Saturday, November 18, 2017

America, the "Greatest Force for Good in the World" ?

Someone remarked on Facebook:

"Once upon a time, America had a long history of being the greatest force for good in the world"

That's a popular notion, especially here in the US.

On the other hand, many countries abolished slavery before we did. Health care and elder care guaranteed by the state goes back to the 19th century in some other countries.

Between the secession of Texas and the Mexican-American War about half of Mexico became part of the US. Ask around in Mexico about whether the US has been the greatest force for good in the world, and you might get some rather nuanced answers. And don't even start about Mexicans streaming into the the US illegally -- do I really even have to tell you? They're crossing the border into what used to be Mexico.

You could also ask a Native American what he or she thinks of the notion of the US being a force for good in the world. Etc.

We're not worse then other countries, we're not better either. And by the way, you people from outside of the US, like the one who answered that Facebook comment by saying that you are disgusted with us for "choosing Trump," and are "through with us" now? Way to stand by us in our time of trouble. Trump is definitely the worst President we've had, but he was elected with a minority of the popular vote in an election in which the Democratic Party had been deeply divided by Bernie Sanders -- just your kind of guy, I'm guessing: worse than useless, but always ready to complain about the shortcomings of others -- not to mention awfully persistent rumours of Russian meddling, and the number of Americans polled who say they want Trump to be removed from office is awfully close to half, and rising steadily. Yes, Trump is a horrible man, and he has given the US and the world some horrible problems to deal with, but we will get through this, even without your help, Mr I'm-disgusted-With-The-US-And I'm-Through-With-Them, although I'm sure that won't stop you and Bernie Sanders from taking credit for getting rid of Trump as soon as he's gone.

There is a lot of good and a lot of bad in the US. Like any huge thing involving hundreds of millions of people, the US is very complex.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Jorge, Dovi and Ducati

Everybody associated with Ducati says that the messages to Jorge Lorenzo during the last two races of the season, to pull over and let Andrea Dovizioso pass, were not orders, but just "suggestions." After the last race, the Valencian Grand Prix, Lorenzo said he thought he was faster than Dovi, and that Dovi's best chance was to let Lorenzo pull him up close to the leaders.

Which is complete bullshit. Just like in Malaysia, the second-to-last race of the season, Dovi was all over Jorge's rear wheel, lap after lap, which means he was faster than Jorge. If Jorge had been faster, he would have pulled away from Dovi and opened up a bigger and bigger lead over him.


In Valencia, the Ducati pit crews didn't look as if they thought the instruction were just "suggestions." They looked like people who were thinking exactly the same thing the rest of us were: "Why the &$%# doesn't Jorge get out of Dovi's way?"

I'm not surprised that Dovi says that he doesn't think Jorge was holding him up, because that's the kind of guy Dovi is: gracious and polite. If he had a problem with what Jorge did, I imagine he would either tell it to Jorge to his face in private, or he wouldn't complain at all.

I'm not surprised by Jorge's behavior either, because he's sort of like the President of the United States: a self-centered asshole who has never admitted he was wrong.

I'm sort of surprised that no-one from Ducati is complaining about Jorge. But maybe they will prefer to fire him and let people read between the lines.

Monday, November 13, 2017

No Second Hands

Until quite recently, I assumed that watches made in the 20th or 21st centuries all had second hands, or other ways of displaying seconds such as digitally, with the exception of that one weird thing which has 1 hour hand on a 24-hour dial, which never appealed to me (and still doesn't), what with its genuine Swiss-Made quartz movement and all. I'm a mechanical watch guy. The one possible exception to mechanical I could imagine owning would be a Casio G-Shock.


But then I noticed that a lot of the really expensive mechanical watches I'd been avidly looking at pictures of have no second hands. I first noticed this with the Panerai brand, whose prices appear to start well up into 4 figures and end way, way up in 5 figures, if not higher. I had looked at pictures of lots and lots of new Panerais before I noticed that either all or almost all of them have either a small seconds hand at 9 o'clock,


or, in many, many cases, no second hand at all:


See the words "8 DAYS" above the 6 there? That means the watch, like many Panerais, has an 8-day power reserve: wind it up all the way, then stick in in a drawer and go on a week-long vacation, and it'll still be running when you get back. What surprises me even more than the lack of a second-hand, on an 8-day watch, is the lack of a power reserve indicator. 8 days is a way-above-average power reserve. I'd definitely want a power reserve indicator on an 8-day watch. Some 8-day Panerais have them, some don't.

Anyway, back to second hands: I soon found out that Panerai was by no means unusual in making very expensive watches, watches with gold or platinum cases in some cases, with no second hands. I've investigated online discussions about the topic of the second hand. Not everyone is shocked like me about all the expensive watches with no second hands. Some say that the face of a dress watch with no second hand is "elegant" or "uncluttered." Same say: why do you need a second hand?

I don't need a second hand. I don't NEED a watch, but I WANT one. A pocket watch with a sweep second hand and a huge power reserve and a power reserve indicator and a platinum case and a thick platinum chain.

Then I thought of all of those extremely-expensive watches with tourbillons. The tourbillon is an extremely-expensive, extremely-complicated feature in some watch movements. The tourbillon was invented around 1795. In 1795, it helped a watch to be more accurate and precise. Today, much simpler movements are as accurate and precise, or more so, than the now unnecessarily-complicated tourbillon movement. Nobody at all, today, NEEDS a watch with a tourbillon movement, but some people WANT them so much that they will pay six or seven figures for such a watch. And such watches, naturally, often do not have second hands. Indeed, it's often hard to see the hour and minute hands. But seeing those hands is not really the point. They're kind of just getting in the way of looking at the tourbillon through the watch's transparent case.


Friday, November 10, 2017

The GOP in Alabama and Nationwide

The Alabama Political Reporter has published a good piece by Josh Moon in which he asks, referring to Roy Moore, how low the Alabama Republican Party is going to sink. Josh Moon draws a distinction between the Alabama GOP and the party nationwide, and it's true that some Republican politicians outside of Alabama have called upon Moore to resign from the special election for US Senator on December 12, and that no Republican politicians from inside Alabama have done so. Still, the parallels between the disastrous state of things in Republican-led Alabama on the one hand, and the Trump administration and the response of most Republican politicians nationwide to Trump, are striking. Moon asks:

"What’s it going to take before you realize that your family values, my-sin-is-better-than-your-sin, conservative voting approach has produced a state government filled with lying, cheating, sexually assaulting, money-grubbing criminals who have embarrassed us countless times, and on top of everything, mismanaged the hell out of this place?"

That's Moon talking about Alabama, but how many words would you have to change before it's a perfectly legitimate question to ask of Republicans in general, and of their response to the Trump administration in particular? One, at the most, I think.

That's the very same Trump administration whose Attorney General is Jeff Sessions, recently US Senator from Alabama, whose vacated seat Moore and Doug are Jones set to contest on Dec 12, unless Moore withdraws from the race over revelations of sexual misconduct with girls as young as 14 years old.

It seems clear to me that the bottom for the GOP is not going to be determined by ethics, but by poll numbers. There's hardly any leadership left in the party: they just keep following the crazy right-wing fringe of their base further and further down into a sewer of insanity. When -- not if -- the GOP and their polling numbers shrink enough, one of two things is bound to happen: either 1) their leadership will made a profound change and lead again, and say no the right-wing fringe, and no to accepting horrible behavior as long as the perpetrator gets elected, or 2) they will simply cease to be a significant factor in US politics, leaving the Democrats in firm control and the Greens and the Libertarians to scrap over the #2 spot. The most significant question is how much suffering the GOP will cause in the meantime. Assuming that 3) doesn't happen, that they don't literally kill off the entire human race.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Stephen Greenblatt's Swerve is Not as Accurate as One Might Wish

It's annoying, if you've spent a lot of time and effort carefully writing something, if a reviewer comments in a way which makes it clear that the reviewer has either not read your work at all carefully, or has not read it all. It's happened to me a few times. I don't like it at all.

The Recognitions, by William Gaddis,



is now generally regarded as one of the finest novels ever written by an American. But when it was published in 1955, and for some years after that, it was not generally so regarded. In 1962, a man who, under the pseudonym jack green, wrote and published an "underground" periodical called newspaper, presented in that publication his assessment of the first 55 reviews of The Recognitions. The title of the piece was green's suggestion about what should happen with these book critics: "fire the bastards!"



When green took on Gaddis' critics, he had an enormous advantage over almost all of them: he had actually read The Recognitions, carefully and all the way through. In almost half of the 55 reviews green pointed out mistaken assertions about what happened in the plot; he was even able to prove that one review had been stolen from another. "fire the bastards" also shows that green considered The Recognitions to be a masterpiece.

In 2017, after both Gaddis and green have been dead for decades, Gaddis' reputation as a writer is as high as it can be, and green's is not bad. I would warn against taking this as proof that many people have actually read either Gaddis or green. I would not assume, necessarily, that most of the copies of their works which have been printed, have also been read. Still, however well-founded or unfounded they may be, their current high reputations are well-deserved, so, good.

The Swerve, by Stephen Greenblatt,



was published in 2011 and won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. It the story of how in the early 15th century, the Italian humanist and discoverer of lost ancient texts Poggio Bracciolini -- usually referred to today by his first name only, like Dante Alighieri, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Prince Rogers Nelson and Madonna Ciccone -- discovered a manuscript of de rerum natura (On the Nature of Things), the book of Epicurean philosophy written in the 1st century BC by the Roman poet Lucretius.

Someone online -- I don't remember exactly who or where or when. It may have been on Facebook, and it may have been shortly after the book was published -- recommended The Swerve to me in rapturous tones. His description of it made me suspicious: he told me that the book told the story of how the re-discovery of Lucretius ushered in the modern age. My first reaction was that that story was a bit cuckoo-bananas. Not that I had anything against Lucretius or Poggio. On the contrary, Lucretius was and is one of my favorite authors, and Poggio was known to me as a prominent Renaissance humanist.

But I also knew that Lucretius was just one of many brilliant Classical authors, Poggio just one of the many brilliant Classical scholars of the Renaissance, and that Poggio coming across that manuscript of Lucretius was just one of many important finds of Classical literature made in the 15th century, as well as before and since.

And for some reason, just lately I started to think about Greenblatt's book again, and I searched for reviews of it, and found one layman after another, apparently trusting that Greenblatt was an authority on these matters, and astonished at how one discovery of a manuscript had changed the whole world. Let me nor forget to point out that, in situations like this, when people refer to "the whole world," they mean the Western European world and its colonizing outposts.

But I hastened to remind myself that I hadn't read Greenblatt's book yet, and to ask myself whether Greenblatt had actually said anything like what these reviewers said he said.

So next I searched for reactions to The Swerve by Classicists, by the experts in the filed of ancient Latin, and I found that most of those reactions were negative.

Often polite and negative, as Classicists often are when referring to written work they don't like: for example, in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, Diana Robin, reviewing Gerard Passannante's book The Lucretian Renaissance, says that it "provides a counter- weight to The Swerve, Stephen Greenblatt’s new and breezy but factually challenged account of the rediscovery of the De rerum natura." If there's one way in which one wouldn't want a book of history to be challenged, I think it would be factually.

Anthony Grafton, reviewing The Swerve in the New York Review of Books, politely laments: “The Swerve is not always as accurate as one would wish.”

In his review of The Swerve, the blogger known as Baerista notes that remark by Grafton, and adds: "From a world-class scholar like Grafton, who is widely known as an extremely generous man, always careful to wrap even the faintest criticism in a wadding of praise, such clear-cut words can be taken as the verbal equivalent to a bitchslap." Baerista himself is less restrained,
summing up his account of The Swerve by calling it "garbage."

Tim O'Neill's review -- not overly polite -- accuses Greenblatt of wanting to have his cake and eat it too. It contains rather more and lengthier quotations from The Swerve than any of the other reviews I've read so far, and shows how Greenblatt gives lay people those silly notions about one discovery of one ancient author changing "the whole world" (that is, Western civilization), but then claims that he never intended to spread such mistaken notions. O'Neill charges: "Greenblatt's book is full of this kind of thing. After pages and pages of making a point, often more by broad assertion, generalisation or even insinuation, he will slip in a brief 'escape clause' sentence which shows that he knows what he is saying can be challenged or which even undermines what he has just presented completely. But he does so very quietly and many or even most general readers would not notice or understand the import of these asides. Certainly few of his reviewers did so."

After reading O'Neill's review, I concluded, with very little enthusiasm, that I needed to read The Swerve myself and see if, perhaps, it was a little better than its detractors said. Which would mean that that National Book Award and that Pulitzer Prize wouldn't be so much of a joke.

It's just as bad as its detractors say.

But there's a hint of a book which might have been good: The Swerve opens with a moving account of how Greenblatt, as a student, found a copy of an English translation of de rerum natura in a campus co-op, and how its Epicurian message that there is nothing to fear in death was so transformative for Greenblatt and some of his loved ones.

Greenblatt loves Lucretius. And there's nothing wrong with love. Love is great, love is good, love is a huge positive force.

Could there have been a good book here, if Greenblatt stayed focused on his own personal story, and the importance of Lucretius in that story, instead of making silly claims about Lucretius transforming "the world" and Poggio's discovery of Lucretius miraculously saving his poem from being lost forever -- only to cover his ass again and again, just as O'Neill accuses him of doing, so that he can claim that he never meant to give all of those erroneous notions to all of those laypeople (which didn't prevent those erroneous notions from spreading)?

Some of Greenblatt's harshest critics -- Catholic clergymen in some cases -- accuse him of painting a ridiculously negative view of the Middle Ages, only to err themselves a bit by painting a too positive view. The Middle Ages were a mixed bag. Some individual people did embody the superstitious hostility to everything non-Christian which Greenblatt emphasizes in his portrayal of Poggio's view of the Middle Ages -- one of the 'escape clauses' derided by O'Neill is that Greenblatt can claim that he only said that Poggio thought that the Middle Ages were horrible and superstitious, not that he agreed with Poggio -- and some Medieval individuals exemplify the sophisticated scholarship which, according to apologists, was the essence of Medieval Christianity.

But to get away from the sweeping generalizations which have caused so much praise and so much condemnation of The Swerve, to more specific statements, the book gets low marks. Greenblatt really does completely miss much of the Classical scholarship which thrived in the Middle Ages, along with his unrelenting emphasis on the Inquisition and the flagellants. But of course, the Inquisition and the brilliant scholarship both existed, just as people were tried and burnt as witches during the same Renaissance which produced all of those famous Italian geniuses, just as today there are cultured geniuses alongside ignorant fanatics.

To Poggio and his fellow Renaissance humanists, the most important ancient writer of Latin, far more important than Vergil, who came in second there, was not Lucretius, it was Cicero. Cicero was so highly thought of that the ridiculous notion spread among Renaissance scholars that the best way to write Latin was to consciously imitate Cicero. This was the mainstream view among Poggio's contemporaries. This recent collection of letters and polemics published by the i tatti Renaissance Library, Ciceronian Controversies, with the original 15th-, 16th- and 17th-century Latin texts on the left and English translations on the facing right-hand pages,



shows how far ahead Cicero was than all the other ancients in the general opinion of Renaissance Classicists, and what an uphill battle any of them had who thought that imitating Cicero was not the best of all possible ways to write.

If Lucretius was as central to Machiavelli's work as Greenblatt claims, why did Machiavelli write an entire book about Livy and none about Lucretius? If you asked Greenblatt this, I think he might well answer that Lucretius was dangerous, so that his influence had to be hidden. Which is ridiculous, both in general and in the specific case of Machiavelli, who was anything but bashful in his writing.

Speaking of Livy, Greenblatt claims that Livy's entire work was gathered together by Petrarch (1304-74). Does Greenblatt even realize that 106.9 of the 142 books of Livy's work, ab urbe condita, a history of Rome, are missing today? Or that 5 of the books we have today were missing until 1527? Or that Petrarch, although he was a great editor of Livy, had no need to gather Livy's works together, because they -- the 30 books known at the time -- were all quite well-known? One thing's certain: laypeople won't learn any of that by reading Greenblatt.

Speaking of editing, does Greenblatt have any idea that one of the most stupendous acts of Classical editing was performed with the manuscripts of -- you guessed it -- Lucretius, in the mid-19th century, when Bernays and Lachmann proved, on the basis of the existing manuscripts of Lucretius, that they all stemmed from one 5th-century manuscript written in all caps?

Speaking of manuscripts: in another of O'Neill's "escape clauses," Greenblatt admits that he knows that two manuscripts of Lucretius' entire poem, plus additional fragments, were written in the 9th century. But did he give any thought as to why they were written then? It was because Charlemagne (742-814) began a huge program of preserving and copying Classical manuscripts. Yes, there was a huge 9th-century surge in Classical studies. It's sometime referred to as the Carolingian Renaissance. There was another surge in the 12th century. (My theory -- supported by no-one else that I know of -- is that this 12th-century revival of Classical learning, also sometimes referred to as a Renaissance, occurred in part because a lot of the most pious types were far away in the Crusades, allowing those back at home much more freedom to do what they felt like, whether it was study Classical Latin or sing bawdy troubador songs or play chess, to name three things sometimes frowned upon by the more intolerant Christians.) Is Greenblatt entirely quiet about these Medieval surges in Classical scholarship because they don't fit comfortably into his narrative, or merely because he's never heard of them?

The manuscript of Lucretius which Poggio found in 1417 has been proven -- by the Classical scholars who don't think much of Greenblatt -- to have been copied from O, one of those 9th-century manuscripts which still survive today. The manuscript Poggio found has disappeared. We don't know how many other Medieval manuscripts of Lucretius there may have been. I don't know how, in the face of these manuscripts, Greenblatt can say (p 209 of the 2011 Norton hardcover edition of The Swerve) that, in the 15th century, and all because of Poggio, "On the Nature of Things slowly made its way again into the hands of readers, about a thousand years after it had dropped out of sight." About a thousand years. How can he say that, when people today can literally hold some 9th-century evidence directly to the contrary in their hands, evidence which Greenblatt mentions in the same book? I don't know. Maybe this book was actually written by a committee, and the various members didn't read each other's work. Maybe Greenblatt thinks it was "about a thousand years" from the 9th century to the 15th. Maybe he thinks that no Medieval manuscript of Lucretius was read before 1417, that the Medieval copies were without exception simply copied and then immediately put onto shelves for rotting purposes. (He not only doesn't equate copying a manuscript with reading its text, he actually claims that it was better if scribes paid no attention to what they were copying.) You know what, I don't want to know how Greenblatt could have said that.

Speaking of things Greenblatt may or may not have heard of -- Horace, well-known throughout the Middle Ages, was an Epicurean. This significantly undercuts Greenblatt's thesis that Lucretius re-introduced Epicurianism to "the world." Cicero, overly well-known from his day to the present, if you ask me, (I don't like Cicero. Would I like him more if he weren't so ridiculously overpraised in comparison to many other ancient Latin writers? Well, that's an alternate-universe type question which may never be answered, like the one about whether Greenblatt's book might have been better if he had been more personal.) discussed Epicureanism, albeit negatively.

Oh, and just one more thing: on p 111 of Scribes & Scholars by L D Reynolds & N G Wilson, 2nd ed, 1974, it sez:

"Lovato knew Lucretius and Valerius Flaccus a century and a half before they were discovered by Poggio."

Lovato Lovati. 1241-1309.

Just because you never heard of something before you stumble across it doesn't necessarily mean you really discovered it. Boom, I'm out.

Die Kontroverse unter Katholikern ueber den Kelch beim Eucharist

Theologie: die Kunst, jahrtausendelang intensiv, leidenschaftlich, einfallsreich und kontrovers ueber rein gar nichts zu streiten.

Sie treiben es gerade auf meinem Facebook-Newsfeed. Ausloeser: dieser Beitrag auf feinschwarz dot net, THEOLOGISCHEM FEUILLETON, in welchem behauptet wird, dass beim katholischen Eucharist der Kelch nicht mehr dem Priester und einigen wenigen anderen vorbehalten duerfte, "damit wir auch tun, was wir sagen."

"Dies zu problematisieren, mag sich wie eine (liturgie-)theologische Spitzfindigkeit ausnehmen. Was aber, wenn sie das nicht ist?"

-- fragt die Redaktion Feinschwarz. Ach Redaktion, fragen Sie mich bloss nicht, was denn, wenn das! Denn ich weiss gar nicht, was denn, wenn so! Ich merke aber, dass Sie diesen Beitrag mit dem Wort

"ernstnehmen"

enden.

Und damit bin in diese Kontroverse erst recht fehl am Platz -- es sei denn, Ihr Sinn fuer Humor mir gar nicht subtil genug ist.

Ich moechte sehr gern letzteres glauben. Wirklich sehr. Ich will glauben, dass das mir unsichtbare Augenzwinkern wirklich da irgendwo zwischen den Zeilen eines Beitrags sitzt, der

"den Kelch neu zum Sprechen bringen"

will.

Es geht darum, ob denn beim Eucharist Christ im Brot ganz gegenwaertig ist, oder nicht. Wenn nicht, dann bitte mehr Kelch. Achja aber es gehr (natuerlich) auch um sehr vieles Mehr, um Oekumenisches, um Versoehning mit Protestanten, um den Kelch, den Papst Francis 2015 an die Lutherische Gemeinde von Rom schickte, es geht um die Moeglichkeit, in diesem 500. Verjaehrung von Luthers 95 Thesen, ein

"sprechendes Zeichen"

zu setzen! Es geht verdammt nochmal um die ungeheuerliche Macht und Kraft von Symbolen!

Manche Leute sind mir einfach unmoeglich, und sehr wahrscheinlich ich ebenso ihnen. Was kann ich tun, ausser hoffen, dass es wenigstens einige von ihnen ehrlich Spass macht, und auch dass niemand mehr daruber lebendig zum Tod verbrannt wird.

Alles Kopfschuetteln und Lustigmachen beiste, wenn dieser Beitrag und diese Diskussion um den Kelch dazu leitet, dass irgendwo Katholiker und nicht- netter zueinander werden, dann -- egal, wie mir die Einzelheiten vorkommen -- ist es alles doch gar nicht eitel. Im Gegenteil. In diesem Sinne.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Bush Sr and Jr's New Book

There's a new book out called The Last Republicans, by former Presidents Bush Sr and Jr and some people who interviewed them, and some people are all excited about it because in this book the former Presidents have gone further than they had so far in their public criticism of Trump.

I am not one of those people who is all excited about it.

So Bush Sr has now publicly called Trump a blowhard. Whoop-dee-freakin-do. Like there was someone somewhere on the face of the Earth who didn't already know that Trump was a blowhard. Get back to me when 38 Republican US Representatives and 12 Republican Senators -- current Reps and Senators, not counting the former ones who currently seem much more free to speak their minds -- are publicly calling Trump a lying, law-breaking sack of crap and are in favor of impeaching him and removing him from office. Because 38 GOP Reps and 12 GOP Senators plus 100% of the Democratic Party would be enough to impeach and remove him.

Of course, if Trump is actually still in office after the 2018 mid-term elections, and the Democrats pick up 38 seats in the House and 12 in the Senate, then it won't matter what the remaining Republicans do or say, because the Democrats will then be able to impeach and remove Trump without any Republican support at all.

It makes me very grumpy to think that it might actually take until 2019 before Trump is an ex-President. (The winners of the 2018 mid-terms will be sworn in in January 2019.) 2017 would suit me much better.

The meaning of the title of the new book, the speculation on W's part that Trump might actually be the last Republican President, also doesn't thrill me. Because if that's true it would mean that Trump stayed it office all the way until Inauguration Day 2021. I want to see President Pence or Ryan or Hatch or Tillerson or Mnuchin or what have you, much sooner than 2021.

Unless Trump is still in office after the 2018 midterms, and both he and Pence are thrown out, and the Speaker of the House is a Democrat, then that would, indeed, make Trump the last Republican President, at least for the time being. That wouldn't completely suck.

But surely we can oust him before the midterms. According to Nate Silver, about 38% of the populace approves of Trump's performance as Prez, and 56% disapprove. 56% to 38% in a national election is a huge landslide. We (non-crazy people who want Trump out of our White House pronto) outnumber them (the coalition of the crazy, the stupid and the evil who back Trump) by a huge margin. We need to remind ourselves we greatly outnumber Trump's base, and stop whining about how his base is not shrinking.

That, and vote. We need to vote in every election, for President, Congress, Governor, Mayor, City Council, County Judge, Dog Catcher, etc, etc. That's all we need to do to end this nightmare and embarrassment.