Thursday, June 30, 2005

I knew that Sappho poem sounded familiar, and I've finally tracked it down. It's from a collection of "Translations in Translation", poems that have been translated from their original language, and then again into another. It's quite instructive to note what is lost two steps out. In this case, the Greek was translated by the great 17th century Spanish poet, Javier Fernando del Camarón y Gamba, whose work then was translated into English by Thomas Bunt, a less-than-successful milliner.

Of Mr. Bunt's translation, one coeval commentator said, "This unlick'd Bear may speak the Spanish (I cannot know), but that he knows not Numbers, nor Taste, nor Poesy, any man may judge."

Youths pursue the clear, melodious Lyre,
Chase the sweet gifts of purple MUSES' Choir,
But my once soft body OLD AGE has racked;
And now I braid white hair that once was black.
My breath is lead, my knees now cannot bear
To dance over the earth like skipping deer.
Who would so age? Who may unaging rest?
Often I curse at this, man's Fate unblest.
Once rosy-armèd DAWN, struck down by Love,
To the World's End TITHONUS carried off.
Then lovely, young, he aged but never died,
The creaking Husband of an ageless Bride.

Fear and marvel at the robotic Philip K. Dick.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

"...but this man is not an actor
He is
The Highlander!
There can only be one
decent movie
all the rest
are nigh unwatchable
(except for Mean Guns
which is pretty cool)"
From Future Pundit comes this map of potential wind power. Distressingly little of the country is suitable for this type of power generation.

Moreover, you really want to find a place where, to start with, no one lives, no one cares about the view, and no birds sing. Whether it is necessary for the sedge to have withered, I leave to committee. But wind turbines tend to chew up birds and spit them out, much in the manner of the comical antics of Warner Bros.' Tasmanian devil.

I am all for "alternative" energy sources, by which I mean "not coal". I believe in man's influence on global warming. I like things that are free--wind, sun, water. But, leaving aside the fact that they aren't really free, they don't scale. It is difficult to tell the wind that, come five o'clock, we need a quick boost in power production. Add to that the ugliness of a turbine field, and the potential loss of, say, a California condor, and I find myself thinking nuclear thoughts. As I have mentioned earlier.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

In which I play the haruspex. Well, no. But I did have chicken last night, and I do wish to make a prediction:

On or around the Fourth of July, someone will use the American custom of fireworks to make a clumsy rhetorical point regarding the war in Iraq. I make no claims regarding their political affiliation, but somehow I feel certain that this shall come to pass.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

I promise my Internet searches are wholly innocent. Found searching for more about Sappho, the Icelandic Phallological Museum.
Phallology is an ancient science which, until recent years, has received very little attention in Iceland, except as a borderline field of study in other academic disciplines such as history, art, psychology, literature and other artistic fields like music and ballet.

Now, thanks to The Icelandic Phallological Museum, it is finally possible for individuals to undertake serious study into the field of phallology in an organized, scientific fashion.

The Icelandic Phallological Museum contains a collection of over one hundred penises and penile parts belonging to almost all the land and sea mammals that can be found in Iceland.

Visitors to the museum will encounter thirty specimens belonging to twelve different kinds of whale, one specimen taken from a rogue polar bear, eighteen specimens belonging to seven different kinds of seal and walrus, and fifty one specimens originating from sixteen different kinds of land mammal: all in all, a total of one hundred specimens belonging to thirty six different kinds of mammal.

It should be noted that the museum has also been fortunate enough to receive a legally-certified gift token for a future specimen belonging to Homo Sapiens.

Via MonkeyFilter.

How perfectly the yin and yang of my posts balance.
Xenophon is a lying dog. From the Times Literary Supplement, a review of a new collection of essays on Xenophon's Anabasis.
It goes without saying, of course, that the Xenophon of contemporary academic taste is far removed from the bluff figure – a scout-master manqué – whom Victorian schoolmasters found so inspiring. A writer once admired for his plain and manly style is now seen as someone altogether tricksier, “evasive, apologetic, and a master of leaving unwelcome things out” – while the Anabasis itself, as befits the testament of such an unreliable narrator, is reconfigured as something almost approaching a postmodernist text. George Cawkwell, in the opening essay of the collection, repeats his argument that Xenophon’s memoir had a ghostly twin, penned by his comrade on the expedition, the shadowy Sophaenetus; and even though P. J. Stylianou, in the succeeding essay, applies Occam’s razor with great ruthlessness to this theory, we are still left with a sense of the Anabasis as haunted by silenced voices, by depths barely hinted at. Even its most celebrated phrase, once routinely interpreted as a cry of ecstasy and release, can now be represented as something altogether bleaker and more delusory. “The protracted activity of ‘going home’”, John Ma argues in the book’s concluding essay, “solves nothing; resolution and return are constantly deferred.”
I could not disagree more, which means I shall have to acquire this book as soon as possible.
New Sappho (sort of). The first four lines, as translated by Martin West:

"[You for] the fragrant-bosomed Muses' lovely gifts,
[Be zealous], girls, [and the] clear melodious lyre:
[But my once tender] body old age now
[Has seized]; my hair's turned [white] instead of dark."

But why, why mayn't I have the Greek online?

Via, of all things, Fark.


Cheers to Glaukôpidos.
Lacantunia enigmatica. A new family of catfish has been discovered in Chiapis.

Via Eurekalert.
They call them fingers, but I never see them fing. I should start a company called "Blogpsot", just so when I mistype I end up at a real page. Also "Lviejournal".
Xenophon's Symposium

"But it seems to me that the works of gentlemen [of good and noble men]--and not only their serious dealings, but even the playful ones--are worthy of discourse. I wish to explain an experience which supports this.

"At the time of the horse-races of the greater Pan-Athenian games, Kallias, the son of Hipponicos, and lover, as it happened, of the boy Autolycos, who was the winner of the pankration [catch-as-catch-can], brought the boy to the spectacle. When the horse-races ended, he continues along with Autolycos and his father towards the house near the Peiraian harbor, and Nikaratos accompanies them.

"He sees a group, namely, Sokrates and Kritobolos and Hermogenes and Antisthenes and Charmides, and arranges for someone to show Autolycos and the others the way, himself turning about to Sokrates and his party, and says, 'A noble meeting! For I intend to hold a banquet for Autolycos and his father. I believe much more magnificence will be brought to my arrangement by men whose souls are cleansed than by generals or horsemen or office-seekers.'

"And Sokrates says, 'You always laugh at us, since you have sacrificed a good deal of silver to Protagoras for wisdom--yes, and Gorgias and Prodikos, and many others--and think poorly of us homegrown philosophers.'

"And Kallias: 'Indeed, formerly, I fancied, I hid from you just how much wisdom I had to tell; now, however, if you go with me I shall eagerly display to you all my worth.'"

The opening is pure Xenophon. For him, being a gentleman [kalos kagathos] is the end to which all men aspire. Therefore, any and all doings of gentlemen are worthy to be discussed and imitated. The extreme end of this is Xenophon's own On Household Management, where a thinly disguised author holds forth on the beauty of pots and pans carefully arranged. Contrast Socrates, with his interest not just in gentlemen, but in all men. Shoemakers, prostitutes, sophists, slaves: all, for Socrates, are people to talk with, even (and perhaps especially) on the most elevated subjects.

Xenophon is at heart an elitist, believing that some men (and he includes Socrates) are better than others, both by nature and by law. Thus, the "works of gentlemen", here "kalos kagathos andron". The "andron" is unsurprising. Xenophon, like any number of Greek philosophers, had a dim view of women, and his wife must either have been completely cowed by her heroic husband, or else viewed him as a colossal bore. Probably both.

But the "playful" side of things is one that Plato seems to have forgotten in his dialogues. There's a good deal of sniggering over sex, and punning, but the scene of Socrates and others relaxed on their couches, with any attempt at serious discussion--note how Socrates promptly brings up wisdom, and Kallias derails him just as quickly--being half-hearted at best, is absent from Plato. There's an ease of manner to Xenophon's characters, a sense of being gentlemen among gentlemen, with none of the ferocity of Plato's inquiries. While Xenophon's Socrates lacks the mystic qualities of Plato's (and in Plato's accounts one is almost ready to believe that Socrates himself was a daimon), he has a grounded quality that I find immeasurably attractive.

Kierkegaard, in The Concept of Irony, makes an excellent point in comparing Xenophon and Plato. "When Alcibiades tells us in the [Plato's] Symposium that he has never seen Socrates drunk, he is also suggesting that this was an impossibility for Socrates, as we do in fact in the [Plato's] Symposium see him drink everybody else under the table. Xenophon, of course, would have explained this by saying that he never transgressed the quantum satis of an experientially tried and tested rule." Plato compares Socrates to Silenus; it would not have occured to Xenophon to compare him to anything at all.

Kierkegaard has a lot of (accurate) abuse for Xenophon in The Concept of Irony, mostly because Xenophon lacked an appreciation for Socrates' ironical statements. There's no middle ground for Xenophon, no double meanings or insoluble grey areas. His every thought is relentless vivisected, labeled, and stored away against its need, just like his pots and pans, and generally quite as commonplace. Xenophon lacks irony, and, sadly, lacks poetry, too1.

What Xenophon does offer is a view of Socrates unobscured by Platonic alterations. His Socrates is earthy, pleasant, amusing, and clever. Xenophon saw Socrates not as a near-divine teacher, but as a friend.

Xenophon's invocation of empirical proof is also typical of him. For him the final determination is whether a thing works in real--i.e. either public or private--life. He demands evidence where Plato demands thought.

His characters are sketched precisely, and their personalities are clear the moment that the open their mouths. At this, he equals or surpasses Plato, although, to be fair, Plato is trying to accomplish something rather different. Xenophon wants to show how it was; Plato wants to show how it ought to be.

In short, I read Xenophon for clarity, not depth. More later, whether you like it or not.

1 Which is at least part of the reason I chose to translate him. My Greek is lousy, and it's nice to have someone who uses straightforward constructions and, for some reason, refuses all offers of synonyms. I heartily recommend him to anyone wishing to regain lost Greek proficiency. He might have been written for just that purpose. I like Xenophon, but don't value him nearly as highly as Thomas Jefferson did. Jefferson felt that Xenophon's was the only genuine account of Socrates. Jefferson was a great politician, but an abysmal philosopher.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Still worse, it is backwards to adopt a searching standard of constitutional review for nontraditional property interests, such as welfare benefits, see, e.g., Goldberg, supra, while deferring to the legislature’s determination as to what constitutes a public use when it exercises the power of eminent domain, and thereby invades individuals’ traditional rights in real property. The Court has elsewhere recognized “the overriding respect for the sanctity of the home that has been embedded in our traditions since the origins of the Republic,” Payton, supra, at 601, when the issue is only whether the government may search a home. Yet today the Court tells us that we are not to “second-guess the City’s considered judgments,” ante, at 18, when the issue is, instead, whether the government may take the infinitely more intrusive step of tearing down petitioners’ homes. Something has gone seriously awry with this Court’s interpretation of the Constitution. Though citizens are safe from the government in their homes, the homes themselves are not. Once one accepts, as the Court at least nominally does, ante, at 6, that the Public Use Clause is a limit on the eminent domain power of the Federal Government and the States, there is no justification for the almost complete deference it grants to legislatures as to what satisfies it.
I leave it to those more qualified than I to comment on the legal fallout of Kelo v. New London (the link is to Justice Thomas' dissent). I will simply gnash my teeth.

UPDATE: An excellent point:
The worth of a thing can only be established by the price for which two parties are willing to transact in that thing at a particular time. If one of the parties is being forced to enter the transaction, then by definition the price he is being paid is less than it is worth to him. Namely, he’s getting ripped off. The whole lynchpin of eminent domain is that certain circumstances warrant ripping people off in that manner in the interest of serving a sufficiently important goal. Society does what it can to compensate the ripped-off individuals, but they are not being paid what their land is actually worth.
Sullen silence was taken for rapt attention, and gave him greater room to talk; sharp answers were received as smart sallies of girlish vivacity, that only required an indulgent rebuke; and flat contradictions were but as oil to the flames, calling forth new strains of argument to support his dogmas, and bringing down upon me endless floods of reasoning to overwhelm me with conviction.
Anne, dearest, you know how fond I am of you, and if I had a giant robot army you might have half, but, for Heaven's sake, joy, why such metaphors?
Hem, hem. Given the rather artificial nature of clan tartans, but still following in such traditions as may be gleaned, it seems to me that attendants, should they wear kilts, ought to be dressed in the tartan of he whom they are attending.
Pictorial evidence also comes to its aid, for the first person to be painted wearing a recognizable modern kilt, not a belted plaid, appears in a portrait of Alexander MacDonell of Glengarry, the son of the chief who was Rawlinson’s friend. It is interesting to note that, in that portrait, the kilt is worn not by the chief but by his servant- thus emphasizing, once again, its ‘servile’ status.
They are, after all, acting as members of the household, however temporarily.
Ankh ankh, en mitak/ Yewk er heh en heh! I should be remiss not to mention a third distinct pleasure from opera: bits of it are hilarious. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, one must have a heart of stone to listen to the Funeral of Amenhotep III without giggling. And I say this as someone who liked Akhnaten.

And not just the unintentional bits! Ariadne Auf Naxos made me snort milk out my nose the first time I heard it. (Although I have a revised version of the actual opera section. See, the original Ariadne gets so upset that she storms off in a huff, leaving only the Composer to fill the role (so the character is now a woman dressed as a boy dressed as a woman). Ariadne and the comedy are still performed simultaneously, but Zerbinetta keeps getting the Composer/Ariadne all hot and bothered, culminating in an aria in which he (the Composer) sings of love and death, but she (Zerbinetta) keeps adding words to make it absolutely filthy. Bacchus descends but is abducted by Harlequin et al. He keeps rushing onto stage trying to sing with Ariadne and getting pulled off just before they can reach musical consummation. In the end Zerbinetta has her way with the Composer on stage, thus representing the reconciliation of the tragic and comedic impulses in mankind. Harlequin et al., Bacchus, and the Music Teacher come out to form a human curtain in front of the two, and sing of this happy day, rising in volume as necessary when Zerbinetta and the Composer start making too much of a ruckus. What? I have low tastes.)
Omniscience, Opera, and Where's My Cake? I've been listening to L'Orfeo of late, which is the sort of thing I do so that I can act like a pompous ass, chattering about toccati and so forth at cocktail parties. Which I don't attend, but the principle still applies. Generally when I confess an interest in opera I get one of two responses:

"So, do you really like that sort of stuff?" or

"Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit!"

Which is all well and good so far as it goes. Yes, I really do; no, I'm not terribly musical (which is why I find many other 'classical' works dull). Well, yes, it does take a little effort to "get into it", like any other area of study worth of the name (previous discussion), but I'm living proof that, firstly, it doesn't take much to start, and, secondly, that once one is hooked investigation becomes a pleasure rather than a necessity.

L'Orfeo certainly rewards both passing acquaintance and (presumably) in-depth analysis. In addition to the obvious pleasure of astonishingly beautiful music, there's the pleasure of hindsight. Even I can hear the seeds of great opera to come. Now one hears a convention which Mozart will transcend, now, the conflict between drama and music that Wagner will either heal or irreversibly escalate, depending on who one talks to. I can pretend, from my privileged position four centuries after, to an omniscience which is refused me in daily life. That pleasure of looking back and seeing the evolution of music laid out before me, of, thanks to the wonders of time, being able to follow the great composers in their thoughts, should not be underrated.

L'Orfeo also rewards a fresh listener. It is a shocking work, a new thing in music (or nearly so), a piece without a category. It is impossible for me to understand, listening to it, why the first audience did not burn down their city. To something so unprecedented I cannot imagine any response except fire, and lots of it.

I don't mean in a destructive sense, but just that L'Orfeo can be so overwhelming that any response can seem inadequate. In The Descent, by Jeff Long, there's ascene where Satan kills a fellow by sticking his hand in the fellow's chest cavity and pinching closed a vein. The dying fellow reflects that it doesn't hurt: it's such an alien sensation that he has no response to it. L'Orfeo is like that. It astonishes. Which is no small pleasure.

The terrible thing is that this pleasure is incompatible with the pretense of omniscience I mentioned. If I listen to it as something unprecedented, I'm not allowed my omniscience view. If I'm omniscience, necessarily I am seldom surprised. I can either interact with it immediately, or through the lens of time. Of course, in any one listening I have both pleasures, though at different points in the opera. But what I really want is the joy of discovery along with the pleasure of foreknowledge.
Eva Brann's new book.
Open Secrets / Inward Prospects is a book of thoughts of one who thinks about everything. Such a person has a fascinating double life, says Tutor Brann, one implicit like us and the other explicit for people like her. Her life is not apart from ours but layered over it. Philosophy for her is not a profession with its own methods, its own lingo, its own ethics abstracted from ordinary life. The philosopher looks at everything, and especially at everything human, but she sees better than the rest of us living with the same things. Visiting Colonial Williamsburg, for example, she ponders the fact that the guides dressed in period costume must have on modern underwear. Considering archaeological museums, she wonders about the confusion of future archaeologists when they dig in the dust of our civilization: Won't they mix up our pots--the ones we made--with those we dug?
Via Arts and Letters Daily.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Also, Charles Bell's website.
NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Country Music Television has selected its first "vice president" for the Dukes of Hazzard Institute. The first task for the New York-based executive: Upgrade the Institute's new facilities.

In other words, get cable and a new TV set for his apartment.

Yes, Christopher Nelson's new job, which comes with a $100,000 salary and a one-year contract, will be to watch reruns of "The Dukes of Hazzard" weeknights on the Country Music Television cable channel and write blog postings for the network's Web site.
At last a horoscope that makes sense to me.
The Cosmos solar sail has come unstuck in space.
With failure of Cosmos 1 virtually certain, the team members that have been staffing Project Operations Pasadena have elected to return to their homes. Thanks to the Internet, if our spacecraft miraculously reappears, each of us will still be able to keep watch over the mission from our individual remote locations. Greg returns to Berkeley, Jim and Brent to Utah, and Paul to his usual life at the Jet Propulsion Lab, just up the valley from Pasadena. Lou will be returning from Moscow in a couple of days. I took off for home a couple of hours ago in order to begin to catch up on sleep.
If history is any guide (this is the second one they've lost), Kamchatka is the place to start looking.
I've been neglecting you all most shamefully, right down to the e-mails. I can only hope that you're over at Steve's Blog, learning about moas and Kazakh fashion. I know that latter made me want to take my wife's Godey Paper Dolls, flick paint on them, cut them randomly with pinking shears, and start up a designerie.
"Personally I've always wondered why the long-term unemployed spend so little time on macramé. They could spend the mornings wandering the streets looking for discarded string and the afternoons making useful and attractive pot-holders. Reading and fornication are other inexpensive pastimes."

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A Lego Life of Polycarp.

The Quartodecimans explained. (Thus have I always seen their sect spelt.)

Via Eve Tushnet.
Richard Strauss, 1864-1949
In November 1933, without any consultation with Strauss, Goebbels appointed him to the post of president of the Reichsmusikkammer, the State Music Bureau. Strauss decided to keep his post but to remain apolitical, a decision which has been criticized as naïve, but perhaps the most sensible one considering the circumstances. Strauss was forced to resign his position in 1935 after refusing to remove from the playbill for Die schweigsame Frau the name of the Jewish librettist, his friend Stefan Zweig.

Friday, June 03, 2005

...of these things, then, as has been said before, it remains for us to determine by what categories and in what order we ought, insofar as it is possible for us to do so, and moreover to the degree to which these things, the present object of our discourse, I mean the previously mentioned ones, allow, as has been said before, to order and categorize these things which were previously mentioned, insofar as they are these things, to the end that we may discourse upon these things not in some arbitrary or unordered way, as though our discourse on these things were a formless mass, as one might, without the discernment necessary to determine how these things might be discussed, whether ordered or unordered or in some third way, in the way given to these things and our discourse by nature or by custom or by some third measure, itself neither the ordering of nature nor that of custom, but either in itself not unordered, though it should seem so to the undiscerning, nor, as has been said before, by nature or custom, but rather that these things which are now the object of previous discourse...

--Aristotle, On Nothing in Particular
There is, to the elevated & well-ordered mind, no activity more pleasing, more wholesome, more balancing of the humors, more rarefying of the spirits & more tempering of the soul, than the creation of names for a smock shop.

A Smockwork Orange
Smock Monkey
Lock, Smock, and Barrel
The Smocksmith
Mendacious Smockery
Tick Tock Smocks
If You Can Smock a Leek
Buck Up, Old Smock
Smock and Roll
A Smock of Seagulls
Pippi Longsmocking's
You Mean to Smock Me After
The Smocktopus
She Groks Smocks
The Smocketeria
Kneesmock Rise
The Love Song of J. Alfred Pru-Smock (I should have been a pair of ragged shears)
Smock and Awe
Teh Smoxx0r

Thursday, June 02, 2005

...I am not the same
Nor ever more shall be, as when I came.
Ashes am I of all that once I seemed.
In me all's sunk that leapt, and all that dreamed
Is wakeful for alarm...

--Edna St. Vincent Millay