Monday, August 31, 2015

Obama Renames Mt McKinley Denali: Reactions From Here And There

Just heard on "Hardball" on MSNBC: John Boehner and John Kasich -- both Republicans from Ohio who, like Mckinley, republican from Ohio, have never been to Alaska -- both denounced Obama's move. One of them tweeted: "Once again POTUS exceeds his bounds." An NBC reporter in Alaska reported that indigenous people in Alaska were happy, and that Denali --pronounced with a short "a" according to a native leader -- had been renamed Mt McKinley before McKinley was President, by a gold prospector who liked the fact that Presidential candidate McKinley favored the gold standard. I was surprised that the segment was ended before anything was said about general reactions to the name change among all 600,000 people living in Alaska, and the reporter in Alaska seemed surprised too.

According to the Chicago Tribune, "Alaska's governor and congressional delegation praised the long-sought change." That's an independent Governor, two Republican Senators and one Republican Representative. It seems to me that Ohio Republicans might have checked with Alaska Republicans about this before making public statements -- if they gave a shit about where anybody in Alaska stands on the issue of the name. The Tribune reports further: "Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, said he would work with the House Committee on Natural Resources 'to determine what can be done to prevent this action.'"

I can't find anything anywhere about the reaction, if any, of the general public to the name change. Not even in the Anchorage Daily News. I found a story about businesses in Alaska with "McKinley" in their name. Some of them are angry. Whether anybody cares whether they're angry is another question. I found a story saying that 2 Republican US Senators from Alaska had been supporting a bill in Congress to change the mountain's name to Denali. So it appears that Obama has stolen some of their thunder.

I'm guessing Gibbs has an uphill battle in front of him.

I'm also guessing that most people who have been to Alaska have noticed that, whatever the official name is, most people up there have already been calling it Denali for a while. Obama and Alaska's congressional delegation and governor are just keeping up with this parade, not leading it.

Understanding Nietzsche -- It's Not For Everybody Who Claims To

Mel Brooks, in a 2013 Q&A with Judd Apatow, talking about making Blazing Saddles back in the early 70's and worrying about whether he was going too far:

Brooks recalled asking John Calley, then head of production at Warner Bros., "'Can we beat the s--- out of a little old lady? Can we punch a horse?' He said to me, 'If you're going to go up to the bell, ring it. He told me that early in my career, and I never forgot it. I had cavemen masturbating [in History of the World, Part 1]. I rang it." (Emphasis mine.)

A few years ago I was listening to Brooks' voice-over commentary on a DVD of Blazing Saddles, and he mentioned Calley giving him that advice, and I've never forgotten it, although I can't claim that I've lived up to it as well as Brooks has. (And by the way, doesn't it sound from this anecdote as if Calley was a wonderful guy for directors to work for?)

Mel Brooks knows his Nietzsche, unlike many people who speak and write about Nietzsche, including some philosophy professors who do so for a living.

Why do so many people insist upon saying such nonsense about Nietzsche? Does it have a lot to do with his own sister having grossly distorted his work, first before he lost his mind, and then much more so afterwards, when she was appointed the worst-possible executrix of his estate and writings? Did Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche found a tradition of nonsense about Nietzsche which has been running parallel for 140 years to the tradition actually based upon his philosophy? Do we need to separate the students of Nietzsche into those of Friedrich and those of Elisabeth?

That actually would explain quite a lot.

And just a heads-up to you discliples of Elisabeth, those of you who simply will not stop making stuff up and then claiming that Nietzsche said it -- I'm coming after you. And when I come up to that bell, I'm going to ring it. Those of you who make a metaphysical mountain out of the molehill of aphorism 295 in Jenseits, for example, squeezing out of that mention of Dionysus the assertion that Nietzsche was a practitioner of ancient Greek polytheism. Do you also claim that Nietzsche said that dragons are real and that they and lions can talk? Objectively, if you can get away with using Jenseits to argue that Nietzsche was not an atheist -- nevermind that he said that he was atheist, about as emphatically as anyone ever could (Ecce Homo, "Warum ich zu klug bin," 1st paragraph) -- then you ought to be able to convince people, based on Zarathustra's speech "Von den drei Verwandlungen" (p. 22 in the Goldmann edition of Also sprach Zarathustra, ISBN 3442075262), that dragons and lions talk to each other.

Obviously, objectivity and making sense have little to do with the aims of the Elisabeth Förster-Nietzschians. Indeed, they seem positively allergic to good common sense. Something they have in common with theologians. And like theologians, they love to claim that Nietzsche really was religious after all. If you actually read Nietzsche, you'll come across countless passages in which he says that he loathes theologians -- and who can blame him? him above all?

I think I know how Schopenhauer felt about Hegel.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

High-Five a Clown Today!

You can weep in seclusion because you secretly fear that your neighbor's marigolds may be becoming more splendid than yours -- or you can high-five a clown today!

You can hug your knees and rock back and forth with anxiety as you moan, "Oh, the intangibles in the commodities markets fill me with foreboding -- " or you can GET out there, TRACK down a clown and GIVE him five up high.

You can dwell on the shame of how the Adjutant Foreign Minister dressed you down in front of the staff when you forgot and called it Burma instead of Myanmar -- or you can go find Bozo and insist that he not leave you hangin'.

You can go into paroxysms of rage over how some instructors of Latin have placed less emphasis upon speaking the language extemporaneously than you deem proper -- or you can pick up the local paper and see which circuses are in town!

You can seethe with rage because twenty-seven years ago a classmate of yours was given a fellowship for the following year's study at the Univeristy of Bonn while you screwed up a Fulbright application and presented a half-thought-out presentation at the last minute about going to Berlin and fact-checking Berlin Alexanderplatz because you had no idea how to properly apply for a Fulbright and and were simply too stupidly proud to just tell someone that you needed help organizing a non-Bizarro-World presentation -- or you can break out your best spats and cuffs, attend a huge and gaudy grand opening of Montana's largest used-car dealership and


Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Wrong Monkey Is Now The Most Interesting Monkey In The World

We never stop working to bring you a better monkey. Recently, as you may recall, The Wrong Monkey went 100% barnacle-free. And today, The Wrong Monkey has become the most interesting monkey in the world. I don't always drink beer. Thank you.

Nietzsche And Atheism

"I'm not saying that Nietzsche believed in the literal existence of deities."

Good, then you don't deny that he was an atheist, because that's literally all that the word means. -- Oh, but you do deny it:

"I wouldn't call him an atheist."

One thing's for sure: he's safely dead and buried and unable to directly contradict any words that anybody puts into his mouth, or complain about what people call him. The fact is that he did refer to himself as an atheist, and never objected to being described that way. I can't imagine him denying he was an atheist any more than I can imagine him objecting to someone saying that his eyes were whatever color they were.

-- Wait: actually, I can imagine Nietzsche objecting to someone referring to the color of his eyes. Nietzsche detested antisemites, and spent some time and energy disassociating himself from some of them, including antisemitic politicians such as his sister's husband. Let's say for the sake of argument that Nietzsche's eyes were blue, and that his sister or brother-in-law was trying for the umpteenth time to associate him with their antisemitic crusade, and mentioned his blue eyes in the context of some tripe about racial types -- yes, Nietzsche might well have objected to that.

I have heard, although I haven't been able to confirm it, that Nietzsche sometimes denied that he was German, and asserted that he was Polish. That's easy to believe, because he detested the nationalism of Bismarck's newly-united Germany.

I emphasized that Nietzsche was an atheist, not because of anything in Nietzsche's time, but because of the current phenomenon of atheists denying that they are atheists because they are disgusted by the New Atheists. I too am disgusted by New Atheists, I just don't feel inclined just yet to surrender a perfectly-good adjective to Dawkins, Harris & Co, and let them make it exclusively their own.

But I can imagine such a time coming, if the New Atheists succeed in making the term "atheist" synonymous with themselves to a sufficient degree.

One big reason why I don't feel inclined to grant them that success without a fight is because of all the safely-dead-and-buried atheists, like Russell, Sartre, Schopenhauer, Twain and Nietzsche, who would have been just as disgusted with the New Atheists as I and the atheists who these days prefer to call themselves non-believers or skeptics. But back then they called themselves atheists, loudly and proudly, which is where we came in. If we who actually are the intellectual heirs of Russell, Sartre, et al, give up the adjective atheist to New Atheists, it will lend support to the impression that they, not we, are the intellectual heirs of those bygone thinkers. And the New Atheists are already spreading more than enough confusion and nonsense as it is.

PS: I almost got through an entire blog post without remembering to mention how much Nietzsche hated Christian theology, and would've objected to the way that some theologians since his death have used his name as though he didn't detest it all all -- a misusage which, of course, is aided by not calling Nietzsche an atheist.

Andres Serrano And "Piss Christ"

I have all sorts of mixed feelings about Serrano and "Piss Christ," his photograph which in 1987 was the pretext for Jesse Helms to raise a fuss, because Serrano had gotten some Federal grant money. On the one hand I resent Serrano because he got more grant money than I ever did just by putting a crucifix in a jar, pissing in the jar and taking a snapshot; on the other hand I see his point about referring to the original meaning of the crucifix and how that meaning has been lost: here's Serrano in a 2014 Huffington Post interview, talking about "Piss Christ" and the public reaction to it:

"The only message is that I'm a Christian artist making a religious work of art based on my relationship with Christ and The Church. The crucifix is a symbol that has lost its true meaning; the horror of what occurred. It represents the crucifixion of a man who was tortured, humiliated and left to die on a cross for several hours. In that time, Christ not only bled to dead, he probably saw all his bodily functions and fluids come out of him. So if "Piss Christ" upsets people, maybe this is so because it is bringing the symbol closer to its original meaning."

I get that. And that -- the concept of using bodily fluids to remind people what the crucifix actually means -- is about all that I find anything close to exciting about "Piss Christ." (And like most people who've ever heard of Serrano, I'm sure, this is the only art of his I've seen pictures of or read descriptions of.)

On the 3rd hand I'm an atheist who's very tired of Christianity, and in the very next words in Serrano's answer in that interview, he provides an example of one sort of the Christian things I'm tired of:

"There was a time prior to the 17th century when the only important art, the only art that mattered, was religious art. After that, there were very few contemporary art pieces that were considered both art and religious, and "Piss Christ" is one of them."

*sigh* *thumb and forefinger to bridge of nose* Andres, in Western civilization, there was a long, long time before the 17th century when Christian art was pretty much the only sort of art which artists were allowed to make, and definitely the only sort of art for which most artists could hope to get paid. It's sort of ironic when a 20th- and 21st century artist such as you, who sticks his neck out for freedom of artistic expression, speaks longingly of bygone eras in which there was so very little such freedom, when Christians did their very best to destroy all of the art of some non-Christian cultures, art which often enough was sacred to those cultures, when anyone who either pissed on a crucifix or took a photograph of anything would be first tortured and then burned alive as a witch.

Who knows what great non-Christian art Western artists might have made between the 5th and 17th centuries if they'd simply been allowed to? So, phooey on your good old days of Christianity, Andres!

And there are still other hands.

So, is "Piss Christ" good art? It raised Jesse Helm's already-too-high blood pressure. Therefore: good art. (Also: surely, the publicity from Helm's criticism surely did more for Serrano's career than any other single act, including the big fat government grant which outraged Helms and which I resent.)

But no, honestly: not so great. I've never wanted to have a print of it on my wall. I've never stared fascinated at a picture of Serrano's one world-famous picture. I get the mild conceptual stimulation referred to above, and that's about all that the photograph has ever done for me.

But still, I'm pro-art, and even the worst art is better than the best of other things to which people devote their entire lives, like fracking or junk mail or the GOP.

To me "Piss Christ" is neither the best nor the worst art, to me it's meh art, which means I'll stand up for Serrano if he's being attacked by right-wing politicians, but otherwise, yawn.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Croatian-Slovene Peasant Revolt Of 1573

It only lasted 12 days, from 28 January to 9 February, 1573. In addition to the usual miserable living conditions to which most peasants in the 16th-century Holy Roman Empire were subjected, a particular cause of this revolt was the particularly unpleasant rule of Baron Ferenc Tahy in Hrvatsko Zagorje north of Zagreb. After several complaints to the Emperor from the Baron's subjects went unanswered, they banded together with peasants in Styria and Carniola, took to arms and demanded an end to the rule of nobility in the region, to be replaced by a council of peasants which would report directly to the Emperor.

3000 peasants were killed in the 12 days of fighting. After that, many more were executed or maimed. The peasant leader Matija Gubec was publicly tortured and killed on the 15th of February.

As I say, this peasant uprising does not seem to be widely-known in the West. The one-volume histories of the world of JM Roberts and HG Wells don't mention it,

nor does the article on Croatia in the 1972 Encyclopaedia Britannica. Only one peasants' revolt is mentioned in Roberts' index, the English one of 1381, can we all say "Out of touch!" loudly in unison, boys and girls? although in his passage on Luther Roberts mentions how Luther was at pains to distance himself from peasant uprisings. Wells at least has several different references to peasant uprisings in his index. The 1972 Britannica has one article on peasant uprisings during and after WWI, and an article on the English peasant uprising of 1381, and that's it. Shockingly, it has no articles at all whose title begin with "Revolt" or "Revolution." Okay, Britannica, you don't have to draw us a picture, we get the picture!

So how did I find out about this revolt in 1573 of Croatian and Slovene peasants? I just happened to stumble across this book while searching the Internet for examples of 16th-century letters written in Latin: Gradja za poviest hrvatsko-slovenske seljačke bune god. 1573, the sources used by the 19th-century Croatian historian Franjo Rački to write his history of the uprising.

It contains documents, mostly letters, which were sent or made public between 1 February 1573 and 9 December 1574. All of the documents are written either in German or Latin, none at all in Croatian or Slovene. All good tyrants know that if you want to keep an entire ethnic group down, it's important to keep them from writing in their own language. I've been able to find no evidence at all of written Croatian as early as the 1570's. Rački published this book of sources in 1875. According to the 1972 Britannica, which has an article on the Serbo-Croatian langugae, but no articles on Serbo-Croatian literature, or the Croatian language or Croatian literature, it had only been a few decades before that one common and widely-accepted written form of Croatian had been forged.

There are no records in this volume of peasant communications to Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian II regarding their plans for a peasant government which would be answerable only to him, with no interference by aristocrats. There is no sign that Maximillian ever heard of such plans on the part of the rebelling peasants. However, there are quite a few letters back and forth between Maximillian and various German and Croatian nobles who were instrumental in crushing the rebellion. The Emperor is particularly effusive in his praise of Juraj Drašković, Archbishop of Zagreb and Imperial Viceroy of Croatia, who in addition to his other titles and honors was to be appointed a Cardinal by Pope Sixtus V in 1585.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Nevada Will Keep Net Metering For Solar At Least Until The End Of 2015

Regulators in Nevada today decided to keep net metering for utilities customers with solar panels on their homes, at least until the end of 2015.

Net metering is what it's called when utilities customers with home solar generate excess electricity from their solar panels, and sell the excess to the utility at the same rate at which people buy electricity from the utility. Over 40 of the 50 states in the US follow the net metering model. Recently one of Arizona's utilities rescinded its net metering policy. Michigan's state Senate is currently considering a bill which would overturn the state's net metering policy.

It appears that privately-owned utilities' attitude toward free enterprise is like that of most big corporations: they're for it as long as it includes monopolies and big government subsidies for them, and regulations against anyone trying to compete with them. Regulations against net metering -- even attempts at such regulations -- are one more argument for publicly owned and operated utilities. Search Google News and other information sources for net metering. It should make you angry at privately-owned utilities. Find out political candidates' stances on net metering. As I mention frequently on this blog, many politicians in the US, mostly Republicans, are owned and operated by the petrochemical industry. Petrochemical companies are still the biggest source of energy for utilities, and they want to stay that way, and they don't play fair or take climate or people's health into account.

Movie Cliches I Hate

1. In chase scenes, all vehicles go equally fast, and only a difference in driver skill can be decisive. If the bad guy is driving a brand-new Lamborghini, and the cops are chasing him in a ratty-sounding 30-year-old van with bald tires, the cops will be right on the bad guy's ass for miles. In real life, of course, the Lamborghini would disappear from the cops' view in about 5 seconds.

1a. As if this wasn't already bad enough (and it WAS), since around the release of Point Break in 1991, cops on foot have been able to keep up with fleeing motor vehicles.

2. Roger Ebert's movie cliche column pointed out the cliche of the tough guy setting a big explosion and then walking away and not even flinching when the big explosion goes off right behind him. Ebert's column pointed out that even the unusually cliche-free Syriana featured George Clooney committing this cliche.

Since then it has occurred to me that this is not only a cliche, but it could be really dumb tough-guy behavior as well, if the tough guy wants to evade detection. Oftentimes in this cliche, the big explosion occurs in a crowded place, and big crowds of people are running around terrified in all directions after the explosion, while the tough guys never flinches. Well, if there's a street camera covering this, the tough guy screwed himself by not acting like everyone else: on the camera's footage, he'll be the one guy walking along like he didn't feel or hear anything, standing out among a crowd of panicking people. ("There he is, right there: the tough guy, walking along unconcerned." And they put out an APB with the tough guy's full description.)

3. Someone's just been shot, and his friends, and/or the responding cops, firemen, doctors and/or EMT's, act like it's completely up to him whether or not he loses consciousness, and also that if he passes out he'll die. "Nononono, stay with me, buddy! Stay with me! NOOOOOOO!!!" I don't know: If I'd just been shot and some bozo was shaking me and yelling in my face to stay with him, I might want to pass out just to get away from the shaking and yelling. But I still couldn't decide whether or not to pass out. And I still know that losing consciousness and dying are two different things.

4. I've never in my life heard someone in a real bar order "a beer." In TV and movies, maybe once or twice I've heard someone refer to a brand of beer (or at least a type of beer. For example: "You got a good IPA?"), the way people do in real life, instead of saying "Gimme a beer."

5. Very nearly everybody in movies likes their coffee black with no sugar. I suspect this annoys Quentin Tarrantino too, and that that's why his characters take theirs with a lot of cream and a lot of sugar. (They also order brands of beer like real people.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Perhaps Winston Churchill Will Not Help Us Revive The Study Of Latin And Greek

"And when after years my schoolfellows who had won prizes and distinction for writing such beautiful Latin poetry and pithy Greek epigrams had come down again to common English, to earn their living or make their way, I did not feel myself at any disadvantage. Naturally I am biased in favour of boys learning English. I would make them all learn English: and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat. But the only thing I would whip them for would be for not knowing English. I would whip them hard for that." -- Winston Churchill, Roving Commission: My Early Life, Scribner's, 1930, p 17. See both pages 16 & 17 for the full context.

My thanks to DubFilm on the classics subreddit of reddit for finding this one. My memory certainly distorted that quote. I thought I had read something more like, "Latin should be taught to all children, and Greek kept as a treat for the cleverest ones." I thought I remembered a plea, by someone, not Churchill, to teach Latin to all children of both sexes, not merely to all boys, something I could heartily second and a quote I could trot out in debates over education policy, whereas actually Sir Winston was advocating thorough instruction in English to all boys, and if anything, he was ironically mocking the emphasis then given to instruction in the Classics.

And it's not entirely clear to me whether he meant all boys in the British Empire (much too anglocentric for my taste, both the universal requirement of English and the Empire itself), or all boys in England, or just all boys at Eton and Harrow. His advocacy of whipping schoolboys is disturbing as well; but, as he says "The only thing I would whip them for would be for not knowing English" (my emphasis), perhaps he was pleading for less whipping in a time when public school boys were still roundly and routinely whipped for deficiencies in all subjects.

Or perhaps Sir Winston was about as bad as so many people tell me he was -- which is to say: a reactionary monster -- and I've had a distorted view of him because the only volumes of his I've read are the 6 volumes of his history of WWII, which was perhaps the only time during which he was truly great. (A less-bad monster needed at the time to slay the monster Hitler.)

But I should read more of his work and more about his activities and statements, before removing that "perhaps." In any case, it appears he's going to be little or no help reviving the Classics. That certainly makes me much more disposed to regard him as a monster, but perhaps that's a little unfair on my part.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Philosophy -- My Kind Of Philosophy -- And Science

There is no strict, precise definition of philosophy which is generally agreed upon, and as a philosopher, I'm fine with that. Philosophers often contradict each other, and there's not necessarily anything wrong with that, because, unlike physicists, philosophers are not always concerned with objective and quantifiable things.

However, if a philosopher contradicts the science which is current in his time, then that's just bad philosophy and ignorance of science. A philosopher is not required to stay current with physics, but if he's not current about something, he shouldn't comment on it. ("Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen." -- Ludwig Wittgenstein) ("When one isn't qualified to speak on a certain topic, one really ought to STFU about it." -- my translation)

Occasionally a famous and well-respected scientist will diss philosophy. Recently I discovered that back in 2011, Stephen Hawking had declared that philosophy is dead. And my first response was very negative. But, again: there is no strict, precise definition of philosophy which is generally agreed upon. So it's kind of hard to tell just exactly what Hawking was declaring to be dead. And until and unless I know exactly what Hawking meant -- what exactly is there to get upset about?

I realize that by reconsidering my attack upon Hawking, and by many other things I've written in this blog, I may have lost any hope of the support of many contemporary philosophers. And you know what? I'm fine with that too, because most of those philosophers who will be inclined to denounce me and call me names are not doing the same sort of thing I am. I'm the sort of philosopher I've often described in this blog: someone who reads a lot of other philosophers, plus fine authors in other genres, and is very interested in the arts, and defines himself by being very specific about where he agrees and disagrees with earlier philosophers. And the philosophers I read -- Sartre, Wittgenstein, Russell, Nietzsche, Hume, Spinoza, etc, etc -- were the same kind of philosophers. Which is far from the only kind of philosopher there has ever been. Which is just fine with me.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Ciceronianism: The One Thing Upon Which CS Lewis And I Agree

Until 2 1/2 weeks ago I had been studying Latin all by myself. Which is a very strange and unnatural way to study a language. By their nature, of their essence, languages have to do with communication between people. A language lives through interaction between people.

Then all of a sudden I found something which I had only imagined until then: a group of people communicating with each other in Latin. An online community, writing back in forth in Latin. And also sometimes in English. I felt very nervous about exposing my own feeble attempts at Latin composition to this group, and it turns out I had some reason to be nervous. By simply reading Latin, which is what I had been doing on my own for years, I had had no practice in translation, or original Latin composition, and much less in speaking Latin.

And I had some unrealistic notions about the state of the Latin language. It's not quite as alive as I had thought. Specifically, spoken Latin is not nearly as alive as I had thought. 2 1/2 weeks ago I published this blog post, in which I commented upon Father Reginald Foster's estimate that the number of people in the world who speak Latin is around 100. I wrote that surely either his estimate was drastically low, or that he had been mis-quoted. I had just assumed that in the many places where Latin is studied, a great emphasis is put upon spoken Latin -- not just recitation, but conversing in Latin as people converse in vernaculars when taking courses in those vernaculars.

And I posted a link to that blog post in this group of people I had just found who wrote back and forth to each other in Latin. And the response from the group at first was very negative. They explained to me that Father Foster's estimate was in fact a reasonable one. I hadn't been wrong about the number of people who read Latin, but I had been very drastically wrong about the way that Latin is generally taught. Generally speaking, very little emphasis is placed upon spontaneous conversation in Latin. In fact, some instructors actually discourage efforts at such conversation, calling it a distraction from the study of ancient Latin texts.

That sounds like a dying language to me. Some of the members of this online group agree with me about that, and favor the few exceptions to the rule in academia where students are encouraged to converse spontaneously in Latin.

Oh, and after the original who-are-you-to-question-one-of the-world's-leading-Latinists negative response, after I made it clear that I had seen through my previous false assumptions about Latin being taught just the same as Spanish or French or English and that I appreciated the feedback and expertise and experience of the others, they quickly became very nice and welcoming. They're real menshes.

In that group I read the first thing written by CS Lewis which I either liked or agreed with, but it had nothing to do with religion. It was in one of his letters, quoted online in the group. He said he disliked the way many Italian Renaissance humanists insisted that the way to write good Latin was to imitate Cicero. Lewis said that they buried living Latin under the mausoleum of Ciceronianiasm. I are completely agree. I don't even like Cicero. It's not just that those Italian Renaissance writers were all imitating one ancient writer, which already was bizarre and unnatural enough -- they were all imitating a mediocre ancient writer. Sallust, Horace, Ovid and a lot of other ancient Latin authors are miles better than Cicero. Even Vergil, the 2nd most-overrated ancient Latin author.

Encouragingly, some major figures in Renaissance Italian literary life strongly opposed the slavish imitation of Cicero --

-- Poliziano, for example, when rebuked because he did not, in his writing, "express Cicero," replied, "So what? I'm not Cicero. But I do, in my opinion, express myself." ("Non exprimis, inquit aliquis, Ciceronem. Quid tum? Non enim sum Cicero; me tamen (ut opinor) exprimo.") -- while discouragingly, some people even today -- the editor of the I Tatti volume Ciceronian Controversies, for example -- think that the Ciceronians were really on to something and are misunderstood.

So I'll gladly take the support of Lewis on this issue.

Now, when it comes to my further opinion that Cicero was a perfectly ordinary mind, a common rabble- and jury rouser, there, as far as I know, I stand alone. I mean, surely, some other people somewhere at some time have also found Cicero mediocre and the fuss made about him perfectly appalling. But whether all of those people together plus me add up to 100, I don't know.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Only Republicans Can See The Problems With Solar Energy, The Rest Of Us Are Blind To Them

In my last post I mentioned Forbes sadly telling its readers that this solar craze is based on bad math and gummit handouts. Since then, researching the topic, the only additional naysayers I've found are the Wall Street Journal, Howard C Hayden, author of The Solar Fraud: Why Solar Energy Won't Run the World, and the Heartland Institute, a wonderful buncha guys who, like Hayden, whom they love, say that humans aren't affecting the climate, and have advocated for Big Tobacco and fracking. Recently they've decided they're not going to disclose their sources of funding anymore, and they disrupted the Pope's Council on Climate Change... they're just a bunch of peaches, I tell ya!

Only Republicans can see what a huge disaster and waste solar energy is. Everyone else, each and every one of us, has been duped. And I don't believe that the Amazon customer reviewers who gave Hayden's book 5-stars even though they're hard-core environmentalists who've worked in the solar-energy industry for 40 years -- are actually hard-core environmentalists who've worked in the solar-energy industry for 40 years. Cry wolf often enough and people can start to tell that you're lying sacks of crap.

The bullshit they make up: that electric cars, sadly, aren't actually environmentally friendly because the lithium-ion batteries cause... some sort of huge ecological disaster. Ask a Republican about it. (No-one else has has heard of this problem, because we're all blind, blind, yaaaarggghh!) That smoking hasn't ever made anybody sick. And second-hand smoke much, much less than that! That electric windmills are killing vast quantities of birds who apparently think the windmills are their mothers. (Or something. Again, you'll have to ask a Republican. They're the only ones alert to this environmental danger.) That fracking is safe, that natural gas is clean and that nuclear power is ultra-safe. (I don't know how Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima don't directly contradict that last point, but that's okay: just ask a Republican!)

That solar energy will either make a pitifully tiny amount of electricity, or so much electricity that it will overload and blow up all the grids -- cause, it's not as if an electrical generator could ever be turned off, or anything like that.

Republicans were glad when Angela Merkel of the conservative CDU became Chancellor of Germany in 2005. But I bet that since 2005 meetings between Merkel and Republicans have occasionally been tense, because Merkel has spearheaded a massive increase of government-subsidized solar energy in Germany, which now has more overall installed photovoltaic capacity than any other country on Earth and generates more than 30% of all of its electricity from renewable sources. Somehow those well-meaning, abysmally-ignorant environmentalists got to Merkel. It's only a matter of time now before Germany explodes. (Or something. Once again, you're going to have to ask a Republican, because the horrible dangers inherent in these developments in Germany are way over everybody else's heads.)

Friday, August 21, 2015

$1 Per Watt And Other Things I Don't Understand

I don't know squat about the logistics and prices of energy. I've got to study up on this stuff. Like when people talking about solar panels costing $1 per watt -- do they mean $1 gets you 1 watt all year round? And wouldn't the wattage completely depend on how sunny it is where the panel is installed? And how many watts does an average home run on? Good question. And how much does gas or electric from a utility cost per watt?

Another thing I don't know is who's telling the truth about such things and who's lying and who thinks they're telling the truth but is wrong. What I've heard is things like: people are getting solar panels on the roofs of their houses and it's costing them


because they pay no money down, and their savings on electricity are more than the monthly payments on the installation. And of course, once those payments are all made -- this is what I'm hearing -- people are left paying nothing to their utilities, and selling their left-over electricity to the utilities for over $200 a month.

I don't know what to believe. I mean, I'm sure that some people who get an exceptional amount on sunlight on their panels and are exceptionally frugal in their electrical usage are making money by having solar panels on the roofs of their homes. What I don't know is how many people could be in that position right now. What seems fairly clear is that the prices of solar panels, installation and maintenance are plummeting, while the efficiency of photovoltaic systems -- the amount of wattage generated by a square whatever of solar panel in a given climate -- is soaring, so that the number of people who can cover all their power needs and then some with solar is going to soar.

Another thing seems pretty clear: everybody who says that the current enthusiasm about solar energy is based on faulty arithmetic, and that it's not a great deal which is getting much better, and that costs aren't plummeting and efficiancy isn't soaring -- is a Republican.

But it seems that not even all Republicans are still down on solar. Republicans tend to like money, and when economics tends to contradict what is said inside of one's socio-political bubble, one often starts to say: screw the bubble on this point, my friends and colleagues, I'm taking the money! Last I heard, Rush Limbaugh still has not come to Jesus about solar. Forbes magazine may be down on it too, but it seems that their readers aren't necessarily. I did a Google search for solar energy cost, and I found exactly one hit which was downbeat about it, by a columnist who writes about energy for Forbes. It was published about a year ago, and the guy said he didn't think that solar energy costs were going to continue to plummet. But almost all of the readers' comments completely disagreed with the guy and refuted him point for point, and Forbes' readership is not mostly hippies and Goths. And even for someone like me who started researching energy logistics about 5 minutes ago and hasn't gotten very far into it yet, some of his points seemed very easy to refute. Like: the columnist mentioned an American solar energy company and a Chinese solar energy company, both of which failed despite big government subsidies. What I didn't need anybody to point out to me was: he didn't mention any other solar energy companies in the entire column. If you can tell me about two restaurants which went out of business shortly after opening, you haven't proven to me that the entire idea of the restaurant industry is economically unsound, Duh!

And anyway, a year later and so far the guy seems entirely wrong: in the last year solar energy costs have continued to plummet. Oh, it looks like Forbes has come at least partway to Jesus about solar since the summer of 2014, to judge by more recent headlines.

Some of this stuff seems like no-brainer territory. Some of the long term economic effects of solar energy seem somewhat more complicated. For example: if every building with solar panels on its roof will eventually produce more electricity than it uses, even after tanking up all the electric cars in the garage, then at a certain point the owners of those buildings will stop making money selling the surplus electricity, because if everybody has surplus electricity then there will be literally no-one to sell it to, Duh. At what point will solar energy start to cause the price of electricity to plummet -- when there are solar panels on 10% of the world's buildings? 20%? When will electrical utilities start to shrink? At what point will there simply be too much practically-free electricity in the world, so that everybody will just have to shut off their generators part of time cause there's nothing to do with all that juice?

And we haven't even started to talk about wind, geothermal, etc.

Wave goodbye to Hydrocarbon Man, everybody! Goodbye, Hydrocarbon Man!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Union Of Concerned Scientists Denounces Lies By Petrochemical Industry

If I'm a raving paranoid conspiracy theorist when it comes to the petrochemical industry interfering with the development of alternative energy, then so are the members of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The UCS have released a collection of incriminating documents, The Climate Deception Dossiers. In the UCS' words:

"The documents clearly show that:

"Fossil fuel companies have intentionally spread climate disinformation for decades.

"Fossil fuel company leaders knew that their products were harmful to people and the planet but still chose to actively deceive the public and deny this harm.

"The campaign of deception continues today."

The UCS say that "at a minimum," these companies should be held "accountable for their actions and responsible for the harm they have caused" :

* Shell

* Conoco Phillips

* Peabody

* British Petroleum

* ExxonMobil

* Chevron

The UCS calls on these companies to stop lying about climate change, and to pay for the damage they have caused. (We did it to the tobaccos companies, we can do it to the oil companies too.) (But not if we keep electing Republicans, because these are the people the Republicans work for.) They provide links to documents backing up their charges that these companies have known about climate change for decades and have deliberately and systematically spread disinformation and interfered with the development of alternative energy.

UCS, you magnificent bastards, I salute you! UCS homepage.

Even If You Hate The Planet, You Might Want To Go Solar Just To Save Money

Google's Project Sunroof uses Google Maps information to measure the size of a house's roof and the amount of sunlight it receive yearly to calculate the annual value of the electricity which solar panels of that roof would provide. And they can also connect you with local businesses who install solar panels. Right now Project Sunroof is brand-new and it only covers the San Francisco area, Fresno and Boston, but Google has plans to expand its coverage. Here is an article on Project Sunroof from Wired, and here is one from TNW News.

Here is a great article from the Nation which goes into some depth about the economics and politics of oil, coal, gas, wind, solar and other sources of energy. A key sentence from that article:

"Solar and wind are technologies and not fuels, and as such they typically become cheaper with scale and time."

Think about computers and smart phones: the materials used to make them, including various metals, have become more expensive over the past 30 years. But what's happened to the prices of computers made of those materials? That's right. Oil, coal and gas are materials, like those metals and other materials, are only going to continue to get more expensive. Solar and wind energy are technologies. Wake up and smell the 21st century. If we can stop oil companies from continuing to sabotage alternative energies and misinform the public about them, the 21st century just might smell a lot better than the 20th.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Vatican Manuscripts Going Online

I'm not sure how extensive the Vatican Library's holdings are in other areas, but when it comes to old and important manuscripts of Classical Latin authors, they are second to none in the world. And now they're starting to put images of some of their manuscripts online. Their digitalization process is far from perfect -- for example, the viewer doesn't keep track of which page you're on, as many pdf viewers and other such things do. And for another example, there's an annoying copyright announcement superimposed over the image of each and every manuscript page, not the ideal place for such a thing by any means -- but I'm still not complaining, because this online collection is still stunning. And hopefully they're just getting started.

The manuscripts so far digitalized and put online for free public view so far include, to take just one example out of hundreds, Vatican Latin manuscript 3225, also known as vat lat 3225, a celebrated Latin manuscript made in the 4th or 5th century containing fragments of the works of Vergil as well as some interesting illustrations like this:

If you're into Latin manuscripts, this digitalization project of the Vatican is really something.

And far all I know it may be just as exciting for people interested in other sorts of manuscripts -- Bible manuscripts, Mayan manuscripts, what have you. You'll have to ask them.

Chess Log: I Got Lucky And Spotted A Couple Of My Opponent's Mistakes

5-0 blitz, I played Black:

1. c4 e5 2. ♘c3 a6 3. g3 ♘f6 4. ♗g2 h6 5. d3 ♗b4 6. ♘f3 O-O 7. O-O ♘c6 8. ♗d2 ♗xc3 9. ♗xc3 ♖e8 10. a3 d5 11. cxd5 ♘xd5 12. ♖c1 ♘xc3 13. ♖xc3 ♘d4 14. ♘xd4 exd4 15. ♖c4 ♖b8 16. ♕c2 c6 17. ♖c1 ♗e6 18. ♖c5 ♗g4 19. f3 ♗f5 20. g4 ♗g6 21. h4? ♕xh4! 22. ♕b3?? ♖xe2! 23. ♖1c2 ♕f2 24. ♔h2 ♕xg2 0-1 {White checkmated}

I felt my opponent had the upper hand until 21. h4?, which allowed me to get my Queen into attacking position. And 22. ♕b3?? ended White's chances. (Did White play ♕b3 because he or she was stunned by my previous move? Or was there a strategy in there which I as yet haven't been able to see?)

Most of the games which I've seen in annotation have been Grandmaster games, world-class games. I can't claim that I've understood very much at all of what is going on those games. I wonder if a chess pro ever sees any of these games which I played and then recorded on my blog, and if so, what his or her reaction has been. I always think of Tyrone Slothrop and Sir Stephen Dodson-Truck in Thomas Pynchon's novel Gravity's Rainbow, with myself in the role of the well-meaning bumpkin Slothrop and the chess pro analogous to Sir Stephen:

"At certain hours the harbor blue will be reflected up on the whitewashed sea-facade, and the tall windows will be shuttered again. Wave images will flicker there in a luminous net. By then Slothrop will be up, in British uniform, gobbling down croissants and coffee, already busy at a refresher course in technical German, or trying to dope out the theory of arrow-stable trajectories, or tracing nearly with the end of his nose some German circuit schematic whose resistors look like coils, and the coils like resistors-"What bizarre shit," once he got hep to it, "why would they go and switch it around like that? Trying to camouflage it, or what?"

"Recall your ancient German runes," suggests Sir Stephen Dodson-Truck, who is from the Foreign Office P.I.D. and speaks 33 languages including English with a strong Oxonian blither to it.

"My what?"

"Oh," lips compressing, some kind of brain nausea here, "that coil symbol there happens to be very like the Old Norse rune for 'S,' sol, which means 'sun.' The Old High German name for it is sigil."

"Funny way to draw that sun," it seems to Slothrop.

"Indeed. The Goths, much earlier, had used a circle with a dot in the center. This broken line evidently dates from a time of discontinuities, tribal fragmenting perhaps, alienation-whatever's analogous, in a social sense, to the development of an independent ego by the very young child, you see…"

Well, no, Slothrop doesn't see, not exactly. He hears this sort of thing from Dodson-Truck nearly every time they get together."

I always imagine that I'm giving the chess pro brain nausea, and like Tyrone, I'm sorry.

So why do I do this chess log? Two reasons. One: because, although I've seen a few games on or near my humble level of sophistication recorded now and then in places like periodical entirely devoted to chess, I've never seen a whole series of them published anywhere. And so I think possibly the Wrong Monkey Chess Log might be interesting simply because it's different. Two: players on my level, who look at Grandmaster games, annotated by Grandmasters, and scratch their heads and say, Well, okay, if you say so. If it's clear to you that it's time for White to retire because everybody on your level can see that Black will checkmate him in 12 more moves or less -- players on my level may see these games and actually understand what's going on.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Terms "Dark Ages" And "Renaissance"

In this post, and on this blog in general, I use (and fully intend to continue to use) the term "Dark Ages" to denote the period between AD 476 and 800 in Western, Latin-Speaking Europe -- the period between the abdication of the Western Emperor Romulus Augustulus and the crowning of the Western Emperor Charlemagne. I use the term "Middle Ages" to designate the entire period between the Christianization of the Roman Empire and the (for lack of a better term. See below) "Renaissance."

But apparently, if I were taking an exam or writing a dissertation, my grade might suffer if I were to use the term "Dark Ages" instead of "Early Middle Ages," and I might be accused of Eurocentrism.

PC academic fashion be damned, I think it's ridiculous to call the term "Dark Ages" Eurocentric. The term isn't used to refer to any region except Latin Europe, and doesn't imply that darkness had sunk upon any other parts of the world.

Now the term "Renaissance" is quite Eurocentric, and centered not even on all of Europe but only Western Europe. Saying that Classical Greek culture was "reborn" because it was noticed again in Western Europe ignores the fact that it was never forgotten by the Greeks themselves, and also flourished in parts of the Islamic world. That's the height of Eurocentricism, which one also sees whenever someone says "Christendom" and is referring only to the Catholic/Protestant part of Christendom, as if Orthodox and Coptic and Armenian and Syriac and Ethiopic and other branches of Christianity had never existed.

Typically, Western historians somehow manage to continue to ignore the direct impetus given to the Western re-discovery of Greece by Greek scholars fleeing to Italy from the Ottoman conquest of Byzantium. Reading histories of Renaissance Europe, it seems as if Greek were somehow revived entirely by Westerners from Petrarch and Boccaccio to Erasmus, and the contributions of Greeks like Demetrius Chalcondyles and John Argyropoulos are rarely mentioned. It's utterly (Western-)Eurocentric, and downright rude.

One doesn't frequently encounter an outcry, here at the Western world, against such usage of terms like "Renaissance" and "Christendom," unless one reads top-notch stuff like the works of Runciman, and this blog.

So far I haven't heard of any trends toward abolishing or improving upon the term "Renaissance" in academia.

But then, I haven't attended grad school since 1992. (There are times when I'm very glad I haven't.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

[SPOILER ALERT!] "True Detective," Season 2

I mean it: SPOLIER ALERT! Watch season 2 before you read this.

Okay. You were warned.

First of all I have to say that the acting impressed me a lot. Season 2 resembles season 1 in this respect. I already knew that Rachel McAdams was a genius. I'd already seen Colin Farrell, Taylor Kitsch, and Vince Vaughn in lots of other stuff and liked their worked, but still, all 3 of them surprised me here, showed me things I hadn't realized they had in them. Farrell above all. No offense to Kelly Reilly, but she didn't wow me. But she never made me cringe either, and neither did any of the large supporting cast, and usually when there's a cast this big, several of its members make me cringe and daydream about how much better the production could have been with their roles re-cast.

The opening-credits music: hats off to 80-year-old Leonard Cohen. I few weeks in I googled the opening-credits music. It reminded me of Leonard Cohen, but I assumed that it wasn't Leonard Cohen, because I had never particularly liked Leonard Cohen. (Sit down, Leonard Cohen fans: he's been getting along just fine without my support. There's nothing here to make him or you lose any sleep.) I was surprised that it's actually him. Somewhat the way I was surprised when I heard "People Ain't No Good" in Shrek 2, and it reminded me of Cohen, but I figured it couldn't be Cohen because I didn't particularly like Cohen and this song knocked me out, and I found out it was Nick Cave and that surprised me because it was the first time Cave had ever really gotten to me. (You see: this is not about how good Cohen and Cave are, obviously they're both great. It's about how long it took me to get them.)

Just as in season 1, the musical score by T-Bone Burnett, the cinematography, editing, set design are all amazingly good.

This is very, very, very good TV. So please keep in mind that I think it's very, very, very good, even thought the main reason for this post is something which I dislike about season 2. Keep in mind: if I didn't think that the show generally was very, very, very good, a shortcoming like the one I'm about to discuss wouldn't bother me nearly enough for me to write a blog post about it.

And that shortcoming is the way that Farrell's and Vaughn's characters die in the end. It's a cliche that I hate: characters who are bad guys, but clearly better people than all the other bad guys, have to die, so that people they love who are better can escape the really-bad bad guys. Both characters do horrendous things. (On behalf of all writers I must make it clear that I do not condone Farrell's character's behavior with the investigative reporter digging into corruption in Vinci early on in the season. Dentists will have issues with something Vaughn's character does. Etc.) I saw their deaths coming episodes in advance, and sure enough, this series, which is so well-written and directed and acted, so high above all cliches in so many different ways, followed this cliche down to the letter: the worse guys are closing in on every side, the not-completely-so-bad guys are desperately trying to escape and we're all pulling for them, but there's this Law of Drama which says that they have to be sacrificed, that they have to die, in order that people whom they love, better people, can survive. And to me that Law is as disgusting as a dramatic portrayal of actual literal human sacrifice done to appease gods.

Nic Pizzolatto, I hope it's completely obvious already that I love this show, but I'll say it one more time: great show. Wonderful. If it doesn't win beaucoup Emmys, then youse guys wuz robbed. But why, for the love of all that is William Faulkner, after having spent 7 1/2 episodes providing us with one big surprise after another, did you have to wind up finishing season 2 the way that all crime dramas end up, with the bad guys who really aren't so bad being sacrificed in that way on the alter of utter convention? Still a wonderful series, but why? When you could have ended the season with still more and greater surprises?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Gertrude Stein's How To Write Haz Arrived --

-- and therefore I haz a happee!

I can't recommend this book, because over and over, reviewers -- writers of positive reviews, rave reviews -- call it "difficult."

Therefore, I know that I do not react to this book in the same way that humans do. Nothing I say here will be of use to humans in deciding whether or not this book is for them.

How to Write by Gertrude Stein is the exact opposite of difficult to me -- it is a great relief. Life in general is often difficult for me: puzzling, frightening, intensely unpleasant. How to Write is a break from all of that.

No offense to Patricia Meyerowitz, for all I know she may be a delight, and her Preface and Introduction may be sublime -- to humans. But right there in the first paragraph of the Preface, there she is, trying to tell me that this book is difficult -- and apparently it is, to most of you. No offense to Ms Meyerowitz, but How to Write is right there in the same volume. So, I gotta go. ARTHUR A GRAMMAR is my very favorite chapter -- except for some of them which are even better, wow!!!!

Ms Stein writes:

"Successions of words are so agreeable.
It is about this.
Arthur angelic angelica did spend the time."

Are you hooked already? No? Well, then maybe Ms Meyerowitz can help you. I can't. If you're not hooked after the first 3 lines in ARTHUR A GRAMMAR, I simply don't know what to say.

I also like Joyce's Finnegan's Wake. I've never found Finnegan's Wake difficult -- I've only ever found it to be pure pleasure. This is why I think Joyce may have been autistic -- and come to think of it, maybe Stein too.

Or maybe neither of them was autistic in the slightest, and maybe I actually don't "understand" How to Write or Tender Buttons or Finnegan's Wake or Portrait of the Artist at all, and the ecstasy I receive from them, or from looking at Cezanne, whom I also don't want anyone to "explain" to me -- maybe my experience of all of those artworks has nothing at all to do with the artists' intentions.

I seriously doubt it, but maybe. Anyway, there is that thing about "difficulty" which I somehow completely missed.

That's all for now, I must read this thang! Yr verr nice person, thnk yu verr mutch pleez!

(Seriously. I don't know what to tell you. Sorry.)

I'm Puzzled

Today someone said to me:

Revelatio tua omnes latinistas pudore moveat.

I'm pretty sure that's snark at my expense, but my Latin isn't good enough for me to know whether to be amused or angry or just bored or what. It translates to something like, "The exposure of your shame moves all Latinists everywhere." But I can't really judge the flavor of it, nor do I know whether it's similar to some well-known Latin quotation, much less, if it is, if that similarity makes it more impressive and funny, or less.

I've finally found an entire online community of people who are fluent in Latin (at least when it comes to reading and, to a lesser degree, writing it), and I imagine that if I keep hanging around there, this won't be the last piece of Latin snark aimed at me, and that eventually, by sharpening my Latin reading skill and also by becoming accustomed to the atmosphere of the community, I'll come to be able, to some extent, to sort the delightful wits from the mere mean people who suck.

I don't mind being made fun of, as long as it's done well.

PS, 4:25PM: A Classicist says that my translation of "revelatio tua omnes latinistas pudore moveat" is wrong, and that it's more likely that the shame which has been exposed is that so few people in the world speak Latin fluently, the topic of the previous post on this blog.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Father Reginald Foster Estimates That 100 People In The World Are Fluent In Latin. I Believe His Estimate Is Low. [SEE THE PS AT THE END OF THE POST]

Now, whenever estimates are made about the numbers of people fluent in a particular language, there is one fundamental difficulty: How fluent is fluent? Who decides who is fluent and who is not? Nevertheless, let us carry on as if this topic were addressable.

To me, the only thing which makes the claim that only 100 people in the world are fluent in Latin interesting is that Reginald Foster made the estimate, and Reginald Foster is a priest who used to work in the Vatican and write the Vatican's official Latin-language pronouncements. Until 2009. He says, "The text of Vatican II has glorious passages in Latin but can the young priest walking across St Peter's Square understand it? I don't think so." Foster is an internationally-recognized expert on the Latin language and Latin literature, but can we take him at his word about the current state of the language's decline?

I don't believe we can. I'm sorry, but it's ridiculous. There must be more than 100 fluent speakers of Latin the Vatican alone. Latin still is the official Language there. Catholic schools all around the world still teach Latin -- not as intensely as they used to, to be sure, but they still teach it. Out of the billion or so Catholics in the world to day, and the group of people within those billion people who become young priests and young nuns, and out of that group, the ones who are chosen from all over the world to work in the Vatican -- are you going to try to tell me that competence in the native language of that workplace is such a low priority that they're unable to find enough young clergypeople who speak it, who, combined with the number of older clergypeople who still speak it, and then combined them with all the people in the rest of the world, it's not going to add up to more than 100? No sale.

There are over 4000 universities in the US. I know that not every single one of them has a Department of Classics, but are you saying that the Department of Classics which there are cannot produce between them one instructor of Classics per every 40 universities who is fluent is Latin? Before we even get to the students studying in those Departments of Classics, before we even get to those previously-mentioned Catholic schools and all of their instructors and students of Latin, and all of the other primary and secondary schools which offer courses in Latin, and not counting other departments where such as ancient and Medieval history where a knowledge of Latin is essential,

before we even get to any countries besides the US -- sorry, no. It's absurd.

Perhaps Foster was mis-quoted, and perhaps he also has an extremely-high standard for what he calls fluency in Latin. Perhaps what he actually said what that there are only 100 people currently living in the Vatican who meet his extremely-high standard. Or maybe he said that out of all the people all over the world who have studied the language their entire lives and teach it for a living, only 100,000 or so do it well enough to suit him, and if that's what he really said and if it's a reasonably-accurate estimate, perhaps that does represent a steep decline from the year 1900.

Or maybe he wasn't misquoted at all and he really is that staggeringly wrong about it. I may look into this a little further. (Look -- Harvard University's Department of the Classics has 31 faculty members and 30 graduate students. Surely at least 1 or 2 of them are not complete imposters, and understand Latin.)

PS, 9. August 2015: Until today I had studied Latin in fairly pristine isolation. Today, people have reacted to this blog post and informed me that there is a vast difference between the number of people who can read Latin, and those who can speak it. In fact, although it boggles my mind it even seems that some Classicists actually disapprove of current attempts to speak Latin. In the post above I make the mistake of assuming that the number of people who study Latin and the number of people who speak it were close to the same. But it appears that the latter number is much lower. When I studied modern languages in universities between 1982 and 1992, great emphasis was lain upon proficiency in speaking those languages. I made the mistake, in this post, of imagining that instruction in Latin was similar. There are a few concentrated attempts here and there to cultivate spoken Latin, but it seems that among academic Classicists such attempts are the exception to the rule. Mea culpa, lectores benevoles! [And, just as every single other time when I've attempted to write in Latin on this blog, I apologize again if I wrote it wrong. I meant to say: I'm sorry, kind readers!]


I posted a link on Reddit, in the philosophy subreddit, to this blog post, which introduces Bollinger's Axiom -- "Don't assume, because someone is brilliant in one field, that they have useful insights about -- anything else at all." -- to the world.

Right away it received a positive response: upvotes, 100% upvotes, and some comments. Then, after the link had been on Reddit for about 2 hours, an admin in the philosophy subreddit removed it, and sent me a message saying that it was interesting but that it was sociological rather than philosophical.

I was about to link it in the sociology subreddit, but then I stopped, because I wasn't at all sure that the sociology admins would agree with the philosophy admin that it belonged in sociology.

I myself believe that the most interesting efforts of mankind in the arts and humanities defy categorization. And I certainly always try to be every bit as interesting as I can. Obviously, I am not an academic, and many philosophers and sociologists are.

I'm reminded of another axiom, almost 2000 years old and also difficult to categorize: "Cast not your pearls before swine."

My search for non-swine continues.

Bollinger's Axiom

Just recently I learned that back in 2011 Stephen Hawking declared that philosophy is dead.

Speaking at Google’s Zeitgeist Conference in Hertfordshire, Hawking said, "Almost all of us must sometimes wonder: Why are we here? Where do we come from? Traditionally, these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in science. Particularly physics."

And that doofus Lawrence Krauss shot his mouth off around the same time, saying that philosophy had made no progress in 2000 years, and then wrote an entire article in Scientific American in which he sort of apologized. Sort of. Krauss' case is somewhat more annoying because he claims to have a solid knowledge of philosophy.

Then again, to put that into perspective: Sam Harris claims to be a philosopher.

For as long as I can remember thinking about it I had always assumed that everybody was stupid about something. Then in 2007 I learned that I am autistic. Then just recently I started to wonder whether the dumb-in-some-areas, smart-in-others paradigm was not universal, but applied especially to me because I'm autistic.

Then I hear about what Hawking said in 2011, and I reflect on him and Krauss and Dawkins, all brilliant in their own fields and occasionally quite shaky indeed when they wander outside of them -- and the New Atheists in general, most of whom, unlike Harris, are actually competent in some field or other -- and it seems to confirm that I was on to something all along:

Don't assume, because someone is brilliant in one field, that they have useful insights about -- anything else at all.

I like that. How about if we call that Bollinger's Axiom, so that people can start mis-quoting it and mis-applying it right away and claiming that I think all sorts of things which I don't?

Friday, August 7, 2015

A Few Reasons To Become Fluent In Latin

Spinoza. If you're not reading him in Latin you're reading a watered-down translation and you're missing a lot, as you are with any truly great writer whom you're not reading in the language in which he wrote. In the volume to the right of my laptop as I write this, the Tractatus theologico-politicus,

there are many quotations from the Bible, and the citations from the Old Testament are given in Hebrew along with the Vulgate Latin, and I know I am missing something because my Hebrew is still so weak and I have to lean so heavily on the Latin translation. The ever-friendly and helpful Spinoza felt for readers like me, and so he published a Compendium grammatices linguae hebraeae for those of us Latin readers who are weak in Hebrew.

Guido da Pisa. He was a contemporary of Dante and wrote an extensive Latin commentary on the Inferno, fascinating stuff for Dante fans.

Of course, of the relatively small volume of work which Dante himself published,

almost as much is in Latin as in Italian. Even Dante's famous tract in which he defends the practice of writing in Italian, is written in Latin, interrupted by only a very few verses from the most illustrious of the Italian vernacular poets.

Dante published his worked in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. From his time to the present, it may be that Italians wrote Latin less often than Europeans in general. And that may be in very large due to Dante. I don't know. The key words in the 2nd and 3rd sentences of this paragraph are "may be." When it comes to letters and official pronouncements, Popes and Italian republics continued to communicate in Latin; otherwise, there is a very great amount of Italian. And most of that Italian ain't exactly Dante if you catch my drift. So curse Dante for contributing to the decline of Latin, and with it, to the decline of civilization!

Excuse that outburst. Despite Dante, Latin was still in extremely widespread use as late as the 17th century. Besides Spinoza, Descartes and Leibniz and Hobbes and Milton wrote quite a lot in Latin. Milton also wrote quite a lot in Italian. (Dante may be directly to blame for that as well.)

But as late as the 20th century many things were still written in Latin, and I don't mean only Catholic things, although Catholic clergy did write a huge amount of Latin up until the 1960 and Vatican II. But also very many non-Catholic academic things, and not only academic Classicists (who of course still write in Latin now and then up to the very present), but also, for example, botanists and mathematicians. The persistence of the use of Latin in those fields is reflected by things like the continued use of Latin in taxonomy and in the names of mathematical journals.

It wasn't all that long ago that educated people were expected to be able to read Latin. The decision to just let that requirement slide and dissolve and die out has only been spreading for a few centuries now. And that decision is a huge disaster, and because of it a typical 19th-century college graduate could do all sorts of things which a typical college graduate today can't do, and in that respect they were much better off back then. I keep hammering on this subject in this blog, and I'm sure I'm boring some of you, but the thing is, I'm right.

If you're paying close attention, you've noticed that I don't come out and say "I'm right" all that often with no if's or but's. You may also have noticed that this is the only way in which I say that there were good old days: knowledge of Latin, and that's all. Other than that I mock and deride nostalgia. So don't confuse me with the conservatives with whom I have in common an enthusiasm for Latin and a wish to see its study restored, and absolutely nothing else.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Pope Gregory XI's Voyage From Avignon To Rome

Gregory XI, the last Avignon Pope, left that city and sailed to Rome -- but when, exactly? It seems there may be some disagreement among historians about whether Gregory arrived in Rome in 1376 or 1377. The Encyclopaedia Britannica says that Gregory arrived in Rome on January 17, 1377. The first entry in the first volume of Ludwig Pastor's Ungedruckte Akten zur Geschichte der Päpste vornehmlich im XV, XVI und XVII Jahrhundert is from a Christopher of Piacenza to Louis II Gonzaga, capitano del popolo of Mantua. Christopher says he sailed with the Pope's fleet from Avignon to Rome, describes a very friendly welcome for the Pope in Rome, and dates his letter the 13th of December 1376. Where are all these other people getting the date of 17. January 1377? Did they all get it from Britannica, and where did Britannica get it? Pastor, in his notes to Christopher's letter, mentions some reasons to doubt some of the dates in Christopher' description of the Pope's journey, but these have mostly to do with his having traveled on a different ship than the Pope. He gives no indication that he doubts that Christopher knew what day it was -- indeed, that he knew what month it was, when he wrote his letter.

I don't know. I am but a humble farmer. All I'm saying is that I'm confused about this discrepancy.

Pastor says that he has transcribed Christopher's letter from the original in the Gonzaga archives in Mantua, and gives it as follows:

Magnifice domine mi recomendacione premissa. scio quod aliquantulum de me potestis admirari cur fui ita lentus in scribendo vobis pluribus mensibus elapsis, nec admirandum est si bene considerentur longa mora, quam feci in mari, magne tribulationes, terrores et expense, quas fui passus tribus mensibus elapsis in prefacto itinere. tamen de his que ocurerunt domino nostro pape et de presenti ocurunt seriatim . Dominationi Vestre scribam, esse verum, quod die nona mensis septembris Dominus Noster recessit de Avinione et ivit Marsiliam, ubi spatio quindecim dierum vel circa intravit mare, in quo passus est magnas tempestates et fortunas; nam stetit spatio XX dierum antequam posset attingere de Marsilia ad Niciam et ibi stetit spatio V dierum, quo transacto ivit ad Savonam, ubi duobus diebus stetit visus gratanter ab illa comunitate, et postea attingit Ianuam cum magna fortuna maris, ubi stetit spatio XV dierum male gratibus suis propter fortunam maris, sed tractu temporis sicut Deo placuit attingit portum Liburni1, ubi receptus est gratanter a domino Petro de Gambacurtis et a filiis suis et ibi erant multi ambaxiatores, Pisani et Luchani erant et tractatum fuit de concordia Florentinorum. sed papa unum minimum verbum audire voluit, imo in itinere mandavit publicari processus per modum et agravavit ipsos et nunc expelluntur de urbe malo modo sicut expulsi sunt de aliis locis; demum recessit de portu Liburni eundo ad Plumbinum et ea die recepit tantas tempestates in mari, quod omnia navigia que secum erant dispersa fuerunt huc et illuc, et ipsum oportuit discurere cum VI galeis Catalanorum ad insulam Herbe ubi stetit spatio decem dierum, quod nesciebant utrum esset vivus vel mortuus et omnes cortesani multum timebant dispersi huc et illuc. sed sicut Deo placuit dominus papa misit unum noncium cum una litera domino camerario suo ad portum Herculis, ubi evaserat cum V galeis, ubi erant Cardinales de Ursinis, Hostiensis, Florentinus, de Vernio et octuaginta alia navigia, in qua continebatur, sicut erat in insula Herbe sanus et salvus et quod in prima die, qua bonum tempus esset, de presenti esset in portu Herculis et ultra hoc ipsos confortavit dicendo, quodl iste tempestates, quas fuerat passus in mari, erant signum victorie magne et quod nonquam venit aliquis princeps ad partes Italie, si pateretur tempestates et tribulationes in mari. quin esset postea victor, allegando Eneam et regem Charolum, et quod in prima die, qua esset bonum tempus in mari, esset de presenti illuc; et camerarius ei rescripsit, sicut omnes naves et per sone erant sane et salve, alique in portu Herculis, alique in portu S. Stephani, alique in portu S. Reparatae duabus galeis exceptis, scilicet galea domini Cardinalis Ambianensis, que fracta est, sed omnes persone evaserunt, et galea domini Glandatensis. et transactis tribus diebus dominus papa attingit portum Herculis sanus et ibi honorifice receptus a comite Nolano et a multis aliis baronibus patrie et ibi stetit spatio X dierum ordinando et disponendo negotia patrie; subsequente ivit ad portum Corneti et ibi omnes illi de Corneto parvi et magni venerunt obviam sibi spatio trium miliarium cum ramis olivarum cantando «Te deum laudamus» et ei tradite claves et dominium liberum et ductus cum magno honore ad dictum castrum, in quo de presenti residet; sed spatio quatuor dierum erit in urbe, in qua gratanter expectatur et multe comunitates, que fecerunt rebellionem, expectant in urbe misericordiam suam. credo, ymo certus sum, quod facta bene prosperabunt. dominus Cometius exivit citadelam de Aschuli et ipsam dimisit fultam vitualiis et gentibus usque ad pascha resurecionis et speratur, quod de presenti ipsa sucuret; tamen quidquid sit Esculani libenter reciperent concordiam cum ecclesia, sed nollent habere dominium domini Cometii. Romani multa oferunt Domino Nostro et in casu, quo pax non fiat inter ecclesiam et prefectum, assument onus guerre cum ipsorum personis. vellem libenter habere unam ziferam1 de vestris ad finem, ut possem scribere Dominationi Vestre de secretis que sentire possim. die decima presentis mensis atingi Romam sanus, licet sim passus magnum dampnum de una navi passa naufragium infauce Romana, ubi habebam duas cassas, in quibus habebam quaxi medietatem omnium meorum honorum; sed de omnibus regratior Deo postquam sum in Roma. Altissimus Dominationem Vestram feliciter conservare dignetur.

Datum Rome die XIII decembris.

Servitor vester Cristoforus de Placentia in curia procurator.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Nonsense Used To Disparage Alternative Energy

Remember the claims that the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries used in hybrid and electric cars would generate much more pollution than would be averted by lower vehicle emissions? Or that Wind-electric turbines were killing massive amounts of birds, or that solar panels were killing turtles?

You don't? I suppose more of you might remember those claims if there had ever been anything to them.

How about this: people going with remarkable speed from claiming that wind and solar would never generate enough electricity to be significant, to claiming that they will generate too much electricity and overload the grids, leading to catastrophe?

I'm no engineer, but I can easily imagine a grid which would automatically switch off a source of electricity if and when it produced too much electricity.

Unfortunately, it's more difficult for me to imagine an end to sheer oil-industry-funded nonsense used against the spread of green energy.

As Far As I Can Tell, The 2015 MacArthur Fellowships Have Not Been Announced Yet

The suspense is killing me. If I win one, it will greatly increase my chances of winning this year's Nobel Prize in Literature. It would practically guarantee my getting at least a half-decent book deal. see Tom Petty "Ab-So-Lute-Ly Backwards" Law of Microeconomics.

A need a break. A huge one. Several huge breaks all at once. I need and deserve them. I'm brilliant and exhausted and seething with frustration and greed.

Monday, August 3, 2015


Oh it causes
Such commotion.
Self promotion.

Why would anyone put up with Reddit and its bazillion rules for any purpose other than self-promotion?

I'm so tired. I'll be so happy when I have a genius agent who promotes me for 10%, and I can just relax and go back to being a genius 100% of the time.

(I do realize that a lot of people probably actually spend a lot of time at Reddit for reasons other than self-promotion. But thinking about them makes me sad, like thinking about all those unpaid chumps who work so hard on Wikipedia.)

Sunday, August 2, 2015

I was just thinking to myself that Nietzsche should be read in German,

because he wrote so well that translations almost always mess up what he said. (Can't read German? Nietzsche is a great reason to learn!) I also thought: Why comment on Nietzsche? How can a comment, even in German almost as elegant as his, improve on what he wrote? Then I read in a Reddit Nietzsche-subreddit: "All comments must be in English."

(Reddit is, to quote Wiki, "an entertainment, social networking, and news website where registered community members can submit content, such as text posts or direct links, making it essentially an online bulletin board system[...]Reddit entries are organized into areas of interest called 'subreddits.'")

Then I sighed and once again gave up trying to discuss Nietzsche with people. When I discuss Nietzsche with cats, the discussion can be a bit one-sided, but I tend to get fewer silly responses.

Although Nietzsche in undeniably a philosopher, he is also undeniably a poet, and artists (including poets, musicians, etc) have made made much better use of his work than have philosophers.

Now, philosophers might well dispute that, and they might even be right, but you know what? That discussion would bore the living crap out of me. And how can philosophers possibly be right about Nietzsche when they're boring? How can that not constitute entirely missing the point? Eh, let them be right if they're right, I don't care.

Artists have also made better use of Freud than have psychologists including psychiatrists. I don't currently hang out with any artists who are fluent in German and thoroughly familiar with Nietzsche and Freud.

(The rororo Bildmonograph on Thomas Mann does not even mention Theodor Fontane! I know, that was an abrupt tangent, but still, it fits here perfectly.)

I should get out more, the lack of my friends who are artists who are fluent in German and familiar with Nietzsche and Freud illustrates that, however, if I knew such an artist, would we discuss Nietzsche? As I hinted above and have said before on this blog, really the only sensible comment on Nietzsche is WHOAH, READ THIS!! and since we'd already done so, perhaps my hypothetical artist friend would say something much more sensible like "You wanna get high and go bowling?" or "Get out of my apartment, I'm trying to work!!"