Monday, December 22, 2014

Music for Christmas II



Bing Crosby and David Bowie, "Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth".

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Fortnightly Books Index

December 7: First, Second, Third, and Fourth Maccabees
Introduction, Review, Supplementary Timeline

November 23: Max Beerbohm, Zuleika Dobson
Introduction, Review

November 9: Marjorie McIntyre, The River Witch
Introduction, Review

October 26: Yevgeny Zamyatin, We; and Ayn Rand, Anthem
Introduction, Review

October 12: J. Michael Straczynski, Demon Night
Introduction, Review

September 28: Bret Harte, Tales of the Gold Rush
Introduction, Review

September 14: Sigrid Undset, Catherine of Siena
Introduction, Review

August 31: Taylor Caldwell, Never Victorious, Never Defeated
Introduction, Review

August 17: Friedrich von Schiller, William Tell
Introduction, Review

August 3: Shusaku Endo, Silence
Introduction, Review, Supplementary Timeline

July 20: Eugenia Price, The Beloved Invader
Introduction, Review

July 6: Beowulf; and J. R. R. Tolkien, "Sellic Spell"
Introduction, Review

June 15: Alexander Solzenitsyn, August 1914
Introduction, Review

May 11: Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Introduction, Review

April 27: Dorothy Sayers, Have His Carcase
Introduction, Review

April 13: Louisa May Alcott, A Long Fatal Love Chase
Introduction, Review

March 30: Willa Cather, My Antonia
Introduction, Review

March 16: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust
Introduction, Review

March 2: Czenzi Ormonde, Solomon and the Queen of Sheba
Introduction, Review

February 9: Joseph Bedier, The Romance of Tristan & Iseult
Introduction, Review

January 26: Honore de Balzac, Eugenie Grandet
Introduction, Review

January 5: James Fenimore Cooper, The Spy
Introduction, Review


Fortnightly Books Index for 2012-2013

Music for Christmas I



Pentatonix, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel".

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Battle of Five Armies

I went and saw The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies yesterday, and have been thinking since of what I might say about it. I don't really have anything extensive to say, but here are some assorted thoughts.

(1) It is massively better than the second movie. They wrapped up the fan fiction material (Bard's family, Tauriel the Largely Useless Romantic Interest, Alfred the Snivelly, and Azog the Defiler -- there really is a remarkable amount of it) somewhat better than I expected. Martin Freeman crying over Thorin, and the dwarves paying their final respects, would in itself cover many sins, and I heard people sniffling all over the theater at that point. As with the previous ones, the acting is actually fairly good, even with the badly written made-up parts.

(2) There are two ways in which they certainly should have gone with the books. (Always important to remember that, despite the name, these movies are not The Hobbit but prequels to the Lord of the Rings movies.) First, Fili and Kili. The book is very, very clear: Fili and Kili do not survive because they die defending Thorin Oakenshield "with shield and body". Fili's death is entirely wasted here, and while they do OK with Kili's death, in no way is it better than the death he has in the book.

Second, the assault on Dol Guldur, while mildly interesting, is very low-key when it should have been rather impressive. Why in the world the White Council would assault the Necromancer on their own when two of them have direct command of formidable Elven troops with literally millenia of experience in fighting dark forces is beyond me. And what is more, the books, brief as they are about it, are clear enough that Saruman used siege engines against the Necromancer, and that his war machinery was a major factor in the White Council's success. It was not only disappointing in itself that this was dropped, but it was a missed opportunity: As a prequel to the Lord of the Rings movies, what really needed to be shown was how terrible a military foe Saruman can be.

(3) There are some points where they probably should have gone with the book, but did OK with their different direction. The death of Kili was one -- it worked out fine as they did it, but there was really no particular reason to do it the way they did it. The dragon-sickness issue ended working well; it was a bit overplayed, but they were at least smart enough to realize that, if they were going to put this sort of emphasis on it, they should at least point out explicitly that Bilbo is resistant to this sort of domination of mind. The changes made in Thorin's death did not make it better, but due to some excellent acting and reasonable balance, they did not make it worse, which would have ruined the trilogy in and of itself. I wasn't hugely impressed with how they handled one of the most memorable lines of the book -- "The Eagles are coming!" -- but at least it wasn't badly botched. Bard doesn't strike me as very like his book counterpart, but he actually ends up being a very good character.

There was one change they made that was very, very good -- the acorn, which made the point that needed to be made, clearly, quietly, simply, and did so effectively enough that the theme of home was emphasized despite all of the many things going on.

(4) Rather curiously, most of the outright mistakes were special effects failures. Who in their right mind would ever have thought that the negative was a good effect for Galadriel? It was stupid in the LOTR movies and it was just as awful here. Some of the special effects for Thorin's mental state could have been done without. The earth-eaters were, I think, a less impressive effect than they were hoping.

Pacing has been a problem throughout; the pacing is much better here, but it seems clear that some of the things at the beginning of the movie should have been in the previous movie.

One of the other outright mistakes was the Elves leaping over the Dwarves in battle, which is such an extraordinarily, jaw-droppingly stupid tactical move that it would have made more sense if it were done with Radagast's rabbits than with Elves who have been fighting orcs for centuries. And it was right after one of the really great moves. Jackson does not actually handle battle scenes very well -- one recalls the often awful handling of the battle in front of Minas Tirith -- but the Dwarves phalanxing and forming a shield wall was genuinely good and awesome. The moment was ripe for the Elves to flank the orcs, crushing them between the two armies. Instead the Elves decided to crush themselves between the Dwarves and the Orcs and force the Dwarves to break their tactically excellent line, all in order to have a fake-awesome moment.

This has, indeed, been a running problem with Peter Jackson: the inability to tell the difference between awesome and fake-awesome.

(5) Some things I liked: the acting, as I mentioned, was good all around. I liked the acorn scene. I liked how much of the stuff to do with Laketown, and its uncertain future after Smaug's attack, was handled. As with the other movies, sometimes the little details are excellent. And it did fairly well overall as the final act in the prequel series to Jackson's LOTR movies. Some of the jokes were reasonably good in this one.

(6) There are two ways in which this movie can be evaluated: relative to the books and solely qua movie. Is this a great adaptation of the book? No, although, again, this is the best and least flabby of the three, and massively better than the second. That's unfortunate, in many ways. There was so much potential that was squandered, and there's really very little chance of another serious attempt for a good thirty years. There have in the three movies been three episodes, however, that were very much worth seeing on the screen: Bilbo and Gollum in the riddle game in the first one, the unfortunately brief bit of Bilbo rescuing the Dwarves from the dungeons of the Elf-King (at least when they are actually still in the dungeons), and Bilbo at the death of Thorin here. All of them are reasonably well done.

I think it fares much better if we ask, "If we forget that this movie is adapting Tolkien, sometimes well but often badly, and just consider whether it stands up as a movie, how well does it do?" I think this third offering stands up fairly well by such a standard; it actually ends up being more coherent than a lot of movies these days, and it has a better message and deeper feel than most big-effects movies ever do. The acting saves an immense amount. Martin Freeman, again, is excellent. Richard Armitage did brilliantly with a somewhat oddly written character path. It does most of the movie-prequel things quite well. I was worried about the score in the beginning, but overall it turned out quite well. And one thing that may not come out in any of what I've said above is that the emotional balance of the movie is for the most part quite good -- we get genuinely funny, genuinely sad, genuinely heartfelt, genuinely silly, and so forth in about the right proportions for a movie this length, so that it actually does well on one common standard against which movies are measured: unlike the previous film, it did not drag, and it stayed interesting.

First, Second, Third, and Fourth Maccabees

Introduction

Opening Passage: The opening passage of 1 Maccabees does a good job in laying the groundwork for them all.

After Alexander son of Philip, the Macedonian, who came from the land of Kittim, had defeated Darius, king of the Persians and the Medes, he succeeded him as king. (He had previously become king of Greece.) He fought many battles, conquered strongholds, and put to death the kings of the earth. He advanced to the ends of the earth, and plundered many nations. When the earth became quiet before him, he was exalted, and his heart was lifted up. He gathered a very strong army and ruled over countries, nations, and princes, and they became tributary to him. After this he fell sick and perceived that he was dying. So he summoned his most honored officers, who had been brought up with him from youth, and divided his kingdom among them while he was still alive. And after Alexander had reigned twelve years, he died. Then his officers began to rule, each in his own place. They all put on crowns after his death, and so did their sons after them for many years; and they caused many evils on the earth. From them came forth a sinful root, Antiochus Epiphanes, son of Antiochus the king; he had been a hostage in Rome. He began to reign in the one hundred and thirty-seventh year of the kingdom of the Greeks. In those days lawless men came forth from Israel, and misled many, saying, "Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles round about us, for since we separated from them many evils have come upon us."

Summary: We can think about the differences between the four Maccabean books in part by seeing them as taking four different approaches to history, which we might call political, theological, legendary, and philosophical, each of which has an important place in how we understand history.

1 Maccabees is closest to what we would usually think of as a historical work, because what we tend to think of as historical objectivity is primarily a sort of political sobriety in partisan matters. There is some evidence of occasional reordering of events for narrative convenience, the numbers are usually not conservative estimates, and the author is not afraid to make an evaluation, but in most matters it is a very restrained narrative. There are clear heroes and villains in the narrative, but the assessment of each is balanced and restrained, because the author is giving an account of the rise of the Hasmonean dynasty that recognizes some of its political and moral weaknesses as well as the heroism that made it possible in the first place.

The author only refers to God indirectly. He will occasionally use the word Heaven (ouranos) when he has to for narrative purposes, but usually he will only allude to God by a brief Scriptural reference, or, on occasion, will intimate God's work by a narrative juxtaposition. It would be a mistake, however, to think of it as a purely or even mostly secular narrative; the author's devotion infuses the entire work. The time of the Maccabees is a time without prophets (9:27), but memory of the prophets is fundamental to their society (9:54) and the return of prophets is anticipated (4:46). The time is for practical work and restoration, with the restoration of the Temple as the central pillar of this work. The Jewish people have to find a way both to survive and to remain who they are. If you are attacked on the sabbath, do you defend yourself? What do you do with Hellenizing Jews who are collaborating with the enemy and are systematically persecuting those who remain faithful to Hebrew ways? I think this is in a great measure the reason why the author is unapologetic about the Maccabean ways of doing things: everything, absolutely everything, is a life-and-death decision. If they make a mistake, evaluating it has to take into account the context, in which Jewish life is being systematically destroyed on several fronts. If they rise to the occasion, they are true heroes and moral exemplars. And either way, they are preserving their people and fortifying them against the forces that would destroy them.

2 Maccabees presents itself as an epitome of a larger work by Jason of Cyrene, and explicitly states its basic approach to history:

All this, which has been set forth by Jason of Cyrene in five volumes, we shall attempt to condense into a single book. For considering the flood of numbers involved and the difficulty there is for those who wish to enter upon the narratives of history because of the mass of material, we have aimed to please those who wish to read, to make it easy for those who are inclined to memorize, and to profit all readers. For us who have undertaken the toil of abbreviating, it is no light matter but calls for sweat and loss of sleep, just as it is not easy for one who prepares a banquet and seeks the benefit of others. However, to secure the gratitude of many we will gladly endure the uncomfortable toil, leaving the responsibility for exact details to the compiler, while devoting our effort to arriving at the outlines of the condensation. For as the master builder of a new house must be concerned with the whole construction, while the one who undertakes its painting and decoration has to consider only what is suitable for its adornment, such in my judgment is the case with us. It is the duty of the original historian to occupy the ground and to discuss matters from every side and to take trouble with details, but the one who recasts the narrative should be allowed to strive for brevity of expression and to forego exhaustive treatment.

And at the end of the book he notes that a readable style has been one of his primary goals.

The book is not a mere popularization, though, since it is utterly uninterested in the Hasmonean dynasty itself, and throughout has a clear and well-developed theme: the Sovereignty of God. The question put to the Jews in the Maccabean era is precisely one of sovereignty, and the author holds that those who went after Greek ways and sought Greek prestige failed to recognize that God was their true sovereign. The Maccabean martyrs, and later Judah Maccabee, succeed entirely because they recognize God as sovereign in authority. And sovereignty is connected with another theme in the book, that of the future resurrection of the dead, which is, as it were, the chief expression of divine sovereignty; acceptance of it is essential to proper recognition of the divine authority, and what really divides the Hellenizers from the Hebrews, and the Gentiles from the Hebrews, is that the latter recognize it and act according to it. This is the underlying idea of what is perhaps the most famous passage of the book (12:41-45), in which Judah Maccabee prays for the dead and makes atonement for them. He does it because he recognizes that the resurrection of the dead is not just an abstract thesis but a practical dividing line now between those who recognize the sovereignty of God and those who refuse to recognize it, or else only give it lip service; what makes it a "holy and pious thought" is that its very character is a recognition of God's absolute sovereignty. The entire book is a reflection on the nature of divine providence.

3 Maccabees is a boisterous tale of a different persecution in Egypt. It is storytelling, plain and simple. Bits and pieces of the tale seem to go back to historical events, but the author is relating folk legends, not rigorous history, and seems to delight in the craziness of the whole story. Ptolemy Philopator happens to win a few battles that bring Jerusalem with in his sphere of control, and he visits to see the sights. The sight he really wants to see is the Holy of Holies in the Jewish temple, but for obvious reasons the Jews are not wholly amenable to this kind of tourism. When he attempts to enter despite their insistence that he not do it, they pray to God, who humiliates the king by beating the king around with a whirlwind. The king is savvy enough to realize that he had better desist, but, humiliated, he goes back home hatching plans to humiliate and destroy the Jews -- branding them with the sign of Dionysus, taxing them, eliminating their rights as citizens and killing those who object, while dangling the lure of full citizenship if they will only join in the Alexandrian mysteries. While some people give in to the temptation, the king finds that the Jews are largely unmoved by this complex program; carrot and stick are just not enough. The Jews go out of their way to make clear that they are still loyal to the king, but they refuse to give up their Jewish ways, and are even getting some sympathetic help and protection from a few of the Greeks of the city, who, however, are not numerous enough to do more than help here and there at the individual level.

In order to destroy the Jews entirely, the king orders a census taken of all the Jews in the kingdom. This proceeds apace until the scribes come to him and tell him that they have run out of paper -- in Egypt, in which writing materials literally grow like reeds along the river! So he changes his plans, summoning Hermon, his keeper of elephants, so that the Jews can be executed by being gathered en masse in one place and then killed by five hundred intoxicated elephants. (A point which shows that one should be careful in thinking one knows what's what when dealing with folk legends; this might seem such a crazy detail that it must be made up, but there is some evidence that the kings in Egypt did occasionally execute groups by intoxicating elephants, although nothing on the scale we find here.) At this point, however, God starts playing with the king's mind. First He sends such a deep sleep on him that oversleeps and thus never manages actually to give the order to kill the Jews until the intoxication has worn off and everything has to be set up again. Then there is a hilarious sequence in which the king orders Hermon to kill the Jews, and Hermon eagerly sets everything up, and then the king suffers temporary amnesia in which he is horrified at what Hermon is doing, and threatens to kill Hermon instead for trying to murder loyal citizens. (The scene is delightfully underplayed: "So Hermon suffered an unexpected and dangerous threat, and his eyes wavered and his face fell.") Everything is dismantled. Then the king's memory returns and he is furious that his original order wasn't carried out, leaving his nobles in complete confusion and thinking that the king is going totally crazy. Finally everything gets underway, and the Jews are being killed in the hippodrome by intoxicated elephants, and God sends angels to oppose the king, who backs down and orders all the nobles to apologize to the Jews and throw them a big banquet in reparation.

I've spent some time on the story of 3 Maccabees because I think the book doesn't get the appreciation it deserves. It has often been dismissed as a mere collection of uncritically accepted legends. But the author's use of wild legend and over-the-top rhetoric and imagery, besides making for an entertaining story, allow him to do something he would not otherwise be able to do: give a sort of representative picture of Gentile-Jewish relations. I think this is a probable way in which the king's whiplash changes of mind is to be read: the history of the Jews really is something like this, in which Gentiles rampaging and out for Jewish blood is suddenly alternated by Gentiles praising Jews and rewarding them for their loyalty, without much rhyme or reason, and without the Jews themselves ever really changing or doing anything new. And it has to be said that the craziness of the king of Egypt's plan for eliminating the Jews is not less insane than some of the anti-Jewish plans that real governments have really tried to put into effect. Folk legends about historical events are not about accuracy of details but about the sense of the people, and the author does a good job of using them to capture a sense of being a Jew in a world dominated by unpredictable Gentiles. As such it conveys the key message that, whatever the persecution may be, one should remain hopeful, because the world always swerves. And the details, again, are often entertaining. Perhaps it's just living in the Bureaucratic Age, but I find there to be something almost perfect about a government setting out to destroy a people and getting tripped up in its plans because it runs out of office supplies.

4 Maccabees I've talked a bit about before; it is a philosophical reflection on the Maccabean martyrs mentioned in 2 Maccabees, arguing on the basis of their stories that reason is capable of ruling the passions and that life according to the Jewish law is a training in the virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. In the course of doing this, it also argues that "those who die for the sake of God live to God" (16:25) and that those who put them to death receive eternal torments. In addition, it suggests in several ways that the martyrs are examples for everyone, even those not martyred, and that the blood of the martyrs atones for the sins of the people.

Favorite Passage: From 3 Maccabees:

But at these words he was filled with an overpowering wrath, because by the providence of God his whole mind had been deranged in regard to these matters; and with a threatening look he said, "Were your parents or children present, I would have prepared them to be a rich feast for the savage beasts instead of the Jews, who give me no ground for complaint and have exhibited to an extraordinary degree a full and firm loyalty to my ancestors. In fact you would have been deprived of life instead of these, were it not for an affection arising from our nurture in common and your usefulness." So Hermon suffered an unexpected and dangerous threat, and his eyes wavered and his face fell. The king's friends one by one sullenly slipped away and dismissed the assembled people, each to his own occupation. Then the Jews, upon hearing what the king had said, praised the manifest Lord God, King of kings, since this also was his aid which they had received. The king, however, reconvened the party in the same manner and urged the guests to return to their celebrating. After summoning Hermon he said in a threatening tone, "How many times, you poor wretch, must I give you orders about these things? Equip the elephants now once more for the destruction of the Jews tomorrow!" But the officials who were at table with him, wondering at his instability of mind, remonstrated as follows: "O king, how long will you try us, as though we are idiots, ordering now for a third time that they be destroyed, and again revoking your decree in the matter? As a result the city is in a tumult because of its expectation; it is crowded with masses of people, and also in constant danger of being plundered."

Recommendation: Highly Recommended, all of them.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Brassington on Tommy the Chimpanzee

Iain Brassington has an utterly baffling post on the Tommy the Chimpanzee case. It seems to me to make a number of very obvious errors, both in interpretation of the decision and in an understanding of what the decision indicates in its proper context.

(1) Judges do not determine adequacy of law. Brassington says:

Now, I wonder whether that actually hits the target, since (as is admitted) a big part of the question is not whether the currently-accepted definition of “person” is correctly applied, but whether the definition is the right one in the first place. Pointing to the way the term has and is applied won’t answer that. Indeed, the ruling seems to take pains to avoid answering that part of the deposition. If Smith says that the law is inadequate, Jones can’t demonstrate its adequacy simply by reciting it.

As I noted in remarking on the NhRP press release, this gets the structure of the decision wrong in the first place. But even if we set this aside, this remark makes no sense. It is not Jones's place or responsibility, when a matter of law comes up, to "demonstrate its adequacy", if Jones is a judge deciding a case. A judge can demonstrate the adequacy or inadequacy of law to more fundamental laws, but there is no court system in the world in which they are tasked with demonstrating the adequacy of laws, simply speaking. What is more, a judge cannot simply ignore how a law fits into the overall legal regime; that's one of the things a judge is supposed to do. It matters whether there is precedent; and it matters how much of a change to the entire legal regime a particular kind of decision would require. These always need at least to be assessed, even though precedent alone is not necessarily definitive in itself (as the decision itself explicitly points out). And if one wishes to change the legal regime itself, the appropriate route is to work with the legislature to do so (as the decision also explicitly points out). One of my continual complaints about the way bioethics is often done is that it tends to ignore actual relevant context, and Brassington's comment here is a an excellent example.

(2)A judicial decision is not the forum for a general consideration of rights as such, but only for a consideration of rights as available under law. Brassington says:

Part of the reasoning is in tune with the dogma that you can’t have rights unless you also have responsibilities. I’ve never seen a particularly good defence of this dogma. I can see how one might have rights, and I can see how one might have responsibilities, but I’m unsure how the former depends on the latter.

The reasoning, however, has nothing to do with "the dogma that you can't have rights unless you also have responsibilities"; it simply notes that our legal regime does, in fact, link rights to in-principle participation in the responsibilities of society. What is more, we aren't in this particular case dealing with all rights in general; we are dealing with remedy rights like the writ of habeas corpus, which is in fact historically a right that is linked with the responsibilities of those subject to the law (the root idea of it being that a court can bring a person to court for whatever purposes the court is capable of having, even if the person is detained; and historically the right has primarily been upheld as a procedural protection for citizens). Even if one held that the general principle of the correlation of rights and responsibilities failed, it does not follow that it fails for rights based on legal personhood, which are, as the court notes, generally treated as linked to the in-principle capacity for social responsibility.

Likewise, contrary to what Brassington says, the application of the principle doesn't give us "a problem when it comes to young humans"; the status is (a) presumptive and (b) determined by legal regime -- you don't have to prove that you are capable of social responsibility in order to be a legal person, you just have to be the kind of entity taken to have that legal status in the overall legal regime. This can be because one literally does have the ability for social responsibility, or merely because one is deemed for convenience of law to have it, even if that is a fiction. But this is a status conferred by the legal regime as a whole. And, as the decision notes, there is simply no question here about whether our legal regime takes chimpanzees to have the relevant status -- it doesn't. There isn't even any ambiguity or inconsistency about it, as there has occasionally been with human beings; everyone recognizes that giving chimpanzees the legal status of personhood would be a significant change in how our society handles that legal status. Young humans do not represent any such change at all; our legal regime is very clear that infants are to be deemed legal persons, so there is no doubt at all about them, and is inconsistent on whether the unborn are to be deemed legal persons, so it can tip either way depending on how one assesses the overall system of law.

(3) Judicial cases give the burden of proof to those who would change the status quo. Brassington does recognize that in principle one can take the rights and responsibilities here as stipulative. But he goes on to say:

For one thing, even if all right-holders are duty-holders, it doesn’t follow that all duty-holders are right-holders. (In just the same way, even if all squares are rectangles, it doesn’t follow that all rectangles are squares.) So if slaves did have rights after all, there seems to be something else going on – and if it can be going on in respect of slaves, then why not in respect of chimps? At the very least, that something else would have to be quite carefully defined.

But, first of all, this is not how the relation of rights and responsibilities are generally conceived; if someone has a genuine duty, one does have the rights required for the performance of the duty. What is more, the writ of habeas corpus has historically had a very close connection with precisely this way of relating rights and duties: one of the reasons it is seen as protecting subjects and citizens is that it means that others cannot arbitrarily prevent them from fulfilling their overall legal and judicial responsibilities without having an acceptable reason that justifies it.

But again Brassington drops the judicial context. In a judicial context it does not "have to be quite carefully defined" what the relation between rights and duties is; judges are not philosophers of law or moral philosophers, considering regimes in the abstract in a rigorous way; nor are they legislators determining the basic principles of a particular regime on broader principles; they are practical decision-makers handling particular cases in light of how the actual legal regime operates. It is not the responsibility of the court to carefully define every important issue that comes up, or even most issues that come up; if someone wishes to establish in court that the way things are done practically is inconsistent or unacceptable, it is they who need to establish it, and they need to do so in a way that has relevance to the court's actual authority to the practical requirements of the case at hand. A court can indeed address these sorts of problems -- if they come up in a way that the court can do something about and in a matter in which it is important for the practical issue at hand. It is not, however, either the court's general responsibility or general right even to show how or whether the way things are legally done makes sense.

(4) A remedy under law depends on the general way law works. Brassington says:

So I’m inclined to think that the sufficiently narrow view is artificially narrow. It seems to devolve either to a potentiality argument (human newborns are potentially duty-holders), or to ignore the central part of the NHRP’s claim, which is precisely that the extent of legal protection afforded to chimps is insufficient. People who think that rights have an important role to play in explaining what law is, and what law should be, are unlikely to be satisfied with the role they’re given in the ratio here.

And as the court notes, the most appropriate way to extend legal protection to chimps is to get the legislature to pass laws establishing those legal protections. Courts are not legislatures with the authority to establish legal protections in general; they can recognize legal protections that already exist, or rule that consistency in their application requires that they be applied in cases where they have not before, or any number of other things. But they can't make them whole cloth. And thus the central part of the NhRP's claim can only be addressed by the court insofar as addressing it makes sense in light of precedent and the overall system of law. The court simply pointed out that precedent and the overall system of law pretty clearly leave no room for the court to act in the way the NhRP takes its claim to establish that they should.

(5) The decision is more or less what a reasonable person would have expected. Brassington ends by saying, "It’s a strange judgement." But in reality what's strange is thinking that a judgment that is more or less what almost every relevant court in the U.S. would have said up to this point, and that pointed out what is clearly the legal issue with trying to do what the NhRP is trying to do through the courts rather than the legislature, is in any way strange. Despite some very optimistic thinking surrounding the NhRP, there was very little expectation in general that the court would act in any other way; there was very little doubt prior to the case about what the basic lines of its reasoning would be. There is also very little doubt that had the court gone the other way, it would have sparked considerable outrage, and possibly backlash in the legislature, as a great many people would have regarded the court as having overstepped the bounds of its authority. None of these tell us whether the result is good or bad in itself; but they do in fact establish that there is nothing strange about it.

A Poem Draft

Advent

There is a truth that will not die,
No matter the tyrant's hold.
There is a flame that lights our way,
No matter the stifling cold.
No matter the shadow of death that falls,
No matter the tiring roads,
A solace awaits for the struggling soul,
Though it kick against the goads.
A starlight shines upon the frost
From a star that masters fate,
Sustaining hope of all who ache,
No matter the weary wait.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Rosmini on Sensation, against Idealism

879. I have demonstrated two things:

1. Sensation is in us, not in external agents (cf. 632 ss. and 672 ss. [652]). The idealists misused this fact. I grant them its truth, but they should not have neglected other facts while acknowledging it. Their error was the result of insufficient observation, not of defective observation.

2. Sensations are in us as the term of actions done by something other than ourselves (ibid.).

This was the other fact neglected by the idealists, although no less clear than the first. In every sensation we experience a passive modification or disturbance within us, of which we are directly conscious which expresses the term of an external action. By their nature, therefore, sensations, although in us, inform us of something outside ourselves. We must either deny the difference between activity and passivity, or accept that to be conscious of an experience in us is to be conscious of an action done in us, but not by us.

Antonio Rosmini, New Essay concerning the Origin of Ideas, Volume 2, Part 5, Chapter 11.

Judas the Lion-Prince, the Avenging Rod

The Feast of Lights
by Emma Lazarus


Kindle the taper like the steadfast star
Ablaze on evening's forehead o'er the earth.
And add each night a lustre till afar
An eightfold splendor shine above thy hearth.
Clash, Israel, the cymbals, touch the lyre,
Blow the brass trumpet and the harsh-tongued horn;
Chant psalms of victory till the heart takes fire,
The Maccabean spirit leap new-born.

Remember how from wintry dawn till night,
Such songs were sung in Zion, when again
On the high altar flamed the sacred light.
And, purified from every Syrian stain,
The foam-white walls with golden shields were hung.
With crowns and silken spoils, and at the shrine.
Stood, midst their conqueror-tribe. five chieftains sprung
From one heroic stock, one seed divine.

Five branches grown from Mattathias' stem.
The Blessed John, the Keen-Eyed Jonathan,
Simon the fair, the Burst-of-Spring, the Gem,
Eleazar, Help-of-God; o'er all his clan
Judas the Lion-Prince, the Avenging Rod,
Towered in warrior-beauty, uncrowned king,
Armed with the breastplate and the sword of God,
Whose praise is: "He received the perishing."

They who had camped within the mountain-pass,
Couched on the rock, and tented neath the sky,
Who saw from Mizpah'a heights the tangled grass
Choke the wide Temple-courts, the altar lie
Disfigured and polluted — who had flung
Their faces on the stones, and mourned aloud
And rent their garments, wailing with one tongue,
Crushed as a wind-swept bed of reeds is bowed,

Even they by one voice fired, one heart of flame,
Though broken reeds, had risen, and were men,
They rushed upon the spoiler and o'ercame,
Each arm for freedom had the strength of ten.
Now is their mourning into dancing turned,
Their sackcloth doffed for garments of delight,
Week-long the festive torches shall be burned,
Music and revelry wed day with night.

Still ours the dance, the feast, the glorious Psalm,
The mystic lights of emblem, and the Word.
Where is our Judas? Where our five-branched palm?
Where are the lion-warriors of the Lord?
Clash, Israel, the cymbals, touch the lyre,
Sound the brass trumpet and the harsh-tongued horn.
Chant hymns of victory till the heart take fire,
The Maccabean spirit leap new-born!

Music on My Mind



Mary Lou Williams and the Roots, "The Devil -- Chorale Vocal".

The Devil never rests come day, come dusk, come dawn;
You compromise and end up sold in parts.
So don’t it strike you funny when you look him in the eye --
The Devil looks a lot like you and I.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Watch Is Long Betimes and Late

Advent
by Christina Rossetti


This Advent moon shines cold and clear,
These Advent nights are long;
Our lamps have burned year after year
And still their flame is strong.
'Watchman, what of the night?' we cry,
Heart-sick with hope deferred:
'No speaking signs are in the sky,'
Is still the watchman's word.

The Porter watches at the gate,
The servants watch within;
The watch is long betimes and late,
The prize is slow to win.
'Watchman, what of the night?' But still
His answer sounds the same:
'No daybreak tops the utmost hill,
Nor pale our lamps of flame.'

One to another hear them speak
The patient virgins wise:
'Surely He is not far to seek' –
'All night we watch and rise.'
'The days are evil looking back,
The coming days are dim;
Yet count we not His promise slack,
But watch and wait for Him.'

One with another, soul with soul,
They kindle fire from fire:
'Friends watch us who have touched the goal.'
'They urge us, come up higher.'
'With them shall rest our waysore feet,
With them is built our home,
With Christ.' – 'They sweet, but He most sweet,
Sweeter than honeycomb.'

There no more parting, no more pain,
The distant ones brought near,
The lost so long are found again,
Long lost but longer dear:
Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard,
Nor heart conceived that rest,
With them our good things long deferred,
With Jesus Christ our Best.

We weep because the night is long,
We laugh for day shall rise,
We sing a slow contented song
And knock at Paradise.
Weeping we hold Him fast Who wept
For us, we hold Him fast;
And will not let Him go except
He bless us first or last.

Weeping we hold Him fast to-night;
We will not let Him go
Till daybreak smite our wearied sight
And summer smite the snow:
Then figs shall bud, and dove with dove
Shall coo the livelong day;
Then He shall say, 'Arise, My love,
My fair one, come away.'

2 May 1858

The first half of the penultimate stanza approaches perfection: an immense amount said in twenty-two ordinary words.

Anne Jaap Jacobson on Mind and Representation

Anne Jaap Jacobson has been doing some excellent guest posts at "The Brains Blog", broadly related to her recently published book, Keeping the World in Mind. The series:

Introducing Anne Jaap Jacobson

(1) "Let Me Quickly Wash My Hands One More Time" (the role of dopamine in perception and action, which serves as a useful set of research for the rest of the discussion)
(2) Anxiety about the Internal (what is meant by 'representation' in cognitive neuroscience and in contemporary philosophy of mind)
(3) Representations in the History of Philosophy, and a Bit about Red Pandas (Aristotle, Aquinas, Hume; as well as the problem of fakes)
(4) Human Errors and My Errata (issues of error and the need for consideration of the mind as in some sense necessarily social)

This is all great discussion; I particularly liked the discussion in (3) of how Aquinas and Hume, despite radically different views of mind, nonetheless share some very basic ideas that are not generally found in contemporary philosophical discussions of mental representation.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Links of Note

* Philosophers' Carnival #170 at "Philosophy, et cetera".

* Whewell's Gazette, Vol. 26. There are several links for George Boole, who died December 8, 1864.

Among the other topics, I found James C. Rautio's The Long Road to Maxwell's Equations particularly interesting.

* Philip Stratton-Lake on Ethical Intuitionism at the SEP. Sadly, it manages to mention neither Butler nor Whewell despite the fact that Butler is a major factor in the importance of ethical intuitionism in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, and despite the fact that Whewell is one of the most important intuitionists of the nineteenth century; but, admittedly, it is a big subject.

* MrD on why the trolls were after Marie Curie in 1911.

* Jennifer Fitz notes some very obvious problems with a recent article by Candida Moss and Joel Baden, in which they manage to get a theological term wrong and mischaracterize the Catholic position on infertility despite having a forthcoming book on "Biblical Perspectives on Procreation and Childlessness": first post, second post. Michael Bradley at "Ethika Politika" also discusses some tendentious aspects of the piece.

* A letter between Camus and Sartre has been recently rediscovered.

* David S. Oderberg, Hume, the Occult, and the Substance of the School (PDF).

* Lorraine Daston, Wonder and the Ends of Inquiry

ADDED LATER

* A fascinating discussion of Thomson's violinist argument by Gina Schouten.

* The O Antiphons in Middle English

Love and Kindness

I might, indeed, have learned, even from the poets, that Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness: that even the love between the sexes is, as in Dante, "a lord of terrible aspect." There is kindness in Love: but Love and kindness are not coterminous, and when kindness (in the sense given above) is separated from the other elements of Love, it involves a certain fundamental indifference to its object, and even something like contempt of it. Kindness consents very readily to the removal of its object--we have all met people whose kindness to animals is constantly leading them to kill animals lest they should suffer. Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object become good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering.

C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Collier (New York: 1962) pp. 40-41. The meaning of kindness as used here is glossed as "the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy" (p. 40).