Saturday, June 15, 2019

Persevering Assertions

Now, here we have incidentally suggested to us an important truth, which, obvious as it is, may give rise to some profitable reflections; viz., that the world overcomes us, not merely by appealing to our reason, or by exciting our passions, but by imposing on our imagination. So much do the systems of men swerve from the Truth as set forth in Scripture, that their very presence becomes a standing fact against Scripture, even when our reason condemns them, by their persevering assertions, and they gradually overcome those who set out by contradicting them. In all cases, what is often and unhesitatingly asserted, at length finds credit with the mass of mankind; and so it happens, in this instance, that, admitting as we do from the first, that the world is one of our three chief enemies, maintaining, rather than merely granting, that the outward face of things speaks a different language from the word of God; yet, when we come to act in the world, we find this very thing a trial, not merely of our obedience, but even of our faith; that is, the mere fact that the world turns out to be what we began by actually confessing concerning it.

John Henry Newman, "Contest Between Faith and Sight", Oxford University Sermons. This sermon from Newman's Anglican period is worth reading for anyone who deals with Christian youth in any way. There has been some recent discussion among the American bishops of why Millenials have tended to leave the Church. Answers of various kinds have been given, most reasonable enough within their limits, but the fundamental answer in every generation to this kind of question is the one Newman gives in this essay. The flesh appeals to our cravings; the devil appeals to our pride; but the world just repeats itself, and repeats itself, and repeats itself, like some idiot machine, not just in words but in what it rewards and how it rewards it, in the assumptions that are made in even everyday things, wheedling itself into any space open to it because of our ignorance until we are in the trouble mentioned by Newman later, "of trusting the world, because it speaks boldly, and thinking that evil must be acquiesced in, because it exists".

And argument doesn't help all that much, because while you can argue with this person or that, you can't argue against repetition that continues endlessly regardless of what you say, so that it becomes just part of how people imagine the world. All you can do with respect to that is insist on the opposite, in word and example, as much as you can.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Dashed Off XII

It is an irony of liberal society that the death penalty has become unpopular while at the same time death treatment has become an increasingly common feature of life, and a form of 'health care'.

Confucian Tao // Neoplatonist world soul

In ritual, sensible things are like the phantasms to which abstract thought must convert; ritual is like a sort of externalized thought.

the right to palliation insofar as it is natural and insofar as it is confirmed by the nature of medicine as a humanitarian tradition

The nature of the baptismal priesthood is most clear in the context of the domestic church.

Hume is certainly right that possession is a causal notion.

penalties: expiatory, vindicative, medicinal

There seems to be no legitimate moral ground for futility being in general a reason for discontinuing treatment; there are too many different possible reasons why it might be classified as futile, and too many judgment calls. When you look more closely at the most plausible cases, it is always something else that is bearing the real moral load: triagic need for the resources on a larger scale, lack of resources, religious requirement, deference to patient, deference to family, and the like. An additional strike against futility as a substantive concept in medical ethics is the practical and moral need to build a fence out to protect other moral principles, including that of avoiding unnecessary cut-off of treatment, of giving the patient a more than fighting chance, of allowing room for unexpected and unanticipatable improvement, of recognizing differences among patients and the often statistical nature of assessment that can fail to capture distinctive features of this case, of allowing for the possibility of different judgments by different doctors. There are so many moral principles that are relevant, that trying to use futility itself, you would end up needing a large agglomeration of exceptions to it, to protect other moral concepts.

'forever' used strictly: definitely no end
'forever' used relatively : no definite end
'forever' used reduplicatively: no end in some way
'forever' used hyperbolically: like no end in some way
-- 'always and 'everywhere' have the same pattern

"Understanding, freedom, activity, an always progressive perfection, immortality, the relation in which he stands toward God, and towards his son Jesus, the station he fills on teh earth, and what he is and does in regard to all these: This composes the dignity of man; this gives him his eminently great worth." Zollikofer

Note the linking of murder and lying in John 8:44, the two attacks on the image of God.

lying with imperatives
lying with loaded questions
lying with rhetorical questions
(a man giving directions in imperative form can lie in doing so)

People will often label as self-righteousness any righteous indignation demanding that they repent.

Nothing, or very little, brings home what is meant by 'prince of the power of the air' than seeing what journalistic media, taken as a whole, emphasize and de-emphasize, regardless of the decisions of this or that journalist.

Some rights are grounded on strict, direct obligations, others on indirect obligations, others on special deferential responsibilities, and others on honor and courtesy.

the medical situation: within the circle of the common good, the patient's moral agency overlaps the moral agency of medical personnel and in that overlap is the arena of the moral medical work itself
--something analogous occurs with legal care and spiritual care

All humanitarian traditions generate special deferential responsibilities to those served.

One of the difficulties of human history is the repeated collapsed of attempts to form and develop statesmanship or political rule as a humanitarian tradition; it is the sort of thing that should be, but the way to make it sustainably so eludes us.

forms of the satanic principle of 'life unworthy of life'
(1) coercive sterilization, either eugenic or punitive
(2) killing of impaired children in hospitals
(3) killing of impaired adults in hospitals
(4) killing of impaired prisoners
(5) mass killing (extermination camp)
-- in the case of the Nazis and the murder of children, initial requirement of consent by guardians quickly was smothered by state interest, usually by the intermediate steps of (1) pressuring parents to consent to treatments of a certain kind that increased the scope of the doctors' powers; (2) threatening loss of custody; (3) insisting that the murder was the only merciful thing and that people were monstrous for opposing it (w/ the concomitant insistence that doctors and the state were the appropriate authorities for determining treatment).

to attend to the incurably ill; to render reasonable medical aid, such as is possible, even up to death

Psychology is philosophy of mind attempted by experimental method, sometimes successful but mostly failing.

A medical system, like government, requires checks and balances.

(first principles -> secure signs) -> profiles for reasonable conclusions

Lammenais's account of common sense would be more appropriate to Christian society than society in general (cp. Rosmini).

Rosmini: Kant overanalogizes intellectual act to sensation.

The phenomenal is the realm of reasonable opinion, the noumenal the realm of knowledge. Kant gets this backwards.

Positing and postulation require some underlying causal link, direct or indirect, to be reasonable.

religious tendency as a moral endowment

(1) natural rights (e.g., right to life)
(2) acquired rights
--- (2.1) acquired naturally (e.g., parental rights)
--- (2.2) acquired conventionally
------(2.2.1) intrinsic to society-forming as such (e.g., general rights of fair exchange)
------(2.2.2) consequent to formed society (e.g., civil rights)

Sometimes when we talk about rights, we mean a right; sometimes we mean a family of rights.

Free choice as such requires a certain amount of abstraction and below that threshold we only exhibit voluntary consent.

The intellect must be free to suppose different things, or all inquiry is nonsense.

We avoid pain not as if it were intrinsically bad but as if it vividly manifests something as bad.

the epectasis of the heart (intellect and will)

Jude 19: "There are those who cause divisions, animal men, not having Spirit."

arsenokoitai: 1 Cor 6:9, see Lv 18:22 LXX

the aidios word of the aionion God (Philo, on Noah's work)
= the unending word of the immeasurable God
Rv 14:10 aionas aionian
-- Ps 45:6 LXX eis aionas aionion
Amos 9:11 KXX emerai tou aionios, from days beyond count
Gn 21:33 theos aionios, God unmeasurable
Is 45:17 soterian aionion, salvation beyond measure

The rights of the state are not established by a transfer of rights from individuals, but by an emergence from rights of individuals coming together, which they retain.

States, as such, are fundamentally unproductive, existing by the sweat of those who produce. Their justification lies elsewhere, in justice alone.

Unjust states degrade all the gods of men, turning them into means of power presenting themselves as the standards of value for all things. They parasitically sap both men and nature of their intrinsic value, treating them as mere means. They alienate men from their work and from themselves, and put themselves in the place of God. When Christianity arose, it faced no serious competition from the gods of Olympus; such gods were gods of custom only. Besides the great goddess, only one god rose to the battle with Christ, and was fierce in that battle: the emperor in apotheosis, the sacral king, the state setting itself as a darkness in the high place, moving against Christians with the principalities and powers of empire.

In the long run, only the eternal is inevitable.

Technical vocabulary can ultimately be communicated only by using a common and non-technical vocabulary.

nontechnical language : technical language :: customary law : statutory law

morally acceptable reasons by which nonparents can step into acting in loco parentis
(I) Parents physically incapable
--- (A) death
--- (B) illness
--- (C) remoteness
(II) Parents mentally incapable
--- (A) insanity
--- (B) debilitating mental illness
(III) Parents morally incapable
--- (A) abuse
--- (B) gross neglect

When parents are incapable of exercising parental functions, care of children should default to subsidiary caregivers assisting in parental functions (family participating in the raising of the children, usually) rather than defaulting immediately to the state, which should be a remedy of last resort.

common law as common custom refined by those acquainted with the history of law

"Accepting labour as the universal source of the right of ownership means failing to see that the essence of right is moral, and that is moral essence is found solely in a corresponding jural duty. The determination of the jural duty is therefore the explanation of the right." Rosmini

Rosmini's steps toward rights of ownership
(1) duty not to harm
(2) Some things are united to a person properly, but some are united by a moral physical act in such a way that removing them would harm the person.
(3) Therefore, duty not to remove
(4) Therefore, rights over things

the perioikoi of the Church

creation as title making possible all other titles, in which all other titles participate
derivative titles -> first underived title

rights to innocuous use of another's property

occluding sorrow vs purifying sorrow

"Government ought indeed to take account of the religious life of the citizenry and show it favor, since the function of government is to make provision for the common welfare." DH

"If there is a historical dogma, it is that error is a persecutor, implacable and atrocious, and is such always when it can, and as far as it can. Error is Antiochus; truth, the Maccabees." Lacordaire

Genius often works less by positive force than by lack of impediment.

Note that Rosmini accepts the Scotist position on univocity of being.

Before one can doubt, one must know what it is one doubts.

"Religion embraces the whole of God, and philosophy that part which is worked out with reasoning." Rosmini

mood-lightening vs laugh-inducing humor

In plots, characters, etc., subversion of expectations only works well if the subversion ends up making more sense than the expectations that are subverted.

The modern notion of sovereignty is incoherent, depending on a view of teh world that has been stripped away.

A hydrologist forms an abstract notion (storm event) then, using this to collect a body of data, forms a posit, the '100-year-storm', an idealized storm event that, given the data is the worst statistically to be expected to occur once in an idealized 100 years (i.e., the worst storm event with at least a 1% chance of happening in a year). On the basis of this, they create a fictive line on a map, the floodplain boundary, designating the rainfall of that storm in mass form as it drains.

And Ever the Stars Above Look Down

Barbara Frietchie
by John Greenleaf Whittier

Up from the meadows rich with corn,
Clear in the cool September morn,

The clustered spires of Frederick stand
Green-walled by the hills of Maryland.

Round about them orchards sweep,
Apple- and peach-tree fruited deep,

Fair as a garden of the Lord
To the eyes of the famished rebel horde,

On that pleasant morn of the early fall
When Lee marched over the mountain wall,—

Over the mountains winding down,
Horse and foot, into Frederick town.

Forty flags with their silver stars,
Forty flags with their crimson bars,

Flapped in the morning wind: the sun
Of noon looked down, and saw not one.

Up rose old Barbara Frietchie then,
Bowed with her fourscore years and ten;

Bravest of all in Frederick town,
She took up the flag the men hauled down;

In her attic window the staff she set,
To show that one heart was loyal yet.

Up the street came the rebel tread,
Stonewall Jackson riding ahead.

Under his slouched hat left and right
He glanced: the old flag met his sight.

“Halt!”— the dust-brown ranks stood fast.
“Fire!”— out blazed the rifle-blast.

It shivered the window, pane and sash;
It rent the banner with seam and gash.

Quick, as it fell, from the broken staff
Dame Barbara snatched the silken scarf;

She leaned far out on the window-sill,
And shook it forth with a royal will.

“Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country’s flag,” she said.

A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,
Over the face of the leader came;

The nobler nature within him stirred
To life at that woman’s deed and word:

“Who touches a hair of yon gray head
Dies like a dog! March on!” he said.

All day long through Frederick street
Sounded the tread of marching feet:

All day long that free flag tost
Over the heads of the rebel host.

Ever its torn folds rose and fell
On the loyal winds that loved it well;

And through the hill-gaps sunset light
Shone over it with a warm good-night.

Barbara Frietchie’s work is o’er,
And the Rebel rides on his raids no more.

Honor to her! and let a tear
Fall, for her sake, on Stonewall’s bier.

Over Barbara Frietchie’s grave
Flag of Freedom and Union, wave!

Peace and order and beauty draw
Round thy symbol of light and law;

And ever the stars above look down
On thy stars below in Frederick town!

Alas, although Barbara Frietchie was real, and a staunch Unionist, Stonewall's troops would never have passed her house, and the episode is often thought to be entirely of Whittier's own devising, although Whittier himself insisted that he simply followed his sources (which he did not specify).

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Two Poem Drafts

Pes Progrediendi

We have looked and sought in silence
for a whisper of a hope;
it comes in form of shadows
and a long and winding road.
When shall we find our ending?
When shall we reach our home?
When shall the stars descending
bring the sun from nightlong roam?

Some find their heart's desire
and find it black despair;
some by the good inspired
bend their backs with leaden care.
But shall we find our ending?
And shall we reach our home?
When shall the stars descending
bring the sun from nightlong roam?

I know You in the darkness
before the dawn is born.
I know You in my weakness
as I flee the burning storm.
By pieces fear has vanished,
dross has slowly burned away,
one step and then another
down a dark and winding way.

So may we find our ending,
thus may we find our home,
as subtle stars descending
bring the sun from nightlong roam.

The Sun

Beyond where soaring eagles fly,
beyond the ocean-mass of air,
see the shrine of heaven-sky,
see its holy glory there,
beyond, and further still beyond,
for all the air is but a pond
to ocean-void, in which is built
the solar temple, fire-gilt.

Never has it been profaned,
nor touched by crass, unholy hands;
its golden walls by sin unstained,
angel-like it searing stands
beyond, and further still beyond,
past chasm vast that, gaping, yawned
since long before the earth was made;
there angels born of morning prayed.

A Man's a Man, an' Love is Love

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

De breeze is blowin’ ‘cross de bay
My lady, my lady;
De ship hit teks me far away,
My lady, my lady;
Ole Mas’ done sol’ me down de stream;
Dey tell me ‘t ain’t so bad ’s hit seem,
My lady, my lady.

O’ co’se I knows dat you'll be true,
My lady, my lady;
But den I do’ know whut to do,
My lady, my lady;
I knowed some day we'd have to pa’t,
But den hit put’ nigh breaks my hea’t,
My lady, my lady.

De day is long, de night is black,
My lady, my lady;
I know you'll wait twell I come back,
My lady, my lady;
I'll stan’ de ship, I'll stan’ de chain,
But I'll come back, my darlin’ Jane,
My lady, my lady.

Jes’ wait, jes’ b’lieve in whut I say,
My lady, my lady;
D’ ain't nothin’ dat kin keep me ‘way,
My lady, my lady;
A man's a man, an’ love is love;
God knows ouah hea’ts, my little dove;
He'll he’p us f’om his th’one above,
My lady, my lady.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Particular Ought, Particular Can (Re-Post)

Perhaps it's just the papers and comments I happen to have come across, but I have seen a bit of an uptick in criticisms of 'ought implies can' that make, or at least seem to make, a naive mistake I have pointed out before, so I re-post, in slightly revised form, a post on the subject from 2016.

'Ought implies can' is an old principle, usually attributed to Kant (although you can certainly find older arguments requiring something analogous). There has been an increasing tendency to criticize it in recent years. I think these criticisms are often extraordinarily naive, and tend to confuse the often sloganish way in which the principle is stated with what it was originally intended to mean. If we look at Kant, he is quite clear that it is entirely possible that you can't do what you ought to do -- Kant actually doesn't think it's the sort of thing you could know for sure one way or another. But to command something as a categorical 'ought' is to put it forward as something to be done, and trying to comply, practically speaking, requires taking it as something you can do. The point is that it is reasonable to treat the action as possible for practical purposes; but this is different from having a proof that we can in fact do it, because that would require a proof of free will, which Kant doesn't think we have. Thus it's reasonable to hope you can do what you ought, although you can't in fact guarantee that this is true. Or to put it in other words, an 'ought' morally and practically requires that we treat it as implying 'can', although we limited human minds are not able to prove that it does in fact do so for us in particular. This is quite clearly not a naive interpretation of 'ought implies can'.

But even more naive interpretations are not as naive as the versions sometimes criticized as if they were the way to understand the principle. Here is a case that, as far as I am aware, everyone who has ever claimed that 'ought implies can' has accepted could happen:

Jay has an obligation to do X at a certain time T. Jay fails to do X at T, and thus fails to fulfill his obligation.

But it is also quite self-evident that if you are not fulfilling your obligation, you cannot also be doing what fulfills it. Therefore if Jay is not doing X at T, he can't fulfill his obligation to do X at T. Therefore, one might conclude, he can't do it, so he has no obligation to do it. This would obviously be a problem for the principle, if it required a conclusion like this -- it would mean that no one ought to do anything they don't actually do, so 'ought' would actually imply 'does'. But, of course, this does not appear to be what anyone has ever thought the principle required, which is a sign that this is likely a bad interpretation of the principle. And the culprit (one that seems quite common among criticisms of the principle) would appear to be the idea that the principle 'ought implies can' requires that 'ought' implies every kind of 'can' rather than just some kind of 'can'.

Consider the following scenario:

Kay has an obligation to meet Jay at no later than noon. Kay puts off going to the meeting until it is physically impossible to meet Jay by noon.

Kay can't meet Jay; she's guaranteed she can't. Thus, one might say, it's not true that she ought to meet Jay. But this is not really any less absurd (in philosophy, the technical term for 'blatantly and hopelessly stupid' is 'absurd')as an interpretation of the principle than the previous one: she only can't fulfill her obligation because she's already violating it. That she can't fulfill it in this way does not imply that the obligation does not imply any possibility at all. And, indeed, we know that Kay's obligation was not an impossible obligation to meet; the whole set-up requires that meeting Jay at no later than noon is possible.

To be sure, the possibility is fairly attenuated; but this does not mean that it is not a genuine possibility. I cannot be at home now, for the obvious reason that I am currently somewhere else, namely, on campus finishing up required office hours. But I can be at home now in the limited sense that it is a possible state of affairs that is not inconsistent with my abilities: I could have stayed home rather than doing what I ought, and I am perfectly capable of going home at any point. And the reverse works exactly the same way. Suppose I were at home instead of on campus where I am required to be at this time. I cannot be at home and away from home at the same time and in the same way; therefore, I couldn't be doing what I ought. But the obligation is not linked to what I am able to do when I am violating the obligation; that 'ought' does not imply that 'can'. But this does not show that the 'ought' does not imply some 'can'. And, indeed, if it were literally impossible to do something, one might well say that this shows that you have no such obligation. For instance, if I went around claiming that everybody has an obligation to jump over the moon, it's perfectly legitimate to reject this claim on the grounds that we know for sure that no human being could possibly do so.

Consider another kind of case.

You have an obligation to meet Jay and Kay at noon. As it happens, God, who is omniscient, knows that you won't. If God knows that you won't, however, then you won't. And if you won't meet Jay and Kay at noon, you can't also meet them at noon. So you will not fulfill your obligation.

This works exactly the same way: the impossibility is conditional (it is impossible only given that you in fact won't), and is not in fact an impossibility relevant to that particular obligation.

It's likely that there are cases where the relationship between 'ought' and 'can' is non-trivial. But it is a confusion to hold that the principle requires that if you ought to do something, you can do it, simpliciter; 'ought' does not imply every 'can'. Things may be possible in one way and not possible in another way. And, what's more, you can entirely make sense of the notion that you might have different kinds of 'ought' depending on the different kinds of 'can' to which the 'ought' is linked. What you would need to counter the principle is not to find situations where you can't do what you ought, in some particular sense of 'can't', but to find an 'ought' that is linked to no particular 'can' at all. It would at least be hard work to argue that anyone ought to do things that are absolutely impossible in every way. Without such an argument, however, it seems that every obligation does imply some kind of possibility, even though it doesn't imply every kind of possibility.

(There are, of course, other questions in the vicinity of this, which complicate the question of how obligation and possibility are related. For instance, we sometimes treat trying to fulfill an obligation as if it were not significantly different from fulfilling it, and we sometimes don't. But if trying ever counts, then this changes what counts as 'being able to fulfill the obligation'. And there are a number of other things that suggest that we should also not be too facile in assuming what it even means to say that one can fulfill an obligation.)

International Year of the Periodic Table

Apparently 2019 is the International Year of the Periodic Table, being the 150th anniversary of Mendeleev's first formal presentation of the principles of his classificatory feat. Some various items of interest with respect to the periodic table:

* Ben McFarland, Predicting the past with the periodic table, at the OUP Blog.

* A debate on the nature of the periodic table between Birger Hjørland and Eric Scerri, with a comment by John Dupré.

* Eric Scerri, Mendeleev's Periodic Table Is Finally Completed and What To Do about Group 3?, from 2012, after Mendeleev's original periodic layout was completely filled.

* Eric Scerri, How Should the Periodic System be Regarded? A brief look at some published proposals, which summarizes the basic lay of the land in philosophy of classification

* Make your own periodic table, using the icons in the left-hand upper corner.

Where Galleons Crumble and the Krakens Breed

by Clark Ashton Smith

Above its domes the gulfs accumulate.
Far up, the sea-gales blare their bitter screed:
But here the buried waters take no heed—
Deaf, and with welded lips pressed down by weight
Of the upper ocean. Dim, interminate,
In cities over-webbed with somber weed,
Where galleons crumble and the krakens breed,
The slow tide coils through sunken court and gate.
From out the ocean's phosphor-starry dome,
A ghostly light is dubitably shed
On altars of a goddess garlanded
With blossoms of some weird and hueless vine;
And, wing├ęd, fleet, through skies beneath the foam,
Like silent birds the sea-things dart and shine.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

I Know What the Caged Bird Feels

By Paul Laurence Dunbar

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting—
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!

Monday, June 10, 2019

Voyages Extraordinaires #46: Le Testament d'un excentrique

A stranger, having arrived in the principal city of Illinois on the morning of April 3, 1897, would have had every right to consider himself as favored by the God of travelers. That day his notebook would have overflowed with curious notes capable of furnishing material for sensationalistic articles. And, assuredly, if he had extended his stay in Chicago for some weeks before and some months after, he would have been able to take part in the passions, palpitations, alternating hope and despair, feverishness, even bewilderment, of that great city, which had lost its self-possession.
[My translation.]

The Noble Game of the Goose (PDF) is one of the most widely popular board games in history. Racing by dice roll on a track of sixty-three squares, players try to land exactly on the end square; certain squares on the track impose special operations -- if you land on a goose square, you automatically advance by the same number that you rolled to land on it: if you land on the death's head, you have to start over; if you land on the prison, you lose a turn; if you land on the bridge, you advance twelve; if you land on the maze, you regress thirty; and so forth. In addition, if you land on a square occupied by another player, you force them out of the space and back to the square whence you came.

It's not at all difficult to see why Verne saw the game as having potential for some of his 'geographical fiction'. Given the choice to use it as the structure of the story, you would need a location that would, first, give a reason for people to play, and, second, be large enough, diverse enough, and modern enough to make it geographically interesting. There is obviously only one real answer: the United States of America, land of crazy millionaires and doing anything for dollars, a country vast in size, modern in infrastructure, and endless in geographical variation.

In Le Testament d'un excentrique, published in 1900 and known in English as Will of an Eccentric, the death of multimillionaire William J. Hypperbone, enthusiast for the Game of the Goose, member of The Eccentric Club, and upstanding citizen of Chicago, Illinois, creates a great sensation. In his will, he proposes a large-scale version of his favorite game, to be called The Noble Game of the United States. Six residents of Chicago are chosen by lottery to play; a mysterious seventh is added by codicil. The game takes place in 1897; there are forty-five states, Utah having just become a state in the previous year. In addition, there is the District of Columbia and five territories (Oklahoma Territory, Indian Territory, New Mexico Territory, Arizona Territory, Alaska). Alaska is left out for convenience -- it's a little too much of a challenge -- but that makes for fifty squares on the board. The rest of the squares are filled out by Illinois, which is the starting and ending point and so takes the role of the goose squares. To land on a square, the player has to check in by a certain day at a particular city and post office in that state or territory; at that post office, they will also at the given time receive, by telegram from Chicago, the results of their next dice roll and thus their next location. The special function squares are in the same location on the US board that they are on the Game of the Goose; it seems that there was some attempt to match the special functions to the locations (e.g., the death's head is Death Valley), but this isn't always explained (e.g., the prison square is St. Louis). The players pay out of their own pockets, and on certain squares they can be fined, which they must pay or forfeit the game, but it's a one in seven chance to win a big prize, sixty million dollars in 1897 money, and if you come in second, you get all of the pot from the fines collected during the game.

Coming near the end of Verne's career, it is not well known; despite taking place in the United States, it was never really marketed to the US. It's a very readable book, although the actual plot is inevitably basic, and the characterization, divided among several characters who only occasionally interact with each other, also ends up being fairly basic. But I've noted before that one of Verne's charms for an American is his depictions of the United States as an exotic country, full of weirdness: Maine, where you can be fined for asking for whiskey; Cleveland, where people get strangely enthusiastic about prize pigs; Wyoming, where women can vote; and, of course, that favorite of nineteenth-century European writers, Utah, with its Mormons. And while not deep, it is a swiftly running tale that never flags.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Fortnightly Book, June 9

One of the reasons I started the Fortnightly Book was that I inherited my grandparents' library and wanted to work through the books I hadn't read, and thought I might as well re-read those I had. In practice, probably only about a third of the books I've done have fit this category; others have been new books, or books recommended to me by someone else, or just books I had already that I wanted to look at again. And with things like the Verne project I've drifted further from it. But there are still books on my shelves from my grandparents that I have never gotten around to reading at all. So I think I will deliberately do one that is a complete mystery to me -- not only have I never read it, I don't know anything about the authors, I have never heard anything about it from a secondary source, and the only place I've come across it is the copy that I inherited: Triptych, by Dora Landey and Elinor Klein. It's a sizeable book, but I think part of this is the typography, since the print is not small.

Since I know nothing about the authors, I present to you the information from the "About the Authors" page:

DORA LANDEY was born and raised in Manhattan. Currently a student at Sarah Lawrence College, she lives in the country with her husband and three daughters.

ELINOR KLEIN was born and educated in Massachusetts and was graduated from Smith College. With her son, her husband, and her three dogs, she commutes between an apartment in Manhattan and a donkey farm in the country.

As to the topic of the book, I can tell you that it's about Russia under the Romanovs, as the Revolution approaches, and that the Kirkus Review of the book makes it sound completely insane, like a soap opera in which everyone is on cocaine. We shall see.


Dora Landey & Elinor Klein, Triptych, Houghton Mifflin (Boston: 1983).