Sunday, July 31, 2011

SEVENTY-THIRD

A trip any of America's most common sit-down restaurants (Olive Garden, Chilis, TGI Friday's, others I don't know) gives the alienated city-dweller a quick sense of what middle America feels like. Here are lots of men wearing athletic shorts and t-shirts and mildly overweight people, tanned and slightly accented. Lots of sleeveless tops, lots of makeup on round faces.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

SEVENTY-SECOND

"Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days."

SEVENTY-FIRST

Tell him, all terms, all commerce I decline,

Nor share his council, nor his battle join;

For once deceiv’d, was his; but twice were mine,

No — let the stupid prince, whom Jove deprives

Of sense and justice, run where frenzy drives;

His gifts are hateful: kings of such a kind

Stand but as slaves before a noble mind,

Not though he proffer’d all himself possess’d,

And all his rapine could from others wrest:

Not all the golden tides of wealth that crown

The many-peopled Orchomenian town;

Not all proud Thebes’ unrivall’d walls contain,

The world’s great empress on the Egyptian plain

(That spreads her conquests o’er a thousand states,

And pours her heroes through a hundred gates,

Two hundred horsemen and two hundred cars

From each wide portal issuing to the wars);

Though bribes were heap’d on bribes, in number more

Than dust in fields, or sands along the shore;

Should all these offers for my friendship call,

’Tis he that offers, and I scorn them all.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

SEVENTIETH

A. SURELY MORTAL MAN IS A BROOMSTICK!

B. Something we've quoted before, but worth repeating:
"Again, for true love it is required that we will someone’s good as his good. For if we will someone’s good only in so far as it leads to the good of another, we love this someone by accident, just as he who wishes to store wine in order to drink it or loves a man so that this man may be useful or enjoyable to him, loves the wine or the man by accident, but essentially he loves himself. But God wills the good of each thing according as it is the good of each thing; for He wills each thing to be according as it is in itself good (although He likewise orders one thing to another’s use). God, then, truly loves Himself and other things." — SCG I.91.3

C. "And such some of you were; but you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of our God."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

SIXTY-NINTH

A. "Maude." "Yes, Mama?" "Never bear a humorous baby." "I shall endeavor not to, Mama."

B. "THIS single [broom]stick, which you now behold ingloriously lying in that neglected corner, I once knew in a flourishing state in a forest. It was full of sap, full of leaves, and full of boughs; but now in vain does the busy art of man pretend to vie with nature, by tying that withered bundle of twigs to its sapless trunk; it is now at best but the reverse of what it was, a tree turned upside-down, the branches on the earth, and the root in the air; it is now handled by every dirty wench, condemned to do her drudgery, and, by a capricious kind of fate, destined to make other things clean, and be nasty itself; at length, worn to the stumps in the service of the maids, it is either thrown out of doors or condemned to the last use — of kindling a fire. When I behold this I sighed, and said within myself, “Surely mortal man is a broomstick!” Nature sent him into the world strong and lusty, in a thriving condition, wearing his own hair on his head, the proper branches of this reasoning vegetable, till the axe of intemperance has lopped off his green boughs, and left him a withered trunk; he then flies to art, and puts on a periwig, valuing himself upon an unnatural bundle of hairs, all covered with powder, that never grew on his head; but now should this our broomstick pretend to enter the scene, proud of those birchen spoils it never bore, and all covered with dust, through the sweepings of the finest lady’s chamber, we should be apt to ridicule and despise its vanity. Partial judges that we are of our own excellencies, and other men’s defaults!But a broomstick, perhaps you will say, is an emblem of a tree standing on its head; and pray what is a man but a topsy-turvy creature, his animal faculties perpetually mounted on his rational, his head where his heels should be, grovelling on the earth? And yet, with all his faults, he sets up to be a universal reformer and corrector of abuses, a remover of grievances, rakes into every slut’s corner of nature, bringing hidden corruptions to the light, and raises a mighty dust where there was none before, sharing deeply all the while in the very same pollutions he pretends to sweep away. His last days are spent in slavery to women, and generally the least deserving; till, worn to the stumps, like his brother besom, he is either kicked out of doors, or made use of to kindle flames for others to warm themselves by."

Monday, July 25, 2011

SIXTY-EIGHTH

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes and ships and sealing wax,
Of cabbages and kings,
And why the sea is boiling-hot,
And whether pigs have wings."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

SIXTY-SEVENTH

What's that, you say? You want to start reading Aquinas but don't know what "matter" is? Or how "substance", "being", and "essence" differ? Well then! Two short essays and you'll be on your way:

Saturday, July 23, 2011

SIXTY-SIXTH

       The manifold mercy of God so assists men when they fall, that not only by the grace of baptism but also by the remedy of penitence is the hope of eternal life revived, in order that they who have violated the gifts of the second birth, condemning themselves by their own judgment, may attain to remission of their crimes, the provisions of the Divine Goodness having so ordained that God's indulgence cannot be obtained without the supplications of priests. For the Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, has transmitted this power to those that are set over the Church that they should both grant a course of penitence to those who confess, and, when they are cleansed by wholesome correction admit them through the door of reconciliation to communion in the sacraments. In which work assuredly the Saviour Himself unceasingly takes part and is never absent from those things, the carrying out of which He has committed to His ministers, saying: Lo, I am with you all the days even to the completion of the age (Matthew 28:20): so that whatever is accomplished through our service in due order and with satisfactory results we doubt not to have been vouchsafed through the Holy Spirit.
— St. Leo the Great, from Epistle 108. (11 June 452)

SIXTY-FIFTH

A. "Achillas answered, 'I could tell you that I would not do it because I had no time, and you would not be vexed. But if I did not do it for this monk, he would say, "The hermit has heard my bad reputation and for that reason has refused to make me a net." So immediately I set to work with the string, to soothe his soul and prevent him being sad.'"

B. "He had a look at the pictures. Some of them belonged to a school of art with which he was already familiar. There was a portrait of a young woman who held her mouth wide open to reveal the fact that the inside of it was thickly overgrown with hair. It was very skilfully painted in the photographic manner so that you could almost feel that hair; indeed you could not avoid feeling it however hard you tried. There was a giant mantis playing a fiddle while being eaten by another mantis, and a man with corkscrews instead of arms bathing in flat, sadly coloured sea beneath a summer sunset. But most of the pictures were not of this kind. At first, most of them seemed rather ordinary, though Mark was a little surprised at the predominance of scriptural themes. It was only at the second or third glance that one discovered certain unaccountable details—something odd about the positions of the figures' feet or the arrangement of their fingers or the grouping. And who was the person standing between the Christ and the Lazarus? And why were there so many beetles under the table in the Last Supper? What was the curious trick of lighting that made each picture look like something seen in delirium? When once these questions had been raised the apparent ordinariness of the pictures became their supreme menace—like the ominous surface innocence at the beginning of certain dreams. Every fold of drapery, every piece of architecture had a meaning one could not grasp but which withered the mind. Compared with these the other, surrealistic, pictures were mere foolery." — Lewis, That Hideous Strength, Ch.14

SIXTY-FOURTH

A. "The lover's discourse is usually a smooth envelope which encases the Image, a very gentle glove around the loved being. It is a devout, orthodox discourse. When the Image alters, the envelope of devotion rips apart; a shock capsizes my own language. Wounded by a remark he overhears, Werther suddenly sees Charlotte in the guise of a gossip, he includes her within the group of her companions with whom she is chattering (she is no longer the other, but one among others), and then says disdainfully: 'my good little women' (meine Weibchen). A blasphemy abruptly rises to the subject's lips and disrespectfully explodes the lover's benediction; he is possessed by a demon who speaks through his mouth, out of which emerge, as in the fairy tales, no longer flowers, but toads. Horrible ebb of the Image. (The horror of spoiling is even stronger than the anxiety of losing.)" — Barthes, Fragments of a Lover's Discourse, "Altération", paragraph 5

B. "Since I am guilty of this, of that, (I have—I assign myself—a thousand reasons for being so), I shall punish myself, I shall chasten my body: cut my hair very short, conceal my eyes behind dark glasses (a way of taking the veil), devote myself to the study of some serious and abstract branch of learning. I shall get up early and work while it is still dark outside, like a monk. I shall be very patient, a little sad, in a word, worthy, as suits a man of resentment. I shall (hysterically) signify my mourning (the mourning which I assign myself) in my dress, my haircut, the regularity of my habits. This will be a gentle retreat; just that slight degree of retreat necessary to the proper functioning of a discrete pathos." — ibid., "Askesis", paragraph 1

C. I mentioned Scarlett Johansson earlier. Apparently she's been recording music. (This may hurt.)

Friday, July 22, 2011

SIXTY-THIRD

A. In honor of the bagels which just emerged golden, puffy and toroidal from my oven, here's a quote from Thomas Mann about hating people:

B. "He could not stand it. He despised his brother so much that he would not allow him to love the things he loved. He would have much preferred to hear Christian speak of them in his Marcellus Stengel voice. Thomas had read a book, some historical work, that had made a strong impression on him, and he praised it in stirring words. Christian was impressionable and easily influenced, always depending on others for his views; he would never have found such a book on his own. But he read it now, and, having been primed and made receptive by Tom's praise of it, he found it quite splendid himself, describing his reactions as precisely as possible. And from that moment the book was spoiled for Tom. He spoke of it with cold disregard. He pretended that he had barely looked at it. He left it to his brother to admire it all by himself." — Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks, Part VI, Ch.2

SIXTY-SECOND

A. The alphabet in good (and sometimes great) movies. Many of these are not the best I could come up with for each letter (e.g. Ikiru beats Interiors), but I tried to give things a little variety, mixing commonplace classics with snobbish artsy types, and covering various major genres. Some letters are short on good stuff, but we do our best.
  1. Andrei Rublev: Tarkovsky's magnum opus. We watch a medieval monk's personal development over the course of several decades as he encounters various people and their problems. Demands more patience than you have. Incredibly beautiful. (5)
  2. Breakfast at Tiffany's: One of Ms. Hepburn's best performances. A writer turned kept-man helps a lost southern girl stop fleeing reality. Audrey's original performance of "Moon River" is better than any of the later covers of the song. (4)
  3. The Conversation: Gene Hackman plays a paranoid surveillance specialist afraid he's being used in a murder scheme. Directed by the great F.F. Coppola, this movie is simply brilliant. (5)
  4. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: Former playboy and editor of Elle ends up paralyzed except for one eyelid. We watch through his eye as he adjusts to his new life and comes to terms with his past. The camerawork in this movie does justice to the experience of human vision like none other (cf. the awkward p.o.v. effects in Being John Malkovich). Based on a book written by the protagonist. (5)
  5. Erin Brockovich: Thoroughly satisfying "triumph of the downtrodden" type movie. Leaves you feeling basically happy about life. (5)
  6. Forest Gump: 'E's and 'F's are rather poor on great movies, though this is a fine one. Mentally-otherwise-gifted young Alabaman finds his way across every major event in the second half of 20th century American history. (5)
  7. Groundhog Day: On the surface, just another sort of lame Bill Murray comedy, but when you think about it it's brilliant. So watch it a few times, and think about it. (5)
  8. High Noon: Gary Cooper has an hour (the movie passes in real time) to gather guns before an old bandit comes to town on the noon train. Well made, featuring Grace Kelly (always worth seeing), with good emotional buildup and satisfying conclusion. A civics lesson in 85 minutes. (5)
  9. Interiors: In that it falls short of actually being a Bergman film, this imitation of the Swede by Woody Allen is not unequivocally "great". Still, it remains an excellent tribute and the best replication of Bergman's style I know of in English. (I'm selling it short here. It's really good in its own right.) (4)
  10. Jules and Jim: A love triangle (and sometimes square) develops before and after WWI in France and Germany. We watch two quirky best friends as they try to deal with their shared love for Catherine (Jeanne Moreau). Circus-like directing and spectacular acting give this melodrama a self-conscious, distanced feel. The viewer can enjoy it right up to the tragic ending. (5)
  11. Kill Bill: In my opinion Q.T.'s greatest movie, this quest for revenge mixes samurai, western, and kung fu stereotypes in the most beautiful use of graphic violence I've ever seen. Good stuff. (4, 5)
  12. Lost in Translation: The 'L's are extremely competitive, but I'll stick with this accidental masterwork by Sofia Coppola. Best watched when you're feeling lonely. You'll enjoy it more the third time than the first, and still more the tenth and twentieth time. I have, anyway. Bill Murray plays a comically morose retired actor and Scarlett Johansson does a great job as a depressed post-grad. Pity her later career hasn't been this good. (5)
  13. A Man for All Seasons: St. Thomas More tries to avoid the chopping block. Lots of wit and moralizing ensues. Robert Bolt was a king among screenwriters, and this may be his best work. This film has only a few minor flaws, which I won't list, so the reader can enjoy it more. (5)
  14. Network: Not to be confused with Sandra Bullock's The Net (3), this prophetic 70s picture about the battle for ratings in the TV industry features an all-star cast (Peter Finch, Bill Holden, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall) and anticipates with eerie precision the trajectory of the television industry over the subsequent decades. (5)
  15. Ordinary People: Robert Redford directs this adaptation of the Judith Guest novel about a suicidal young man and his family. It is the best depiction of Chicago's North Shore not made by John Hughes (for the generation before Mean Girls [3]). Saying this forces one to realize how many movies have taken place between Lake Forest and Evanston in the past few decades, but this one is pretty great. Mary Tyler Moore plays a disturbed—but typical—north shore mom, Donald Sutherland the aloof tax attorney father, both trying to make sense of a recent loss. (4)
  16. Patton: Classic biopic features George C. Scott as one of the most iconic generals of the second world war. (4)
  17. The Queen*: This was a sort of mediocre portrait of Elizabeth II, but unfortunately it's the only thing I can think of that starts with 'Q'. Helen Mirren does a great job with her role, but honestly if you're going to make a movie about one of the longest reigning monarchs in the history of England you couldn't do much worse than to limit the plot to the death and funeral of her daughter-in-law. This movie is awful mostly because it could have been so much better. (3) [EDIT: I remembered Quills, but no movie that puts Sade in a positive light will make it onto this list.]
  18. Rear Window: This Hitchcock classic demonstrates that you can make a relatively low-budget movie with little action and only one (that's right, just one) location that will still knock every other thriller out of the water. If you're not hooked all the way through, there's something wrong with you. (5)
  19. Scenes from a Marriage: 'S' is easily the most competitive letter thus far, and Scenes from a Marriage wins mostly because we need to have some Bergman on this list. Scenes was my first Bergman experience and it will knock over anyone who has an ounce of reflectiveness with its intense grasp of human psychology and apt vision of betrayal and divorce. Liv Ulmann and Erland Josephson (Bergman's one-time wife and best friend, respectively) play a couple at six stages during the dissolution of their marriage.
  20. Toy Story 3: One of the greatest in Pixar's string of fantastic animated features, Toy Story 3 far outstrips the previous two installments in its cultural scope. A simple adventure plot is transformed into a commentary on totalitarianism, utopian politics, and the mechanics of tradition. If it featured live action people instead of animated toys, no one would mistake it for a mere children's movie. It would have made a great western. (5)
  21. Up in the Air: George Clooney is specialist at firing people who comes to terms with the downsides of American individualism. I don't like Jason Reitman very much (after all, he made Juno [2]), but George Clooney does a great job, and the thing has a good message and pleasant imagery. (5)
  22. Volver: A very good but by no means great film. Senor Almodóvar writes/directs this fine story about a mother (Penelope Cruz) whose old secrets seem to all come back to her at the same time—while she's trying to hide the body of her murdered husband. Fun stuff, visually pleasing, thoroughly engaging. (4)
  23. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: Classic adaptation of the Edward Albee play starring Liz Taylor and Richard Burton as a warring university couple who play a series of psychological "games" with their younger guests at an after-party. There's more sarcasm in these two hours than most people get in a decade. Fantastic, but not for the thin skinned. (5)
  24. X2: X-Men United*: This is the best of the original X-Men trilogy (which are the only movies I can think of beginning with 'X'). Where the original was too simplistic and the third was just stale, this one had a clever plot-arc and wasn't very predictable. (3)
  25. Yi Yi: This little-known film from the Taiwanese "new wave" depicts the lives of a family of five over the course of a year. Begins with a wedding and ends with a funeral. Sedate, human, lovely. (5)
  26. Zoolander*: Unfortunately the only movie I've seen that starts with 'Z', this piece of garbage features Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller playing male supermodels. Gross and unpleasant. (1) [EDIT: Based on its reputation, Z should probably be here, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.]

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

SIXTY-FIRST

A. Wrote a long explanation of what "essences" are after getting entangled in the wild jungle of the "Unequally Yoked" blog.

B. The comments linked to above were precipitated after I informed a rather unpleasant man that he is a rather unpleasant man. This was inadvisable, dear reader. Never call people names.

C. More entertainingly, the fellow in question explained to me that my idiocy and general manner of being are "why educated people tend to react to people like you as they do." Good to know why they do that.

SIXTIETH

A. Four last things:
  1. Death
  2. Judgment
  3. Heaven
  4. Hell
B.  King of all Thomistic premises:  Every agent acts so far as it is in act.

    Monday, July 18, 2011

    FIFTY-NINTH

    A. Some entertaining videos:
    1. (210) Tina Fey feels jilted after she's passed up on a bid for her dream apartment.
    2. (You Oughta Know) The horrendous song referenced in the above.
    3. (Immolation) Soprano Birgit Nilsson is presented with a horse during a recording session.
    B. In case you were in doubt, you should go acquire the full set of Solti's Ring des Niebelungen. Here's one good reason.

    C. A previous version of this post contained a horrifying error.

    FIFTY-EIGHTH

    A. Some reflections on reminiscence:
    1. The most poignant memories frequently involve feelings of nostalgia in themselves. So that we think longingly of an experience of longing.
    2. Primer on nostalgia: nostalgia = νόστος (return home) + ἄλγος (pain, grief).
    3. It is impossible for every experience of nostalgia to refer back to an earlier experience of nostalgia.
    4. The smell of the wood-pulp paper and cheap ink used in mass-market paperbacks is frequently enough in itself to make a memory last. Orwell, Salinger, Lewis and Tolkien are all deeply grounded in that scent. The peculiar ripple left behind around the letters used in such books is also distinctive. Not the cleanest print, but very solid.
    5. Pain is much easier to remember than joy.

    B. Some reminiscences:
    1. It's a warm autumn evening under compact flourescent bulbs and I am attempting to re-order my life. At the moment this consists of re-interpreting the order and significance of my books. This is a sacrifice, because I have invested so much in the specific ordering of those books. Each has a clear significance that can be placed in a continuous narrative. The line of books on my shelf, once an indirect portrait of my life, is being broken up to express an external order that is not actually held but aspired to. The stuff of memory is reshaped into that of desire. All this is heavily suffused with the smell of new mass-market paperbacks and a deep sense of anticipation.
    2. Anxiety strikes late on a summer night and I resolve to finish reading Dostoevsky's Demons before morning. The last hundred pages or so of the novel are agonizing. All the characters I identify with most die one by one.
    3. Tracing out the lines of tar patches on the playground, I find the roads they make, follow them to their limits. Looking around, I recognize the distinctions between groups of peers, but don't understand how they fit together. For the moment it is more amusing to walk in circles or explore the hidden paths everyone else ignores.
    4. The feeling of potential when I think about the relationships between people. The structures employed shift over the years: early on there are only vague clusters which do not intermingle; later, the idea of governance is introduced; by age 11 there is a clear sense of social strata, determined less by "popularity" than by cliquish exclusiveness. Relations within and between the separate strata become a point of great interest and I think about it in a grim, helpless way from the swing set.

    FIFTY-SEVENTH

    A. Poetic success depends on the ability to draw connections between sounds which are simultaneously acoustically pleasing, grammatically acceptable, metaphorically appropriate, and linguistically unusual. Which is to say, really good poetry has the acoustic appeal of a nursery rhyme and the grammatical coherence of ordinary prose, while embellishing both of these with conceptual harmonies (usually via metaphor) and substantial subject matter (which I take to directly imply linguistic uncommonness—this point is shaky and complicated, I'll admit). And, most importantly, good poetry is true.

    B. Concerning Rilke. My attitude toward the early 20th century German poet Rainer Maria Rilke has varied considerably over the past three years. At the beginning of my Sophomore year of college, Rilke was associated with a good friend from high school, who had recommended Letters to a Young Poet, and my favorite professor, who insisted that the beauty of his poetry would make mastering the German language more than worthwhile. (He was right.) On the whole, I've spent more time loving Rilke than hating him, but, as with any old friend, it has been necessary to exercise prudence in affection. Love should be ordered to right reason, and prudence requires us to beware the negative influence of our friends' vices. (...while not disowning the friend on their account.) In Rilke's case there's a lot to beware of. A cursory look at his biography shows that he was a far from honorable person. Additionally, though he uses Christian imagery and typology extensively, he frequently veers into fuzzy spiritualism, flirts (and later on much more than flirts) with a variety of nihilism, and has an overblown view of the significance of The Artist. It is for this reason that I warn all of you away from the Letters to a Young Poet. I've seen my share of "young poets" chomp down on Rilke's bait and get dragged into the grim depths of earnest inwardness and that irritating catchphrase: "openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything."

    FIFTY-SIXTH

    Rough translation (my own) of 55.C:
    You are so great that I already cease to be
    if I merely place myself near you.
    You are so dark; my little brightness
    beside your fringe is insignificant.
    Your will goes forth like a wave
    and every day drowns in it.

    Only my deep yearning juts forth up to your chin
    and stands before you as the greatest of all angels:
    a stranger, pale and yet unsaved,
    and his wings make you delay.

    He no longer wants the shoreless flight,
    upon which the moons palely swam by,
    and of the worlds he knows at last enough.
    He wants, with his wings like flames,
    to stand before your shadowed face
    and means to see by their white glow
    whether your gray brows damn him.

    Sunday, July 17, 2011

    FIFTY-FIFTH

    A. "He was waiting for the Geranium. They put it out every morning about ten and they took it in at five-thirty."

    B. Rilke points out aptly that the first man to die was murdered.

    C. Some Rilke:
    Du bist so groß, daß ich schon nicht mehr bin,
    wenn ich mich nur in deine Nähe stelle.
    Du bist so dunkel; meine kleine Helle
    an deinem Saum hat keinen Sinn.
    Dein Wille geht wie eine Welle
    und jeder Tag ertrinkt darin.

    Nur meine Sehnsucht ragt dir bis ans Kinn
    und steht vor dir wie aller Engel größter:
    ein fremder, bleicher und noch unerlöster,
    und hält dir seine Flügel hin.

    Er will nicht mehr den uferlosen Flug,
    an dem die Monde blaß vorüberschwammen,
    und von den Welten weiß er längst genug.
    Mit seinen Flügeln will er wie mit Flammen
    vor deinem schattigen Gesichte stehn
    und will bei ihrem weißen Scheine sehn,
    ob deine grauen Brauen ihn verdammen.
    — from Das Stunden-Buch: Vom Mönchischen Leben

    FIFTY-FOURTH

    A. "Philip was—is—not a type. He is a most curious and complicated person. We said he was wet and held him in contempt; but he was far more dangerous than any of us. I was a prince and Johnny was a prince. We had rival gangs and the issue of battle always hung in doubt between us. I think with rueful amusement of those two barbaric chieftains, so innocent and simple, who dismissed Philip as a wet. Philip is a living example of natural selection. He was as fitted to survive in this modern world as a tapeworm in an intestine. I was a prince and so was Johnny. Philip debated with himself and chose me. I thought he had become my henchman but really he was my Machiavelli. With infinite care and a hysterical providence for his own safety, Philip became my shadow. Living near the toughest of the lot he was protected. Since he was so close, I could not run after him and my hunting reflexes were not triggered off. Timorous, cruel, needing company yet fearing it, weak of flesh yet fleet of fear, clever, complex, never a child—he was my burden, my ape, my flatterer. He was, perhaps, to me, something of what I had been to Evie. He listened and pretended to believe. I was not quite the fantasist that Evie was; my stories were excess of life, not compensation. Secret societies, exploration, detectives, Sexton Blake—"with a roar the huge car lept forward"—he pretended to believe them all and wove himself nearer and round me. The fists and the glory were mine; but I was his fool, his clay. He might be bad at fighting but he knew something that none of the rest of us knew. He knew about people." — Golding, Free Fall, pp.48-49 in my edition

    B. This is actually the Fifty-Third entry, since through an oversight I never wrote a Fiftieth. This is, of course, simply how these things work. No attempt at a correction will be made.

    Friday, July 15, 2011

    FIFTY-THIRD

    A. I needn't have existed. But once God created me, it is proper for him to love me, because I am, and insofar as I have being, I resemble him: the more I am, the closer I resemble him. So the extent to which I have being is undeserved, but the extent to which, having being, I am loved, is totally deserved.

    B. "Prudence is an intellectual habit enabling us to see in any given juncture of human affairs what is virtuous and what is not, and how to come at the one and avoid the other. According to St. Thomas (II-II, Q. xlvii, a. 8) it is its function to do three things:
    1. to take counsel, i.e. to cast about for the means suited in the particular case under consideration to reach the end of any one moral virtue;
    2. to judge soundly of the fitness of the means suggested; and, finally,
    3. to command their employment.
    If these are to be done well they necessarily exclude remissness and lack of concern; they demand the use of such diligence and care that the resultant act can be described as prudent, in spite of whatever speculative error may have been at the bottom of the process."

    C. Five signs of authentic self-love, (according to Cajetan):
    1. To want to live a spiritual life in accord with right reason
    2. To want to develop within this life the good of virtue
    3. To want to act so as to realize this
    4. To be free of anxiety
    5. To want to get along peacefully with others.

    Thursday, July 14, 2011

    FIFTY-SECOND

    A.  Some points of advice on how to study well, given by pseudo-Thomas Aquinas:
    1. Be slow to speak, and slow to go to the conversation room.
    2. Embrace purity of conscience.
    3. Do not give up spending time in prayer.
    4. Love spending much time in your cell, if you want to be led into the wine cellar.
    5. Show yourself amiable to all.
    6. Do not query at all what others are doing.
    7. Do not be very familiar with anyone, because familiarity breeds contempt, and provides matter for distracting you from study.
    8. Do not get involved at all in the discussions and affairs of lay people.
    9. Avoid conversations about all any and every matter.
    10. Do not fail to imitate the example of good and holy men.
    11. Do not consider who the person is you are listening to, but whatever good he says commit to memory.
    12. Whatever you are doing and hearing try to understand. Resolve doubts, and put whatever you can in the storeroom of your mind, like someone wanting to fill a container.
    13. Do not spend time on things beyond your grasp. 
    B.  I wonder regularly whether an evolutionary account of human "creation" isn't ultimately incompatible with Christian Orthodoxy.  In any case, it seems incompatible with the Church Fathers.

    FIFTY-FIRST

    A.  Hayao Miyazaki:

    1. My Neighbor Totoro:  Two little girls move to the country with their father and discover a magical fluffy spirit living in a tree nearby.  Low on plot, but vaguely nice, and well-animated. (3)
    2. Sprited Away:  On a rode trip, a girl and her parents come across an old ruin and stop to explore it.  After her parents vanish, the girl is left to fend for herself in a city of frightening spirits, and help solve a mystery that will restore proper order to things.  Really an excellent film. (4)
    3. Ponyo:  A little boy catches a goldfish in the ocean and takes care of it, only to find out that it's a sea princess.  Top-notch children's movie.  For what it is, it could scarcely be better. (4)
    4. Howl's Moving Castle:  Don't remember this one very well.  There's a girl, and some sort of wizard, and a house that walks around, and she ends up healing him somehow.  It's sort of strange and based on an english-language children's fantasy novel. (2)
    B.  Akira Kurosawa (haven't seen very many)
    1. Seven Samurai:  After bandits inform a peasant village that they will return at the end of the harvest to steal all their grain, the peasants recruit seven samurai to defend them.  One of the longest movies I've seen, also one of the best.  Great acting and a plot that engages on multiple levels. (5)
    2. Rashomon:  A man tells the story of murder in a forest from the perspective of three different wittnesses.  In each account the shape of events is radically different.  What really happened? Sort of tedious and only really interesting from a po-mo perspective.  (3)
    3. Ikiru:  An old man finds out he will soon die of stomach cancer and sets out to find the meaning of life. Brilliant, wonderful. (5)

    Tuesday, July 12, 2011

    FORTY-NINTH

    A.  Google's desire not to be evil is well-demonstrated by the fact that when you open Chrome for the first time, it asks you which search engine you would like to use.

    B.  Concerning Buster Keaton:
    1. The Navigator:  By a freak accident, two aristocratic ex-lovers end up alone at sea on board a small cruise ship.  Much hilarity ensues as they attempt to feed themselves, run the ship, etc.  Great movie.  (Yes, it's silent.) (5)
    2. College:  Nerdy fellow is told by his lady friend that she won't take him until he demonstrates some athletic skill. (4)
    3. The General: Engineer who can't enlist in the Confederate Army helps the south in a series of dramatic train chases.  Entertaining, but not terribly funny. Critics today love this one, but it was a flop when it came out. I can see why.  (3)
    C.  Tina Fey is awesome.  I would like a doughnut.

    Saturday, July 9, 2011

    FORTY-EIGHTH

    A.  Some "BA-" movies.
    1. Babette's Feast — A memorial feast for the local minister serves as the occasion for reminiscences and a display of generosity on the part of an old french maidservant.  Danish. (5)
    2. Baby's Day Out — Infant child of millionaires crawls his way out of trouble when a group of criminals try to kidnap and ransom him.  Idiotic waste of time.  Think Mouse Hunt, but with a baby, and worse acting. (1)
    3. Bambi — Dare I say I can't remember what happens in Bambi?  There's a fire, I believe, and a hunter.  More than that I cannot say. (?)
    4. Bandits — Sort of mediocre bank robbery movie, with a (clever) final twist stolen from the classic The Sting. starring Billy Bob, Bruce Willis, and Cate Blanchett. (2)
    5. Barbershop — One day in the life of a South Side Chicago barbershop.  I enjoyed it. (3)
    6. BASEketball — An abomination starring the creators of South Park.  Trash, utter trash. (1)
    7. Batman — Tim Burton's classic take on the hero, with Jack Nicholson as an iconic Joker.  Quite good.  Gotham is perfect for Burton's aesthetic style. (3)
    8. The Battle of Algiers — Old french dramatization of the Algerian struggle for independence.  Filmed on location only a few years after the fact. (3)
    B.  Do you know the muffin man?  Not sure why this is so funny, but it is.

    FORTY-SEVENTH

    A.  "...according to the philosophers, it is impossible to proceed to infinity in the order of efficient causes which act together at the same time, because in that case the effect would have to depend on an infinite number of actions simultaneously existing. And such causes are essentially infinite, because their infinity is required for the effect caused by them. On the other hand, in the sphere of non-simultaneously acting causes, it is not, according to the partisans of the perpetual generation theory, impossible to proceed to infinity. And the infinity here is accidental to the causes; thus, it is accidental to Socrates’ father that he is another man’s son or not. But it is not accidental to the stick, in moving the stone, that it be moved by the hand; for the stick moves just so far as it is moved."  —  SCG II.38.13

    B.  The above clarifies the prime mover argument for God's existence.  The series of chapters from which it's taken is strikingly similar to Kant's antinomies.  Aquinas's arguments are generally more persuasive, though, as are his solutions.

    Friday, July 8, 2011

    FORTY-SIXTH

    The craftsman experiences the consumption and use of his produce as a kind of love: by loving what he has made, people indirectly love him (since his likeness is in the works of his art, however indirectly).  It follows that commerce can be a kind of friendship.

    FORTY-FIFTH

    A.  Midway through Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Rowling drops the reader a hint.  "Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi."  Which is another way of saying "don't get too fixated on what happens here—it isn't real".

    B.  Purity of heart is to will one thing.

    C.  Megamind, with voice acting by Will Ferrel and Tina Fey, deserved more success than it got.  A clever spin on the comic book hero trope, with a plot based in solid moral principles.  You should see it. (4)

    D.  Rowling undoes her good hint at the end of Book VII, when Dumbledore tacitly endorses idealism during Harry's dream sequence.

    Thursday, July 7, 2011

    FORTY-FOURTH

    A.  "All those who say that the angels are creators of any substance whatever have the devil as their father, for no creatures in existence are creators." — St. John Damascene, De fide orthodoxa, II, 3

    B.  This contradicts Tolkien's supposed idea of "subcreation", by which God delegates aspects of creation to creatures.  But, as Aquinas explains in SCG II.21, there can be no instrumental causes in the act of creation.  So much for that.  Of course, it's more likely that this whole "subcreation" business is just a misconstrual of Tolkien's intent.  What the Valar (forgive the extreme nerdiness of this discussion) do doesn't obviously involve the creation of prime matter out of nothing, but the forming from some preexisting being ("Eä") of particular objects with specific natures (plants, trees, mountains, dwarves, etc.).  The inability of the Valar to "subcreate" is made clear by the fact that the dwarves are effectively beasts until the divinity intervenes and gives intelligent (and therefore subsistent) souls.

    C.  "Moreover, according to the Philosopher, “it is the office of a wise man to set things in order.” For things can be ordered only by knowing their relation and proportion to one another, and to something higher, which is their end; for the order of certain things to one another is for the sake of their order to an end. But only a being endowed with intellect is capable of knowing the mutual relations and proportions of things; and to judge of certain things by the highest cause is the prerogative of wisdom. All ordering, therefore, is necessarily effected by means of the wisdom of a being endowed with intelligence. Even so, in the world of the mechanical arts, the planners of buildings are called the wise men of their craft. Now, the things produced by God have a mutual order among themselves which is not fortuitous, since this order is observed always or for the most part. That God brought things into being by ordering them is thus evident. Therefore, God brought things into being by His wisdom."  —  SCG II.24.4

    Tuesday, July 5, 2011

    FORTY-THIRD

    A.  Citizen Kane improved on my second viewing.  A healthy psychological grand survey of a man's life, with great acting by Orson Welles.  It may not be the greatest film ever made, but I recommend it.  By the way, knowing what Rosebud is in advance won't ruin the movie.  As a character says at the end, it's just another piece of the jigsaw puzzle that made up the man's life. (4)

    B.  Moreover, blessedness consists in the perfect operation of the intellect, as has been shown. But no other intellectual operation can compare with God’s operation. 11is is evident not only because it is a subsistent operation but also because by one operation God knows Himself as perfectly as He is perfect, as well as all other things, those that are and those that are not, the good and the evil. But in all other beings with an intellect, the operation of the intellect is not itself subsistent, but the act of something subsistent. Nor, again, is God Himself, Who is the highest intelligible, understood by anyone as perfectly as He is perfect, since the being of no thing is as perfect as the divine being, nor can the operation of any being be more perfect than its substance. Nor, still, is there another intellect that knows also all the things that God can make, for then it would comprehend the divine power. And even as to the things that another intellect knows, it does not know them all by one and the same operation. God, therefore, is blessed above all things beyond compare.



    FORTY-SECOND

    A.  Title cards 11-17 from Buster Keaton's College (4):
    HEADMASTER:  "Ronald will now speak on the 'Curse of Athletics'."
    RONALD:  "The secret of getting a medal like mine is —— books not sports.  The student who wastes his time on athletics rather than study shows only ignorance.   Future generations depend upon brains and not upon jumping the discus or hurdling the javelin. What have Ty Ruth or Babe Dempsey done for Science? Where would I be without my books?"
    MARY:  "Your speech was ridiculous.  Anyone prefers an athlete to a weak-knee'd, teachers' pet."
    B.  College comes highly recommended, especially to those of us who have ever considered giving speeches on "the curse of athletics".  Keaton's character spends most of the fill trying to become a jock (and failing).

    C.  From Wikipedia:
    Some one quarter of the patients seeking professional advice on bad breath suffer from a highly exaggerated concern of having bad breath, known as halitophobia, delusional halitosis, or as a manifestation of Olfactory Reference Syndrome. These patients are sure that they have bad breath, although many have not asked anyone for an objective opinion. Halitophobia may severely affect the lives of some 0.5–1.0% of the adult population.

    Monday, July 4, 2011

    FORTY-FIRST

    A.  Again, for true love it is required that we will someone’s good as his good. For if we will someone’s good only in so far as it leads to the good of another, we love this someone by accident, just as he who wishes to store wine in order to drink it or loves a man so that this man may be useful or enjoyable to him, loves the wine or the man by accident, but essentially he loves himself. But God wills the good of each thing according as it is the good of each thing; for He wills each thing to be according as it is in itself good (although He likewise orders one thing to another’s use). God, then, truly loves Himself and other things.  —  SCG I.91.3

    B.  The cynic finds a selfish motive in every action:  
    —He helped her when she was struggling.
    "He just wanted her to like him."
    —She gave all her money to the poor.
    "She just wanted to be praised for her generosity."
    —He sacrificed his life for his company.
    "What is self-sacrifice but a fruit of romantic self-aggrandizement?"
    C.  In God, however, the cynic can find no ulterior motive.  Why?  Because, since God is infinitely good and lacks no perfection, nothing outside of his own being can benefit God.  A fairly common misunderstanding of creation claims that God made us so we would praise him, as if to say that God somehow profits from our existence by means of the praise we render him.  This is false, though.  If the end of human life is to know, love and serve God, and God wills this for us, then he wills it for our benefit and not for his.  If God, in Christ, purchased us from Satan on the cross, he did so not in order to profit from the exchange, but as a free gift to us.  Creation is for the benefit of the created, because the goodness of the creator is so great that he delights in sharing himself.

    Sunday, July 3, 2011

    FORTIETH

    A.  The necessity of supposition in the cause, moreover, does not require an absolute necessity in the effect. But God wills something in the creature, not by absolute necessity, but only by a necessity of supposition, as was shown above. From the divine will, therefore, an absolute necessity in created things cannot be inferred. But only this excludes contingency, for even the contingents open to opposites are made necessary by supposition: for example, that Socrates be moved, if he runs, is necessary. Therefore, the divine will does not exclude contingency from the things it wills.  Hence, it does not follow, if God wills something, that it will of necessity take place. But this conditional is true and necessary: If God wills something, it will be. But the consequent does not have to be necessary.  —  SCG I.85.5-6

    B.  Let "n(X)" mean "it is necessary that X", where X is some statement.  Consider the difference between the following:

    • G --> n(X)
    • n(G --> X)

    Friday, July 1, 2011

    THIRTY-NINTH

    A. Israël autem diligebat Joseph super omnes filios suos, eo quod in senectute genuisset eum : fecitque ei tunicam polymitam. Videntes autem fratres ejus quod a patre plus cunctis filiis amaretur, oderant eum, nec poterant ei quidquam pacifice loqui. Accidit quoque ut visum somnium referret fratribus suis : quæ causa majoris odii seminarium fuit.  Dixitque ad eos : Audite somnium meum quod vidi : putabam nos ligare manipulos in agro : et quasi consurgere manipulum meum, et stare, vestrosque manipulos circumstantes adorare manipulum meum. Responderunt fratres ejus : Numquid rex noster eris? aut subjiciemur ditioni tuæ? Hæc ergo causa somniorum atque sermonum, invidiæ et odii fomitem ministravit.

    B.  Can you win at nim?