Monday, February 25, 2013

Philosophy and Twitter

It has occurred to me now and then to wonder how much of Spinoza's Ethics meets the 140-character limit that Twitter imposes. A couple of days away from the office, with my time partly but not entirely my own, gave me the opportunity to write a Perl script to parse the Ethics as provided by the Bibliotecha Augustana, and I found that the answer is quite a bit:
  • about four fifths of the definitions of the passions
  • about three fifths of the propositions
  • about half of the axioms and postulates
  • about two fifths of corollaries and definitions
  • about a third of the lemmas
  • very few of the demonstrations, explications, scholia, and recapitulations.
I should perhaps say Ethica rather than Ethics, for I used the Latin text as being more compressed than the English.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Festival or Feast

Early in The Alexiad of Anna Comnena, there occurs a mention of a detachment of "Nemitzi", mercenaries whom the insurgent Alexius found partial to cooperation in regime change. Clearly these were Germans: Nemet or Nemeth is the word for "German" in a number of eastern European languages, but where does the name come from? I looked into Liddell and Scott, which offered no help on the point.

But any dictionary offers unexpected and interesting words, and Liddell and Scott offered
Νεμέσια (sc. ἱερά), τά,
A. festival of Nemesis, also held in honour of the dead, D.41.11 (v.l. -εια), “Ἑλληνικά3.154 (Rhamnus, iii B.C.).
This caught my eye, for Saki wrote a short story, "The Feast of Nemesis", the feast in this form being imagined by Clovis on the grounds that
There is no outlet for demonstrating your feelings towards people whom you simply loathe. That is really the crying need of our modern civilization.
I don't know that this is quite the crying need it may have been in the years before 1914. For that matter, very little in Saki's writings suggests any repression of such feelings towards those loathed, thought dull, or simply in the way as targets of opportunity.

Wikipedia, by the way, entry "Németh", says "literally Slavic for "he does not speak" (i.e., not a Slavic language)."

Friday, February 8, 2013

For the Comptroller of the Currency

Most United States coins bear two mottoes: on the obverse "In God We Trust", on the reverse "E Pluribus Unum". It has for some time seemed to me that these do not sufficiently express the national temper. I propose that we replace them with the mottoes "Live Free or Die" and "There Oughta Be a Law".

Sunday, February 3, 2013


Friday we went to see Lincoln. It was not bad. Yet, good as Daniel Day Lewis is, I was almost always conscious of what a fine job he was doing, not of Lincoln. I am not sure why this was so, but guess
  • Too much looking past the camera. Photographs of Lincoln show a very direct look, the eyes of an intelligent and powerful man.
  • A voice that likewise fails to convey the will and intelligence.
The domestic and homely touches are fine, but not ultimately relevant. There have been many American politicians who have been good storytellers. There have been quite a few who had unhappy wives or who lost children. But they are mostly forgotten, while Lincoln is anything but.

Nor did I believe in Grant, particularly. The actor looked physically soft, as Grant definitely did not. Photographs of Grant taken during the Civil War show a very dangerous man. Tommy Lee Jones's Thaddeus Stevens I thought might have done very well for Thomas Cromwell. Really, the only actor I much believed in was Jackie Hale Early as Alexander Stephens.

The underlying problem may be that we all know too much about Lincoln to accept a movie's version. We know the stories, we know the speeches. We can finish many sentences in the Second Inaugural.. We know that when the physician pronounces Lincoln dead, Stanton will say "Now he belongs to the ages." 

I will say that I owe the movie the urge to take out a volume of Lincoln's writings, and read some. For less than $50 dollars--about the price of four tickets to the movie--one can get the Library of America's two volumes of Lincoln's speeches and writings, 1832-1858 and1859-1865,