Saturday, December 30, 2017

Still Looking For the Perfect Notebook

I use Moleskines. It's one of the few luxuries I allow myself. I don't drink, smoke or eat out, it may well be that I do not have an article of clothing which is less than a year old, including briefs and socks, and what I have is all jeans and T-shirts -- but I use a Moleskine as a daily journal, and every year I buy a Moleskine planner. So, yeah: I'm one of the Moleskine people. I'm currently up to my 33rd Moleskine journal -- wait. No. It's my 32nd Moleskine journal, because I tried a Shinola notebook. The Shinola is journal Volume 31, 27 February 2016 -- 27 January 2017. It's been taking me longer to fill up each journal lately because I've been writing less in the journals and more on this blog. I try to write something in the journals every day, but for a lot of days, all I've written is "Blogged about [so-and-so]."

Most of my journals are pocket-sized, soft cover 192-page Moleskines with blank pages.

Moleskine counts each leaf as 2 pages, front and back, so some people -- certainly including me -- would tend to think of these "192-page" Moleskines as 96-sheet notebooks.

I got a pocket-size, soft-cover Moleskine 2018 monthly planner today at my local independent bookstore, with either approximately or exactly as many pages as one of those 192-"page," 96-sheet dealies. Monthly planner wouldn't have been my first choice, but it's December 30, duh, so the choice was limited. There were a few Shinola planners left. The Shinola notebook I used as a journal seems to me to be about as good as a Moleskine -- which is to say: very good, from my frame of reference. For most of my life I used whatever was the very cheapest option available at the supermarket: mostly either spiral notebooks or ring binders. Moleskine and Shinola are a big step up. The main reason I didn't get a Shinola 2018 planner today is because I'm annoyed by the way Shinola makes and markets watches, coming on like they're really something special quality-wise, but not offering one single mechanical model.

Some of Moleskine's yearly planners, pocket-sized, and larger, and smaller, have about twice as many pages. 400 pages altogether: 1 page for each day, and then some other pages at the front and back. Moleskine calls them "diaries." Maybe other people would call them "diaries" too. But for me, a volume with exactly 1 page for each day, no more and no less, is not an ideal diary, but functions perfectly well as an appointment book.

What I would like is a Moleskine, or some other item of comparable quality, with that many blank pages. Pocket-sized or smaller, soft cover, 400 "pages" -- that is, 200 sheets -- that would be awesome. I haven't found anything like that yet. If you know where I can get something like that, we'll be friends for life. Warning: the toughest part of that description to fulfill may be "Moleskine or comparable quality." Most of the notebooks, journals and diaries I've seen for sale simply don't cut it any more, the way they would've earlier in my life. Once you go Moleskine or Shinola, you don't go back.

This is what I get for not having gone into the book-binding business, so that I could make the perfect notebooks for myself.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Dream Log: A Piece of Urban Real Estate, Status Uncertain

I dreamed that I and a few other poor people were living in abandoned cars parked on a rectangular patch which was about fifty yards wide and jutted out about twenty yards, like a cliff, from the middle of the downtown of a city with many tall buildings. One of the fifty-yard-long sides of the area was level with the developed city around it; off of the other three sides, there was a fifty-foot drop to another relatively-flat area covered with limited-access roads.

At the beginning of the dream there were three abandoned vehicles on this patch of ground, and five of us living in them. But more people kept moving in, some bringing vehicles or tents with them.

It was entirely unclear how much the ground we were living on was man-made and built up from the lower level, and how much had been there, with the upper level of ground, before humans built anything there. The mix of concrete and earth, and of jumbles of pipes and trees sticking out from the concrete and earth, made it very hard to tell which was more primary, and which had been added on.

At some point it started to seem to me like a good idea to encourage the homeless people who were passing through to stay and to build up actual homes here, and to invite other people to do the same. There was a vague feeling that developers were going to come and claim the -- the land? the building? whatever it was -- and have us all kicked out. They hadn't tried to do that so far, but it seemed to me that the more of us there were, and the more we had done to make the place a real home, the harder it would be to remove us, when and if someone tried.

Someone donated some solar panels and batteries to us, and soon that led to our having electrical heat on cold nights, and cold for storing food, and heat for cooking it without having to build a campfire. Some lawyers started working building a case for our right to stay, when and if someone challenged that right. We started to hold free classes on engineering, architecture and law, and used what we learned in those classes to strengthen our hold on the area, physically and legally.

Television news crews stopped in now and then to film and to talk to us. Republicans sometimes yelled and threw rocks or beer cans at us out of the windows of their trucks as they drove past on the street adjacent to and level with us. Democrats walked past and were much friendlier. Often they waved and flashed peace signs or held up clenched fists. Sometimes they stopped to talk.

No one was charged any money to stay there as long as they wanted, or to eat some of our food, or to take something else if they needed or wanted it: clothes, or books, or a phone, or what have you. It got to the point where the thing which most frequently made people want to move on was overcrowding. Ordinarily, I'm one of the first to feel crowded. But in this place, my fascination with everything that was going on outweighed my discomfort over the crowding.

A lot of what was going on was high-level education. It had started out with engineering, architecture, law and medicine, for purposes of the self-preservation of the community, and although classes quickly branched out into many other subjects, those four areas remained prominent among the things we taught. It had started out with people coming and helping us, but soon we were going out into the city to help people install solar power or repair their dwellings, or to represent them in court, or to check on their physical health, or to volunteer in other ways.

One area of the law in which we soon became well-known was advocating in favor of the legalization of marijuana. Some of the people who lived with us began to complain about the pot smoke, and so we agreed to smoke pot only in one designated area, which was designed to ventilate and blow the smoke away from the rest of the community, puffing merrily out through a smokestack and carried by the prevailing winds safely away from those who chose not to partake. If you wanted to get high, and you went to the designated smoking area, at some times it wasn't necessary to puff on anything, because enough people were in there going to town on bongs and joints, and the smoke was so thick, that if you just stood or sat there for a few minutes, you'd definitely get high.

Vegans were very prominent in our community. Some of them, unfortunately, were intolerant in their rhetoric about non-vegans. It was very tiresome. On the other hand, they made vegan food which, everyone agreed, was amazingly delicious.

I had begun there as a homeless person who'd crawled into an abandoned car to try to keep from freezing to death. But soon -- despite the overcrowding, which was definitely an issue for me -- it became the best home I had ever had.

And then I woke up.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Dream Log: Reporting on Long-Distance Mountain Running and Women's Gymnastics

Lately I've been dreaming a lot about running. Very vivid dreams. In the dreams, the difficulty and exertion have been very vivid too, but still, the running is exhilarating, and the dreams make me more and more determined to get in shape enough to run at an advanced level in real life.

Last night I dreamed that I was covering a long-distance, high-altitude running event in the European Alps. I went there to participate in the running as well as write about it. Right from the start, I was confused about the rules. The other runners knew I was covering the event as a writer. Most of them were distrustful of me and made no attempt to hide how they regarded me as an outsider and a threat. There were a few exceptions, runners who were friendly toward me -- but only a few.

I was really completely uninformed about what we were doing. For one thing, I wasn't sure how long the event was going to last -- all day? Several days? Dozens of miles? Hundreds of miles?

After I had run for a while, race officials stopped me and said that I had to wait here for ten minutes. We were in a little meadow between cliffs; other runners were resting there. It was unclear to me whether all of the runners were going to start again together, or whether each individual waited for exactly ten minutes. In any case, after I was running again, I saw some other well ahead of me, and gaining visibly, although we were making a steep climb and no-one was going very fast. One of my competitors who was friendly mentioned to me that this stage of the race involved a gain of altitude of two thousand feet, so that I might want to be careful and pace myself. There was a small flag of France below the collar of his jersey. I thanked him, but said that I wanted to run the very fastest race I possibly could, no matter how difficult it might be. He laughed, gave me a friendly smack on the back, and then darted well ahead of me.

The next stopping point was at a luxury hotel. Other runners were sitting in a room which was very bare and white, and stared at me with frank hostility. I could smell very good smells coming from a gourmet kitchen, and I wondered whether we runners were going to get some gourmet food.

Then everything got very hazy, and I lost consciousness. When I came to I was in a hospital bed in what seemed to be an emergency room. A doctor who spoke excellent English with a French accent asked me what I remembered, and told me that I had taken a great fall, and was very fortunate to have landed in a grassy area rather than a rocky area. He asked whether I had trained at high altitude before this race. I said no. He said that it was very important, if I ever competed in an event like this again, that I train extensively beforehand at very high altitudes. "Extensively," he repeated. I thanked him for his advice, but he turned away with the deeply annoyed manner of a man who is used to giving good advice and seeing it go unheeded.

Next, I was in Madison Square Garden to write about a women's gymnastics event. The event organizers were nervous about investigative journalists covering the event, because of the recent scandal surrounding Larry Nassar. They seemed to relax when they saw me, because I'm an essayist, and they therefore seemed to assume that I was not going to cover the event negatively.

I felt that they were wrong to relax about me, because I had a lot of very pointed questions about whether the sport provided cover and protection for sexual predators, and also about whether and to what extent the competitors were harming their health and stunting their growth by malnutrition. But before I could get down to any investigation, I woke up.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

How The Tax Bill Actually Could Be a Win For the GOP

I finally figured out one way that passing the most unpopular piece of major Federal legislation since the 1980's actually could be considered a win for the GOP. It still doesn't make them look like better human beings. In fact, if anything, it might make them look a bit worse.

You may recall that a few days ago there was a strange story about Paul Ryan: a supposedly reliable source said that the Speaker was very moody and had talked about not running for re-election in 2018, and ending his political career.

Then very quickly after that Ryan denied that this story was true. He said that everything was wonderful and that he had no plans to retire. But a lot of reporters continued to act as if the story hadn't been a mistake at all. And if anyone might be in a position to know where the story had come from and how reliable it was -- it's those reporters.

Now, all reliable polling on the planet shows that the Republicans just keep getting less and less popular, and that many Republican members of Congress might be retired after the 2018 mid-terms -- voluntarily or not. Whether Ryan runs or not, the Speaker of the House might well be a Democrat after the mid-terms. Their sinking popularity might mean that this tax bill -- if it passes. It hasn't passed yet -- might not just be the first big bill passed by the GOP during Trump's term in office -- it might be the first and the last.

And so, it might very well be that many Republican Senators and Congresspeople regard this bill as their retirement program, their golden parachutes. They feel they can't impeach Trump -- it doesn't make sense to me that they feel can't impeach him, but it seems more and more as if they feel that they just can't. Trump is extremely unpopular, and getting more unpopular, and he is dragging the rest of the GOP down with him. And so the Republicans in the Senate and House are cashing in, as big as they can, before the voters retire them.

Now, that's certainly evil, but it's a rational sort of evil, based on a realistic assumption about the future: the assumption that the Democrats will control Congress after the 2018 mid-terms, and that if the Republicans want to get richer by ripping of the US in a huge way, they have to do it right now, because right now is going to be their last chance.

But I could be completely wrong. Time after time I've given the Republican leadership way too much credit: Assuming that they wouldn't be dumb enough to actually impeach Bill Clinton in 1998 with the ridiculous case that Kenneth Starr handed them. Assuming that they would manage to nominate someone other than Trump. Assuming that they would impeach Trump rather than let Trump destroy their political careers along with his own. Etc, etc. Perhaps, again, in this case, they're simply less fact-based than I could imagine, and they really believe that their tax bill will lead to budget surpluses instead of deficits, and that they will win instead of lose in the mid-terms, and that Trump will be re-elected and go down in history as the greatest American President of all time, and that Trump and Sarah Huckabee are honest and straightforward. Etc.

Again, though -- the bill hasn't passed yet. There still is time for individual Republican legislators to figure that their prospects for a political career in the future are worth more than what they would make from the bill. Or even to have a fit of conscience, and to stand up and say that this bill is wrong and disgusting and that they can't vote for it for those reasons. No, I don't think that's likely. But you never know. It might play very well politically for some individuals in the GOP. And they actually are human beings.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Different People Want Different Watches

Piaget have set a record for the world's thinnest mechanical wristwatch -- and not for the first time. Their Altiplano Ultimate Automatic 910P is just 4.3 millimeters thick.

And I don't care. Those of you who do care about thinness in watches may enjoy this article about the new Piaget in Hodenkee.

You know what's even thinner than the world's thinnest watch? NOT WEARING A WATCH AT ALL!

From an engineering standpoint, I can appreciate the fascination of getting the most possible into the thinnest possible space -- but when it comes to watches, I get even that appeal only somewhat abstractly.

Laptop computers are a different matter. A thinner laptop will take up less space on a shelf or in a backpack. With watches, though, the thing is -- even the biggest, fattest watch still doesn't take up all that much space. It's hard for me to believe that you were actually inconvenienced, and had to pick and choose which possessions to carry with you -- because your watch was too big.

Also in Hodinkee is a review of the new Jacob & Co Astronomia Solar

Now this is a little bit more my style. As Hodinkee's Jack Forster says of this model, the Astronomia Solar, and the original Astronomia, which was released in 2014, and the Astronomia Sky, which appeared some time in between, "Obviously the point of these watches is not to be unobtrusive daily companions, but spectacular showpieces." I can appreciate subdued styling too, but, at least when it comes to watches, I often like excess a bit more. With cars it's different: if I were extremely rich, I'd want to get a subdued-looking new car along with some outrageous watches (I'm talkin Hublots that look out there compared to other Hublots, and Urwerks). No doubt some people would giggle about how my watches didn't match my car. Maybe some would giggle because, extremely wealthy as I was, I had only one car, and no yachts whatsoever. The giggling wouldn't bother me.

The Astronomica series are not in the running for world's thinnest watch: the original one is the biggest, 50 millimeters wide and 25 millimeters thick. The smallest Astronomica is the Sky, 44.5mm x 21mm. This new one, the Solar, is a mid-size.

I'm pretty sure that 25 millimeters is not the thickest new wristwatch available to day, but it's in the extreme class. 25 mm is about twice as thick as average. But there's a point to the thickness with the Astronomica, as you can see: there's a lot of cool stuff to see inside that see-through case.

Since I added mechanical watches to the subjects I blog about a few years ago, I've come to appreciate some things about watches which I didn't appreciate at first. The Jacob & Co Astronomia Solar is a clear case of that. Maybe, eventually, I will also really, really like the ultra-thin approach a lot, too. But it's hard to imagine that right now.

Dream Log: Painting the Streets

I dreamed I was working downtown in some city at night, I don't know what city. I drove around, and my car left pictures in the middle of the lane I was in, similar to arrows in turn lanes and "STOP AHEAD," but in my case, my car -- I was doing this with an ordinary car, not one of those very slow-moving vehicles used to paint lane markers and others signs on streets -- in this case, I was painting things like picture of oranges and grapes in the canter of lanes, images almost as wide as my car, simple iconic images similar, except in size, to the oranges and cherries and 7's in slot machines.

It was not at all clear why I was doing this. It was also not clear for whom I was working. Someone seemed to be paying me, but I don't know whether it was a government entity or a private firm. My job had a sort of institutional feel to it, as if I was working either for the government or for a contractor who was being paid by the government. Besides myself and my fellow street-painters, most of the people up and about were people making street repairs, and cops, and news vendors, and we all knew each other and nodded collegially when we saw one another.

My car didn't look any different than other cars. There wasn't any huge painting equipment sticking out all over from it. The ability to paint the images on the pavement and to paint them right, at right angles to the lanes and with no smudges or doubling, and a whole image each time, not just a part of one -- all of this seemed to have much more to do with my skill than with any issues of the equipment I was using.

In the daytime, after my shift was over, I visited a large group of friends and acquaintances in a big house just outside of town. It was autumn, the house was surrounded by big trees and their leaves were brilliant orange and red and yellow, only a few were brown and dead. It was a ranch-style house, with a lot of horizontal space. Many of us were gathered around a huge dining-room table, some having breakfast, others just socializing.

One of my acquaintances in the house was a young man who had recently started doing the same sort of street-painting work as I did. It seemed he was struggling at work: his pictures of fruit -- most of the pictures we did were oranges or lemons or grapes or cherries -- were coming out smudged or partial much too often. He was very worried that he was going to be fired. I did my best to help him out, telling him how making good pictures was almost entirely dependent on having the right frame of mind.

I told him how for a long time I had a lot of trouble operating manual can-openers. I had thought that the problem was that I hadn't been gripping hard enough. Finally I figured out that it had been the very opposite: I had been gripping the can openers much too tightly, so tight that they could barely move. Once I figured out how tightly I should grip, opening cans became amazingly easy. I asked him if he had ever had this sort of problem with a hand tool. He said no. I asked him if he could imagine what that sort of problem was like. He thought for a while and said he supposed so. I said that he didn't have to say that he understood if he didn't: he wasn't here to impress me right now, but to learn how to paint the streets better. He thought for a while longer, and said, Yes, he thought he understood.

Then I told him that painting the pictures on the streets properly was similar to how I had solved my can-opening problem: almost every single time, someone in his position, struggling to get it right, merely needed to relax enough, and it would come.

He nodded and thanked me, but I was worried that I hadn't helped him, that his problem was, indeed, that he was much too tense when he was operating his painting car, and that he tried to correct it by becoming more tense, which was exactly the opposite of what he needed to do to get his pictures to come out just fine -- but that I hadn't managed to explain it to him. After all, when people are too tense, the solution, unfortunately, is not always as simple as just telling them to relax.

The next night I was working downtown again, painting those slot-machine-similar images of oranges and lemons and so forth in the middle of the deserted downtown lanes, and I wondered whether I might run into that young worried colleague and see how he was doing. But instead I woke up.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

How Many Manuscripts of Livy Are There? About 473.

This was so much easier than counting up the manuscripts of Vergil, which I don't seem to be anywhere close to finished doing.

Actually, Marielle de Franchis counted them up for me, in Chapter 1, "Livian Manuscript Tradition," of the Blackwell Companion to Livy, which was published in 2015, and a copy of which arrived for me via inter-library loan today.

Franchis mentions on p 5 "all the manuscripts of the First Decade (about 200) available today." 1 manuscript of a fragment of the Second Decade was found at Oxyrhynchus. On p 9, Franchis writes that "More than 170 manuscripts that transmitted the Third Decade between the fifth and the fifteenth cantury are still extant." On p 14, she tells us that the Forth Decade "has survived in about 100 manuscripts." There is 1 manuscript of the Fifth Decade containing books 41-45, and 1 containing a fragment of the Tenth Decade.

200 + 1 +170 + 100 + 1 + 1 = 473. The number is more likely to rise than to fall. By how much? I don't know.

I have admitted on this blog that I hope that many more missing parts of Livy's text will be discovered, and that I am aware that such hopes often make people chuckle who are much more learned on the subject of Livy than I. How much more learned? Well, for example, I have read Professor Michael Reeve's article "The Vetus Carnotensis of Livy Unmasked," in Studies in Latin Literature and its Tradition in Honour of C. O. Brink, ed Diggle, Hall & Jocelyn (1989), which Reeve wrote in my native language, English, read it several times, with the greatest interest, and I still am very far from comprehending its content.

So understand that my opinions on such matters, when they are not supported by citations of professionals, are decidedly amateur. My opinion that study of 6th-century Europe made lead to great discoveries of currently-missing parts of Livy's text? Amateur. I wouldn't be at all surprised if it would make the experts chuckle.

I think that they would be somewhat less inclined to chuckle (It doesn't hurt my feelings when they chuckle. Really, it doesn't) when I say that the number of manuscripts of Livy will rise from about 473, although the manuscripts added to the list will mostly (Here they may chuckle again, because I said "mostly" in stead of "all." It's okay) contain text currently known.

Faithful readers of this blog may have noticed that I've written a lot about the transmission of Livy's text, and almost nothing about the text itself. They may be thinking, "Heck, Steve -- what's so great about Livy anyhow?!" I may eventually write some answers to that question. I really do think that Livy is great: a wonderful writer who tells exciting stories, and occasionally underrated as an historian -- but even those who have called him worthless as an historian have agreed that he gives you a great read.

Hopefully, "Objective Journalism" is On the Decline

A president who would all but call Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand a whore is not fit to clean the toilets in the Barack Obama Presidential Library or to shine the shoes of George W. Bush.

This isn’t about the policy differences we have with all presidents or our disappointment in some of their decisions. Obama and Bush both failed in many ways. They broke promises and told untruths, but the basic decency of each man was never in doubt.

Donald Trump, the man, on the other hand, is uniquely awful. His sickening behavior is corrosive to the enterprise of a shared governance based on common values and the consent of the governed.
-- That's from a refreshingly direct and concise USA TODAY editorial.

Brian Williams discussed this editorial on his show last night with Robert Costa. Williams read some of the article aloud, and Costa said something about "wince-inducing." Williams didn't press Costa to expand on that point, which disappointed me, because it wasn't clear to me whether Costa was saying that is was Trump's behavior, or the editorial referring to it, was wince-inducing, and I'm actually afraid it may have been the latter. This would be an extreme example of "objective journalism" madness, saying that journalists can't call Trump a pig.

The USA TODAY editorial tells readers -- clearly and plainly -- what the President is like. I think that champions of "objective journalism" often forget that the vast majority of the public don't have all that much spare time to give to the politics which they, the reporters, study 24-7-365. Those reporters often seem to expect the public to read between the lines as well as they do.

I really like those skits by Jonathan Pie where he plays a political reporter for television, who says a lot of interesting and important things about politics as long as he's off the air, and the instant he goes back on the air he switches back to the typical "objective" zombie-journalist who is at great pains never to come right out and show what he actually thinks or feels about the politicians he reports about all day every day, feeling that he needs to put what he actually knows through the ridiculous filter of "objective journalism," so that only a tiny fraction of it reaches his viewers. Please, please, watch this:

Hunter S Thompson was explicitly opposed to the attempt on journalists' part to be objective, and stated that apart from things like box scores and stock-market results, there was no such thing as objective journalism. I completely agree, and I don't think I'm the only one who ever has -- for example, Jonathan Pie might agree. Still, 45 freakin years after Thompson wrote about it, laying out the case as reasonably, rationally and clearly as could be, it still appears that the number of political journalists who oppose the "objective journalism" policy are a tiny minority in their profession.

Why should political journalists give up "objective journalism"? Because it would be a tremendous help to the general public in understanding politics. That's all.

Of course, if I got it backwards last night, and what Costa was referring to as wince-inducing was not the USA TODAY editorial, but Trump's disgusting behavior, then I apologize to Costa.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

How Many Manuscripts of Vergil Are There?

"No one knows exactly, or even approximately, how many times the works of Vergil were printed in the early modern period. Giuliano Mambelli (1954) listed 1,637 editions published between 1469 and 1850, but the real total may be double Mambelli's, perhaps even more." -- Craig Kallendorf, in A Companion to Vergil's Aeneid and its Tradition, ed by Farrell and Putnam, 2010, p 234.

Gee, Craig, that's really swell. But what I wanted to know is how many manuscripts of Vergil there are.

In the Introduction, Farrell and Putnam write:

"Our view is that a new Aeneid companion would be warranted only if it did not tread well-worn paths."

Cool! I guess they weren't thinking of readers like me, who've never see a companion to Vergil before, and were actually more interested in those well-worn paths.

I'm not knocking this Companion. It's interesting to know that so many editions of Vergil were published up until 1850, and to learn about literature written in Latin in Mexico, the theme of Andrew Laird's chapter, which comes immediately before Kallendorf's, and there is a lot of other way-cool stuff in the over 550 pages of this large quatro.

I'm already familiar with most or all of the manuscripts of Vergil which are most important to Classical scholars: the 7 manuscripts written before AD 500, plus 1 more written before 600, plus 1 more written before 800, plus 13 more chosen from among the 9th-century manuscripts, consulted by R A B Mynors in his highly-regarded 1969 edition of Vergil's works.

Plus 17 or more papyri containing fragments of Vergil, the oldest of which may have been made around AD 100.

It's not at all hard to find information about those manuscripts, because Classical scholars are always exclaiming over them, because there are so many more of them from those time periods than for any other Classical Latin author. Take those 13 ninth-century manuscripts which Mynor chose to consult for his edition. 13 is a whole lot of manuscripts that old for one author. But they keep saying that Mynor "chose" those 13. Which seems to imply that there were even more 9th-century manuscripts of Vergil for Mynor to choose from.

How many more?

Well, you see, that is the point -- exactly the point -- where the numbers go from being extremely easy for me to find, to, so far at least, impossible. Classical scholars go so wild about the numbers of Vergilian manuscripts referred to above because no other author is represented by so many manuscripts which are so old, and also because some of those ancient manuscripts are of extremely high quality. For them, the Classical scholars, the name of the game is to establish a text as close as possible to what the ancient authors wrote, and the manuscripts referred to above are a huge help in establishing that text, and other manuscripts, from the 9th century on to the 15th century and the age of printing, are quite simply much. Less. Interesting.

To Classical scholars in general, that is. There seems to some exceptions to this, because every now and then a Classical scholar will mention that there are so-and-so many hundreds of manuscripts of the work of this or that author, without disagreeing in the slightest that the number of those manuscripts which are crucial in establishing the best possible text is, for example, 2, or 5, or 12, as the case may be.

You see, time after time, they're able to prove that an entire group among those more recent manuscripts are all copies, or copies of copies, or copies of copies of copies, etc, of manuscript A. And since A has survived and is right there in front of them, they have no use at all, when editing the text, for that group of more recent manuscripts, unless they contain passages which are missing from A because pages are missing from A or are badly damaged, or because A contains some passages which are obviously incorrect, and some of the more recent copies might have a better guess at the original text as written by the ancient Roman author, or for other considerations along those lines.

I suspect that the total number of manuscripts of Vergil is very high -- in the hundreds or possibly in the thousands. However, although scholars always exclaim over the high number and high quality of ancient Vergilian manuscripts, and although just today I read Kallendorf, one of our day's leading Vergilian scholars, exclaiming over the thousands of editions (printed versions) of Vergil made between 1469 and 1850 -- I have never actually read anything written by an expert to that effect. I suspect that the number of Vergilian manuscripts is so high that most scholars would shudder at the very thought of even trying to count them all up, let alone making a catalogue of them all with descriptions of each and every one.

I suspect that. I still have no statement at all by any authority and well-respected scholarly expert on such things, to support my suspicion.

Perhaps The Cambridge Companion to Vergil, edited by Charles Martindale and published in 1997, will have, if not an exhaustive list of manuscripts, then perhaps a footnote saying where such a list can be found, or at least a tentative number.

(Perhaps the volume I have now, A Companion to Vergil's Aeneid and its Tradition, ed by Farrell and Putnam, 2010, has such a number and/or reference to a detailed catalogue, tucked away in some footnote. I just really doubt that it does, is all.)

Why, scholars as well as laypeople, if they have bothered to read this far, may well be asking, do I even care how many Vergilian manuscripts there are? I don't know why. I can tell only tell you that I care even more, much more, about how many manuscripts of Livy there are. (And I don't know the answer to that question either.)

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Hot-Rodding Watches

TV series about auto mechanics who transform cars seem to be very popular these days. Usually a series is about a garage which is very popular, where people -- very often celebrities -- bring their cars to be made over. Less often, the mechanics go out looking for diamond-in-the-rough bargains, and then bring them to the garage for the makeovers. Of the several TV channels devoted entirely to cars, at least one seems to show nothing but these shows about mechanics transforming cars, 24-7.

This blog post is not going to be about those shows. Instead, it's going to be about something entirely imaginary, because a little while ago, I said to myself: What if, instead of all those shows in mechanics' garages, there were shows in watchsmiths' shops instead?

There could be shows wherein the watchsmiths go out to thrift stores and yard sales and estate sales and flea markets and what have you, looking for watches which they can bring back to the shop, refurbish and sell at a profit. But maybe most of the shows would be about high-end, relatively glamourous shops where the customers bring their watches and ask to have them fixed up and/or transformed.

So immediately the question occurs to me: how often are watches actually transformed, as opposed to merely being maintained or fixed? Cars, as we all know, can be completely transformed, and very often are, like this, for instance:

It's so common that I'm sure I don't even have to explain it to most of you. But is it at all common with watches? I have the impression that it is not: that the most which a watchsmith commonly does is to bring a watch as close as possible back to the appearance and performance it had when new.

Whether or not it IS commonly done, how much COULD be done to transform watches? Replacing a dial or a bezel with one of a different color could of course be done. But what about adding functions to a watch? For example: could my Seiko 5 --

-- be modified so that it had a manual winding option, or a power reserve indicator, or both? Assuming both could be done -- would that cost me less than 1000 brand-new Seiko 5's?

Because of the ridiculously low cost of Seiko 5's -- back down to around $45 on Amazon for Cyber Monday -- the very thought of having them serviced by a professional watchsmith, let alone hot-rodded into something very different than a stock 5, is -- odd. But when it comes to watches which cost 5 figures or more new, the thought of paying for a number of man-hours of highly-skilled craftsmanship to have them modified suddenly seems less odd -- assuming, that is, that such modifications are possible.

Perhaps it can be done, and is done all the time, but the terminology is different. A 1932 Dodge which has had its original engine removed and replaced with a supercharged 351 Ford engine, and its chassis replaced with an all-wheel-drive chassis with an automatic 7-speed transmission, and its tires with racing slicks, is still referred to as 1932 Dodge -- a souped-up '32 Dodge. Perhaps a Seiko 5 can be extensively modified, but, long before it undergoes as much change as that hypothetical '32 Dodge, it is no longer referred to as a Seiko 5, but may be described as being based on a 5. Maybe this sort of thing is done all the time, and the usual thing to do is for the watchsmith who transformed the 5 to put his own brand name on it.

There are so very many things I don't know.

Well, anyway, clearly, it would be an alternate universe, and not ours at present, if such TV shows about watches existed, and if such modification of watches were as common as it is in the case of cars in our car-crazy world.

Monday, November 27, 2017

"Sie war eine junge, schoene Ballerina..."

"... und er war ein junger, attraktiver Rechtsanwalt und Erbe einer Milliardaren-Familie..."

Na endlich! Nach diesem schier unendlosen Strom von Romanen voll mit den Liebesgeschichten von ugly poor people, endlich was Neues!

Eine schoene junge Ballerina und ein attraktiver Rechtsanwalt und Milliarden-Erbe! Finally, something you and I can relate to! Ein Stueck echtes Leben!

Nicht nach dem Muster des Bekannten geschnitten, nein! Etwas Urspruengliches, Echtes! Etwas, was uns aus diesem taeglichen Traume des Ueblichen weckt, und uns daran erinnert, was Fiktion wirklich kann! Ein Meisterstueck! Endlich mal eine Authorin, die den Mut hat zu dem, was wir kennen -- nein, nicht das was wir aus Alltagsromanen kennen, sondern in unserem echten Leben -- und selten, zu selten, auch in der Literatur.

Eine schoene junge Ballerina und ein attraktiver Rechtsanwalt und Milliarden-Erbe!

Genie! Weltliteratur! Nietzsche! Doeblin! Bachmann! Und jetzt auch diese hier.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Yes, That is a Very Great Amount of Aristotelian Manuscripts [PS: No, actually, it is not.]

Someone who struck me as authoritative -- I do not remember who -- wrote -- I do not remember where. I should write these sorts of things down more often. It may have been in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, which I read often and recommend heartily -- that the manuscripts of Aristotle are literally myriad. I then consulted the Oxford English Dictionary, and saw that "myriad" literally means "10,000."

[PS, 19 February 2018: My memory was faulty here. I finally tracked down the mention of literally myriad manuscripts. It was a reference to manuscripts, not of Aristotle, but of Augustine. Nevermind.]

Attempting to verify that there really are as many as 10,000 manuscripts of the works of Aristotle, I found that, as of the writing of the article on Aristotle in the 1972 Encyclopaedia Britannica, there were 47 surviving philosophical works attributed to Aristotle, and that he actually wrote many more. Not from the encyclopaedia, I learned that these 47 works were often copied individually, as opposed to huge volumes each containing many of the works. I learned that several of these works survive in Latin translations in several hundred manuscripts each (Aristotle wrote in Greek, and was very popular among Medieval scholars of Western Europe who could read Latin but not Greek.). If several hundred Latin copies is typical for each of those 47 works, then perhaps there really are over 10,000 manuscripts of Aristotle surviving in our time, and the vast majority of them are Latin translations. (Several hundred X 47 = more than 10,000.) I'm assuming that untranslated Greek manuscripts of Aristotle are not nearly so numerous, but perhaps I'm wrong about that.

I have absolutely no ideas how many manuscripts of Aristotle in Arabic translation have survived to our day, or in other languages, for that matter.

Some time ago, I read in Rackham's Loeb edition and translation of Aristotle's Politics

that the manuscripts of that work "are not very good nor very old. The oldest evidence for the text is a translation in barbarous Latin by a Dominican monk of the thirteenth century, William of Moerbeke[...]The five best extant Greek copies are of the fifteenth century[...]" That was the first time that I had read anything about the transmission of Aristotle's texts. And so I mistakenly assumed that there were not many manuscripts of anything written by Aristotle. It turns out that Moerbeke is one of the Latin translators of Aristotle who has been copied into hundreds of surviving manuscripts, per work, having translated other works by Aristorle besides the Politics, and that not everyone has shared Rackham's low opinion of his Latin prose.

So, is Aristotle in 2nd place among ancient authors, behind only the Bible, in terms of numbers of surviving manuscripts? I don't know. One reason I don't know is because the experts on ancient Greek and Latin literature themselves don't know how many surviving manuscripts there are of the authors in which they specialize. And the reason they often don't know is because they don't much care. How can this be? Well, you see, the most important aspect of their jobs is get a version of those ancient texts as close as possible to what the ancient authors originally wrote. And for the purpose of determining those texts, the great majority of the manuscripts can be dismissed, if it has been determined that they are all copies, or copies of copies, or copies of copies of copies, etc, of some other surviving manuscripts. There is often a very great difference between the number of manuscripts which scholars use to determine the text, and all of the surviving manuscripts of that text. Oh, so there are X number of manuscript copies of Moerbeke's translation of the Politics? Hey, that's great. But because I have the actual copy which Moerbeke made (or high-res photos of that copy), I don't need all those hundreds of others. Is how those scholars will often react, if they see their job as editing the text.

There are other reasons for looking at all of the other copies. For example, someone has to determine where they came from, whether manuscript J was a copy of a copy of manuscript R, or what exactly. Or maybe Professor Y thinks that Professor X made a mistake when he or she said that J was a copy of a copy of manuscript R, and wants to check for him- or herself.

Another reason is if we want to get a general idea of how popular that ancient author was in a certain time and place. We can only get a very general idea of this, because we know that a lot of manuscripts have disappeared, and we don't know how many. Just because there are hundreds of manuscripts today of Ovid, and none at all of Pompeius Trogus, doesn't mean that Ovid was read by more people in the 2nd century AD than Trogus. But the great number of 12th-century manuscripts of Ovid (compared to surviving 12th-century manuscripts in general), combined with other things such as frequent mentions of him by 12th-century writers, mean that we're probably pretty safe in saying that Ovid was widely-read in the 12th century. Probably.

It seems to me that typically, there are more 15th-century manuscripts of a given Classical Latin author than manuscripts of any other one century, and sometimes more than all the other centuries put together. It seems that way. But I don't know for sure, because I only have those century-by-century numbers in the case of a few Classical Latin authors. Maybe they're pretty typical of the rest, maybe they're not. After the 15th century, the numbers of manuscripts of Classical Latin authors drops away to almost nothing, because of the invention of the printing press. One notable exception to that is the text of the 1st-century novel Satyricon by Petronius,

the inspiration for Fellini's film of the same name, liked by Fellini fans, less well-liked by Classicists who feel that Fellini missed much of Petronius' message. The text of Satyricon has been patched together like Frankenstein's monster from various manuscripts each containing just a part of the whole. 4 of those manuscripts were written in the late 16th century, and just recently, Maria Salanitro has found what she believes are still more parts of the novel, contained in a 17th-century manuscript.

How much of the preponderance of 15th-century manuscripts -- assuming I'm correct in assuming it exists -- is due to an actual rise in the reading of ancient Latin Classics in the 15th-century, and how much is due to people being suddently much more careful to preserve manuscripts? I have no idea.

It was nice of Martin Wohlrab to list and comment on all 147 of the manuscripts of Plato which he could find, late in the 19th century, and it was also nice of the University of California to re-print his list

in the 21st century. Did Wohlrab include manuscripts of Latin translations of Plato (or translations into still other languages) in his list? I'm going to have to examine this list a little more closely and get back to you on that one. Were there ever very many manuscripts of Latin translations of Plato? Hey, that's another really swell question. I know that Latin translations of Plato were made after the invention of printing.

Are the numbers of manuscripts of Cicero or Vergil comparable to those of Aristotle? Another thing I really wish I knew.

Why do I care so much about it? Am I about to help these professors in their task of sorting out which manuscripts derive from which, by the process they call collation? No. Am I interested in the numbers of readers these authors have had? To be honest: only slightly. I think I care about these numbers of manuscripts because autism. (It would also be great if I could demonstrate that there are more manuscripts of one Classical author or another than of the Bible, but I suspect that the Bible-thumpers out there who're saying that there are only 20 manuscripts of Livy [There are hundreds. How many hundreds? I wish I knew. Hey, there might be thousands for all I know.], and so forth, have also drastically under-counted the total number of Biblical manuscripts.)

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 not 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 field 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 sometimes 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 in Western Europe, 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? [PS, 22 November 2017: I was wrong, Greenblatt does mention the Carolingian Renaissance: "In addition to the fifteenth-century Renaissance, there had been other moments of intense interest in antiquity, both throughout medieval Italy and in the kingdoms of the north, including the great Carolingian Renaissance of the ninth century" (p 116). Great, Greenblatt calls it -- but not great enough that Greenblatt describes it in any further detail. It only gets one other mention in the book, entirely in passing: "the time of Charlemagne, when there was a crucial burst of interest in ancient books" (p 12). "Moments." "a burst." Greenblatt implies that these times of interest in ancient Latin were so brief that if you blinked you might have missed them, the way that I missed Greenblatt's reference to the Carolingian Renaissance in my first reading of his book because, frankly, I was bored.]

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 a copy of 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



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"


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.