Thursday, October 27, 2016

Radio Greats: The Curse of Kamashek Matter (Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar)

As we come up toward Halloween, it seems time to do a few more Radio Greats post. This episode is not Halloween-themed, but it does deal with something that has come to be associated with the holiday -- mummy curses. With Johnny Dollar you know it's going to be no-nonsense -- but that doesn't mean there won't be mystery and suspense!

Dollar is asked by Inter-Allied Life Insurance Company of Hartford, Connecticut, to look into a matter that does not, to his surprise, involve any actual insurance claim. But a nice fee is a nice fee, and so he finds himself suddenly dealing with an heir to millions who is passionate about Egyptology and his trustee who disapproves; the heir is funding an expedition to uncover the tomb of Pharaoh Kamashek, which will be one of the great archeological finds of the century. But where there is a buried Pharaoh, there are always rumors of a curse....

Dollar's expense account includes:

Item 6, $9.80 train to New York, quick lunch, cab to bank to pick up traveler's checks for trip to Egypt
Item 11, $1305.00 round trip air fare to Egypt
Item 13, $82.00 phone calls to authorities and people associated with the Kamashek expedition

for a grand total of $985.00.

Two people die, Dollar never gets closer to Egypt than Paris, and we learn that money can make nice people do very bad things.

You can listen to "The Curse of Kamashek Matter", from September 1956 at the Internet Archive (41-45), or at Old Time Radio Fan, and in YouTube format from Waynes Old Time Radio Page. You can probably find it elsewhere, as well; it seems to be a popular one, and deservedly, I think.

The Scythed Moon Impendent Over All

The Eldritch Dark
by Clark Ashton Smith

Now as the twilight's doubtful interval
Closes with night's accomplished certainty,
A wizard wind goes crying eerily,
And on the wold misshapen shadows crawl,
Miming the trees, whose voices climb and fall,
Imploring, in Sabbatic ecstacy,
The sky where vapor-mounted phantoms flee
From the scythed moon impendent over all.

Twin veils of covering cloud and silence, thrown
Across the movement and the sound of things,
Make blank the night, till in the broken west
The moon's ensanguined blade awhile is shown....
The night grows whole again....The shadows rest,
Gathered beneath a greater shadow's wings.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Dreams of Alaska

An interesting article on the still-existent Russian hope of one day taking Alaska back:

The conviction in Russian claims on Alaska starts from childhood. In the Ural city of Chelyabinsk this summer, middle school students enacted a promise to “return” Alaska to Russia one day. The performance followed a Japanese samurai dreaming of getting Kuril Islands back to Japan from Russia. At one point, a boy covering his face with Putin’s mask appeared and, skillfully copying the sarcastic tone of the Russian President, asked the samurai, “But who will give them back to you?”—to the laughter and applause of the students. “I will be frank,” little Putin continued, “we do not need other people’s land, we take back what belongs to us. We took back Crimea. Alaska is next. And I do not want to hear about Kuril Islands anymore!”

More applause ensues and the samurai commits hara-kiri.

Whewell on Benevolence

When William Whewell considers the Idea of Morality, he argues that it must be such as to apply to all human beings precisely as human. As such, it excludes anything that ignores what he calls "sympathy with common humanity" and includes encouragement to such affections as tend to unite people together. This facet of the Idea of Morality he calls 'Benevolence'. It covers the things that bind together human society as a society: love for family, love for community, love for mankind. Like all elements of the Idea of Morality, it may be considered subjectively (as a disposition to an ideal object), in which case we call it Virtue, or objectively (as the ideal to which the disposition tends). (I will continue to capitalize 'Virtue' when using the noun because I think Whewell's sense is slightly different from what is often meant by the word, being an ideal to which one has in some degree approached in a significant way.)

As a Virtue, Benevolence considers all matters involving the affection of love, whether the love be conjugal, parental, filial, fraternal, or the love of friends, of fellow citizens, of the whole human race. "When these natural Affections are directed to their proper objects, and regulated by Reason," Whewell says, "they are virtuous Affections" (EM §238). Because of this, we can divide up the dispositions associated with Benevolence in a lot of ways, but some are particularly common, and form the vocabulary of Benevolence. For instance, the natural running of virtuous affection is called, under various circumstances, Good-will, Good-humour, or Good-nature. Good-humour may be harmed by various irritating factors, and because of this there are virtuous dispositions to uphold Good-humour even in the face of such provocations: Mildness, Meekness, Gentleness. Or we can divide them up in light of the circumstances in which they are relevant: where the affection is concerned with perceived commonality, we have the disposition of Fellow-feeling, where it is concerned with pain, we have Compassion, Pity, Mercy, and Charity as it exhibits different lights in the context. There are in addition supplementary virtues that are dispositions not directly involved with the affection of love, but for one reason or another are closely connected to it: Hopefulness, Cheerfulness, and various dispositions concerned with moral Zeal.

The Virtues give the vocabulary for talking about Duties, which are expressed in specific rules arising from general moral principles. The general principle expressing the character of Benevolence is what Whewell calls the Principle of Humanity: "Man is to be loved as Man" (EM §269). Applying this to our social relations and circumstances, as well as our internal tendencies, gives us Duties, the fulfillment of which, when habitual, becomes a Virtue. Those associated with Benevolence are learned by beginning with those affections that are naturally strongest; the more general affections are expansions outward from an inner circle of more immediate affections: "The Natural Affections are the proper moral School of the Heart" (EM §281). Because of this those things that are closely associated with the maintenance of these natural affections all become Duties; Whewell's list of examples is: Gratitude to Benefactors, Compassion, Reverence for Superiors, Filial Affections, Parental Affection, Conjugal Affection, Fraternal Affection, Love of our Fellow-citizens, Universal Benevolence, Compassion. These must be cultivated as part of the "School of the Heart", and without them there is no possibility of really attaining to the Virtue of Benevolence in is full and proper form, and so the rules appropriate to them must be followed in order to be moral. The rules involved here, however, are rules for affections -- they are about how we must work to set up our inner life -- not rules for specific actions, which Whewell says can only be determined by taking into account all the rules for affections at once.

From the fact that these are all Duties for cultivating affections, it follows that we also have a Duty to cultivate our affections in an appropriate way, by how we direct our thought, by practicing appropriate actions, and by putting ourselves into appropriate situations. This Duty of Cultivation of Affections will generally overlap the Duties concerned with the affections themselves, but will affect how we perform them by requiring us to take into account how the performance shapes our character.

Such is Benevolence in natural morality, but Whewell also considers Benevolence in the light of two special domains of moral life: Christian morality and the morality governing states and polities. Christian morality, as Whewell conceives it, is not a distinct kind of morality, but is a way of taking natural morality and investing it with religious significance and sanction. They thus take the same Duties and both raise the standards and intensify the motivations for them.

States also have Duties of Benevolence, however. It is because of Benevolence, for instance, that states are to recognize all human beings as having natural rights. Whewell takes the Duties of the state in this regard to include guaranteeing freedom (it is thus inconsistent with Benevolence for a state to allow slavery), giving temporary and limited relief to the destitute (Whewell argues that if it is not temporary and limited that this is not in fact Benevolent, because it does not involve supporting people in living their own lives), and forbidding cruelty to animals. These are certainly not exhaustive -- it's pretty clear that the reason these in particular come up is that slavery, poor law, and animal cruelty were all hot-button political issues in Whewell's day.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Xenophon's Anabasis, Book IV

Book IV

The invasion of the Carduchian lands begins, with the Spartan Cheirisophus in the vanguard and Xenophon in the rearguard. The Carduchians, finding an army suddenly upon them, flee, leaving all their possessions behind. Despite the abundance of potential loot, the Greeks considered the possibility of later Carduchian alliance more promising as a contribution to getting home than any wealth they could get from the plunder, so they took only food and drink and left everything else. Attempts to coax the Carduchians out for friendly meeting failed, however, and the Carduchians would occasionally harry them with stones and arrows. The Greek commanders, concluding that they were still moving too slowly, agreed to release all recently taken captives and strip down their baggage even further. The soldiers were largely amenable to this, although, of course, some smuggling inevitably occurred.

A further attack showed some disarray in the Greek army due to a failure in communication between the van and the rear; Cheirisophus operating on experience and Xenophon with his prudential planning occasionally end up at cross-purposes because they are in a situation in which the two sometimes take equally reasonable but nonetheless mutually inconsistent steps in the attempt to get the army home. Thus, for instance, Cheirisophus puts Xenophon in a bad position, one in which he loses brave men, because he takes the initiative to seize a pass that is said to guard the only route out, at the same time that Xenophon is taking the initiative to ambush and capture prisoners in order to discover if it is, in fact, the only route out. The plans both were reasoned and reasonable decisions, but as implemented they weren't properly meshed.

Learning of another route, guarded by one hill, the Greeks put into effect a clever plan by which Xenophon provided a distraction at the same time that a group of volunteers caught the guards on the hill by surprise, with Cheirisophus charging in to back up the volunteers once they were in place. There were problems in the implementation of this, but it was largely successful in the end, and the army continued its way, having few problems beyond the heavy Carduchian arrows, which were able to pierce even Greek shields. They were glad to leave the country of the Carduchians, though, since they had been fighting for seven days straight -- the Carduchians were more of a threat than the Persians.

No sooner did they leave the Carduchian lands, though, than they came up against a Persian army. Pinned in place by a river, a Persian army, and a Carduchian army, the Greeks fell into despair. But that night Xenophon had a dream that he was bound by chains, but that these chains fell off simply because he willed them to do so, after which he could take long steps. The Greek word for taking long steps, diabaino, is the same word used for crossing a river, so it was a good omen. The Greeks sacrifices to the gods and read the omens, which were favorable, and then had breakfast. At breakfast, Xenophon received news of a shallow spot in the river that was shielded from the enemy.

Upon hearing this report Xenopohon immediately proceeded to pour a libation himself, and directed his attendants to fill a cup for the young men and to pray to the gods who had revealed the dream and the ford, to bring to fulfilment the other blessings also. The libation accomplished, he at once led the young men to Cheirisophus, and they repeated their story to him. And upon hearing it Cheirisophus also made libation.

The river crossing was a success, and the Greeks began their march through Armenia. The local governor, Tiribazus, offered a treaty, in which the Greeks would be allowed to march through if they behaved themselves, and it was accepted. They later hear rumors, however, that Tiribazus is planning on betraying them, and so attack his army, again successfully. This means that they have to hurry once again, despite hunger and a heavy snow leading to severe frostbite throughout the army. Once they start reaching villages, however, the Armenians turn out to be immensely hospitable, and provide valuable information, including the tip that they should wrap bags around their horses' feet to prevent them from sinking too far into the snow.

Reaching a mountain pass, they find it held by men, and Xenophon advises that instead of fighting they simply steal around another way, which leads to some joking banter and commentary on Greek views of Greeks:

"...But why should I be the man to make suggestions about stealing? For, as I hear, Cheirisophus, you Lacedaemonians, at least those among you who belong to the peers, practise stealing even from childhood, and count it not disgraceful but honourable to steal anything that the law does not prevent you from taking. And in order that you may steal with all possible skill and may try not to be caught at it, it is the law of your land that, if you are caught stealing, you are flogged. Now, therefore, is just the time for you to display your training, and to take care that we do not get caught stealing any of the mountain, so that we shall not get a beating.”

“Well, for all that,” said Cheirisophus, “I hear on my side that you Athenians are terribly clever at stealing the public funds, even though it is terribly dangerous for the stealer, and, in fact, that your best people do it most, at least if they really are your best who are deemed worthy to rule; hence it is time for you also to be displaying your training.”

Not long after, at the top of a mountain, they see the sea, which leads to great rejoicing -- at this point it must have been seen as one of the few things clearly suggesting that their hope of getting out alive might be fulfilled.

They negotiate their way through Macronian territory, then battle through Colchian territory, until they reach the Greek coastal city of Trapezus. This, of course, is cause for celebration. They sacrifice to Zeus for salvation and Heracles for guidance, and arranged for athletic games.

But, of course, they still have to get home.

Additional Comments

* The sea passage in Book IV, of course, is deservedly one of the most famous passages of the work:

Now as soon as the vanguard got to the top of the mountain, a great shout went up. And when Xenophon and the rearguard heard it, they imagined that other enemies were attacking in front; for enemies were following behind them from the district that was in flames, and the rearguard had killed some of them and captured others by setting an ambush, and had also taken about twenty wicker shields covered with raw, shaggy ox-hides. But as the shout kept getting louder and nearer, as the successive ranks that came up all began to run at full speed toward the ranks ahead that were one after another joining in the shout, and as the shout kept growing far louder as the number of men grew steadily greater, it became quite clear to Xenophon that here was something of unusual importance; so he mounted a horse, took with him Lycius and the cavalry, and pushed ahead to lend aid; and in a moment they heard the soldiers shouting, “The Sea! The Sea!” and passing the word along. Then all the troops of the rearguard likewise broke into a run, and the pack animals began racing ahead and the horses. And when all had reached the summit, then indeed they fell to embracing one another, and generals and captains as well, with tears in their eyes.

* The route of Xenophon and the Ten Thousand through Persia:

Persian Empire, 490 BC.png

Monday, October 24, 2016

Ghostbusters 2016

I finally got around to seeing the recent Ghostbusters movie, since it came up at the Redbox. Some thoughts.

(1) It's not as thunderingly awful as one would have expected from the trailer. But it's also not great. It's like an OK TV movie, the kind you can bear to watch, but usually while you're doing something else more interesting.

(2) For one thing, it's not very consistently funny. It does have its moments, but they are just moments. This is, as a lot of people have said, a problem for a reboot of one of the great movie comedies of all time. Most people seem to be a bit off, which is probably the biggest contrast between it and the original -- in the original no one, even bit parts, is really off. I re-watched it recently and there is a great scene in the hotel after they have fired on the maid's cart. After they apologize and turn around to discuss what to do, you can see the maid in the background trying to put out a toilet-paper fire with a spray bottle. It's the sort of thing you could easily miss -- entirely in the background, nothing in the scene is focused on it, but when you catch it, the poor maid (played by Frances Nealy) trying to spritz the fire out, in context it is hilarious. That wasn't just comedy; it was craftsmanship. There's not really anything like that here. But the real issue is that the main characters just don't seem to fit together well. They all have moments, but the attempts to play off each other are generally quite lame. Individually, they also struggle -- Kate McKinnon's Holtzmann is the kind of character that might have been funnier in a different kind of movie, Kristin Wiig's Erin is largely just awkward, and Melissa McCarthy's Abby is like a Melissa McCarthy character. Of the women, Leslie Jones's Patty ends up being funniest, but the fact of the matter is that Chris Hemsworth's Kevin steals practically every single scene he's in, despite the fact that the kind of comedy he's doing here is really minor-level stuff that should be funny background.

(3) No movie that has this many call-backs and shout-outs to the original should be a reboot. It literally makes no sense whatsoever to do a straight reboot and bring in all of these cameos and references. If you can get Murray, Aykroyd, Weaver, Potts, and Hudson, it's going to raise the question of why you couldn't have just tied the original in from the beginning. And if you build so much on the previous movie, you lose all right to ask audiences to take the movie on its own merits -- it will necessarily be compared, at every point, to the original. Which, again, is an unusually high standard here.

(4) The movie kind of works if you think of it as a kind of alternate-universe version. But only 'kind of'. There's not actually much story here. It looks originally like we're going to get a healing-of-friendship motif in the Erin and Abby characters -- but after the beginning it's not really built up. It ends up being a sort of self-esteem story about outsiders. That's OK, I suppose.

But, as has been noted through the years, the original was layers and layers of story. Aykroyd had insisted that at no point should the ghostly or paranormal itself be mocked, so you can watch it as a ghost story in which the humor is about human beings unable to deal with things so far outside our normal experience; and we have the excellent scene between Ray and Winston as they are just driving around and talking. It can be watched as a buddy film, which it certainly is. As other people have noted, it's a workplace comedy that is also one of the best movies ever made about starting a business -- the actual villain is not any of the ghosts (even Gozer), it's the over-reaching bureaucrat trying to shut down a struggling business on a dubious technicality, and some of the funniest lines in the whole thing have nothing to do with the ghosts but with the workplace. (Think of Janine's "I've quit better jobs than this" or Winston's "Ah, if there's a steady paycheck in it, I'll believe anything you say" or Ray mortgaging his parents' house.)

Throughout this one, however, you get parts that could have been taken somewhere and never are, and it gets somewhat tiring.

(5) One thing that the movie had me thinking about was how movie comedy has changed. Contemporary comedy in movies seems to be built more on awkward moments than carefully constructed jokes or even improvised hilarity. I think this is seen here, and the movie suffers for it. The blunder comedy works very well -- the majority of the genuinely funny moments in this film are blunder comedy. But the repartee is often awful as written and weak as delivered, and the actual jokes are usually more groan-inducing than chuckle-inducing. This kind of thing can be made to work -- it's a staple of comedies geared to teens -- but the whole movie seems structured in a way that is inconsistent with actually making it work. The result is mostly just corny and flat.

(6) The special effects here are not all that good -- which is really disappointing, because that's usually the one thing that is guaranteed to be quality in movies today. The original special effects are much better, which is a devastating indictment given that they were done over twenty years ago. Subpar CGI is not an improvement.


Rizal lamented that his people were converted to a religion they did not understand. It's absolutely sure that the early native converts understood the Faith no more deeply than did the Gauls or Goths of Europe; but if the same argument had succeeded in stopping the introduction into Europe of an alien Oriental religion the world would not have had Chartres or Giotto or Chaucer or Michelangelo.

Nick Joaquin, Culture and History, Anvil (Mandaluyong City, Philippines: 2004), p. 121. This is a point that came up in discussing Shusaku Endo's Silence a couple of years back.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Maronite Year LXXVIII

Sixth Sunday after Holy Cross
Galatians 6:1-10; Matthew 25:14-31

Bright the Cross was shining in the sky,
when Constantine saw it as a sign;
on high the banner of it was raised:
the Cross of martyrs did not falter.
The kings of the world were astounded.

Queen Helen through faith found the True Cross,
the sign of our holy redemption.
The truth of the Cross floods the whole world;
the miracles of Christ pour from it.
By it all nations are astounded.

The Cross of Christ raises us on high,
our destruction made our salvation,
for death is overcome by sure faith,
and by the love of God for our souls;
all who come to it are astounded.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Anthology of Epochs

We know that we can inherit a nose from a grandfather, or asthma from a grandmother, or left-handedness from a parent; but dos our having the nose, or the asthma, or the left-handedness or all three together, mean that we are not ourself a new person but only still our grandfather, grandmother, or parent? One might as well say that the persisting use of the term horsepower proves that the machine age is still in a horse culture!...Shouldn't we rather recognize that each person is a sort of unconscious anthology of all the epochs of man; and that he may at times be moving simultaneously among different epochs? A Filipino, for example, who knows Tagalog, Spanish and English will, with Tagalog, be mentally moving in the world of oral tradition; with Spanish, in a visual culture; and with English, in the electronic era....

Nick Joaquin, Culture and History, Anvil (Mandaluyong City, Philippines: 2004), pp. 50-51.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Two Poem Drafts

The First Way of Saint Thomas Aquinas

The changed all around us is easy to see,
but unchanged by another no changed thing can be.
What is able to differ cannot be its own act;
it is but a potential for something else to make fact.
So can-change by a changer is made actual change
and thus is a series of changes arranged.
Suppose that the causes as a whole are all moved;
that's one change without changer, so impossible proved.
Every series of changers, in an unchanged cause ends,
and from that first mover those changes descend.
But a first cause of change by its causing unchanged --
to call this thing 'God' is not at all strange.

Things to Do with Poetry

To say the brilliant thing in one's peasant tongue
To nourish scholar's thought with substantial rice and bread
To make the simple truth to be by angels sung
To cast a tale enchanted for the living and the dead
To those who thirst for reason to give a quenching drink
To bury dead with honor and to comfort those who ache
To humble all the pedants and to make the asses think
To clean the airs and waters by exposing every fake
To clothe the naked dream in vestments both pure and plain
To harbor orphan wonders within a royal wall
To make the mundane holy and to make all madness sane
To give the blind a vision and make deaf ears hear a call
To whisper in the darkness of the dawning of the light
To deepen simple prayer with the wisdom of the years
To warn the lazy afternoon of coming night
To temper fears with hope, and hope with fears
To wander through the mazes found in mind and heart
To capture unknown concepts by allusion and by sign
To find the soul in need and to take its part
To slay the evil notion with an aphoristic line
To those who are imprisoned to give truth that sets them free
To give to wonder breadth and to reason span
To form a quiet refuge where one and all can flee
To be the living voice and the memory of man