Saturday, April 25, 2015

Adult Atheists Converting To Theism

I don't know how widespread such conversions are. Because of my literary interests, I happen to know about one small group of conversions, those of prominent Weimar-era authors writing in German, who were atheists and ethnically Jewish, who converted to Catholicism. Karl Kraus, Alfred Doeblin, Joseph Roth and Franz Werfel. I don't approve of their conversions. I don't present these authors as role models. But all four are great writers. Doeblin is -- Doeblin, although greatly admired, is still greatly underrated, he's the greatest writer ever to have written in German, there I said it. Doeblin is the balls. And I'll repeat what I've said on other occasions: being religious is not as disastrous to artists, including writers of fiction, as it is to persons in other professions, because being an artists and being religious both involve constantly making things up.

Doeblin and Roth were Leftists who opposed religion for political reasons. Doeblin was that way for a long time. His one big commercial success as an author was his novel Berlin Alexanderplatz in 1929, he had been active in the Left wing of the SPD since 1920, fled from Germany to France in 1933, then in 1940 from France to the US, settling in the Los Angeles area, where like some other German authors he found some work writing for the movies. In 1941 he and his wife and son were baptized in a Catholic church in Hollywood. He said that he had been very moved when looking at a crucifix in the cathedral of Mende, France, and that he had had a similar experience when looking at a crucifix in a church in Krakow: both times, he said, he had become overcome with emotion when looking at what he called "the rebel executed on a cross." Whatever happened to him when he saw those two crucifixes, it seemed to have played a big role in his conversion. It seems that after his conversion he was in the Left wing of the Church, particularly concerned with coming to the aid of the poor.

Doeblin announced his conversion in front of 200 guests on his 65th birthday in 1943. Most of his friends were Leftists and had remained atheists, and their general reaction was dismay. They felt Doeblin had joined the enemy. Bertolt Brecht had been a close colleague of Doeblin's in both political and literary projects; he wrote a bitterly sarcastic poem about Doeblin's conversion: "Peinlicher Vorfall" ("An Embarrassing Incident").

Joseph Roth's time as an atheist Leftist was briefer than Doeblin's. He was born in Galicia in 1894, when the region was still part of the Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire, was a university student in Vienna, the Empire capital, and just a few years after the Empire ceased to be 1918, Roth became disillusioned with the Soviet Union, and began to say and write the most remarkably euphoric things about how the Catholic Church unified all mankind, and how the very Catholic Habsburg Empire had united the many nationalities under its rule. (Very few members of the non-German nationalities under the Habsburgs ever seemed to find the Empire particularly benevolent.)

Karl Kraus was born in 1874 in what today is the Czech Republic; three years later he family moved to Vienna, and he lived there the rest of his life, until 1936. In 1899 he withdrew from the Jewish religion; in 1911 he converted to Catholicism, and in 1923 he left the Catholic Church. Unlike Doeblin and Roth he wasn't a Leftist. But he also was never a conservative or Right-wing reactionary either. He preferred to ridicule any and all parties whenever he felt they deserved it, and he seems to have similar problems first with his family's Jewish faith and then with Catholicism.

Franz Werfel was born in 1890 in Prague, which -- let's all sing it in unison -- at that time was part of the Habsburg Empire. He settled in Vienna after WWI, converted to Catholicism in 1929, was rescued and hidden from the Nazis by the nuns at Lourdes in 1940, promised those nuns to write a novel about their cloister, and did: Das Lied von Bernadette, published in 1941.

That's only just about about all of the most prominent Jewish authors of their time writing in German. Whether this is all just a coincidence -- four people; that's a rather small sampling for statistical purposes -- or whether there were many other German-Jewish authors of the same era, less prominent, unknown to me, who also converted to Catholicism; and/or many other German Jews from other professions who converted -- I don't know. There is one prominent German-Jewish author of the same generation, Lion Feuchtwanger, who, as far as I know, never became Catholic. Feuchtwanger collaborated on a few pieces of writing with Brecht (who was not Jewish), was pals with Doeblin, joined the Los Angeles-area colony of German expat writers in 1940. No conversion on Feuchtwanger's part, but the title character of his novel Jud Suess, based on the historical figure of an 19th-century Jewish financier, does have bad dreams in which Catholic Germans and Jews are locked together in a grotesque dance which they cannot stop, in which they are thoroughly and inescapably a part of one another. So maybe there's more than a coincidence here.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Some Remarks On The Term "Pope"

When the Roman Empire became officially Christian in the late 4th century, the Emperor or Emperors were the head (or heads) of the Church. I say Emperor of Emperors because sometimes there was one Emperor, and sometimes there were two, one in the Latin West and one in the Greek East. But then the Western Empire ceased to be in AD 476 -- or so they say. It's a little more complicated than that. Some people still claimed to be the Western Emperor in the years after 476, and there can be a reasonable discussion about how serious some of those claims were. And in the 6th century, Justinian, the Eastern, Byzantine Emperor, warred quite vigorously and won back quite a bit of the Western Empire: the entire Italian peninsula and modern-day Slovenia and Croatia, and Sicily and Sardinia and Corsica and most of the northern coast of western Africa and most of the southern coast of Spain. But the Empire only held of these re-conquests for a few years. The wars which won all that territory also bankrupted the Eastern Empire, and that's why they weren't able to hold onto the territory -- after 476 the Popes moved into the power vacuum left by the disintegration of the Western Empire.

For most of the period between 476 and 800 -- when the Pope crowned Charlemagne as the Western Emperor -- the Popes were the most powerful ruler in Western Europe, they gave the region most of what political cohesion it had, and they continued to be the strongest political power for centuries after 800. There were Emperors again in the West, but they never held the sort of power which Emperors had had until 476, and which the Eastern or Byzantine Emperors retained until 1453. The Byzantine Emperors were the unquestioned heads of both church and state. The Popes were unquestioned as the rulers of the Western Church until the 16th century, and they often contested the position of highest earthly power with the Emperors.

I don't know the details how the use of the term "Pope," to refer specifically and only to the Bishop of Rome, originated and spread. In 1073, Pope Gregory VII officially declared that it would not be applied to any other Bishop in the Catholic Church except for the Bishop of Rome. This had been the unofficial understanding of the meaning of the term for some time already -- for how long? Good question. In the 3rd century, the term "Pope," meaning "Holy Father," was occasionally applied to various Bishops. All I can say for sure is that sometime between the 3rd and 11th centuries, the Bishops of Romes became known as the Popes.

Before 476, when the Papacy began to (partially) fill the role of the Emperors, the Bishop of Rome was just one of several powerful bishops alongside those of Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch and Constantinople. The question of which of these bishops was the most powerful was far overshadowed by the fact that all of them were subservient to the Emperor or Emperors. When people claim that Constantine and the Pope re-wrote the Bible at Nicea in 325, not only do they not know that Bishop Sylvester of Rome -- to whom we often in retrospect, anachronistically, refer as Pope Sylvester I -- not only are they unaware that Sylvester didn't actually go to Nicea -- they also assume that he had a distinction above the Bishops of Constantinople and Alexandria and Antioch and Jerusalem, which he didn't have.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

William of Malmesbury's 12th-Century Description Of Eilmer's 11th-Century Attempt At Flight

Near the end of book II of his Gesta regum anglorum, finished around 1125, on pp 276-77 of volume 1 of this 2-volume set --

-- William of Malmesbury writes about a monk of Malmesbury named Eilmer who in 1066, upon seeing the comet we now call Helley's Comet, foretold a chaos of nations which would be the woe of many mothers. Halley's Comet is fainter every time it approaches the Earth, every 86 years. In 1066 it must really have been something to see. And a little later in 1066 the Battle of Hastings occurred, which was the beginning of the Norman Conquest, which did indeed brief grief to many English mothers. But ancient Greeks and Romans and Medieval Europeans always thought that comets heralded disaster, and there were usually enough disasters around that those who wanted to see cause and effect could pretty easily do so. If you had never read any ancient or medieval history before this, you might think Hmm, that's an interesting coincidence with the comet and the Conquest; if you've read a lot, you might think, as I do, Oh Jeez not again with the comets and the prophecies of doom, guys!

What's interesting about William's description of Eilmer is what comes next:

Is erat litteris, quantum ad id temporis, bene imbutus, aeuo maturus, immanem audaciam prima iuuentute conatus: nam pennas manibus et pedibus haud scio qua innexuerat arte, ut Daedali more uolaret, fabulam pro uero amplexus, collectaque e summo turris aura, spatio stadii et plus uolauit; sed uenti et turbinis uiolentia, simul et temerarii facti conscientia, tremulus cecidit, perpetuo post haec debilis, et crura effractus. Ipse ferebat causam ruinae quod caudam in posteriori parte oblitus fuerit.

(He was learned, by the standards of his time, of a good old age, and when quite young, mistaking fable for fact, had attempted, with remarkable audacity, to fly like Daedalus. By some means unknown to me he fastened wings to his hands and feet, waited at the top of a tower for the wind, and flew for more than a furlong. However, made unsteady by the wind and swirling air, and simultaneously by the consciousness of his own temerity, he trembled and plunged to the ground and broke both legs. He was lame for the rest of his life. He himself said that the flight had been ruined because he'd forgotten to put a tail behind the wings.)

If that really happened, and Eilmer really did fly for a furlong, 220 yards, when the highest tower in town was less than 1/10 that tall, then Eilmer was a true badass and far ahead of his time. 220 yards from a 60-foot tower is not all that bad for someone with some experience and skill using a 21st-century hang glider.

But did it really happen? William is known for his accuracy and scrupulous attention to detail. But writing perhaps a century or more after Eilmer's flight, he was relying on hearsay of hearsay. It's easy for me to imagine the length of the flight having been exaggerated by onlookers astonished by the fact that someone was attempting such a thing at all. I'd say the flight probably happened, but that details like the length of the flight in William's description have to be, as they say, approached with caution.

If it happened, you really have to hand it to Eilmer not just for ingenuity, but for commitment. Four and a half centuries later, Leonardo da Vinci made some very nice drawings of flying machines, but he never actually built one, strapped himself into it and jumped off of a dangerously high place. I know that there are all sorts of stories about Leonardo having done exactly that, but those stories aren't true.

Monday, April 20, 2015

I Don't Understand How Twitter And Google+ Work

I'm not complaining. They work. I link a blog post in a Tweet, and boom, right away, it gets pageviews. And increasing traffic on my blog is the only reason I Tweet. (It's the only reason I get out of bed in the morning and keep breathing.) But I don't know who's looking at my blog because Twitter made them aware of it. I have X number of followers on Twitter. I link a post in a Tweet, and right away it get 2X or 3X pageviews or more. Why? I don't see my Tweets being re-tweeted. Are there that many people furiously searching Twitter every second, waiting hungrily for any Tweet with a word like "Nietzsche" or "Eusebius" in it?

Compared to Google+, though, Twitter is an open book to me. At least I know how to search Twitter. Maybe there is no way to search Google+, and all it does it affect people's Google searches? I have no idea. I think I read somewhere that Google+ was a social media thingy, but I haven't found any place on it yet to socialize.

Please comment if you know more about this stuff than I do. A frightened old man is asking for your help, trying to cope with a world he never made. I don't even know enough to put more than "twitter" and "google+" in the labels for this post.

(Twitter For Dummies didn't help. It reminded me of Homer Simpson referring to instructions for masonry.)

PS: In the last couple of days I found out that those hashtags the kids are always talking about these days have something to do with Twitter. Twitter is already helping me, although I don't understand how exactly. If I put hashtags in my Tweets, will it help me even more, and give me that last little nudge into complete world domination? How do I know what to put in the hashtags? (Is "Tweet" capitalized? Get off my lawn!)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Atheist Shows Painting Of Adam & Eve, Circles their Bellybuttons, Sez "This Proves The Bible Is Wrong"

1) Has this atheist never met any Jews, Christians or Muslims who don't believe the Genesis story of the Garden of Eden is literally true, but are still Jews, Christians or Muslims? Really? Really? All of the atheists I've been hanging out with -- have they all recently barely escaped with their lives from believers who were about to slay them because they touched pigskin with their bare hands or eaten shrimp? That would explain a few things.

2) If they really are talking to people who believe that the Genesis story of the Garden of Eden is true -- What's to keep those believers from answering, "This painting was made in the 15th century. Why would you expect a painting made then to realistically reproduce every detail of the bodies of people the painter never saw, who lived thousands of years earlier? They've got these buildings full of paintings and sculptures, they're called 'museums,' you should check one out sometime. Paintings and sculptures from all eras, when they depict people and things from earlier eras, are full of historical inaccuracies. There's even a name for such inaccuracies, they're called 'anachronisms.' Painters in the 15th century didn't have access to nearly as much information about the ancient world as we have today, so it's only natural that if they painted someone from ancient history or mythology -- and they made such paintings all the time -- the paintings would contain anachronisms which would be much more obvious to someone in the 21st century than someone in the 15th century. And why should we assume in the first place that all such anachronisms are committed by mistake -- well, we certainly shouldn't! Not only do painters of all eras make unintentional anachronisms -- painters in all eras have made intentional ones too! If the people in the pictures look like people from the viewers' own time and place, it makes it easier for the viewers to relate to them as real human beings. That's Painting Psychology 101, or 201 at most. Movies are chock full of anachronisms too, everybody knows that. Stirrups weren't invented until after the fall of the Roman Empire, but in movie after movie you see ancient Greeks and Romans climbing up onto their horses with the aid of stirrups. You know, I don't know if I've ever heard anyone say that a 15th century painter was a bad painter because there are anachronisms in his pictures. If anybody ever did say such a thing I'd have to disagree, I'd have to say they were missing the whole point of painting! How many times have you heard someone complain because people in a movie who were supposed to be ancient Romans were speaking English and not Latin? And I KNOW I've never heard anybody before this point out an anachronism in a 15th-century painting and say, 'This proves the Bible is wrong.' So thank you, Sir, for a completely new experience and a good laugh!"

Numbers Of Copies Of Books

It feels like I've always been interested in numbers of books: how many copies there are of a certain title, how many books exist in this language or that, how many copies of a book there used to be which are now missing or have been destroyed.

I can't remember not being interested in such thing, but the interest had to begin some time. Perhaps it was in junior high, when I got a Dell paperback copy of Catch-22 with "OVER 8 MILLION COPIES IN PRINT!" on the front or back cover. Not long after that I saw a copy of Catch-22 from a later printing. The cover design was mostly similar, but it was red where the cover of the earlier book had been blue; and along with a few other minor changes it now said "OVER 8 MILLION COPIES SOLD!" I took this to mean that when the earlier copy was printed, 1973 perhaps? that printing took the total to over 8 million, and that a year or two later enough of the earlier printing had been sold to honestly say "SOLD!" on the cover instead of "IN PRINT!" Did the cover designers at Dell really keep track that closely of the numbers of copies in print and sold? Am I giving Dell way too much credit for making sure the covers were accurate? I have no idea. For a while I definitely tried to keep track of Catch-22's sales, and I seem to remember seeing conflicting numbers from various sources, but in retrospect, that's explained at least as easily by journalistic sloppiness as by inaccuracy of reporting of sales figures by Dell.

I began to notice that publishers made great fanfare about sales figures, or the number of copies in a first printing, in some cases, and that in other cases they kept the information confidential.

This confidentiality was very frustrating to me -- don't ask for a rational reason why I needed to be informed about the sales figures for Gore Vidal' or Saul Bellow's books. This post doesn't necessarily have a lot to do with rationality -- so imagine how I felt when I became an undergraduate German major in the late 1980's, and discovered that many German publisher provided precise information about the numbers of copies of any particular edition, in the most convenient place imaginable -- right on the copyright page! What a country!

I'll give you 2 examples: On the copyright page of the 1979 Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag edition of Franz Kafka's Prozeß (The Trial, right above where it sez that this is an unabridged edition, stands: "1032. -- 1051. Tausend: Dezember 1989." This means: before this printing, in December 1989, there were 1,031,000 copies of this edition in print, and now there are 1,051,000. The December, 1989 printing was a run of 20,000 copies. Keep in mind, these are the figures for this 1979 paperback edition only. Who knows how many more paperback and hardcover copies of the Prozeß there are, before you even get to huge commercial considerations such as translations in to other languages. If Franz Kafka had still been alive in December 1989, it would've been pretty sweet to be Franz Kafka, even if he was 106 years old.

2nd example: volume 3 of the Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag (commonly referred to as DTV) edition of Heinrich von Kleist's complete works, Dramen, Dritter Teil (Plays, Part Three. The first two lines on the copyright page are "1. Auflage März 1964" and "2. Auflage Februar 1969: 21. bis 30. Tausend." In other words, "1st printing March 1964" and "2nd printing February 1969: 20,001 to 30,000 copies."

Not every single German publisher did this, but it seemed like most of them. I was a kid in a candy store. That's right, I said "did" and "was." Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag and DTV and almost all German publishers stopped putting such information within easy public reach, within a half-dozen years of my discovering those once-wonderful German copyright pages. Now they resemble American copyright pages: sometimes they give the date of the first printing and the most recent printing of that edition, sometimes just the date of the first printing. Apparently American publishers circulated a memo to German publishers: "URGENT! Your practice of giving detailed information about the size of printings has been giving joy to an American citizen, Steven Bollinger. PLEASE CEASE AND DESIST AT ONCE." Or, in the ultra-paranoid version, "[...]giving joy to an autistic American citizen, Steven Bollinger[...]" because American publishers knew I was autistic 15 to 20 years before I found out.

In the rational and non-paranoid version, this had nothing to do with me, and I still don't know why German publishers used to put that info on the copyright pages, and why they stopped. All I know is that if someone writes a book giving an overview of the numbers of books made all over the world, from ancient times to the present -- and that someone might have to be me. I'm not sure that anyone else particularly cares -- the chapter on Germany between 1920 and 1990 will be much, much easier to write than some other chapters.

There may once have been someone with similar interests: Theodor Birt, born 1852 in Hamburg, died 1933 in Marburg, author of Das Antike Buchwesen in Seinem Verhältniss Zur Litteratur,

an investigation of how ancient Greek and Latin books were made and sold.

The numbers of manuscripts of ancient Greek and Latin texts which we have today is a different thing than the numbers of copies of those texts which were in circulation when they were new. Most of the manuscripts we have now were made in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. And their numbers don't even give us complete and precise information about the relative popularity of ancient authors in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, because chance plays a big role in those manuscripts having survived. Nevertheless, if we have hundreds of manuscripts of a particular ancient text, it's not too much of a stretch to think that that text was popular in the Middle Ages.

The thing is, as far as I can tell, the exact numbers of all such manuscripts are not neatly organized and gathered together in any one place of which I know, as you would expect them to be if a lot of Classical scholars were autistic. There is a catalog (with photos) of all known Latin literary manuscripts from before AD 800, the Codices Latini Antiquiores, 14 volumes plus an index, with 18,884 manuscripts of more than 2000 works, according to Wikipedia. The thing is, there are many more manuscripts surviving today which were made after 800, than before. Many times more, I would think. How many times? I couldn't guess. And I can't find any catalog for manuscripts from all eras which is comparable to the Codices Latini Antiquiores. (Also known as the CLA.)

There are thousands of Biblical manuscripts. I wouldn't be surprised if the number of manuscripts of Vergil ran into 4 figures. I am quite surprised at how difficult it has been for me to find so much as an educated guess about how many manuscripts of Vergil there are. Here and there I run across a figure: There are over 650 manuscripts of Terence. More than 400 of Ovid's Metamorphoses. In 1989, Reeve said that Mommsen, Luchs and Dorey had listed 117 manuscripts of the third decade (that is, books 21-30) of Livy. Reeve doesn't say when they made that list, but in 1987 he added 33 more, and then 4 more in 1989, for a total of 154.

Reeve doesn't say how many manuscripts of the other books of Livy there are.

113 known manuscripts of the third decade -- sometime. Probably some time in the 19th century. Then in the late 20th century that number suddenly grew by over 30%.

I wonder whether anyone has even any rough idea of the ratio of the number of manuscripts of the Latin Classics which we have today, to the total number which were ever made. But before I even start to wonder about that, I have to wonder whether anyone even has a rough idea of the total number of manuscripts of the Latin Classics which we have.

I wonder whether I have a better idea of that number than anyone else, simply because non of the much-better-educated people even cares.

No, surely not.

I need to make up an orderly list of such questions and start going around to Classical scholars and asking them. Who knows, the combination of my obsessions and neurological atypicality may actually yield something of interest or even of practical use to someone someday.

And wouldn't that blow everybody's minds.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Climate Information And Misinformation

"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." -- John 8:32

It'd be nice to think so. But it's sometimes easier said than done. Many organizations and corporations have the most misleading names. You might think, for example, that an organization with a name like Independent Women's Forum would be concerned with things like women's health and women's rights, but oh noooo: it promotes climate change deniers. It is run by a woman: a woman who formerly was one of Koch Industries' top lobbyists.

Here are a couple of links which may be helpful in our daily struggle against an ocean of well-funded bullshit: first, a detailed list of sources of misinformation provided by Fight Clean Energy Smears, which is not the best-named website in the history of the Innertubes, imho, but it's good stuff. The page I've linked is full of information about organizations, including the above-mentioned Independent Women's Forum, who deny climate change, hinder the growth of renewable energy and do other wonderful things like that. Most of them seem to get funding from oil companies. Many also get funding from tobacco companies. (Maybe the oil-company funding by itself just wasn't evil enough.) Exxon, the GOP, the Koch Brothers: their nasty fingerprints are all over the place here.

The second website I'm recommending to you is the home page of the organization which made the first website, the Natural Resources Defense Council. This website is crammed with facts, facts and more facts about climate change, pollution, green energy, the dirty tricks of oil companies, things which you yes you can do about all of this -- good stuff. The Wrong Monkey approves.