Saturday, November 30, 2019

Irving Stone, Love is Eternal


Opening Passage:

She leaned across her dressing table and gazed into the gilt-framed mirror on the wall. Strange, she thought, how much time you can spend studying your own face, and then scarcely know it. Her nose, at least, never altered: it was short and straight: but everything else seemed to change with her mood. Her upper lip was thing, almost prim, her lower lip full and sensual; the lock she combed across the massive brow was blond but the rest of her hair, which fell in waves below her shoulders, was chestnut. Her eyes were large, wide-set, deep blue, clear and penetrating in their outward gaze though not always lucid within; tonight she was happy, and the intruder who sometimes lurked behind them was nowhere to be seen. (p. 1)

Summary: Mary Todd is a young beauty from a Kentucky family who lives in Springfield, Illinois, where she is beginning to catch the interest of a number of men, most notably the up-and-coming Stephen Douglas. She is ambitious, has a vast number of important connections through family and friends, and wants a political husband. Into her life at this point comes the most unlikely suitor of all, young ungainly Abraham Lincoln, a largely self-taught small-time lawyer with folksy, backwoods ways. He is also interested in politics, and also ambitious, although he is sometimes faced with crippling self-doubt and extended bouts of depression due to the apparent mismatch between his ambitions and his background. He is a good speaker, however, with a name for 'lucible' speeches; folksiness is in fashion in Illinois due to the Log Cabin and Hard Cider campaign; and Abraham has a reputation for good-humored integrity, which tends to make up for his lack of a fancy background. Mary could have a more promising man, and certainly a much prettier and wealthier man, but something about Abraham's mix of seriousness and humor holds her attention like nothing else.

Marriage mixed with politics makes for choppy seas, however strong the marriage may be. Theirs would be a marriage with its share of fights, although Abraham usually could defuse such arguments to mutual satisfaction. It would even more often be filled with long tedium; both law and politics in that day were on-the-road jobs. When Abraham is not gone for the circuit courts, which in those days literally traveled through a territory, he is often gone for political speaking engagements to help out some Whig, and later Republican, candidate or other. And Lincoln did not actually have any kind of great success; it would be exaggeration to say it was mostly failures, since there were definite successes, but he mostly muddled along. He managed in 1846 to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, which he served one two-year term, mostly just toeing the party line; he had pledged to serve only one term, so he then went back to law. He supported Taylor in the 1848 election, and for that was offered governorship of Oregon Territory; both he and Mary agreed that this would effectively end their political ambitions, so he passed that up and continued working at law. So it went until 1854, when, having been elected to state legislature, he made a play for the U.S. Senate (at that time elected by state legislatures), and failed. He became a Republican for the 1856 elections and backed Dayton and Frémont, campaigning for them throughout Illinois. Buchanan, the Democrat, won instead, but the campaigning made Abraham a well-known figure in Illinois politics. He then made a play for the Senate again, this time against Stephen Douglas; while the Republicans won the popular vote, the Democrats won more seats in the state legislature, so were able to elect Douglas. Throughout it all, Mary used her connections to try to keep him afloat, and it eventually paid off by making Lincoln the Republican candidate for the 1860 elections. And, of course, South Carolina seceded on December 20, 1860, shortly after it was clear Lincoln had won.

It was a hard time to become President all around, but it's sometimes overlooked amidst other things that Washington, D.C., was a very Southern city, sharing more with Virginia than anything, and Republicans were not welcome there at all. Mary did her best to undo this. The White House at the time was famously shabby, having had very little more than minimal maintenance on it for decades, and Mary set out to try to navigate the byzantine customs governing how it was funded -- not always successfully, and in such a way that she developed a reputation for someone who liked to spend money (which in fairness was perhaps partly true), but she did manage to restore a great deal of social respectability to the Executive Mansion.

But through it all, there were tragedies of a nonpolitical kind to deal with, as well. Their son Eddie died in 1850 at the age of six. Their fourth son, Tad, born in 1853, had a cleft palate. Their son Willie died in 1862 at the age of twelve. The death of Willie in particular would hit both parents hard; Mary started attending seances in the hope of seeing him again.

And, of course, one day shortly after the end of the Civil War, and shortly into Lincoln's second term, the couple took time out to go to Ford's Theatre to re-watch a play, Our American Cousin, that Abraham had previously liked. Washington, D.C., was a very Southern city.

Stone's novel is essentially a novelization of Mary's life, since it is largely from her perspective that everything is seen. But Mary Todd Lincoln had a significant role to play in her husband's career, through her connections, through her support, through her formidable administrative ability. She did a great deal to make him presentable to the world, and to keep him presentable to the world, as he often did a great deal to give her ambitions a bit of realism. The title, Love Is Eternal, is written on the wedding band that Abraham gives to Mary. It is a motto of hope more than anything else, appropriate for the beginning of a marriage and for its end.

Favorite Passage: Mary Todd's first introduction to Abraham Lincoln:

In the midst of the bedlam she thought she suddenly had taken leave of her senses, for out of a trap door above the speaker's stand a pair of feet emerged, and then a naked pair of calves, then long legs that kept dropping downward into the room, legs that seemed to cover the full twelve feet from the trap door to the stand. As she sat there in a state of shock the rest of the man finally appeared, a long scrawny torso and neck, arms that seemed to her even longer than the incredible legs, a dark, gaunt, bone-ridged homely face and a disheveled stand of thick coarse black hair.

Turning her head slowly she saw that the men in the aisles and on the platform had frozen in their tracks. After a moment of silence which hung in the air even as had the descended apparition, the man began speaking in a high nasal voice.

"Hold on, gentlemen. This is a land of free speech. Baker has a right to speak, and if you take him of the stand you'll have to take me, too." (p. 38)

Recommendation: Recommended. It builds slowly, but gets quite interesting as it goes.


Irving Stone, Love is Eternal, Doubleday & Company (Garden City, NY: 1954).

Thursday, November 28, 2019

A Poem Re-Draft

A Bit of Thanksgiving

Thank you, Lord, for infant smiles
and children bright at play;
thank you for the silly souls
who goad us every day.
(We appreciate those most, O Lord,
those crosses that we bear,
and we thank you that we're not yet bald
from pulling out our hair.)

I thank you, Lord, for mercy!
It saves us from the brink;
and thank you, Lord, for righteous wrath --
we need more of it, I think.
But thank you for all gentle souls
who always tempers keep;
protect them, Lord, from the rest of us,
lest we kill them in their sleep.

I thank you, Lord, for cheerful sun
that rises every dawn,
and that my students learn to hide
the sound and sight of yawn,
that education is a joy
that overflows with awe,
and, on those crazy grading days,
that there are murder laws.

I thank you, Lord, for fruitful fields,
for wide and healthful skies,
and for the hopes that we can have
that are not marred by lies.
And thank you, God, for mysteries
still left for us to solve
upon this awesome floating ball
that rotates and revolves.

I thank you that we live here free
in houses without bars,
that there are things that we can own,
that no one owns the stars,
that joy and virtue freely flow
without a market price
while we have markets fully full
of grain and fruit and spice.

I thank you, Lord, for politics,
for presidents and such,
that they work so hard to get their way,
that they never get it much;
yea, for the limits you have placed
on corruption, fraud, and spite,
that we need only deal with them
a dozen times each night.

I thank you for the not-quite-hinged,
the high-strung drama queen,
who overreacts ten times a day
and twenty more if seen,
and for the fact we have the right,
however the world may go,
to stand our ground as he wails
and simply tell him, 'No.'

For those who will make trouble,
I thank you, too, for them;
they force us to be on our toes
and keep us fit and slim.
I thank you for our heartaches,
for things that go awry,
and thank you for each helping hand,
however small and shy.

Thank you, Lord, for critics harsh
who attack with whip and flail;
and because of harsh reviewers,
I thank you, Lord, for hell.
And thank you, Lord, for stupid folk,
that we can clearly see
in blatant view the foolish things
from which none of us are free.

And thank you for those shocking times
when we pedants who lecture all
on every foolish folly
into those follies fall,
for it teaches us the wisdom
of gentleness' restraint
lest we in turn be painted
with the brush by which we paint.

Thank you for your graces,
the good of little things,
which even in the hardest times
can make us laugh and sing.
And thank you for all wonders
that stimulate the mind --
no matter the occasion,
new truths our minds may find.

But for absurdities I thank you most--
they overflow all banks,
so if I thank you for each one,
I'll drown in endless thanks!
And thank you for sweet irony;
it gives the wit to see
that all the things we moan about
may be thanksgiving's seed.

But most of all, I thank you, Lord,
that long before we die,
we can see ourselves with wry regard,
and laugh until we cry.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Practically Perfect Turkey (Re-Post)

I'll be visiting on Thanksgiving, so I made my own Thanksgiving turkey yesterday. Because of my schedule, I was in a bit of a hurry, so didn't stuff and butter as well as I should have, with the result that the turkey was a bit more uneven than I would have liked (front very, very good, back merely OK). But still quite good. I re-post this from two years ago, with some revisions and refinements.


I am not a great cook by any means, but one thing I do exceptionally well is roast a turkey -- never dry, never tough, never bland. A few tips.

(1) Don't skimp on the oils. I've seen recipes where the instruction for oiling the turkey is 'rub an empty butter wrapper on the outside' or 'drizzle lightly with oil'. Unless you literally have a medical issue requiring you to sabotage your turkey, be more generous rather than less with oils -- whether you use butter, or olive oil, or anything else. (I use butter on the inside and olive oil on the outside.) Unless you eat turkey skin rather than meat, most of that oil is not going to make it to your plate. The entire outside of the turkey, or at least the entire top, should be coated -- it doesn't have to be a thick coat, but it should be as global as you can get it. This (1) gives an extra source of moisture to the whole that won't harm the taste of the turkey; and (2) helps to seal in juices. Lots of butter-pats under the skin, while more work, also works well.

(2) Apples and onions make the best stuffing. For stuffing, take enough apple and onion to stuff the whole turkey (you generally want more apple than onion, and the apple should be as tart as you can get -- Granny Smith with a bit of Cripps Pink [aka Pink Lady]) and a half stick of unsalted butter. Use about a quarter of that half-stick to coat the inside of the turkey, and chop the rest into big dabs. Cut the apple and the onion into chunks, removing the less tasty bits; sixteenths seem to work best, but eighths also work very well. Mix up apple, onion, and butter, and stuff it in the turkey. Nothing more is really required, although you can add (e.g.) chopped bacon or citrus fruit wedges and (lightly) your favorite turkey spices. It's extremely easy, and it keeps your turkey from drying out. People always go for the breaded stuffings, but I find that breaded stuffings often are culprits in bad turkey -- people are using their turkeys as stuffing ovens and not using the stuffings to enhance the turkey. Any kind of stuffing will help keep moisture in your turkey, but breaded stuffings also tend to absorb a lot moisture. Make your dressing on the stove.

Apples and onions with butter also give you a richer gravy. If you are cooking your turkey right, you don't need gravy. You should never rely on gravy to make your turkey palatable. Gravy is there for three things: to do something with odd bits, to enhance flavor, and to cover mistakes (like overly dry turkey). You shouldn't be relying on it to make your turkey edible. But the gravy you get with apples and onions and butter as your stuffing is very flavorful.

(3) Basting should be done carefully and with discernment. Basting properly helps keep a turkey from drying out, but most people, I think, don't do it right. You should certainly not be basting more than twice the entire time, and when you do, you should baste well; you may also need to use some of the giblet broth that you are using for gravy. Your oven is a humid box. When you open the door, you let the moisture out, thus increasing the amount of liquid that evaporates from your turkey. Most people (1) open the door too often or (2) when they do, don't add enough liquid to make up for it.

(4) Don't overcook. This one is obvious, but it's easily the hardest thing with turkey. Something worth noting is that all three of the above points give you more wiggle room than you would otherwise have -- if you do accidentally overcook, it does less harm to your turkey.

People often suggest other things that seem to work well enough (roasting upside-down), but I haven't done such things enough to get a sense of how well, and they are mostly just added helps. The above four avoid the major real mistakes in roasting a turkey.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

A Gourd of Hard Cider

A Gourd of Hard Cider

Let Frenchmen drink claret and sweet muscadine,
And Germans drink hock on the banks of the Rhine;
But give me to quaff, with friends warm and true,
A gourd of hard cider t'old Tippecanoe.

John Bull may get drunk on his beer and his gin,
Till he can’t leave his seat or spit over his chin;
But if that's in the world on which I’d get blue,
'Tis a gourd of hard cider t'old Tippecanoe.

Let the Don swill his port, and smoke his cigar,
And Pisanos suck Tiffin and drink "Bolivar;"
But we in log cabins such trash will eschew
For a gourd of hard cider t'old Tippecanoe.

With praties and whisky let Pat fill his maw,
And Donald get blind on his smoked esquebaugh;
McFingal ne’er drank, nor did Brian Boru,
A gourd of hard cider t'old Tippecanoe.

In the White House, Van Buren may drink his champagne,
And have himself toasted from Georgia to Maine;
But we in log cabins, with hearts warm and true,
Drink a gourd of hard cider t'old Tippecanoe.

Old Jove has drank nectar for time and a day,
To drown the dull cares of his heavenly sway;
But if he’d be wise, he’d try something new—
Drink a gourd of hard cider t'old Tippecanoe.

Hurrah for old Tip!—from his side we'll not shrink,
To our rights, and our laws, and our country, we'll drink,
Success to the banner of "red, white, and blue,"
In a gourd of hard cider t'old Tippecanoe.

The presidential campaign of 1840 was a very public one, indeed, in some sense the first fully public campaign; Whigs and Democrats vied by pamphlet, by debate, and by song. Democratic Van Buren was the incumbent; he was struggling, however, due to economic woes following the Panic of 1837. William Henry Harrison, the Whig nominee, launched a populist campaign against him, and a populist campaign, of course, has to be an active and public one. Thus we owe Harrison our campaign cycles. Harrison had been the commander in charge of troops at the Battle of Tippecanoe against the Shawnee. It was not a particularly brilliant work of a tactics, nor did it actually do much against the Shawnee confederacy under Tecumseh in the long run, but it had been in all the newspapers, and Harrison played up his role as the 'Hero of Tippecanoe' to the fullest. Harrison himself was born into wealth and had the best education, but he put himself forward as one of the people, a man who had done real work and would have no problem living in a log cabin or drinking hard cider, in contrast to fancy, champagne-swilling Van Buren in the White House; although both the log cabin and the hard cider had been a sarcastic Democratic broadside against Harrison's early campaign, he took them both and ran with them, to widespread popularity. John Tyler ended up getting the Vice Presidential nomination; no one really knew why, because he was known to be a policy nullity (on the campaign trail, he would answer questions by saying he was in favor of what Mr. Harrison and Mr. Clay were in favor of), but it was probably his being a Southerner with a (supposed) close association with Henry Clay, who had been beaten out by Harrison. But the result was one of the most famous campaign slogans in U.S. history: "Tippecanoe and Tyler, too."

The above was a popular campaign song; I haven't been able to find out who wrote it, and if it's like other campaign songs, I suspect nobody knows. It gets a brief quotation in Irving Stone's novel about the Lincolns, Love Is Eternal, which is what made me dig it up.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Evening Note for Monday, November 25

Thought for the Evening: Argumentational Virtues

Andrew Aberdein has an interesting typology of argumentational virtues (from "Virtue in argment", "The vices of argument", and "Fallacy and argumentational vice"):

1. willingness to engage in argumentation
(a) being communicative
(b) faith in reason
(c) intellectual courage
--- i. sense of duty

2. willingness to listen to others
(a) intellectual empathy
--- i. insight into persons
--- ii. insight into problems
--- iii. insight into theories
(b) fairmindedness
--- i. justice
--- ii. fairness in evaluating the arguments of others
--- iii. open-mindedness in collecting and appraising evidence
(c) recognition of reliable authority
(d) recognition of salient facts
--- i. sensitivity to detail

3. willingness to modify one’s own position
(a) common sense
(b) intellectual candour
(c) intellectual humility
(d) intellectual integrity
--- i. honour
--- ii. responsibility
--- iii. sincerity

4. willingness to question the obvious
(a) appropriate respect for public opinion
(b) autonomy
(c) intellectual perseverance
--- i. diligence
--- ii. care
--- iii. thoroughness

This is a pretty decent typology, although Aberdein himself takes it to be tentative. There are certainly things that can be questioned, and no doubt different people would have somewhat different views. For instance, if we keep (1), (2), and (3) the same, I think I don't think (4) should be in the typology at all; its virtues are better understood as falling under the other categories. For instance, appropriate respect for public opinion should be understood as belonging to (2), both because public opinion has a certain authority, limited though it may often be, and because respect for public opinion is clearly related to fairmindedness. Autonomy in the sense meant here should be under (3d), and (4c) I think should be under (1).

The division into these four categories is taken from Daniel Cohen, and while I think Cohen's attempt at identifying the virtues of a the ideal arguer is useful for certain limited kinds of argumentation, and I like the attempt to use the Doctrine of the Mean to do it, I don't think the particular categories selected generalize well. I think it would make more sense to arrange a list of argumentational virtues into three major categories:

(I) integrity as inquirer (dealing with context of argument)
(II) integrity as discussant (dealing with arguing-with, dialogue, or at least taking others into account)
(III) integrity as arguer (dealing with argumentation itself)

These are, so to speak, the three stances of an ideal arguer; he is constructing arguments, but is not doing so solipsistically, and is doing so in order to discover truth and the like. (III), I think, will end up being remarkably like the kind of virtues you would expect from an excellent engineer or craftsman, virtues that directly organize skills toward appropriate ends. (II) will be closely related to interpersonal moral virtues.
Aberdein notes that we should distinguish argumentational virtues from epistemic virtues and moral virtues, because the adjectival specification of 'virtue' in each case is identifying something different about what is being tracked -- argumentational justice is not precisely the same as justice in other cases, for instance. I think we have to be careful with this idea. We can sometimes say that they are different subjective parts, or in some cases of different integral parts, of the same virtue; but sometimes they are different virtues entirely, and only get the same name due to some similarity or other. But I think it's necessary to recognize overlap. Some virtues directly relevant to argumentation just are moral virtues already, for instance -- prudence and studiousness (curiosity, as we call it colloquially), for instance, both of which I think are necessary for (I), or honesty, which I think is necessary for (II). After all, while argumentation has its own distinctive features, it is nonetheless the case that we argue as persons.

Various Links of Interest

* James R. Hamilton, Philosophy of Theater, at the SEP.

* Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Ark Returns to the Temple

* Eric Schwitzgebel, You’re Almost Definitely More of a Jerk Than You Think You Are. I am not in agreement with some of his theory of jerks, though; I think his account of the intellectual defects of a jerk is mostly unconvincing, he overassimilates 'jerkitude' to psychological traits as opposed to behaviors (which is what we really use the word 'jerk' to describe), and his account of the opposite of a jerk is just wrong.

* The George Eliot Archive

* Mark Graber, The Unwritten Constitutions of the United States (PDF)

* Rabbi Shalom Carmy, Why Newman Matters to Religious Jews

* The Credo from Arvo Pärt's Berliner Messe, in his famous tintinnabuli style:

* Emily Thomas discusses three idealist philosophers: Mary Calkins, May Sinclair, Hilda Oakeley.

* Agnes Callard, Is Plagiarism Wrong? I thought I had a strong skepticism of plagiarism as a moral concept (I've argued here and there on the blog for relativism about plagiarism -- what counts as plagiarism, and whether it is bad, depends on how reputational the field is), but Callard is more strongly skeptical yet.

* In college, I spent about half a summer in a program in Morelia, Michoacan. One of the trips we took was to Uruapan, the avocado capital of the world. It's sad to read about how the entire area has degenerated through the encroachment of cartels. I suppose it was inevitable; avocados are big agricultural business, and as the cartels have expanded, they have tried to get their fingers in every profitable pie.

* Fulton Sheen will be beatified in December, a very sudden announcement that apparently has everyone in the Peoria diocese scrambling. Fulton Sheen's "How to Improve Your Mind":

(It also has a good introductory discussion of the virtue of studiositas, studiousness.)

* Iona Italia, How to Write a Letter

* J. R. R. Tolkien and the OED

Currently Reading

Irving Stone, Love Is Eternal
Justin Martyr, The First Apology, The Second Apology, Dialogue with Trypho, Exhortation to the Greeks, Discourse to the Greeks, The Monarchy of the Rule of God
Seneca, Dialogues and Essays
Isaac Asimov, Foundation and Earth


Today is the feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Great Martyr, patron saint of philosophers. We know very little about her life. While tradition dates her to the early fourth century, we have no account of her life from earlier than the tenth, although there is evidence that there had been longstanding devotion to her before then. Some people have thought that she was entirely fictional, a Christianized version of Hypatia, but beyond the associations with Alexandria and philosophy (which tended to be associated with each other, anyway), there is nothing in common between St. Catherine and Hypatia, and the claim seems to be an obvious example of the scholarly version of wishful thinking.

Bernardino Luini - Saint Catherine

According to legend, she was the daughter of the governor of Alexandria and became Christian on having seen a vision of the Virgin and Child. When persecutions in the reign of Maxentius (306-312) increased, she is said to have rebuked him personally over it, arguing for Christianity. He summoned the fifty best philosophers and orators in the empire to refute her, but she out-argued them all, and several of her interlocutors became Christian. She was then scourged severely and imprisoned, but when she refused to convert, Maxentius tried the carrot and offered to marry her if she would convert; she refused again. She was ordered to be executed, so they stretched her across a wheel to break her bones with hammers, but on the first hammer-stroke, the wheel itself broke. Depending on the legend, either she was then beheaded, or they attempted to burn her to death and, when she did not burn, pierced her with a spear.

St. Catherine of Alexandria, Barbara Longhi

She has historically been among the most popular saints, and because she was the patron saint of both philosophers and maidens, her image and name are found everywhere throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Little but Fashioned for Containing Much

The Sonnet
by Julia Stockton Dinsmore

Like a cut jewel in its form exact,
Molded by happy art, that knows no wrong,
And though so fragile-seeming, strangely strong,
The cell within the honeycomb compact
Can hold the subtile essences intact
Of once loved lilies, faded now so long,
And clover blossoms a bewildering throng,
And to its measure summer's sweets contract.
So in the sonnet-cell the poets build,
Little but fashioned for containing much,
They oftentimes their choicest nectar store,
With memory's delicate aroma filled,
And in the cup no careless hand may touch
The hoarded sweetness of a lifetime pour.