Saturday, August 8, 2020

Back to the Park

 On the fourth Sunday of March, we concluded that Rock Creek Park was not a good place to run. The closing of sports leagues, museums, movies, etc. had made Beach Drive even fuller than it usually is on weekends. We had hoped to find room for social distance, but we found crowds for jostling.

Today we went back for another look, figuring that many households leave Washington in August. There were many fewer persons on Beach Drive, but there were still plenty. Few, walking, running, or bicycling wore masks. (I did not wear a mask except on the way down, for wearing it while exercising fogs my glasses.) Still, there was usually room enough to pass or be passed at reasonable distance. It was good to be able to run up Ross Drive from near the police station to equitation ring again. Will we go back tomorrow? I don't know.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

CSIRO and the Golden Age

Among the features of the renewed Golden Age predicted in Virgil's fourth eclogue is pre-dyed wool: the sheep will grow it colored, apparently by managing their diets. Now the Commonwealth Industrial and Scientific Research Organization (CSIRO), Australia's national research organization, has discovered how to grow colored cotton. (No, cotton is not wool; but white must be much the best color for a sheep in an Australian summer.) Will CSIRO show how to produce honey from oaks next?

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Controlling Events

Happening to browse in Peter Green's Alexander to Actium, in the chapter "The Road to Sellasia", I noticed
[Cleomenes] pressured Argos into accepting a garrison and an alliance; he captured Corinth and seemed all too likely to capture the Acrocorinth as well. When he demanded its surrender from Aratus (it still had an Achaean garrison), Aratus replied, and afterwards recorded the reply in his Memoirs, that he "did not control events, but rather was controlled by them," a response that Cleomenes regarded as frivolous, and that angered him into further aggression, this time against Aratus's own home town of Sicyon.
 In the end note, Green refers to Plutarch's lives of Aratus and Cleomenes.

On April 4, 1864, Abraham Lincoln wrote to Albert Hodges a letter concerning the course of his policy toward emancipation, and including the sentences
In telling this tale I attempt no compliment to my own sagacity. I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.
Had Lincoln encountered Aratus's statement in Plutarch? Apparently he secured and read a copy of Plutarch's Lives after a campaign biography stated that he had read it. (The author made his statement on the grounds that "almost every boy in the West in the early days did read Plutarch"--but did they read all of Plutarch's lives or just the lives of the biggest names?) If in fact Aratus was in the back of his mind, I must say that Lincoln improved on him.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Some So Marginal That Are They Mine?

Over the last few days, I read through Chapters IX and X, "The Meaning of Self" and "The Reality of Self" of F.E.Bradley's Appearance and Reality, which make a case against the self's claim to be part of reality, not appearance. I found myself thinking of Poem 15 in J.V. Cunningham's sequence "To What Strangers, What Welcome":
Identity that spectator
Of what he calls himself, that net
And aggregate of energies
In transient combination--some
So marginal are they mine? Or is
There mine? I sit in the last warmth
Of a New England fall, and I?
A premise of identity
Where the lost hurries to be lost,
Both in its best interests
And in the interests of life.
Did Cunningham read Bradley? I'll leave that to the scholars.

Monday, July 20, 2020

At All Events There is Change

The second-last paragraph in the Introduction to F. H. Bradley's Appearance and Reality runs
(c) And that is why, lastly, existing philosophies cannot answer the purpose. For whether there is progress or not, at all events there is change; and the changed minds of each generation will require a difference in what has to satisfy their intellect. Hence there seems as much reason for new philosophy as there is for new poetry. In each case the fresh production is usually much inferior to something already in existence; and yet it answers a purpose if it appeals more personally to the reader. What is really worse may serve better to promote, in certain respects and in a certain generation, the exercise of our best functions. And that is why, so long as we alter, we shall always want, and shall always have, new metaphysics.
 I first read of Bradley in T.S. Eliot's Collected Essays. In "The Perfect Critic", collected in The Sacred Wood but not in Collected Essays, Eliot seemed to take a cool view of personal appeal as a factor in judging writers or philosophers.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Even Though He Be the Great King

The last dialogue considered in John Sallis's Being and Logos is The Sophist, which earlier in the month I read through for the first time in years. Some parts of it I had quite forgotten, including the binary search after the sophist that leads it off. Others were familiar, for example the section beginning at 229C
STR. I at any rate think I do see one large and grievous kind of ignorance, separate from the rest, and as weighty as all the other parts put together.
TH. What is it?
STR. Thinking that one knows a thing when one does not know it. Through this, I believe, all the mistakes of the mind are caused in all of us.
And the section beginning at 230B in which the stranger explains the method of removing this ignorance:
STR.  They question a man about the things about which he thinks he is talking sense when he is talking nonsense; then they easily discover that his opinions are like those of men who wander, and their discussions they collect those opinions and compare them with one another, and by the comparison they show that they contradict one another about the same things. But those who see this grow angry with themselves and gentle toward others, and this is the way in which they are freed from their high and obstinate opinions about themselves. The process of freeing them, moreover, affords the greatest pleasure to the listeners and the most lasting benefit to him who is subjected to it....
 For all these reasons, Theatetus, we must assert that cross-questioning is the greatest and most efficacious of all purifications, and that he who is not cross-questioned, even though he be the Great King, has not been purified of the greatest taints, and is therefore uneducated and deformed in those things in which he who is to be truly happy ought to be most pure and beautiful.
To judge by Socrates's account in The Apology, cross-questioning did not invariably make the patients gentle toward others, at least not toward Socrates. The pleasure given to the listeners, though, he does speak of.

(Quoted from the Loeb Classical Library, translation by H.N. Fowler.)

Friday, July 17, 2020


Last Saturday morning my plans were interrupted when I noticed an email saying that a certain system was down. After some work, I was able to infer the cause of the failure and to work around it in part. The name server used on our internal network was not accessible, nor were some other systems, suggesting the failure of a VMWare host. By editing files on a couple of servers, so that they resolved names locally rather than through a query, I was able to get a couple of outward-facing systems working again. With the help of another techie, I identified the host that was not working, establishing that it was not connecting to the network. He restarted it, and presently we were back in business.

Today I heard from a co-worker that a system was down. I switched to that tab in my browser and confirmed that in fact it was running. Knowing that, it took only a few minutes to infer that Cloudflare,which manages DNS for our organization as for much of the internet, was not answering queries. I told the co-worker that connecting to work over VPN would allow the use of our internal nameserver, and so access to the system. But within half an hour, Cloudflare was answering queries again.

DNS, the domain name service, is what turns symbolic names such as into the numeric addresses that computers use. Everyone on the internet depends on it, relatively few know of it, vanishingly few think of it when it is working properly. But when it does not work, many things fail. The best comparison I can think of for those not engaged with it is GPS: imagine what would happen to travelers, Uber drivers, or others traveling in unfamiliar areas who supposed they could count on GPS and suddenly discovered they could not.