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Friday: September 30, 2005

Dueling Quotations

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:56 PM GMT-0500

Aristotle’s is well-known, the first sentence of the Metaphysics:

pántes hoi ánthropoi toû eidénai orégontai phúsei.

All humans by nature desire knowledge.

Plato’s is less well-known, being tucked away in a complex argument in Book VII of the Republic (535e), where Socrates describes

anáperon psukhén . . . hè àn tò mèn hekoúsion pseûdos misêi kaì khalepôs phérei auté te kaì hetéron pseudoménon huperaganaktêi, tò d’ akoúsion eukólos prosdékhetai kaì amathaínousá pou haliskoméne mè aganaktêi, all’ eukherôs hósper theríon húeion en amathíai molúnetai.

. . . the lame soul which hates the voluntary falsehood and not only cannot bear to lie itself but is greatly angered when others lie, yet cheerfully accepts the involuntary falsehood and is not distressed when caught in ignorance of something, but wallows in ignorance like a brutal hog.

Thursday: September 29, 2005

To Err Is Humean

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:57 PM GMT-0500

Brian Leiter continues his “Thus Spoke” series by quoting some “sharp observations of Hume” on the (alleged) “dysfunctionality of religious societies in comparison to secular ones”. This time he provides a reference — Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, XII, 220 — but still no link, though the complete text is available here, among other places.

It’s odd to see a Professor of Philosophy make such a sophomoric error: it is not Hume who speaks here but Philo, one of the characters in Hume’s Dialogues, and his argument is immediately challenged by Cleanthes. To what extent Philo’s opinions can be assigned to Hume himself has been disputed since the work was published in 1779. This site lists some of the possibilities, with references.

The dialogue ends with the the words of the narrator Pamphilus, writing to Hermippus:

Cleanthes and Philo pursued not this conversation much further: and as nothing ever made greater impression on me, than all the reasonings of that day, so I confess, that, upon a serious review of the whole, I cannot but think, that Philo’s principles are more probable than Demea’s; but that those of Cleanthes approach still nearer to the truth.

Of course, though Pamphilus gets the last word and endorses Cleanthes over Philo, we could argue that that is just a smokescreen, and that Hume in fact put his own opinions into Philo’s mouth, while explicitly pretending otherwise so as to avoid the unpleasant consequences facing an open atheist or agnostic in his day. Is Leiter presuming such a (dare I say?) Straussian interpretation of the Dialogues? Or did he just forget that a dialogue is not a treatise, and that none of the characters in a dialogue (or a play, for that matter) can be presumed without argument to speak for the author, not even the Platonic Socrates or a Sophoclean chorus? That’s the sort of thing students are supposed to learn in Philosophy 101, if they have not already learned it in high school, as many do.

Wednesday: September 28, 2005

More On Leiter’s Thucydides

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:42 PM GMT-0500

In five words: not fake but still inaccurate. Thanks to Stuart Buck in the fifth comment on the previous post, it appears that Leiter’s quotation is in fact from the funeral oration, specifically Thucydides 2.44.3, in Rex Warner’s Penguin translation. Specifying the translator and the precise passage would have saved us all a lot of trouble. Thucydides is (to put it mildly) a difficult author, and translations are quite varied, which is why I was unable to identify Leiter’s quotation with any passage of the two I checked (Crawley and Smith). Here are the four I have on my shelves, one of which is also on the web, with the part Leiter quoted in bold:

Thomas Hobbes (1629):

. . . yet such of you as are of the age to have children, may bear the loss of these in the hope of more. For the later children will both draw on with some the oblivion of those that are slain, and also doubly conduce to the good of the city, by population and strength. For it is not likely that they should equally give good counsel to the state, that have not children to be equally exposed to danger in it.

Richard Crawley (1874, on line here):

Yet you who are still of an age to beget children must bear up in the hope of having others in their stead; not only will they help you to forget those whom you have lost, but will be to the state at once a reinforcement and a security; for never can a fair or just policy be expected of the citizen who does not, like his fellows, bring to the decision the interests and apprehensions of a father.

C. F. Smith (Loeb, 19282):

But those of you who are still of an age to have offspring should bear up in the hope of other children; for not only to many of you individually will the children that are born hereafter be a cause of forgetfulness of those who are gone, but the state also will reap a double advantage — it will not be left desolate and it will be secure. For they cannot possibly offer fair and impartial counsel who, having no children to hazard, do not have an equal part in the risk.

Rex Warner (Penguin, 19722)

All the same, those of you who are of the right age must bear up and take comfort in the thought of having more children. In your own homes these new children will prevent you from brooding over those who are no more, and they will be a help to the city, too, both in filling the empty places, and in assuring her security. For it is impossible for a man to put forward fair and honest views about our affairs if he has not, like everyone else, children whose lives may be at stake.

Thucydides only says what Leiter wants him to say when his words are taken out of context. He is not contrasting men who send their sons to war with others who keep theirs at home,* he is contrasting men who have sons with those who have none. Warner’s translation is ambiguous and could be read either way, but the context shows that it must mean the latter: ‘having children whose lives may be at stake’ means having children at all, not voluntarily risking children one already has. Smith has a pertinent footnote: “No one could be a member of the Boule or Senate till he was thirty, when he was almost certain to be married; and, according to Deinarchus (§ 71), no man was allowed to speak in the Assembly until he had legitimate male issue”.

In short, Thucydides 2.44.3 tells us nothing useful about contemporary politics, unless Leiter thinks that not having sons is inherently unpatriotic. (The only military role envisaged for a man’s daughters in Pericles’ funeral oration is to marry and produce grandsons to fight in the next generation’s wars.) The idea that citizens have a duty to marry and produce male children to serve the state as soldiers is more typical of Augustus Caesar and his clownish acolyte Mussolini than of any politician in a modern democracy: it sounds downright unAmerican. I do not mean to imply that Leiter has knowingly endorsed such an idea: he’s just too busy quoting a great historian as an authority on contemporary politics to check what the quotation actually means.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

*Still less is he contrasting alleged warmongers and supposed (second-hand) ‘chickenhawks’ like Bush who ought to send their sons and daughters to war with peacelovers like himself who are perfectly entitled to keep their children at home while smugly despising the ‘warmongers’.

Monday: September 26, 2005

Another Bogus Quotation?

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:56 PM GMT-0500

A recent Brian Leiter post, in full:

Thus Spoke Thucydides

Pericles, in his Funeral Oration to the relatives of dead soldiers: “It is not possible for people to give fair and just advice to the state, if they are not exposing their own children to the same danger when they advance a risky policy.”

–Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War

(Thanks to Jim Klagge for the pointer.)

I can’t find anything resembling this quotation in Pericles’ funeral oration (Thuc. 2.35-46), which is on-line here and at numerous other sites in various translations. The words (as opposed to the thought) are hardly distinctive enough for a Greek-word search. Perhaps they are found elsewhere in Thucydides, but the fact that Google comes up dry when I try to find them in any larger context is disquieting. The pseudo-specific reference is also suspicious, since it gives the superfluous title of Thucydides’ only known work, but not the book and chapter numbers necessary to track down what he actually wrote. Should I assume that the quotation is bogus until proved otherwise? Leiter wouldn’t be the first, or the second, or the hundredth weblogger to fall for a conveniently appropriate fake quotation. I hope he does a better job of footnoting his legal scholarship.

Update: (9/28, 11:55pm)

See next post for much more.

Sunday: September 25, 2005

Advice Needed

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:12 PM GMT-0500

I sell some spare books through my other site. (The book-sale page is here, and I will be adding dozens more titles this week.) In the last month, I’ve had two different (I think) people try to pull a variation on the old Nigerian e-mail scam, ordering books and then sending, or promising to send, a check for much more than the agreed-upon price with a request that I send the remainder on to a third party to whom they (allegedly) owe money. This is far more irritating than an ordinary scam, because I have to waste time getting out the books, making sure their condition is as advertised, calculating shipping costs, and writing and reading e-mails about the supposed sales.

My question is what I can do about, and to, these bastards.

In one case, I have a name and address in Longford, Ireland, but no check, so it’s not clear that a crime has been committed. Should I contact the Irish authorities anyway? Which authorities? Should I start with their U.S. embassy?

In the second case, I have an actual obviously-fake cashier’s check, but no address for the sender, who claims to be in England. The check, with an entirely different name and no return address, came with a Ghanaian stamp and postmark. (To add insult to injury, they didn’t even spell my name right.) I do have the name and address of the person to whom I am supposed to send the $4502 left over from the cashier’s check after I subtract the $298 cost of eight mostly-very-obscure titles on Plato and Aristotle. I imagine this information must be genuine, or my own purely theoretical check would be uncashable. (Purely theoretical not only because I’m not a moron, but because I’ve never had $4502 in the bank in my life. It’s a good thing Friday is payday, since my various bank and credit union balances are currently $10.78, $4.11, $5.47, and $3.01, for a grand total of $23.37.) Just to complicate things, the supposed buyer has promised to send his “shipper” (still unnamed) to pick up the books in person, and lately has mentioned a cargo container.

So, what should I do with the check, and to the scammers? There are some obvious possibilities, besides just contacting the Irish and Australian authorities:

  1. Publish all the names and addresses here? Perhaps my readers know someone in Longford, Ireland or Burwood East, Victoria, Australia who could knock on the door to see who answers? Should I scan and post the fake check? The better parts of the e-mails? (Not the complete texts: too dull.)
  2. Play dumb but interested and see if I can get them to spend some money on trans-Atlantic telephone calls, or at least on more Ghanaian air mail stamps?
  3. Pretend that the check was damaged in the mail and humbly beg them to send a replacement? I could put it back in the envelope, lay it on a grease spot in the parking lot with bits of gravel over and under it, run over it a few times, and then tear it in half. If I claimed the Post Office had delivered it in that condition — with a JPEG as proof — could I get them to send another?
  4. One of my students (thanks, Nik!) suggested sending $4502 in Monopoly money to the Australian address. That’s more than my Monopoly set can easily spare, so I could just scan some Monopoly money and send single-sided copies, perhaps cut out with pinking shears to rub in their fakeness.
  5. I am slightly tempted to e-mail and tell them how incompetent they are. Unfortunately, that would involve telling them exactly what they did wrong, e.g. [a] the check numbers in the upper right corner and the lower margin don’t match, [b] the paper feels like a xerox, not a check, [c] what kind of idiot sends a check for $4800 to a stranger in an envelope without a return address?, [d] what honest purchaser would ever have thought that I would have five copies each of Anthony Kenny, Aristotle’s Theory of the Will, and G. J. De Vries, Miscellaneous Notes on Plato (Mededelingen der Koninklijke Nederlandse Adaedemie van Wetenschappen, Afd. Letterkunde, Nieuwe Reeks – Deel 38 – No. 1), among other titles — at one point ‘Zes’ was asking for five copies each of all eight Plato and Aristotle titles on my site. Of course, such advice, however satisfying to give, might help them get it right for the next target, and may even be illegal.

I’m leaning towards #4. Suggestions may be placed in the comments.

Unfortunate Song Titles

Filed under: — site admin @ 6:20 PM GMT-0500

What is the most unprepossessing name ever for a piece of music? Though it’s far from the worst piece of music I’ve ever heard, Spade Cooley’s “Yodeling Polka” probably has the worst name, and his “Cow Bell Polka” is first runner-up. Of course, the artist’s name doesn’t exactly help, still less if you know that he was born Donnell Clyde Cooley.

He ruined some of his other titles by his own actions. “You’ll Rue the Day” and “I’ve Taken All I’m Gonna Take From You” are excellent examples of Western Swing in themselves, but they lose much of their charm if you know that Cooley stomped his wife to death in 1961 in front of their young daughter. Quite a few other titles sound sinister in retrospect: “Trouble Over You”, “Oklahoma Stomp”, “Crazy ’Cause I Love You”, “Shame on You” — all from one album of greatest hits.

Saturday: September 24, 2005

For Quiche-Eaters Everywhere

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:51 PM GMT-0500

For those wishing to compete in the 2 Blowhards “I’m so gay” contest, here is my mother’s recipe for Walter Mondale Memorial Quiche — not that she calls it that. The name alludes to the popular 1984 bumper-sticker message “Mondale is a quiche-eater”: if eating quiche is wimpy, eating a spinach and cottage-cheese quiche is beyond wimpy. (Whether that would be ‘überwimpy’ or ‘unterwimpy’ is a question for the pedants.)

Walter Mondale Memorial Quiche

Bake one 9” pie crust 3 min. at 475o. Lower heat to 350o.

Sprinkle in baked pie crust 1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese. Beat 4 eggs, blend in 1/2 cup small curd cottage cheese, 1/3 cup light cream, 1/4 tsp. salt, plus pepper and nutmeg to taste. Fold in 1 package frozen chopped spinach (cooked) and 2 tbsp. chives. Pour into pie crust. In small skillet, melt 1 tbsp. butter. Fry 1 small onion, sliced, until golden. Decorate top of quiche with onion rings and butter.

Bake 45 min. at 350o. Allow to cool somewhat before serving.

(This works with either ‘boil-in-the-bag’ spinach or the kind that you boil in water, as long as the latter is drained. It is even better if you double or triple the Swiss cheese: in this case it will fill two 8” pie crusts. Microwaves well: quiche is supposed to be eaten lukewarm anyway.)

This is the only dish I’ve ever eaten and liked that contains cottage cheese.

Threatening Ambiguity

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:36 PM GMT-0500

I have the impression that some browsers omit all text-decoration in websites displayed, either because they are obsolete or because they are specially designed for the visually-impaired. I hope no one misunderstood yesterday’s heading in NRO’s The Corner:

Help Us Beat People

The message would be entirely different without the Italics.

Saturday: September 17, 2005

Second Thoughts?

Filed under: — site admin @ 4:10 PM GMT-0500

Silent Running reports from New Zealand that someone stole a small plane and flew it around Auckland for quite some time threatening to crash it into the Sky Tower, before ditching in the sea. I’d never heard of the Sky Tower, but from SR’s illustration, it looks a lot like Toronto’s CNN CN Tower, and Google tells me that it is the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere, 1076 feet, with a restaurant more than half-way up.

I wonder if Prime Minister Helen Clark, while she waited to see what would happen, had any regrets about disarming the Royal New Zealand Air Force: it now consists of transport planes and helicopters. One of the seventeen A-4K Skyhawks that were retired in 2001 might have come in handy in this situation. Of course, it’s possible that the arrival of a fighter jet would have induced the man to go ahead and crash into the tower while he still had the chance, and shooting him down would quite likely have killed some on the ground. But it would have been nice to have the choice, instead of just waiting helplessly to see whether he would go through with his threats. It would have been a pity to lose the Sky Tower because Helen Clark couldn’t conceive of any reason for New Zealand to have an Air Force worthy of the name.

Monday: September 12, 2005

Map Filth

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:44 PM GMT-0500

PowerLine displays the wonderful cover of the latest American Enterprise, which I will copy here to avoid bandwidth theft (a mosquito is still a parasite even if the elephant doesn’t notice):

My first thought on seeing it was that Europe looks like it’s getting ready to kick America with it’s its Italian boot. I suppose that’s intentional. My second was to recall a cartoon I haven’t seen in twenty years, Kliban’s “Map Filth”. It was just an outline map of Europe and North America, much like this one, but without the faces or the colors. The words coming out of Chesapeake Bay were “Hey Europe, bite my Florida!”.

Saturday: September 10, 2005

Dame Eugenia Charles, R.I.P.

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:06 PM GMT-0500

The Brothers Judd note the passing of Dame Eugenia Charles, 86, “the former prime minister of Dominica, who gained widespread attention when she stood beside President Ronald Reagan as he announced the invasion of Grenada”. I remember her, and all the sneering lefties who treated her as a complete non-entity just because they’d never heard of her. I had heard of her before Grenada, but mostly as an answer to a political trivia question: who is the only black woman head of state [or head of government — see comment 1] in the world? When it comes to modern nation-states as opposed to (e.g.) African kingdoms, I think she was probably the first, and she may still be the only one ever. Can anyone name another?

Thursday: September 8, 2005

Two Jokes In Chekhov

Filed under: — site admin @ 7:05 AM GMT-0500

Some purely verbal jokes work equally well in many languages. Here is a paragraph of Chekhov’s one-page squib, “From a Retired Teacher’s Notebook”:

The words ‘proposition’ and ‘conjunction’ make schoolgirls modestly lower their eyes and blush, but the terms ‘organic’ and ‘copulative’ enable schoolboys to face the future hopefully.

(The Oxford Chekhov, tr. Ronald Hingley, Volume VI, Stories, 1892-1893, p. 260)

Here is the next paragraph, the only other one (of six) that struck me as particularly interesting:

As the vocative case and certain rare letters of the Russian alphabet are practically obsolete, teachers of Russian should in all fairness have their salaries reduced, inasmuch as this decline in cases and letters has reduced their work load.

Now you don’t have to read the whole story.

I wonder if any Latin teachers in the Middle Ages thought to ask for a pay raise when W and J and the distinction between U and V were added to the original 23-letter Latin alphabet to make the modern English set of 26 — not that that all happened at once. Actually, the development of the English alphabet was a bit more complicated than simple accretion, since the two th‘s, eth (ð) and thorn (þ), were added at some point and later subtracted, though they survive in Icelandic.

Monday: September 5, 2005


Filed under: — site admin @ 3:59 PM GMT-0500

In the spirit of Puzzleblogger Kevan Choset at The Volokh Conspiracy, here’s a puzzle:

What fact links together the cities of Baltimore, Laredo, and Bakersfield?

There are a few other places that fit the pattern, but none that I know of is an American city. Answers may be placed in the comments.

Useless hint: This should be very easy for some readers, impossible for others. I’m curious as to how many of my readers fall into each group.