nature of logical form.

(3) Cassation. One could say that the argument is neither valid nor invalid because, despite appearances, it is 'meaningless'. One could blame the self-reference, of course; but as with propositions, there seem to be perfectly unproblematic self-referential arguments. For instance,

This argument is valid; therefore this argument is valid

looks like it is valid by pretty much any standard of validity. But one could very well just refuse to allow arguments to comment on their own validity, or lack thereof; after all, if we were to change the previous argument to

This argument is valid; therefore this argument is invalid

we run into paradoxes again. But on the other hand again, simply eliminating self-reference from propositions to stop the (very similar) Liar paradox for propositions runs into the problem that Liar-style paradoxes don't actually require self-reference; you can create similar paradoxes with pairs or triplets, or any number, of propositions. And it seems that this would be true here, as well.

(4) Dale Jacquette had a nice paper, "The Validity Paradox in Modal S5", in which he argued that (with a significant qualification) the validity paradox depends on a modal fallacy. If the argument is valid, it is invalid. But to get a paradox, you need also to conclude that if it is invalid, it is valid. And this is not as easy to get as the above summary made it sound. You can easily show that if the argument is invalid, the conclusion is true. But we aren't talking about the truth of the conclusion; we'd need to prove that if the conclusion is true, it is impossible for its premise to be true and its conclusion false. But all that follows from the conclusion itself is that it is possible that when the premise is true, the conclusion is false. The conclusion that it is valid comes from assuming that case -- which we have not actually established to be actual, but only possible. Therefore we can't directly get a conclusion stronger than that if it is invalid, it is possibly valid, and in the right modal logical system, there is no problem with something being not-X-but-possibly-X. But Jacquette also argues that this is not a costless solution: there are modal logics in which you can, in fact, get the paradox, most notably the very popular modal system S5 -- so either our concept of validity must change, or we must have more than one kind of validity, or we must reject S5 outright. None of these are especially desirable options.

Various Links of Interest

* Jack Stripling and Megan Zahneis, The Big Lie, about an academic scandal involving a forged job offer.

* Brett Frischman, The Misleading Power of Internet Metaphors

* Eva Del Soldato, Basil (Cardinal) Bessarion, at the SEP

* Ashley Smart, The War Over Supercooled Water

* Martin Chaplin, Water Molecule Structure

* Michael Pakaluk, Capital Punishment and the Sex Abuse Crisis, at "First Things"

* T. Greer, Tradition Is Smarter than You Are; I particularly find interesting the discussion of how augury practices may have often had the effect of breaking up potentially harmful human patterns.

* James Chastek, First Way, visually

* American Catholics have been in an uproar recently because of allegations by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò of extensive cover-up in the handling of Cardinal McCarrick; and then in an uproar again because Pope Francis said he would not say a single word about the allegations; and then in uproar again because of the response of Cardinal Cupich Iscariot that Pope Francis had more important things to do than respond to the allegations, selling out the Body of Christ for the thirty pieces of his ecclesiastical career. I've noted before that for the bishops to hunker down in this case is a mistake; that they've chosen to do so is a grave misfortune for us all, since it means that things will get very, very much worse before they get better. But this was always a possibility to begin with. When corrupt underbrush has grown so thick, the fire will burn very fiercely.

It's worth remembering through it all that the betrayed in this case are not merely the laity but also a very large number of priests. There have been a great many priests who have done nothing wrong, and yet must bear the opprobrium of it all, and who have essentially been hung out to dry by all but a fraction of the bishops while they either (in the bad cases) stonewall outright or (in the less bad cases) stall for time until they can come up with something. (There are a few bishops whose response, at least, has been to say reasonable things.) So here's something from Father Mike Schmitz as a reminder of their position:

Currently Reading

Umberto Eco, Baudolino
Rosamund Hodge, Endless Water, Starless Sky
Jean-Luc Marion, Believing in Order to See
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fall of Gondolin
Jules Verne, Michael Strogoff

Poem a Day III

Pole and Ice

On arctic snows the central star
is shining like the glinting ice;
around its gleam the heavens spin
until the dawn begins to rise.
Auroral promise will pour out gold
in aureate splendor crowned;
but fair and still are midnight stars
that dance their circumpolar round.
And you, my love, are like the pole,
the pivot on which the heavens turn,
and I am like the ice below,
with ardent starlight graced and burned.
Yet soon the dawn will sear the sky
and every star be lost to view
and I shall blaze with sunlight white
and then shall have forgotten you.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Voyages Extraordinaires #40: Mirifiques Aventures de Maître Antifer

It is September 9th, 1831. The captain left his cabin at six o'clock. The sun is rising, or to speak more exactly, its light is illuminating the lower clouds in the east, for its disk is still below the horizon. A long luminous effluence plays over the surface of the sea, which is broken into gentle waves by the morning breeze.

After a calm night there is every promise of a fine day— one of those September days in which the temperate zone occasionally rejoices at the decline of the hot season.

The captain rests against the skylight on the poop, places the telescope to his right eye, and sweeps the horizon.

Captain Antifer, as it often is titled in English, is a treasure-hunt story. Pierre Antifer, a gruff, sarcastic, and stubborn Breton sailor, is the son of a man who did the wealthy Kamylk Pasha, of Egypt, an extraordinarily important favor. Because of this, the Kamylk Pasha, who wanted to keep his immense fortune from his treacherous family, sent Antifer's father part of the instructions for finding where the Pasha had buried it all -- in particular, the latitude. Another person who had done the Kamylk Pasha a great favor has been given the longitude. And when the two are united, they set off to find a fortune. Dragged along is Antifer's friend Gildas Tregomain, and his nephew, Juhel, who dreads the treasure, because he knows that if Antifer finds it, Juhel will not be allowed to marry the love of his life, Enogate. But the Kamylk Pasha has decided not to make the treasure hunt easy; before the end, they will have had to visit the Gulf of Oman, the Gulf of Guinea, Edinburgh, and the very northern island of Spitzbergen, in the Svalbard archipelago, and finally the mysterious final destination -- where the result of the hunt will not be what anyone expected when they began.

Poem a Day II


I knew you, my darling
when the morning was formed,
when the dawn was a maiden
and the planets just born,
when the courses of ages
had not yet run dry
and the stars were just blooming
in meadows on high.
Then the great orbs, spinning,
had not yet grown old
through the length of their journey
on the Milky Way road.
The waters were fresh,
the airs were still clean,
and you were the splendor
that haunted my dreams
in the yester and once
and the day long ago,
in the yore of the ages
that sleep now below.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Poem a Day I

(This series will be weekdays only.)


A tree without roots is overturned by the wind,
unable to battle the storms that descend;
and how, and how can you hold your head high
when your past is nothing but shadows that die?

The building is lost when the ground gives away,
when the base that has crumbled the rest will betray,
and how, and how can you hold your head high
not even remembering the tears that were cried?

When the grain is not stored, the seed will be lost,
no spring will be sown, with harvest its cost;
and how, and how can you hold your head high
with no food for the children save the breezes that sigh?

Servus Servorum Dei

Today is the feast of Pope St. Gregory the Great, also known as the Dialogist, Doctor of the Church. For his Pastoral Rule, Book I, Chapter 2, with salutary words for these days:

Hence it is that the Lord through the prophet complains of the contemptible knowledge of shepherds, saying, When you yourselves had drunk most pure water, you fouled the residue with your feet; and My sheep fed on that which had been trodden by your feet, and drank that which your feet had fouled (Ezekiel 34:18-19). For indeed the shepherds drink most pure water, when with a right understanding they imbibe the streams of truth. But to foul the same water with their feet is to corrupt the studies of holy meditation by evil living. And verily the sheep drink the water fouled by their feet, when any of those subject to them follow not the words which they hear, but only imitate the bad examples which they see. Thirsting for the things said, but perverted by the works observed, they take in mud with their draughts, as from polluted fountains Hence also it is written through the prophet, A snare for the downfall of my people are evil priests (Hosea 5:1; 9:8). Hence again the Lord through the prophet says of the priests, They are made to be for a stumbling-block of iniquity to the house of Israel. For certainly no one does more harm in the Church than one who has the name and rank of sanctity, while he acts perversely. For him, when he transgresses, no one presumes to take to task; and the offense spreads forcibly for example, when out of reverence to his rank the sinner is honoured. But all who are unworthy would fly from the burden of so great guilt, if with the attentive ear of the heart they weighed the sentence of the Truth, Whoever shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea (Matthew 18:6). By the millstone is expressed the round and labour of worldly life, and by the depth of the sea is denoted final damnation. Whosoever, then, having come to bear the outward show of sanctity, either by word or example destroys others, it had indeed been better for him that earthly deeds in open guise should press him down to death than that sacred offices should point him out to others as imitable in his wrong-doing; because, surely, if he fell alone, the pains of hell would torment him in more tolerable degree.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Fortnightly Book, September 2

Baudolino is the fourth of the novels of Umberto Eco, and also the next fortnightly book. I will, of course, be reading the William Weaver translation. Baudolino of Allessandria has come to Constantinople with singularly bad timing; he has barely arrived in 1204 when the Fourth Crusade sacks the city. He saves the life of the historian, Niketas Choniates, and while they are holed up trying to survive the sack and its aftermath, Baudolino tells Niketas the story of his life.

Of course, it's an Eco novel, so you know that there will be more to it than that. Baudolino is a compulsive liar; it's impossible to tell how much of what he says is true and how much is fiction. Niketas Choniates is a historical figure; he wrote an extraordinarily important history that is one of our sources for what happened during the Sack of Constantinople. So we have a liar telling his fictional history to someone concerned with historical fact; but, as you would expect from Eco, there is some question as to how false the lies are and how true the historical fact actually is. And a recurring theme throughout the work is the notion of a map of regions unknown, the picture of the world we build beyond the borders of the realm for which we can personally vouch. What is fiction and what is fact, especially when we are speaking of fictions about facts and facts about fictions?

In any case, it will be interesting to see Eco handling the Middle Ages again.