Friday, October 30, 2015

An Article Awry

aka a dialogue with myself ending in aporia

I admire people who can write the same thing over and over again without stress or dissatisfaction. I have thought more than a few times what popularity I might garner if, for example, I could like so many conservatives, simply rail against liberals and President Obama day after day, or libertarians, be satisfied to remark incessantly about the evils of the government. It is my weakness, though, and my refusal to flim-flam my kind readers, that I try somehow always to say something new. It happens many times, then, that as I write I find I've made the remark before. So went the first article I attempted today. Sometimes, however, what I attempt spirals into something much newer, or at least discursive and convoluted, than I expected. Take today's second attempt.

I started writing about how exasperating it is that liberals always co-opt terminology and re-appropriate definitions. They seem to delight in blurring lines and distinctions, an observation which set me thinking about the literal definitions of the words discriminate and judgment, and how the critical faculties of differentiation (discriminare, to separate) and discernment (discerno, to distinguish) are essential acts of defining the world, and that the act of judgment  (iudex, judge) is essential as an affirmation of that definition.

My mind then took a different direction, namely the Aristotelian direction, when I recalled how in the opening of the Metaphysics Aristotle describes how man delights in the use of his senses and that man's reaction to the sense of wonder which the world kindles in him is uniquely human because he can react by forming concepts and growing to know the whole, partaking in some small way of the divine mind which created it all.

Such consideration I applied to the liberal mind which constantly embraces variation in definition, which thinks that objective reality or truth is a moralizing or controlling fiction and that everyone should do what's right for him. What kind of mind is that of the deconstructionist which sets out to prove the world unknowable? What to him is knowing? It struck me what contradiction there is between liberal faith in reason when we apply to it the blanket label of "science," and how weak that faith when the wheels of reason drive to a point contrary to their beliefs.

Then I began to wonder whether that position can be justifiably called liberal. Is it not right-wing, traditionalist, or at least willful in the Nietzschean sense, simply to plant one's flag in the ground and defend it, irrespective of rational, empirical underpinnings? On the other hand I question their commitments to the totems of the day and wonder whether they would truly fight for them if they didn't have the machinery of bureaucracy already churning and lacking only well-placed clerks. Is that the blood and guts of building a culture? Likewise, maybe their convictions are just reactions against their upbringing? I suspect much political liberalism is in fact personal revenge on past and parents.

So then they don't really believe in anything. They're like Nietzsche's last man, enervated into nihilism, only occasionally animated to life by the promise of bourgeois comforts. Can they live with this skepticism at the end of philosophy, history, and culture? Can any society be fully skeptical? How many people can cope with the variety and uncertainty of the modern world? Can any be fully traditionalist?

To that question I do not know the answer, except to propose moderation between a progressive society which is at liberty wholly to reinvent itself and a traditional one which is wholly beholden to the past. If such a path is the ideal, and if being moderate is aiming for the small center between extremes, then it is no surprise the world so often waxes wantonly from one end to the other. One wonders whether once you let skepticism out of the box, the end is inevitable despite the high points on the way there. Can a society tolerate reserved inquiry in the service of reserved truths, or will one predominate? Will the tense contradiction yield a civil war and rebirth? Reconciliation?

Is this contradiction simply part of man's nature or a problem unleashed by intellectuals?

Finally, the issue is unresolved and I am tired. I don't know whether I have argued both sides well and therefore have arrived at an impasse–a sort of Protagorean irresolution–or in the Platonic sense have missed some essential truth. Therefore, sad Keanu.

Jaeger on Aristocracy and Civilization

From Werner Jaeger in Vol. I Ch. 1 of Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture.

It is a fundamental fact in the history of culture that all higher civilisation springs from the differentiation of social classes–a differentiation which is created by natural variations in physical and mental capacity between man and man. Even when such social differentiations lead to the creation of a rigid and privileged class, the hereditary principle which rules it is counterbalanced by the new supplies of strength which pour in from the lower classes. And even if the ruling caste is  deprived of all its rights, or destroyed, through some violent change, the new leaders rapidly and inevitably become an aristocracy in their turn. The nobility is the prime mover in forming a nation's culture. The history of Greek culture–that universally important aspect of the formation of the Greek national character–actually begins in the aristocratic world of early Greece, with the creation of a definite ideal of human perfection, an ideal towards which the élite of the race was constantly trained. . . Culture is simply the aristocratic ideal of a nation, increasingly intellectualized. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Cicero, Frightful Reactionary

You know an academic just finished a book and is ready to start hocking it when they start publishing a lot of fun, fluffy articles that people will actually read. Enter Mary Beard's "10 Best Ancient Romans." We'll of course ignore the ridiculous title, which we assume was written by an editor, and won't castigate the author for applying such a ridiculous criterion of "best" to the category of Romans. Whatever that means, she wrote 10 blurbs, one about Cicero.

The whole list vexes me, especially that of Cicero, whose description especially irks me for three reasons.

First, saying that you have many reasons but not articulating them makes that pronouncement of them a dishonest qualifier. Obviously there is no space there for lengthy explication and evidence, but the ambiguity is misleading and confusing: is she emphasizing that Cicero was predominately reactionary or that he wasn't wholly reactionary? I guess everyone can think what he wants. The fact that she subsequently refers to the events of Catiline's conspiracy as a low point invites someone to interpret that as evidence of Cicero's reactionary views, although I fail to see how it does.

Second, the word frightful is a cheap shot. It's the kind of word people casually toss in when they want to let you know that someone doesn't hold the approved opinions. I guess Cicero wasn't a LibDem. Who knew?

Third, she mentions that Cicero was exiled for the summary execution of Catiline's conspirators as if it was justice, when in fact Cicero's exile was simply what suited the advancement of Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar and provided Clodius an opportunity to take revenge on Cicero. In February of 58BC Clodius as tribune proposed a law which would exile anyone who did or had executed a citizen without due process. While a redundant law, it would exact revenge on Cicero and distract the optimates. It is telling that, when Clodius passed a law which further punished Cicero, forbidding him from living within 400 miles of Rome and forbidding anyone from giving him aid, Cicero didn't have trouble finding people to put him up.

As for the conspiracy itself, it is unclear whether the found arms sufficiently demonstrate intent to betray the fatherland and thus condemn Catiline's conspirators. If it was, then one could argue they had by taking up arms against Rome relinquished their citizenship.

I'm not exonerating Cicero here, and I'm not doing justice to the intricacies of the conspiracy either. I guess the situation deserves a little more than a glib remark.

Fourth, what of such forthright criticism and disdain for being a reactionary when others get a pass in the very same article? Ovid gets a pass for being subversive and opposed to Augustus' moral regime, the wife of that same emperor gets a pass for no other reason, it seems, than she was female, and Caligula of all people gets a pass after brushing off "most" allegations as "invented or embroidered." I'm not condemning Ovid, Augustus, or even Caligula, but why is Cicero held to a completely different standard. Usurers, corrupt emperors, provocative poets–everyone gets a pass and Cicero slammed in this list of favorite people? I guess it's still better than being compared to Obama.

I realize Beard wasn't out to pick out the most moral and upright Romans. (Who would do such a terrible thing like that nowadays?) Her selections are all colorful characters, but alas, bias has to enter. Perhaps less bias than insecurity, for her criticism reminds me of when someone qualifies their agreement with someone by adding, "Not that I agree with everything he says," as if anyone would assume such a thing. As if, though, I would assume anyone of notoriety today would approve of Cicero. As an aside, though, how typically liberal is this list??

A hypocritical conservative white man is in charge, women are oppressed, evil men are victims of bad press, and a cool hip author write about sex. Reaction and conservatism are out, opposition to traditional power is in. Worst: Caelius est in horto needs to be translated. O temp–oh never mind.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Top Ten: Latin Proficiency Impediments

Latin has a bad rap nowadays. Actually it's had a bad rap for a while. It is stuffy. Archaic. Blah blah blah. I won't take aim at those paltry objections here, since I pity–and endure–modern man's alienation from his past. To one accusation, however, I strenuously object, and that accusation is of Latin's peculiar difficulty. Yes, the process of learning Latin has challenges, but far fewer than of learning languages like Greek or English, and no more than many other endeavors. Unlike the problem of learning the subtleties and seemingly endless variations of English, the difficulties in learning Latin, at least for the native speaker of English, are few and predictable. In my years teaching, they are the ten which follow. Additions welcome.

10. Ignoring the Part of Speech

One of the struggles I least expected was how unfamiliar some students are with the parts of speech: noun, verb, adverb, et cetera. Even having overcome this difficulty, I still have ripped hairs from my head trying to help students limit the function of words to what they are categorically able to do. Chiefly, this problem applies to comprehending verbs. For example, many times students define vultis, as "wish," which is all well and good excepting that in English, wish can be a noun or a verb. Similarly, many students try to determine case and use of adverbs, such as paulisper, "for a short time," since they seem often to conform to the case uses, ignoring that their part of speech makes such unnecessary and impossible. The problem is harder to overcome when explaining compound forms such as infinitives, participles, and gerunds.

9. Vocabulary and Broad Meanings

While every Latin teacher has to cope with students who don't diligently study vocabulary, more challenging is getting them to memorize the fully entry, and harder still to use that information. It is one thing to know that manus means "hand," another thing to realize it uses fourth declension endings, and still another to know its gender is feminine and therefore must agree with a feminine adjective. Likewise it is easier to know that pono means "put" than it is to know all of its principal parts by which to conjugate and recognize its forms in all tenses, persons, numbers, and voices. Even students who memorize their vocabulary, though, often struggle at calling them to mind as they read and using the information of the entry to identify the form in from of them.

At the upper levels, though, with the essentials mastered, the definition again becomes a challenge. No longer is it acceptable to know the most famous definition of condo "build," or even that it can also mean to bury, store, or hide, but the student must understand that its most essential, literal definition is "to put into," and that by extension it can mean "to found" (i.e. to put a foundation in the ground), "to save" (i.e. to put in a container for future use) and "to hide" (e.g. put in something out of sight.) I encounter the problem most prominently when I first teach Tibullus 1.1, where among many examples, lustro means not "shine" but "purify," lacus not "lake" but "trough," and levo not "lift" but "comfort," among others. The issue, though, is best exemplified by line 40 from Horace Ode 3.1:

Post equitem sedet atra cura.
Horace's line has been infamously mistranslated by Latin neophytes as, "The black lady sits cautiously behind the horseman," instead of "Black care sits behind the rider."

8. Brute Force Memorization

I have a passable memory, and I find it as often works to my disadvantage as to my benefit. For students with the gift of recall, the temptation is to memorize rather than comprehend. I have have seen students convince themselves, and others, that they can read Latin when they are in fact merely regurgitating. Sometimes the problem is obvious, as when a student vomits out a translation–how confused the look of a student whom I asked why he translated a phrase with "hath" and "doth"–but sometimes the error is concealed. Even students who don't memorize translations often simply remember the gist from the first read-through and use that as a tool by which to piece together what they missed. Other students, while they don't recall full translations, are apt at recognizing patterns, which is in some respects a virtue. (See #7) Other times, though, it can stunt their growth.

For example, it is one thing to remember that nomine may mean "named," because it is commonly seen as such, at least in some text books, but another to realize it is used in the ablative case to mean "with respect to name." This recall may simply look like experience, and it is in fact useful and as far as some students get in their understanding, but it is not proficiency. Such recall is commendable if it proceeds along with and feeds grammatical understanding, but alone is illusory understanding.

7. Heuristics

Similarly, one does want students to cultivate experience into rules which narrow down probabilities. It is reasonable, for example, to gravitate toward taking Marco as dative when the verb is one of giving, showing, or telling. I have seen many students struggle because they are unable to rule out what is improbable and they attempt every conceivable solution to a problem. On the other hand I have had difficulty restraining students from jumping the gun and getting them to explore the less obvious solution.

6. The Inflection Hump

A common situation: a student can perfectly write out all the forms of qui, quae, quod, but not translate it in a sentence. Likewise, a student translates all forms of the verb as if they were in the same tense. It's simply very hard for some students to break the habit, acquired by their familiarity with English, of taking words next to each other as related.

You can put a subject and object next to one another as in Marcus manum and you'll get "Marcus' hand." Likewise some students default to making proper nouns the subject, so if you put lupus Marcum terret, you will most certainly get as a translation, "Marcus scares the wolf."

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Things I Don't Get #11: Jeopardy Shenanigans and the Cult of Personality

I like Jeopardy, always have, and for the same reason everybody who does, does: I like to think I'm a lot smarter than I am. Trivia, aka random facts, are neither knowledge nor wisdom, and small cause of celebration. Still, the questions are the appeal of the show, that and Alex Trebek's awkward questions and segues. You know what isn't the appeal, though? The contestants. Pace The Trebek himself, the show is not about rooting for anyone, at least not for viewers who themselves can answer the questions. Most other game shows delight in their contestants. Spastics bounder up the aisle on The Price is Right and kooks guess off-the-wall answers on Family Feud, and on and on in the circle of television antics. Jeopardy doesn't encourage wrong or silly or creative answers. We don't get to know the contestants. They are there to bludgeon their competitors. The end.

Lately there has been a trend toward making celebrities of contestants though, perhaps triggered by the ratings garnered when certain players won much money or consecutive games. The trend is worsening and more often contestants are letting their precious foibles and ever-so-fascinating identities bleed over into the show. One has to make a little joke when he answers, another does a little dance during her opening introduction, another has to explain the whole thought process of his wager.

Must everything be personalized? Does everything have to center around people? We ought to be content with being ball players, actors, contestants, doctors, librarians–with being good at our job and station in life. Yet you can discuss nothing–sports, politics, movies, anything–without leaving the world of ideas for that of gossip. It's not a good turn for Jeopardy.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

A Walk in the Park

At 2,772 acres, Pelham Bay Park is the largest in NYC. Its name derives from that of Thomas Pell, who bought the land in 1654 and ham, the Old English for home. Presently home to tracks, trails, and trees–as well as the Robert Moses-finagled Orchard Beach–Pelham Bay Park is best known to posterity as the sight of the Battle of Pell's Point, in which American Colonel John Glover by a brilliant series of ambush, holding, and withdrawal, delayed General Howe's British forces long enough for Washington to lead the Continental Army safely north. Allegedly the stone walls behind which Glover and his men withstood the canon fire remain, now subject to golf instead of cannon balls. Some day I'll see if I can get on the course to find them, without having to pay for tee-off.

At the war memorial–optimistically called the World War Memorial–someone made an additional inscription. There's a lesson in it, though: if you are literally going to put something in stone, be sure about it.

Sorry for the quality there, but I didn't bring a zoom lens.

Of course sureness is no guarantee of wisdom. Take the plaque below another statue, that of a youth.

I've often said to those despairing of today's progressivism to imagine the shock of the days when it was in full flower. It's fitting to remember that bloom on a cloudy autumnal day like today. Of course I can't resist a little of the deconstruction of which the left is usually so fond. (Hey, turnabout is fair play.)

First, either the engraver missed a period on the first line or the author missed punctuation day at his progressive school. Speaking of which, exactly why is the period of youth entitled to freedom and untrammelled happiness? Who has less freedom and children, who must be constrained as they learn the ways of the world? Who is often less happy than children, who don't even know what happiness is, and how it is distinct from whim? Third, what does the author mean by "stultified happiness?" How can you render happiness futile? Fourth, how is it possible that "the proper spirit of play... is the natural instinct of the young?" That's mighty convenient. Born just perfect for play, are we?

Finally, was this translated? Because it doesn't really read so much like...English.

Healthy clean mind in a strong clean body is the idea for which we should strive.
It reads like the label on a bottle of Chinese laxative. Is this really engraved on an American monument?

Seemingly like all progressive documents, this inscription could be interpreted moderately, but it is so vague that you could easily drive a society-steamrolling truck of change right through its hazy, lazy, feel-good sentiments.

Still, a splendid afternoon walk in the park, untrammeled by progressive gobbledygook.

Things I Don't Get #9: Guessing Accents

I was born in the Bronx and I've lived here for thirty years. While my interests in language and music have muddled my accent into something which has variously been identified as English and "European," in moments of unguarded anger and enthusiasm–driving and teaching Cicero, inter alia–I can cut ehhhs and awwws that slice granite. Now I don't mind this, and in fact I relish my ability to pierce the human ear and scare animals and pedestrians at whim. Why, though, does identifying the accents of others seem to amuse people?

As a relatively untraveled man, I've spent most of my time in NYC its surrounds, and so few have ever commented on my accent. My wife, however, is from Kentucky, and it seems every time we meet someone here, they get this little glint in eye and, smirking and tilting their heads, ask, "Do I detect an accent? Now where are you from?" Why does everyone who can spot an accent different from his own think he's Henry Higgins? As if an ear that can distinguish something heard constantly, daily, and for decades from something slightly different–my wife's accent is gentle and mild–is a heaven-sent gift of observation.

Now some people like to show off, that I understand. Yet is seems to me that the moment when you meet someone is a particularly inappropriate time at which to put someone on the spot and make them feel that they don't belong, that the inquirer is in charge. Such is in fact the root of this phenomenon, that some people cannot approach others as confident and amicable equals, but need immediately to establish hierarchy. People who ask such questions like to establish themselves either as natives, which they take to be the same as superiors, or as experts, and of course expertise makes someone superior, right?

I take such a dim view of the question because in an allegedly liberal and egalitarian society as New York, I assume people are beyond tribal bonds. In the Old World it made sense to ask an outsider, "Who are you and from where have you come?" The outsider needs to establish himself as trustworthy and with good intentions. Today, at what we are constantly assured is the apex of modernity, what else could be the cause of such a shakedown? Certainly not that we are less modern than we fancy.

A Poll For Readers (Bumped)

I'm just trying to get a feel for reader and Twitter-follower interest and I would appreciate if you share you thoughts. As the poll is a crude gauge, please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments. Gratias vobis ago.

Of what would you like more on this blog?

Music Analysis
Short Reflections on Life
An Existing Series (Leave in comment)
Blistering Invective
Miscellaneous Life (Pictures, observations…)
Miscellaneous Fun (Videos, links…)
A Podcast
Richard Simmons
Other (Leave in Comment)
Poll Maker

Monday, October 19, 2015

Blog Encephalitis

Dear Fellow Blogger,

I like your blog. Really. Sure, you might be more neo-conservative or liberal and I more traditionalist, you Chicago econ and I Austrian, you Protestant and I Catholic, but I think there's some good feeling between us. Unfortunately, we have a problem. It's also very difficult to talk about because really I do like your blog. Here it goes.

Your header is too big.  Way too big. Disproportionately, improbably, embarrassingly large. Look, I appreciate that you're in love with the Parthenon and The School of Athens. I too realize that you just might be a fresco kind of gal. But you can't put the whole picture as your header. We just can't do that. No one can. I'm sorry. It won't fit.

It also makes you look ridiculous. You could have written an eight-voice fugue on a line of Heraclitus, but if your header is 900 pixels high, no one will take you seriously. No one would have heeded Cicero had he delivered the Catilinarians wearing a big foam finger, and that's what an oversize header is: an indication that you're on a different page. Of a different book. The header isn't just an image you like, but rather a header, a visual precis of your blog, if you will. Think small.

Just one more thing. You also have text above the header. Surrounded by blank white space. We can't do that either.

Because I care, I'll make you a deal: I'll write more, and with fewer typos, if you please shrink your header.

Thank you.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Top Five: Why Richard Simmons is Awesome

So the first request of our First Annual APLV Reader Poll was for more Richard Simmons, but Simmons is a man–nay, a presence–we should have discussed long ago. Mea culpa! Inimitable, indomitable, occasionally incomprehensible, Simmons is a pop culture phenomena of epic, decades-long proportions. Pop stars and their ephemeral tunes have come and gone, politicians linger past their prime, actors fade into obscurity, but Richard remains. It's not hard to understand why, though.

5. He's Powered by a Fusion Reactor

I teach, but anyone with a performative bent to his job–actors, musicians, courtroom lawyers–knows that performance is exhausting. So is engaging large audiences. As a teacher, I find that I simply must have more energy than the rest of the class combined. You need to project volume, yes, but most of all enthusiasm. Simmons one-ups us all by, beyond engaging big audiences, engaging them with strenuous, nonstop exercise. He just doesn't stop. There's no chance to lose focus or be diverted. He's just pouring out energy and drawing everyone in like a tie-dyed, calorie-burning vortex enthusiasm.

4. He's Positive

Everybody has a shtick. There are the macho trainers, who help you get huge. There are the sculptors, who want you to get sexy. Then come the tough guys, who break you down. Richards is pure positive energy, attached, fascinatingly, to nothing. It's just all good juju. You can apply it however you want. It's like plugging yourself into raw, limitless, positivity.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Slaves, All Slaves

One of the most striking modern positions is the reluctance to consider the concepts of freedom and slavery from other than political premises. By political premises I mean those factors which control the individual from without. It also seems that people of all types avoid the question, for conservatives, libertarians, and liberals all most often consider economic liberty. The former groups think that that once he is not compelled by the deliberate force of another individual, they think, a man is fully free. The latter often have a broader view, to their credit, but not only do they so often sit ready to enslave some to free others, but they also neglect the human choice in pursuing virtue and true freedom, seeing only victims of circumstance. Eluding all are the various ways in which men enslave themselves.

Cicero enumerates these ways well in one of his least known treatises, Paradoxa Stoicorum, in which he discusses Stoic philosophy's maxims, called paradoxes, (from Gk. παράδοξος, strange) because they contradicted popular opinion. The illustrative section discusses the fifth paradox, that:

Ὄτι μόνος ὁ σοφὸσ ἐλεύθεροσ καὶ πας ἄφρων δουλος.
solum sapientem esse liberum, et omnem stultum servum.
Every wise man is free and every fool a slave.
We see plainly this view considers freedom not from the vantage point of politics, but of virtue. Let us consider the same.

N.B.: I move freely between Cicero's text, in Latin and translation, and my own thoughts.

Cicero begins by questioning the liberty of the man who cannot control his desires. Indeed it seems plain that a man who lusts for food or flesh or is driven by avarice or anger is certainly not free. He is controlled by no one, not even himself, and so he is not free. Freedom is not the total absence of constrictions, but self-control.

#1: Enslaved to Yourself

Suppose then a man is in total self-control, then. Is he by nature free? Let us consider the example of a killer, who controls himself rigidly so that he can achieve his grisly ends. He may deny himself things he wishes, but because his end is wicked we would not consider him free. As Cicero says, he is free who follows the right things, who is virtuous. It is also important to consider the reverse of this position: that a man who only does good because he fears reprisal or out of accident or incidence is not free, for his path is chosen for him, either by force or occasion. Cicero puts it best when he says that he is free who rejoices in duty (qui gaudet officio) and who "says nothing, does nothing, and thinks nothing indeed except gladly and freely," (qui nihil dicit nihil facit nihil cogitat denique nisi libenter ac libere.) Liberty is a condition of the mind, then, and slavery the "obedience of a broken will," (obedientia fracti animi.)

#2: Enslaved by Others

Cicero's next consideration is the slavery of the uxorious man, hilariously caricatured by the felicitous brevity of Latin: poscit, dandum est; vocat, veniendum; eiicit, abeundum; minatur, extimescendum. We might expand Cicero's explanation and say that he is not free who is under anyone's command under compulsion. He may be a king who tyrannizes with taxation, a robber who threatens your life, a bully who hangs ostracism over you, or even a lover or friend who manipulates by withholding, but any such person controls you.

#3: Enslaved to Things: The Lautiores Servi

One of the great trends of Cicero's day was the collection of foreign, especially Greek, artworks and the construction of grand houses. Today we may add gadgets, totems of fashion, luxury cars, and exotic vacations to the list of temptations to which people yield. Cicero is harsh upon the fools he observed oohing and aahing over works of art, saying such things ought to be "non ut vincula virorum sint sed ut oblectamenta puerorum," not chains of men but amusements for children. We may pause to wonder here whether Cicero is fully endorsing this harsh stoic tenet or merely presenting it for the Roman audience, and we may make prudent room for finery, travel, and technology, namely that their pursuit must for enriching ones virtue.

For example, one should dress well not to impress others because you are insecure about your status, but because it is fitting for a man to adorn a fine character with fine clothes. Similarly, one should travel not so that one is seen traveling, but to see loved ones or complete his duties for work. Likewise one should purchase art not to compete with other collectors or be thought fashionable nor one not gaze at nonsensical art so that others think you are a profound thinker, but rather one should collect good art and give oneself to that art which ennobles and enriches the spirit by drama and beauty. Finally, one should use not technology to do his job or as playthings, but to augment his ability to complete his work. By their nature, then, things enslave which one pursues either for the wrong reason or immoderately for the proper reason.

#4: Enslaved to Money

In its most simple sense, enslavement to money is tantamount to enslavement to any physical thing, as above. If one works for money to buy things, then one is still enslaved to the things one hopes to buy. If one acquires money for status, then one is enslaved to the opinions of others. And so on and so forth. Yet because money is no end in itself, but a means to an end, we must also consider it in a different light. Many times we hear people say that they earn money not for anything in particular and that they do not covet money, but that they desire the ability to do what they want. This might seem some wisdom, the realization that money is mere means, but how demeaning is it to work with no purpose in mind! Such work is not the rational pursuit of an end, but either the base indulgence of whim or a waste of one's time, i.e. life. We may rightly think of Creon's words to the guard,

καὶ ταῦτ᾽ ἐπ᾽ ἀργύρῳ γε τὴν ψυχὴν προδούς. (Antigone 322)
One indeed does sell one's life for money, for work is chosen as money, as means to end. One does not live to work, but works to attain leisure. Ebenezer Scrooge is the archetype, but there are many cheerful Scrooges in the world, not grumpy and miserly, but just as wasteful of life.

#5: Enslaved to Advancement

Cicero then writes of the blind ambition for political office and what a domineering a mistress she is. How people debase themselves climbing the ladder. I would more broadly cast this argument as the blind pursuit of improvement. Who does not see people who pursue more money, better jobs, more interesting friends, more attractive lovers, and so on ad infinitum? This is not in fact pursuit, but flight, flight from what one has and fears to love, and who in fear flees is not free.

#6: Enslaved to Guilt

Finally, we may consider the slavery of the guilty man. Cicero writes in consideration of a man who because of some crime he committed, is not free. This man fears the opinions of all, for he suspects them of knowing his guilt, and as such they are all his masters for he fears them all.

We see then that the waters of liberty are challenging to navigate, not only the political seas but the personal. It is one thing–a good and necessary thing–to free oneself from a political yoke, but it is another–a good and necessary thing too–not to be a slave to oneself. We ought not cast off the rule of the tyrant and declare liberty, for if we do so without regard for self-knowledge, self-mastery and the disciplined pursuit of virtue, then in the words of Cicero, we have simply changed masters.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Who Wants to Live in An Experiment?

No matter how many insults, criticisms, or arguments you hurl against liberals and moderns, one defense stands firm. To every incident of corruption, desecration, and destruction they can reply, "It's an experiment." Moreover they say with great pride that liberal, egalitarian, democratic, and socialist projects are imperfect and thus in need of change. To them I raise three objections.

First, the purpose of an experiment is of course to test something, but social and political experiments do not permit the most necessary part of a scientific experiment, the control group. The dizzying quantity of variables makes the title "experiment" merely nominal, and here I refer only to variables of human interaction such as preference. If you consider the hodgepodge of policy, then the concept of a proper scientific experiment is laughable. This elementary concern seem not to trouble those who view the management of life and society as mere equations in need of solution.

Second, and what I find less honest, is the frank lack of hypothesis in these so-called political experiments. What exactly does a successful democratic experiment look like? The very fact that I must pose this question reveals the implicit flaw in the scientific approach to social arrangement, namely that the formulation of any hypothesis itself requires philosophical investigations. These eternal questions about man's nature and the good life are those most often left out of or taken for granted in the experiments in question. Let us ask, for example, whether a democratic experiment which ends with a flourishing but non democratic society a success. What democrat would say so? If the failure of democracy and public education, for example, looked precisely like what we observe now, does the experiment end? Can we go back? Of course not. The experiment never ends.

As such and most damning of the experiment, though, is that relentless tumult of tinkering which the managerial experimenters accept. I find reform a hard sell, and those who don't seem to carry less of the past, and less love of it, than I do. If progressives, liberals, and libertarians considered more often what might be lost, they might less often be willing to bet their father's farm. Perhaps the endless tide of change, of new laws, technology, issues, trends, and ideologies and the relentless rancor in which they are debated and spread simply do not lend themselves toward a good life. Given the choice, I wonder who really wants to see the world reinvented over within his life, and who really wants to live in an experiment.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Modest Proposal: The Sortes Virgilianae

Now that the Times of London has made a small step toward civilization and erudition with the return of its weekly Latin crossword puzzle, I propose another section be edited proper across all newspapers: the horoscopes. They are preposterous, of course, but persist through the human nature to be titillated by a glimpse of the forbidden, and what is more forbidden than the future? Since the desire doesn't seem to be on the wane–and if Dante's depiction of the fortune tellers ambling about the underworld with their heads turned round in poetic justice doesn't discourage, nothing will–then we might as well get something valuable out of the experience.

What better to replace a ridiculous trend, then, with an older ridiculous one which is at least more august? I refer to the so-called Sortes Virgilianae, the practice of divining the future not by preposterous cards or observing cosmic alignments, but opening to a random page of Vergil. In fact I propose a widespread return of bibliomancy using a variety of texts. Perhaps the Post can use Vergil and the Daily News, Homer. Who wouldn't prefer Vergil to the artless, hazy prognostications of astrologers?

Besides, how bad could your fortune be? It's Vergil. Go ahead, read your Vergilian fortune.
vix primos inopina quies laxaverat artus,
et super incumbens cum puppis parte revulsa
cumque gubernaclo liquidas proiecit in undas
praecipitem ac socios nequiquam saepe vocantem; Aen. 5.857ff [Trans]
Oh, wait. That's... Let's try again:
Tum caput ipsi aufert domino truncumque relinquit
sanguine singultantem; atro tepefacta cruore
terra torique madent. 9.332ff [Trans]
Alright, well...But it worked so well for Charles I:
At bello audacis populi vexatus et armis
finibus extorris, complexu avulsus Iuli
auxilium implored videatque indigna suorum
funera; nec, cum se sub leges pacis iniquae
tradiderit, regno aut optata luce fruatur,
sed cadat ante diem mediaque inhumatus harena. Aen. 4.615ff [Trans]
You know what. Never mind. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Wile E. Coyote, Genius

Wile E. Coyote is proof that you can blow yourself up, fall off a cliff, smack into a wall, that in fact you can fail and be mangled in every conceivable way, and still be a proud canine carnivore if you can express yourself with distinction.  Whatever the quality of its dynamite and rocket kits, Acme must have put out one fine English grammar. People scoff, perhaps, but one look at the desert daredevil's spiffy business card puts his writing a paw ahead of most people's.

Ahead of, for example, people who say, "This man fell down the stairs. What he did next is genius," or the many vexing variations on grammatical misuse.

You see, the wily beast knows that genius means either an individual who is a genius or the capacity, i.e. of extraordinary intellectual comprehension, retention, creativity and so on. For these reasons the word genius can only modify a person. In the example above, the man, not what he did, was a genius.

Ol' Wile E. knows this and more, namely that as a noun, the word genius can only be used a few ways. The first is as subject, for example, "A furry genius is hard to find." The second is as predicate, linked to the subject by a linking verb, as in, "Wile E. Coyote is a genius." The final choice, and Mr. Coyote's preferred, is the appositive use, in which one noun just leans against the other, modifying it in the same way an adjective would, without a linking verb. Thus the lovably pompously, "Wile E. Coyote, Genius."

If you need to describe something as characterized by genius, i.e. the genius of an individual, you need a word that means, "characterized by genius," for which English neatly supplies, "ingenious." Hey it's great to have words, isn't it?

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Joy of Repair

My first personal computer was a Compaq Presario. It came with a 333Mhz processor and 128MB of RAM, and that's back when we actually bothered to distinguish between RAM and HD storage. However much we scoff at the humble specifications today, it brought me much joy. Yet it is of happy memory less because it was the gateway to encyclopedias, cutting edge audio compression–mp3s– and SimCity 2000, than for being the first computer, and perhaps first thing of any kind, which I completely and utterly destroyed.

Through no fault of my own, truly. Windows 98 was a poor operating system by today's standards. It crashed opening files and saving files, on startup and shutdown–you name the task and it could take the whole edifice down. That kernel was a' poppin' by the hour, I tell you. And so I tweaked: drivers, settings, configuration files, libraries, html, javascript... you name it. Thus I learned.

Alas, Compaq of happy memory didn't have the cleanest supply of power for much of its early life, and I'm sure my ignorance of the issue hastened its demise, but the more it crashed the more I tweaked. I added fans and heatsinks galore, more than could possibly be useful. I added a bootloader to dual-boot OSs and customized the startup screen. Then the decadent accouterment of new graphics and sound cards, a spiffy CD-Writer–32x!–on and on. How many times did my parents find me surrounded by the innards of the poor dissected beast strewn around my room. Thus I learned.

The Macbook Air on my desk today is doubtless the cheapest and best computer I've ever owned. It's never malfunctioned in any significant way and it's safe to say I've learned nothing from it. There is good in that, not only because I paid for it and I don't want junk but also because I have work to do and I need it to function. Yet something has been lost, both of my youth and of my education, to which two minor recent incidents returned me.

A few months ago, getting in my car during a heavy rainstorm, I noticed an unusual dark patch on the interior ceiling of my car. Ahh, a roof sopping with aqua frigida. Driving home I wondered what to do. I'd never tinkered with let alone worked on my car before, nor anything so expensive and full of voltage and combustible liquid. Yet at every swipe of the wiper all I could think of was my own ignorance and impotence. I then remembered it, the turquoise power button on my Compaq Presario. Two hours later, at 12AM, I'm sitting in my car, and with screwdrivers, rags, wrenches, pliers, and parts of every shape and size strewn around the cabin, I had taken the interior ceiling apart. Having taken off my shoes to preserve the seats I open the sunroof and stand up through it, poking my head up against the tarp I've thrown over the car to prevent the rush of water. Failure ensued, for in the darkness I could not find the failing seal.

The next day I trace the leak–by pouring water through every crevice and hole I could find–to an unsealed gap between the sunroof's drainage trough and the conduit which houses the cable which opens and closes the ceiling panel. Caulk flows and joy ensues, a special joy not known since the vim and vigor of my computer-modding days. Moreover, I learned about my car for the first time.

A more recent incident on a smaller scale is illustrative too I think, precisely because of the low stakes. There was surely no way it was worth my time to fix my water pick. I surely lost money in the repair as an exchange of my time. Still I'm more than a little pleased with myself, less because I fixed a trivial device than because I improved it. You see it wasn't tough to split the little handle open and reconnect the tubing, but it was rather tricky to improve the mechanism which held the interchangeable head in place. It was loose and drippy of late and so upon further consideration of both my pride and orthodontic health, I realized I could improve the device. All I needed was a spring and a little flexible padding, so I of course took apart the nearest pen and shaved some rubber off an eraser. A little crazy glue later and huzzah! Good as–nay, better–than new.

These are small victories to be sure, but they make me wonder whether our magic boxes–our cars and phones and computers–hide as much knowledge as they reveal. Technology developed to perfection, like art, hides its process, yet unlike art technology's end is outside of itself. If it is misused it is useless, whereas art by being useless, so to speak, invites understanding for it can do nothing else.

I'm not advocating Luddism or praying for  technical disasters, but merely suggesting that when the door to a process usually closed to all but the inventor is opened, that the occasion might be a happy accident and an opportunity for a little ingenuity. We don't all have jobs which hold such opportunity, and we might be wise to tackle a few problems outside our typical ones. Those routine tasks feed our vanity as we master them and the exclusion of new challenges dulls our sense of wonder and adventure. Don't run to the experts to fix it all. Specialization is for insects.

Similar Posts:

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Five Modes of Prayer

It is often remarked that the greatest perk of teaching is the hours, but for my part the choice perk is working in a building with a chapel. The school chapel, like many, is most often devoid of people. Its side chapels remember the muttered masses and prayers of days gone by. The symbols of the stained glass illuminate the litany of saints for the passerby, with the pierced mitre of St. Thomas à Becket shining through to my favorite pew. Like most moderns, I never learned how to pray. Of course I learned to sit quietly and to say the words with good diligence, but I never discovered the disposition until my routine of daily prayers before work. After some years I realized in praying I would fall into one of several predictable patterns.

In the first way I pray the words as a mantra, not so much even focusing on the words themselves as simply saying them without interruption and without letting my mind drift to anything in particular. When praying like this, the act itself is the focus. It sets one apart from the world, blotting out all distractions external and internal.

Its opposite is the second mode, in which I reflect on every word of the prayer. When praying this way I tend to do so quite slowly, thinking on the associations, images, meanings, and implications of each word. Though I don't pray this way so often, I am always surprised by the manner and consistency with which the words reveal themselves excite the spirit.

Sometimes, though, I do not pray a traditional formulation but take the liberty of indulging my mind and formulating my requests or intentions in my own words. This takes two forms. In the third, I pay detailed, even excruciating attention to the formulation. As such, the prayer is in part an act of inquiry, for man's thoughts are seldom clear until they are expressed. How often do I struggle to find the words, stop to correct myself, or realize the foolishness of the request. It is often only by praying in this way that I understand for what I must ask.

After such prayers of considering, the fourth mode is the refined, simple request. Finally, I pray in thanks. This is no refined system or approved model, but it has served me. It could be summed up simply:
  1. Separate from the world
  2. Reflect on the sacred
  3. Know yourself
  4. Ask
  5. Give thanks

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Figures of Rhetoric and Syntax

This list of Latin and Greek rhetorical devices was born slowly and out of frustration with existing reference materials, which failed students insofar as they variously:
  1. Were incomplete, leaving out significant figures.
  2. Did not cite examples in Latin.
  3. Did not give the references for the examples.
  4. Provided no explanation.
  5. Gave confusing explanations.
  6. Had contradictory entries.
  7. Did not give alternative names and Greek names.
While there are many books and websites of great use and which have served me well, it is my hope that this list somehow rectifies these common errors and makes useful improvements. I add a few caveats.
  1. It is not exhastive, and there are some figures known to me for which I cannot presently offer any good Latin examples. 
  2. Some of the definitions are textbook, others I adapted for clarity, and others I took the liberty of writing myself.
  3. Some examples are common or famous, the classica exempla of the figure, others more obscure.
  4. I have refrained from explanation where I thought the defninition, example, or annotation (boldfacing, italicizing, et cetera) sufficient.
  5. For authors with only one work to their name or only one extant work, such as Valerius Flaccus and Lucan, the works are not listed in the entries.
  6. I have risked cluttering the page refrained from abbreviations for the benefit of those less familiar or unfamiliar with the authors of the Latin canon.
Finally, regarding both the selections and definitions, I make no pretensions of originality. I reiterate what Cicero said of his philosophy, verba tantum adfero, I only supply the words, (Epistulares Ad Atticum, 12.52) and while I have not so copius a supply as he, I hope this list is of some use.

Accumulatio: Latin, “heaping, piling up,” in Gk. ἀνακεφαλαιωσις, “summary of an argument,” also Latin Recapitulatio, “restatement of points, summing up,” and Enumeratio, “listing,” the return to points made previously, this time in a compact, forceful manner. It is often used with climax to present the summation of a speech.

Suae pudicitiae proditor est, insidiator alienae; cupidus intemperans, petulans superbus; impius in parentes, ingratus in amicos, infestus cognatis; in superiores contumax, in aequos et pares fastidiosus, in inferiores crudelis; denique in omnes intolerabilis. (Pseudo Cicero. De ratione dicendi ad C. Herennium 4.52)
Adunaton: Gk. ἀδύνατον, “impossible,” extreme hyperbole to suggest an impossibility. It is especially common of lovers’ oaths.

cum Paris Oenone poterit spirare relicta,
  ad fontem Xanthi versa recurret aqua.
(Ovid. Heroides. 5. 29f)
When Paris will breathe with Oeneone abandoned, / turned to the source, the waters of the Scamander will return.
From the choral ode in Euripides' Medea: ἄνω ποταμῶν ἱερῶν χωροῦσι παγαί (410)

Allegory:  Gk. ἀλληγορία, “veiled language, figurative,” an extended metaphor in which abstract ideas figure as circumstances or persons.

The personification of rumor in Vergil. Aeneid. 4.173-197.
Alliteration: Latin, littera, “letter,” the repetition of the same sound beginning several words in sequence.

Viri validis cum viribus luctant. (Ennius. Annales. 307)
timidae tellus tutissima matri (Statius. Achilleis. 1.211)
Anacoluthon: Gk. ἀνακόλουθον, “not following,” a lack of grammatical sequence; a change in the grammatical construction within the same sentence.

Si, ut dicunt, omnes Graios esse. (Cicero. De Re Publica. 1.58)
Here, the si expects a parallel omnes graii sunt, but instead we have an indirect statement dependent on dicunt

Anadiplosis: Gk. ἀναδίπλωσις, "doubling back," the repetition of a word that ends one clause at the beginning of the next.

Senatus haec intellegit, consul videt; hic tamen vivit. Vivit? (Cicero. In Catilinam. 1.2)
Anaphora: Gk. ἀναφορά, “carrying back” the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses or lines.

Nihil agis, nihil moliris, nihil cogitas, quod non ego non modo audiam, sed etiam videam planeque sentiam. (Cicero. In Catilinam. 1.8)
da nomina rebus, da loca; da vocem qua mecum fata loquantur. (Lucan. 6.773-4) 
nec, quid Hymen, quid Amor, quid sint conubia curat. (Ovid. Metamorphoses. 1.480)
Anastrophe: Gk. ἀναστροφή, “a turning up,” the transposition of normal word order; most often found in Latin in the case of prepositions and the words they control. Anastrophe is a form of Hyperbaton.

errabant acti fatis maria omnia circum.  (Vergil. Aeneid. 1.32) 
cur ulla puer iam tempora ducit te sine? (Statius. Achilleis. 1.129)
Antimetabole: Gk. ἀντιμεταβολή: from ἀντί, "against, opposite" and μεταβολή, "turning about, change, "the repetition of words in successive clauses in changed order.

Miser ex potente fiat ex misero potens. (Seneca. Thyestes. 1.35)
Antistrophe: Gk. ἀντιστροφή, “a turning back,” the repetition of the same word or phrase at the end of successive clauses. Also called Epiphora, Gk. επιφορά and Epistrophe, Gk. ἐπιστροφή.

Laelius homo novus erat, ingeniosus erat, doctus erat. (Pseudo Cicero. De ratione dicendi ad C. Herennium 4.19)
Click "Read More" below for the rest of the list.

Where Was I? Part II: Because Latin

When at the conclusion of Latin IV last year I asked my students to reflect on the experience, one remarked that our inability to procure a text book changed the class. I didn't know it at the time I was frantically copying pages, but my student would prove correct. Quite by chance we happy few of Latin IV found ourselves liberated from the constraints of curiously culled collections and before us had the entire Latin canon. Now that may sound exciting, but to a teacher it sounds a logistical nightmare. Indeed it was both a risk and a burden to adapt the curriculum, but it seemed timid to suffer through the compromises of an anthology for mere convenience. The result was an immensely successful and satisfying year about which I'll write later.

The result was also the desire to refine those selections, add the necessary vocabulary and notes, and then compile additional resources–maps, charts, timelines, images of works of art, fun marginalia– into a proper anthology, which I have done. I'm excited to use it through this coming year, but it was quite a labor.

Instead of the senior slog through Vergil–a terrible thing to do to teachers, students, and Vergil–I selected several topics which we explore philosophically through lecture, discussion, and articles, and which we follow up with Latin texts.
  1. Warm-Up: Aesop's Fables in Latin
  2. Cosmology: The beginning of Ovid's Metamorphoses
  3. Mythology: The tales of Echo and Narcissus from the Metamorphoses and Orpheus and Eurydice from Georgic IV.
  4. Courage: Nisus and Euryalus from Aeneid IX
  5. Elegy & Leisure: Tibullus I 
  6. Leisure: Selections from Horace, Martial, Catullus, and Ovid
  7. Beauty: Selections from Horace's Odes
  8. History and Philosophy of History: Livy I: Ch. 1-16
  9. Stoicism and Moral Philosophy: Marcus Aurelius in Latin
Reading Ovid we compare science and mythology, and we let Aristotle guide us through the story of Nisus and Euryalus, focusing on the question of courage. I introduce the topic of leisure with Josef Pieper and that of Beauty with Roger Scruton.  It was quite a blast, I must say. (And it was no small thrill to fill full the selections of Ovid and Vergil which the anthology had sliced down to thin morsels.)

What took even longer than the anthology, though, was the next major revision, 3.0, of the Latin Grammar on which I've been working for some time. Some time ago I grew tired of bouncing back and forth between incomplete modern grammars and stuffy, confusing old ones. The result is now a few hundred pages of an intellegible, organized, comprehensive Latin grammar. It was as much a task of organization and formatting as it was of clear explication. 

At any rate: it's done, and I'm back blogging.

Where Was I? Part I: Marriage

The longest interruption in blogging since our launch in 2009 is going to require some explaining.

Part I: I Was Married

Straight away I must object–are things not back to normal already?– to the phrase get married, for one does not get married in the sense that one gets a cookie, acquiring it. Marriage is not possessed, but lived. Nor does one get married as one gets a lesson, comprehending it, for philosophy and theology aside, who can fully explain what miraculous thing is apprehended by the mind's eye in your spouse? There's a Menckenesque humor in saying that one gets married as one gets spanked, or gets his just desserts–but I can't say I agree, for marriage is more, not less, than can be deserved.

Rather than those, then, I would say one is married, that is, by someone. The question is of course now this: by whom? It is on the one hand by the spouses themselves, for they make the vows, and on the other hand the priest, who having shepherded the couple pronounces the marriage valid. This observation raised for me several others.

First, we need priests. More specifically, good ones. We need priests not only who know things, but who work hard, who are organized, patient, and accessible. We need priests who want to save souls, who want to administer sacraments and therefore are willing to undertake the burdens of paving the way toward celebrating them. That means, beyond learning perfectly to celebrate the ritual itself, they need to answer phone calls, reply to emails, and be available for meetings. There is always an inglorious underbelly to lofty pursuits: truth requires lonely scholarship, prosperity requires prudent administration, health tedious exercise, and so on. Therefore…

Second, it is often that when confronted with things which are ends in themselves, we neglect other responsibilities. For example, confronted with the lofty purpose of celebrating mass, a priest may forget that he has responsibilities of stewardship. Likewise, who hasn't known a teacher who takes seriously his job of explaining concepts, but fails to engage the class? The caricature of the artist who neglects basic cura personalis because he is consumed by his art is, with respect to his tunnel vision, dead on.

For my part I grew fixated on the Latinity and Catholicity of the mass and all of its parts. This sounds reasonable, if not noble, certainly far more than fussy bridezillas cackling about the decor of their rented halls, at least. Yet the mass itself–the music, the words, the tradition–began to blind me to its own meaning. Not advisable.

Third, we are dependent on tradition. Looking back, one of the parts of the wedding which pleases me most is that it is not an expression of my own uniqueness. Aside from the Mozart, Bach, and Byrd, which all suit me quite well, it was a service which countless other Catholics have celebrated throughout the centuries. We spoke our words and the priest his, because those are words of the ritual. The end. If you want to personalize something feel free to write a book, draw a picture, or dress up your cat. You can't change the words or form of ritual because the process of invocation is not democratic, rather it is studiously guarded by a trusted few because it defines a people and their relationship to the transcendental. To utter the words is to acknowledge the world according to the tradition. Invocation is an act of definition

Finally, marriage is a lot of work, chiefly work on your character. I've never wanted to be better more than I do now. No sense of abstract morality, no philosophical premises, no sense of professionalism has motivated me so much as my vows with my wife. 

Continued in: Where Was I: Part II: Because Latin