Friday, November 27, 2020

Philosophers and Planets

 In German Philosophy: A Dialogue, Alain Badiou says

I like Hegel, really. I like him even in all those moments of madness that you mention. He even tried to deduce the exact number of planets as an attribute of the absolute. That was a big risk, which was immediately rewarded by the discovery of an extra planet. Normally, you would expect that to cause the collapse of the whole system, because there are no purely local parts in the Hegelian system; there is a general interlinking of these parts, and if Hegel was wrong about the number of planets, he was perhaps wrong about many other things, too.

I have read what at the time seemed a fair chunk of Hegel. Still, what I read must be well under ten percent of his output, and the deduction of the number of planets will have been somewhere in that other ninety-plus percent. But Hegel must have gone to his grave believing that there were seven planets, for Uranus was discovered a few years after his death.

 Badiou's remark interested me also because of a curious passage in W.V.O. Quine's essay "Reference and Modality" (collected in From a Logical Point of View), where "According to the strict sense of 'necessarily' and 'probably'"

9 is necessarily greater than 7

is among the statements counting as true, and

The number of planets is necessarily greater than 7

among those counting as false. Quine introduces 7, 9, and the number of planets into Word and Object also. Did he have Hegel's argument in mind?

Thursday, November 26, 2020

The Ninebark, Again

Before they started to file, the leaves of the ninebark out front, the color of a red wine all summer, turned to a brighter red:

This was a couple of weeks ago. The leaves have largely fallen now, and the leaves on the tree behind are fewer and redder.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

The Invasion

Having heard over the years that Janet Lewis's novel The Invasion is worth reading, I decided to buy it and find out. It is worth reading. I did find a second reading useful to sort out the considerable number of persons and places.

The subtitle of The Invasion is A Narrative of Events Concerning the Johnston Family of St. Mary's. St. Mary's is the Sault Ste. Marie, the rapids discharging Lake Superior towards Lake Huron. The Johnstons were the descendants of a John Johnston of Port Rush in Ireland, a member of the Protestant Ascendancy, who moved to Canada, took up the fur trade, and rather promptly married into an important Ojibway family, espousing Ozhah-guscoday-wayquay, "The Woman of the Glade", later called Neengay, "My Mother". The Woman of the Glade and John Johnston appear in 1791, the one a girl, the other a trader in the prime of life; the book closes with the death of their granddaughter Anna Maria Johnston in 1928.

The book explains its title about halfway through:

For the Ojibways were not to be deported, like the Potawatomis, exiled into unfamiliar and hostile territory; they were to stay where they were, in their own country, to be gradually obliterated by the inevitable tide of settlers. There was  one person at the council who realized the fact powerfully if dimply, and this was Neengay. She had done what she could for her people, but her heart was sad.

During most of the book, the Ojibways find themselves on the losing side: for the French against the English at Montreal in 1759; with Pontiac against the English in 1763; with the English against the US in the War of 1812; and with the English and Americans at peace, alone against the steady pressure of the American government and settlers. In the end, their claims to the land are paid off, and they cease to be a nation.

The Johnstons maintain themselves, mostly. John Johnston, having started life as a son of a not especially prosperous Anglo-Irish family, dies as the father of a not especially prosperous American one. His sons do well enough one way and another, as officers of the Canadian navy or as businessmen in a small way. His daughters marry a scholar,  a clergymen, and a rounder.

Nothing especially dramatic happens in the direct narration. Johnston's house is burned by American troops, a son-in-law is murdered. We hear of battles--Ojibway against Sioux, British against American--and massacres, as at Fort Mackinac. Mostly, though, men and women trade, trap, hunt, marry, and farm. 

Janet Lewis published the book in 1932, four years after the death of Anna Maria Johnston, whom she had known from her family's summers at Neebish Island, a little downstream from the Sault.  One can find an account of how Lewis came to write the book in an interview conducted as part of the Stanford Pioneering Women Oral History Project in 1977.

Michigan University Press reprinted The Invasion in 1999. The book remains available, but as far as I can tell the only way to get a new copy is directly through the press itself. It is not hard to find a used copy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Classified Ads

 Recently I took down a book and found in it a cartoon I had clipped out something over thirty-five years ago. The cartoon remains mildly amusing. The other side of the paper, of no interest then, is of more interest now: it is all classified ads for used cars. The columns don't quite align with the edges of the cartoon, making estimation less accurate. Still, I think that 4.25" x 3.5" is the equivalent of twenty-eight or thirty classified ads. The sheet that held the ads would have had a printable area of 20" x 12", roughly sixteen times the size of the cartoon. That would give around 450 classifieds on that page.

I haven't placed a classified ad in The Washington Post in many years. My recollection is that a small classified cost something around $10 per day in early 1980s dollars. If so, each such page of classifieds would have been worth around $4500 then: multiplied by 365 days, call it $1.6 million. The newspapers used to carry an awful lot of pages of ads, but given the revenues of newspapers in those days, that still seems low.

 The classified ads are gone to the web, and the revenues have dried up. Twenty-odd years ago, a week's worth of The Washington Post and The New York Times would fill two grocery bags tightly when I bagged them for recycling. Now many weeks I fill one bag, or could if I cared to take the chance of it splitting. Some of the old volume was the ads themselves, some was the content it paid for.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Maps, Again

 Having read The Invasion by Janet Lewis, I wished to get a clearer idea of some of the geography. Most of the action of the book takes place within a few miles of the Sault Ste.-Marie, and for that there is a detailed map in the end papers. Yet there are important chapters set around the western end of Lake Superior, around Chegoimegon and La Pointe, and for that there is no map.

I looked for such a map in the two volumes of the Library of America edition of Parkman's France and England in the New World, thinking that I recalled detailed maps of Lake Superior in them.  This is not quite so. Most of the maps show country farther east. The map marked "Countries Traversed by Marquette, Hennepin, and La Salle" following page 909 in La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West, does show the west end of Lake Superior; but it also shows the northeastern tip of Cuba, so the details are sparse. With a magnifying glass, or perhaps just young eyes, one can see there "St. Esprit", the name of the mission at La Pointe.

 The household Rand-McNally road atlas is more satisfactory, showing one Chequamegon Point and Bay in Wisconsin, a little west of the Michigan line, and facing them the island of La Pointe. Of course the US Geological Survey has topological maps of the area, but unfortunately it splits the details among several. On the whole Google Maps might serve one best.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

A Socially Distant Halloween

 Halloween decorations went up in this neighborhood in early October, if not before. There was much discussion of putting up a map of households that would welcome trick-or-treaters, and there was discussion of devices for handing off candy while remaining some feet away. We did not bother to sign up for the map. I meant to ask the neighbors with children whether they would trick or treat, but I forgot.

Instead, on Saturday, I hurried to carve a jack o'lantern at 5 pm, and we found a bowl for the candy. The jack o'lantern went on the steps just as some neighbors were coming by with their daughters, and I tossed the girls a couple of pieces each, hitting the baskets three of four times. After that, the bowl went on the steps, and the children were left to serve themselves. They took modestly, for we still have some left.

 Our neighbors fastened a cardboard tube to the handrail of their steps, creating a "candy luge". They also agreed to tell their visitors that there was candy for the taking at our house--they had a fire pit, and could sit out fairly comfortably. 

I hope that next year we will be back to handing out candy at the door. I got to see the costumes of four children from our blocks, but wouldn't have minded seeing more.