Thursday, November 23, 2023


COVID--in whatever variant is out now, after the initial vaccinations of 2021 and repeated boosters--is not enjoyable, but in my perception not that different from the sort of wintertime crud that one often gets in the US--a night or two of fever, runny nose followed by a deep cough, general lack of energy. Over the years, I have a number of times gone to see a physician with just these symptoms, to be told, Well, it's probably viral, but here's some Keflex just in case. It would not have occurred to me that I had COVID, but my wife was feeling rotten also, and our son bought some tests. He does not have COVID, we do or did. A fortnight after the initial symptoms, I don't feel bad, but I am not energetic and do have a cough.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Book Recommendations

 In leaving an airplane at Schiphol a couple of weeks ago, I left behind the book I had brought to read while on vacation. It was certainly my own fault, though it did occur to me that KLM a) certainly knew that I had been riding in the seat where the book was, and b) knew the next flight I was booked on, ergo c) could have managed to get the book to me at the departure gate.

We arrived in Florence with no book for me to read. Fortunately, we were staying about a five minute walk from the Paperback Exchange. We stopped by, and I spotted After Virtue by Alasdair McIntyre. When I told my wife that I would be buying the book later in the day, when I wouldn't have to carry it about, a woman sitting on the floor looked up and said that she loved the book. So far, I can see why.

Some days later in Montecatini Terme, we looked into a Mondadori bookstore while killing time before dinner. There were some children of about ten in the store wearing red hats. One such boy walked up and addressed me in English hardly superior to my Italian. He let me know that the students were there to request that books be purchased for their school library. I agreed to buy one, and he pointed out the table from which one might choose. I was not impressed by the choices, and thought there were better ones on the shelves--stories by Joseph Conrad that probably could be read as straight adventure, Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, no doubt others. But I picked what looked most promising on the table, and bought the school a hardback adventure story for sixteen Euros. In return, we got a couple of small scrolls of paper with quotations about reading, one of them from Umberto Eco.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Words Reclaimed

 For about fifteen years centered on 2003, I often encountered the word "emblematic" in newspapers. The first time it appeared to mean "exemplary". Other times it might have meant "symbolic". I came to think that there must be a tool called "an emblematic" to provide a filler for tired journalists. The OED acknowledges the word, but I hadn't encountered a case I thought it suited.

Last weekend, in Morality and Conflict by Stuart Hampshire, I read

Certain minutiae of behaviour, as they strike a stranger, may be emblematic and have the right or wrong emotional significance for those who understand the behaviour, 'understand' in the sense that one understands an idiom in a spoken language.

That use of "emblematic" strikes me as just right.

More recently, one encounters the term "iconic" everywhere. Usually it means "famous", I think. I would be happy to restrict it to a form of ecclesiastical art, to researches into the ancient city of Iconium, or to code written in the Icon programming language. But those who write for the public are more liberal with it.

 Also last weekend, I encountered a case where "iconic" seemed to fit. In the chapter "Early Latin Trinitarian Theology" of Augustine and Nicene Theology, Michel Barnes classifies Faustinus's "Nicene" Trinitarian theology as having a

logic that is neither power-based nor substance based but iconic.

That is to say, Faustinus relies on

Scriptural descriptions of the Son's iconic or visual relationship to the Father


Sunday, October 22, 2023

Split Infinitives

 In section 6 of the essay "Morality and Convention" of Morality and Conflict by Stuart Hampshire, there appears the sentence

The kind of 'must not' that arises within this [local] area of morality can be compared with a linguistic prohibition, for example that you must not split an infinitive: a particular rule of a particular language, which is not made less binding by the fact that it is not a general rule in language.

Morality and Conflict was published in 1983. In Alison Lurie's Foreign Affairs, published in 1984, an American professor reflects on the conversation of a man who says that he "[used] to really enjoy baseball" with

A person without inner resources who splits infinitives ...

The first edition of H.W. Fowler's Modern English Usage, published in 1927, gives almost three pages to the question of split infinitives, and sorts writers by attitude into five divisions. Clearly Fowler is with the fifth:

5. The attitude of those who know and distinguish is something like this: We admit that the separation of to from its infinitive .. is not in itself desirable ... We maintain however that a real [split infinitive], though not desirable in itself, is preferable to either of two things, to real ambiguity, & to patent artificiality.

 Presumably Lurie's character belonged to Fowler's division 1, "those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is".

Sunday, October 8, 2023


 A footnote late in the chapter "My Station and Its Duties" of F.H. Bradley's Ethical Studies runs

It is worth while in this connexion to refer to the custom some persons have (and find useful) of calling before the mind, when in doubt, a known person of high character and quick judgment, and thinking what they would have done. This no doubt both delivers the mind from private considerations and also is to act in the spirit of the other person (so far as we know it), i. e. from the general basis of his acts (certainly not the mere memory of his particular acts, or such memory plus inference.

 The footnote attaches to a sentence beginning "Precept is good, but example is better".

 The note reminded me of one in Sydney Smith's "Letters to Archdeacon Singleton", a work more playfully written but serious even so:

Mr. Fox very often used to say, "I wonder what Lord B. will think of this!" Lord B. happened to be a very stupid person, and the curiosity of Mr. Fox's friends was naturally excited to know why he attached such importance to the opinion of such an ordinary common-place person. "His opinion," said Mr. Fox, "is of much more importance than you are aware. He is an exact representative of all common-pace English prejudices, and what Lord B. thinks of any measure, the great majority of of English people will think of it." It would be a good thing if every Cabinet of philosophers had a Lord B. among them.

This is attached to a passage likewise explicit:

I am astonished that these Ministers neglect the common precaution of a foolometer, with which no public man should be unprovided: I mean, the acquaintance and society of three or four regular British fools as a test of public opinion. Every Cabinet minister should judge of all his measures by his foolometer, as a navigator crowds or shortens sail by the barometer in his cabin. I have a very valuable instrument of that kind myself, which I have used for many years; and I would be bound to predict, with the utmost nicety, the precise effect which any measure would produce on public opinion.

 Would or did Bradley think of Smith's application of "example is better" as frivolous? Smith wrote about 40 years before Bradley.

Saturday, September 30, 2023


 Last weekend, I walked up to the first stand in the self-checkout area of store nearby, and found that the screen displayed not a menu but a console window showing the output of a startup sequence:

A friend noted the "Clonezilla" line, fourth from the bottom, and said that this might be a re-installation of the software. We agreed that frequent reinstallation of software on a machine that a) handles money, and b) is open to the touch of any and all, might be a good idea, and that the machine might be set to reinstall its software on every power cycle.

The screen shortly scrolled off all lines but one, which indicated that the machine was waiting on something. By then I had checked out at the next station.

Thursday, September 28, 2023


I happened to pull Ethical Studies by F.H. Bradley from the shelves today. A few pages in, I noticed

It is not so easy to say what the people mean by their ordinary words, for this reason, that the question is not answered until it is asked; that asking is reflection, and that we reflect in general not to find the facts, but to prove our theories at the expense of them.

Are we then necessarily asking leading questions? I suppose that reflection must require a high degree of scrupulousness to avoid that.