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.

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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

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

App Review: Three More Classics Apps

I. Latin Scansion

Latin Scansion is a perfect companion for the student learning to parse the Latin hexameter or for old pros looking. . . to scan Latin hexameters for fun. As small as either group might be, this app is a boon to both, foremost because it provides feedback to your work. One of the common struggles for practicing students is the inability to find correctly scanned lines against which to check their work. This lacuna is also a product of the teacher's difficulty not only of distributing a large quantity of such material, but also of ensuring students don't simply copy the correct answers. Latin Scansion helps fill the gap.

Set up as a game, you tap either the "long" or "short" button to indicate the length of the next syllable, scanning the hexameter from left to right.

The simple interface makes rather addictive the task of scansion, and if the thrill of metrical pyrotechnics is simply not enough for you, the game spurs you on with motivations like achievements, timed games and a record of your winning streak. The game is good fun and practice, but there's room for improvement which would make a stellar app.

First, the selections are limited to Vergil, specifically to Aeneid I, II, IV, and VI. They are predictably the selections scattered throughout the AP Test and total about 800 lines. Some longer, and more importantly contiguous selections, would encourage everyone to read as he scans, and to read Vergil not to pass a test, but for the value of the literature. Second, it would be helpful to include the option of marking the caesura, diaeresis, and feet, as well as toggling the natural long marks. Third, students would benefit from the ability to choose lines matching particular criteria, such as those with a spondaic fifth foot, elisions, hiatus, and so on. Fourth, independent students would likely welcome a summary of scansion rules. Finally and most obviously, it seems a gap for an app called Latin Scansion to leave out meters besides the hexameter.

Overall, although these are suggestions for major additions, they're but minor complaints about an app which gives a fun, digital twist to an ancient tradition.


II. Logeion

Who doesn't want a slick Greek and Latin lexicon? Beyond the convenience of having a combined reference for both languages, Logeion offers two features which I think commend it to students. First, it offers entries in multiple references. For Greek it offers the LSJ, DGE, Autenrieth, Middle Liddell, and Slater entries, and for Latin the BWL, Lewis and Short, Lewis' Elementary, and DuCange. Second, it does not allow the entry of inflected forms, which comes as a relief to teachers who recommend online resources like Whitaker's Words and The Perseus Project with reservations, finding them often all too helpful.

One feature beyond the entries which I like is the inclusion of extended examples from the corpus, which allows you to look at a word used in fuller context, not just surrounded by the bare minimum required for sense.

The most useful feature which recommends it to educators in particular is the section of each entry that tells you in which chapter the word is introduced in the most common text books. Every teacher who has juggled multiple books, years of students, and curricula, has struggled to remember which students have been taught which words at which point. Logeion contains such data for Hansen and Quinn, Reading Greek, Learn to Read Greek, Learn to Read Latin, Mastronarde, and Wheelock.

A a most useful, but not too useful, tool.


III. Barrington Atlas

Alas, the app for which I was most excited and which is the most expensive, fails to deliver. To start with the good, the maps are quite fine. In particular, the relief of the topography is crystal clear, a detail is often lacking in maps of the classical world. Too the shading of the landscape, indicating desert, sea, and so forth, is subtle. The ancient Latin names are also retained, as are the Greek, although the latter are transliterated. Speaking of text, the authors very kindly drew the black text with a thin white border around it, making it exceptionally legible and easy on the eyes.

Beyond the minutiae, there are 102 maps of more specific places and eras of antiquity than you're likely to find in general interest atlases and they are of a higher quality than the skimpy black and white versions which we're accustomed to find thrown into texts.

The downside is that you can't zoom in nearly as far as you would hope, that is, as far as we've come to expect when looking at high resolution files. You can zoom in rather far, but the zoom won't lock at the deepest level, making viewing at that level a chore. Besides this disappointment, and other minor ones like the fact that opening the key covers most of the map, there is a nearly-debilitating bug in which zooming back out to the highest level whites out the screen. You can only recover by exiting the app or swiping left or right to the next map.

I can forgive a bug, though, more than the fact that the app, in 2015, seems a mere passable digitization rather than a program designed from the ground up. As such, it's neither the definitive classics atlas everyone wants nor a fine presentation of the Barrington Atlas. Still, I'm glad I have these maps.


If you liked this list, please take a look at our first Classics App Roundup.

    Tuesday, March 3, 2015

    Things I Don't Get #8: Kanye West at Oxford

    This might seem a softball post, because it's pretty easy to find confusion, and despair, in the thought of Kanye West lecturing at Oxford. I was going to put lecturing in quotation marks but I'm fairly sure every verb of which Mr. West is the subject ought to be rendered within quotations, and boldface as well. That observed, and Mr. West's distinct character aside, a few things about his prestigious appearance–as I understand it he does just that, appear, having superseded human locomotion after a long talk with Galileo–at the foremost academy of the English-speaking world. Now I'm not surprised that he's speaking at Oxford. He's already spoken at Harvard. I would be more surprised if they passed up the opportunity to entertain a speaker whose most recent work has been read by more than twenty five people, and enjoyed by anyone. No, what I'm chiefly surprised about is twofold.

    First, his pattern of speech is fascinating. I've never heard anyone speak like this before.

    I don't mean to chide his misuse of literally or modern lingo like illest. I'm saying that the man speaks the way people write. Badly, yes, but interestingly so. Who uses the word vibe as a verb, or creative as a substantive adjective? What an extraordinary discontinuity of ideas, each crashing into the next:
    “I think that progression of mind with the advent of a human being named Drake (laughs, smirks, crowd laughs) you know, this idea of holding onto a number 1 spot. And then you get this guy that comes and blows out the water every number 1 of any band ever. Be it me, or Paul McCartney [laughs].
    How can you explain that? I realize these are haphazardly gathered quotations, likely somewhat out of context, but that's not remarkable. It reads like a Quentin Tarantino script translated into Latin, run through Google Translate, and edited by a Post-Structuralist PhD candidate.

    Second, I'm baffled not only that there are idea therein which you can discern, not comprehend of course, but discern, but also that I agree with these ideas.

    For example:
    One of my biggest Achilles heels has been my ego. And if I, Kanye West, the very person, can remove my ego, I think there’s hope for everyone.
    Yes, the presence of Kanye West and Achilles in the same sentence is risible in the extreme, as is the vexatious question of how many Achilles heels one may have and whether the heel admits the aspect of scale, but that's not an awful analogy. He's talking about overcoming tragic flaws and he's obviously in possession of some self knowledge. Who can fault that?

    West on authenticity:
    I’d see toys that some people would buy for my daughter and I’d say this toy isn’t quality. I don’t want my daughter playing with this. There’s not enough love put into this, this is just manufactured with the will to sell, and not the will of inspiration.
    Yes, again the short, staccato, statements are rife for Shatnerization, but isn't he right? Mass-produced products are soulless. I'm not saying the world would be wholly better off without them, or that everyone  should pay a lot of money for hand-made computer keyboards, but there is an important distinction to be made between the work of craftsmanship and mechanically-produced knockoffs. There is indeed a difference between Michelangelo's David itself and a concrete reproduction, between sculpted bas-relief and mold-formed plastic duplicates.

    Now a sound bite on aesthetics:
    Let’s have an NBC telethon moment, and say that beauty has been stolen from the people and is being sold back to them under the concept of luxury!
    Again, the string of appositions NBC telethon moment is both amusing and indicative of an inability to organize and subordinate ideas, but the rest is not half-bad. The fact that luxury is not equivalent to beauty is a pertinent observation I think.

    Waxing philosophical,
    Time is the only luxury. It’s the only thing you can’t get back. If you lose your luggage – I’m not gonna say the obvious brand of luggage that I’d normally say because I’ve got a meeting with them soon – if you lose your expensive luggage at the airport, you can get that back. You can’t get the time back.
    No, there's no context or larger argument and admittedly Mr. West's opulent lifestyle contradicts his sentiment, but for all the wacky celebrity babbling, he could say worse.

    On intellectual property,
    I love Steve Jobs, he’s my favorite person, but there’s one thing that disappoints me. When Steve passed he didn’t give the ideas up. That’s kinda selfish. You know that Elon’s like ‘yeah, take these ideas’. Maybe there are companies outside of Apple that could work on them and push humanity forward. Maybe the stock brokers won’t like that, the stock holders wouldn’t like that idea, but ideas are free and you can’t be selfish with them.
    I agree. I agree? Again? There you have it: I agree with Kanye West, who also said:
    She bought my daughter these three wolves, knowing the whole collection, that it’d play with the song Wolves, and based on this concept.
    It's worth note, I think, that a man who seems not versed in the terms and traditions of, well let's say a lot, has somehow, perhaps independently, hit upon some serious ideas. So he's what happens when someone who doesn't know the days of the week tackles the problems of aesthetics and time, and it's tempting to ridicule the incoherence and eccentricity, say, by posting a picture of him tenderly cradling a fish or photoshopping him into the School of Athens, which I considered.

    Yet here's a man with talent, thrust into celebrity and success, publicly trying to sort it out. Some formal education would help his cause, and I wish he'd go down that path so I could endure more of his music, the last of which I sampled lost me sixty seconds in at assquake.