Thursday, September 29, 2016

Incidental Reading

At the last or second last meeting of the neighborhood book club, a neighbor and friend gave back to me a copy of Peter Schneider's The German Comedy: Scenes of Life After the Wall. I had forgotten not only that I had lent it to her, but also that I had ever owned a copy, and indeed that there was such a book. At the moment, it seemed to me that I must have read one of the essays included when it appeared in The New York Times Sunday Magazine; I find that it must have been "The Deep-Freeze Theory and Other Hypotheses".

Last night, being too tired to read the book I had in mind, I picked up The German Comedy, and shortly found that I had certainly read it; most of the essays were familiar. And I found reading matter that I hadn't known the volume comprised, not Schneider's: receipts from a vacation that we took in the fall of 2013. I don't know how they got there. I'm fairly confident that I didn't take the book along to the eastern Baltic.

I am always interested to read matter left in books, though I hope I would have the strength not to read matter left by someone I knew. There would have been nothing of much interest between the pages of The German Comedy, just receipts from restaurants, shops, and bars. None of it, I think, would have held any surprises for an observant person who had sat across many dinner tables from us over the years. And really, I don't think our neighbor read it, though I may ask at the next book club meeting. Still, the next book that I lend, I'll look into first.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Punch and Politics

Noticed Sunday night in Lichtenberg's The Waste Books, while looking for something else, Notebook L, entry 47:
When negro servants in the West Indies mix a punch the first ask, for drunk or for dry? We might ask something of the sort before political disputes: shall we dispute with feeling or reason, for drunk or for dry?

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Index of His Patriotism

The other evening, in Part 1, Chapter 1, Section 2 of An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, I noticed the sentence
Again, "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori," is a mere commonplace, a terse expression of abstractions in the mind of the poet himself, if Philippi is to be the index of his patriotism, whereas it would be the record of experiences, a sovereign dogma, a grand aspiration, inflaming the imagination, piercing the heart, of a Wallace or a Tell.
It is no surprise to find that Newman was one of those who found that Horace's Ode iii.2 reads oddly in the light of ii.7. Nor, really, to find that he states this more pithily than most of us could.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Carolina Mantis

This bug,

which I think is a Carolina Mantis, was on our front door this evening when I got home, and still is there.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Boswell, Johnson, and the Hebrides

I have wished now and then that Oxford University Press had kept in print R.W. Chapman's volume combining Samuel Johnson's A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and Boswell's The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides. A couple of times I have seen this volume in a bookstore and considered buying it to send to my brother; but they were bookstores out of town, I didn't want to carry the book home, and he has gone without.

I have just learned what I should have known before, that Penguin Classics has long published the two works in one handy volume, edited by Peter Levi. It has the advantages of a smaller size and better notes. I wonder whether I mightn't have learned of it nearer the time of publication, 1984. But it was about then that I bought the Oxford Paperback printing.

The Penguin edition is 7.75 inches high, 5 inches wide, and not quite an inch thick. It will fit in a coat pocket. The Oxford Paperbacks edition is 3/8 of an inch thicker. It would fit in a pocket of the coat that Boswell writes of Johnson as wearing
with pockets that might have almost held the two volumes of his folio dictionary
but in none of mine.

The Oxford notes are only the footnotes of the original editions. Penguin has extensive end notes as well. Oxford may have thought it beneath its dignity to provide, or of its readers to have provided for them, translations of Latin tags from Virgil or Horace, or of the Latin poetry of Samuel Johnson and a Scot or two; Penguin, bless it, has no such reservations. Beyond that, the notes have useful information about persons well known (or not) in their time and unfamiliar now, identification of places, etc. They have the salt of strong and informed opinion, as a couple of times when Levi does not bother to translate the Latin: the inscription of a monument visited on 21st September "is not worth translating"; an ode by Dr. M'Pherson, mentioned on 28th September, consists of "[l]ame and thumping verses"--Boswell was not wholly correct when he introduces the ode with "My readers will probably not be displeased to have a specimen of this ode." A reader already familiar with the books will be tempted to read this edition by scanning the notes for a interesting entry and going back to the text it refers to.

Chapman's introduction concerns the writing and publication of the two books. Levi's is longer, with more about the background of the trip, the state of Scotland at the time, and the characters of the two authors. It strikes me as very good, and makes me regret the volume I had of the Penguin Classics Pausanius, also of Levi's editing, that fell apart and is gone.

I see two advantages to the Oxford edition: it has indexes of subjects, of persons and books, and of places; the table of contents to The Journal is in the old expansive style, and with Chapman's cross reference to A Journey, e.g.
August 24. Goldsmith and Graham. Slains Castle. Education of Children. Buller of Buchan. Entails. Consequence of Peers. Sir Joshua Reynolds. Earl of Errol . . . 220 [16]
(Boswell's entry for August 24 begins on page 220, and Johnson's chapter "Slanes Castle. The Buller of Buchan" begins on page 16.)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Theory and Practice

A while ago, I picked up a copy of Perpetual Peace and Other Essays, of Immanuel Kant. Having read through the essay "On the Proverb: That May Be True in Theory, But Is of No Practical Use", it strikes me that Kant has demonstrated that a number of maxims that serve in everyday use are of no use in theory. To be sure, Kant's "practical" has a large theoretical component: the "practical" of Kant's Critique of Practical Reason is not the "practical" of Bowditch's Practical Navigator.

Having read Kant's demonstration in the essay, which has the force one would expect, I found myself thinking of Bagehot on the Members of Parliament:
They are common Englishmen, and, as Father Newman complains, "hard to be worked up to the dogmatic level". They are not eager to press the tenets of their party to impossible conclusions. On the contrary, the way to lead them--the best and acknowledged way--is to affect a studied and illogical moderation. You may hear men say, "Without committing myself to the tenet that 3 + 2 make 5, though I am free to admit that the honourable member for Bradford has advanced very grave arguments in behalf of it, I think I may, with the permission of the Committee, assume that 2 + 3 do not make 4, which will be a sufficient basis for the important propositions which I shall venture to submit on the present occasion." This language is very suitable to the greater part of the House of Commons. Most men of business love a sort of twilight. They have lived all their lives in an atmosphere of probabilities and of doubt, where nothing is very clear, where there are some chances for many events, where there is much to be said for several courses, where nevertheless one course must be determinedly chosen and fixedly adhered to. They like to hear arguments suited to this intellectual haze. So far from caution or hesitation in the statement of the argument striking them as an indication of imbecility, it seems to them a sign of practicality. They got rich themselves by transactions of which they could not have stated the argumentative ground--and all they ask for is a distinct though moderate conclusion, that they can repeat when asked; something which they feel NOT to be abstract argument, but abstract argument diluted and dissolved in real life. "There seem to me," an impatient young man once said, "to be no stay in Peel's arguments." And that was why Sir Robert Peel was the best leader of the Commons in our time; we like to have the rigidity taken out of an argument, and the substance left.
I cannot imagine this argument appealing to Immanuel Kant. But just now  the next couple of Bagehot's sentences sound not unappealing
Nor indeed, under our system of government, are the leaders themselves of the House of Commons, for the most part, eager to carry party conclusions too far. They are in contact with reality.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

And That's Where I Stopped Reading

Today's New York Times Magazine has articles about education, one, "Fortress of Tedium", i.e. on high school, by Nicholson Baker. I had seen reviews of his book about working as a substitute teacher, and so had a look. Near the bottom of the second page, I found the sentence
 The result of my 28 hellish, joyous days of paid work (I made $70 a day) was a book, more chronicle than meditation, called "Substitute: Going to School with a Thousand Kids."

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Not Quite Autumn

The air was oppressive this morning, hot and with high humidity. At the farmers market, in direct sun on a paved space, we were uncomfortable. There was a breeze now and then when we ran, and it was far from the hottest day of running this year. Still, you'd have to call it hot.

I noticed though, that there are many leaves down already. They showed most on the bike trails just in from Oregon Avenue. But along the road going up to Carter Barron, I saw plenty in the gutter. Yet trees appear to be in full summer leaf. One birch did seem have some yellow leaves, but was that the beginning of autumn, or distress from the drought?

There was one unmistakable sign of autumn, a cultural one: children's soccer on the playing fields at Carter Barron. At noon, or whenever I passed by, I don't think that there was anyone older than seven in shin guards, and most may have been about six.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Roadside Assistance

Thirty years ago, I used to go "tubing" with friends. One gets the inner tube of a truck tire, inflates it, and then floats down a small river. There is little excitement, except where there may be a small rapids, but it is a pleasant amusement on a hot day. Ideally the party has cars at both ends of the route.

A friend reported a mishap from a trip after I had ceased to go. They were at Harpers Ferry, where some locals made a business of inflating tubes and driving the tubers up the river a couple of miles. On this trip, one man, who had in his trunks a pocket that zipped closed, volunteered to take the party's keys. At the downstream end, he discoverer that the packet had zipped back open, and that two or three sets of keys were now at the bottom of the Shenandoah River. He and perhaps another couple called family or friends for help.

My friend was not sure what do, but then remembered that Lexus offered roadside assistance to owners and leasers. He called to find out whether his case qualified, and, sure enough, a flatbed truck presently turned up. The driver winched the sedan onto the truck and drove my friend, his wife, and the Lexus the sixty or so miles back to their driveway. After that, it was a matter of retrieving a house key from a neighbor. I was impressed at the service.

Today, I got a call from home: our car would not start. Google suggested various problems, one being a blown fuse. It seemed to me that a dead battery was more likely, though the car is not four years old. Unfortunately, though we certainly must have neighbors with jumper cables, it seemed unlikely than any had cables long enough to jump a car parked nose-in to a narrow garage. After some discussion, I started considering how to get to the parts store on Georgia Avenue for a new battery.  Then it turned out that the dealer would send a truck that could either jump start the car or retrieve it. The trucker hooked up the cables, the car started, and all is well, with many thanks to the local Acura dealer.

We don't know which of us left the dome light on. We've both done the equivalent once or more. When it was a compact car with a stick shift,  I could roll start it and be OK. This car has an automatic transmission, it is not compact, and even with the car we had twenty-five years ago, I'm not sure that the grade of our alley or the state of my back would suffice. No doubt we should have jumper cables, preferably long ones. And I suppose that it will be a while before I get out of the car without checking the dome light.