Saturday, January 28, 2017

Two Corinthians, 3:15-19

By far and away, my favorite passage from the Bible (and you've just got to read it in the King James' to get the full effect) is from Two Corinthians, where Peter sayeth to Jesus, "Master, how shall I enter the Kingdom of Heaven?" And Jesus sayeth unto him, "Love thy neighbor... unless he comes from a war torn nation in the Middle East, maybe one a President you voted for twice (chances are) destabilized against UN resolutions and under false pretenses and lo with much murder and--what was I saying? Anyway, if your neighbor comes from a place like that, fuck that guy. And, y'know, any children he has who are still alive. America first! Jesus out!" (β)
The vocabulary and grammar are, granted, a bit antiquated, but I'm always impressed by how it retains its freshness and relevance.
β. Some manuscripts here read: "Jabroni--dost thou smell what the Jesus is cooking?" but this is a minority reading that likely resulted from a margin note of Saint Jerome.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Ad Culum Fallacy

Several years ago, philosopher Keith Parsons announced he was retiring from the field of theology, dismissing the area as a "fraud." Edward Feser, a fellow philosopher and a theologian, understandably took offense. Time has passed, tempers have cooled, and Edward Feser, in response to a post from Parsons, politely asked four questions directly related to that post. Parsons response in the combox was:
On second thought, after looking at your "straightforward questions" my answer is: Nah. I was expecting an invitation to a civil academic discussion, but I find that you are still in personal attack mode. My only response will be to assure you that you have not hurt my feelings at all. I think you are a horse's ass, and the disdain of your ilk is of no concern to me at all. Indeed, I consider it a badge of honor. Please do write more nasty things about me for the amusement of your ignorant and boorish followers. It makes my day when I piss off people like you guys.
The back and forth became a bit more heated after that, nearly all the insults flying from Parson's side. I commented:
The argumentum ad culum equi, the so-called "horse's ass fallacy" or, simply, "the ad culum," is a fallacious attempt to prove one party is being unadmirably rude by being unadmirably rude. Typically the first party is not, in fact, being unadmirably rude, leading to the general puzzlement of many and often all spectators. E.g., a typical instance of the ad culum may proceed as follows:  
Party 1: I realize we've gotten off to a bad start, but can we put that aside and have an intelligent and hopefully constructive exchange? 
Party 2: Stop insulting me, you horse's ass.  
The traditional ad culum allows for several (in principle, infinite) iterations, as:  
Party 1: I don't see how I'm being insulting--could you perhaps point out where you think I've been less than polite? 
Party 2: I thought I told you to stop insulting me, you horse's ass.  
Party 1: Hmm. I guess... well. That is to say.. well, I, uh, I'm not sure I quite see your point.  
Party 2: (points at Party 1 and then points to picture of horse's ass) 
Party 1: ... ok.  
Following the equine-caudal nomenclature, each iteration of the ad culum is typically called a "swish."  
Also known as Parsons's Parry, after the philosopher Keith Parsons, who first deployed the fallacy in debate with fellow professor Edward Feser. Three swishes were attested to in that circumstance, but further study has found many instances in the history of philosophy with more. Particularly notable is Schopenhauer's dismissal of Hegel as: 1. a camel's hump; 2. an ox's anus; 3. a goose's gizzard; 4. an auroch's vas deferens; 5. a squid's inkbag; 6. a caribou's nethers; and, finally; 7. a ferret's taint. Equally famous is Russell's exchange with Bergson, the language of which is too crude to repeat here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Works Cited

And there we have it – the moment of supreme agony on the raft, taken up, transformed, justified by art, turned into a sprung and weighted image, then varnished, framed, glazed, hung in a famous art gallery to illuminate our human condition, fixed, final, always there. Is that what we have? Well, no. People die; rafts rot; and works of art are not exempt. The emotional structure of Géricault’s work, the oscillation between hope and despair, is reinforced by the pigment: the raft contains areas of bright illumination violently contrasted with patches of the deepest darkness. To make the shadow as black as possible, Géricault used quantities of bitumen to give him the shimmeringly gloomy black he sought. Bitumen, however, is chemically unstable, and from the moment Louis XVIII examined the work a slow, irreparable decay of the paint surface was inevitable ‘No sooner do we come into this world,’ said Flaubert, ‘than bits of us start to fall off.’ The masterpiece, once completed, does not stop: it continues in motion, downhill. Our leading expert on Géricault confirms that the painting is ‘now in part a ruin’. And no doubt if they examine the frame they will discover woodworm living there.

Barnes, Julian. A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Works Cited

Back in the stateroom with the Swedes and the Japanese, Franklin remembered a TV series about psychology he’d once been asked to present. It had folded directly after the pilot, a loss nobody much regretted. One item in that show reported an experiment for measuring the point at which self-interest takes over from altruism. Put like this, it sounded almost respectable; but Franklin had been revolted by the actual test. The researchers had taken a female monkey who had recently given birth and put her in a special cage. The mother was still feeding and grooming her infant in a way presumably not too dissimilar from the maternal behaviour of the experimenters’ wives. Then they turned a switch and began heating up the metal floor of the monkey’s cage. At first she jumped around in discomfort, then squealed a lot, then took to standing on alternate legs, all the while holding her infant in her arms. The floor was made hotter, the monkey’s pain more evident. At a certain point the heat from the floor became unbearable, and she was faced with a choice, as the experimenters put it, between altruism and self-interest. She either had to suffer extreme pain and perhaps death in order to protect her offspring, or else place her infant on the floor and stand on it to keep herself from harm. In every case, sooner or later self-interest had triumphed over altruism.

Barnes, Julian. A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters

Monday, November 19, 2012

A few days ago my mom told me to call my grandmother. She's in a nursing home now, temporarily, while they run some tests. Actually, as of today the tests were finished. She has Parkinson's and, more serious, a type of frontal lobe dementia. The latter is apparently characterized by rapid decline, paranoia, aggressiveness. It was diagnosed based on her current symptoms.

I should have called earlier, I realize, but I didn't. Partly because I was busy, and mostly because I was afraid of what state she would be in when I did call.

But she was fine, perfectly lucid when we spoke. She said she's ready to die, but her body keeps living. She throws this off in a casual manner, and all I can say is--and this is being honest, actually--"Well, we're happy to have you for however long you're here." I figure she's lived long enough, she has the right to say whatever she wants. She talks about meeting my grandfather for the first time. She says the food's good. I remind of her when she and my grandfather drove me to Disney World, when I was five. How my grandfather used to throw me in the pool. She asks if I'm dating anyone, and I say no, and she says you'll find her when you stop looking. I say she's probably right. She's glad I called, she says. I am too.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


I passed a graffito today that read "per fabor." I don't know if this is a misspelling on a par with "plaese," which is embarrassing, or "pleez," which is hip.

Anyway, on the same subject, at lunch, Francisco was talking to me about the Balkans. It took me five minutes to figure out he was referring to a Star Trek race and not to chunks of former-Yugoslavia.

Monday, November 05, 2012


I found this in an old email the other day--I wrote it for a friend a few years ago. It's not good, of course, but I'm still fond of it. And ***, too, for the record.

Étude, for ***
after T. S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Da questo passo vinto mi concedo
più che già mai da punto di suo tema
soprato fosse comico o tragedo:

ché, come sole in viso che più trema,
così lo rimembrar del dolce riso
la mente mia da me medesmo scema.*

I wonder at the star
You swallowed:
Blue as a bleached shell,
Potent as a strawberry,
Maybe lost in a hepatic well
Or fabled jugular gulley,
But probably placed centrally,
Embedded, I’ve supposed, in cardiac pith.
No myth,
This cellular sidereal coincidence,
For what else explains the wake of hope,
Obsequious, swirled,
The future tense
Frosting a world
That only knew how to be?

Such a legacy,
And you pass.

These days, the urge comes with guilt –
So despicably male and crass –
To mold you into a ball,
To clamp it close (and safe), light and all.
Then who’s to say
With one ear pressed
I shouldn’t hear within your breast
The religious thrum,
The rippling orbit, the secret hum –
Even triste et beau
The shred of a something
That wetly washed over the snow
When He made the first spring day?
(When two lovers shameless laughed and ran
And buttressed each other;
And time began.)

I wonder at the soft of your skin,
Waxy as molten glass,
Tender as a moth’s abdomen:
How a touch might blow you
Into a suspension of sand,
Or prod you into a sun,
Where the nebular dust pounds itself to become one.

(It is a wonder that a mere spherical form
Has afterthoughts so powerful
It keeps worlds warm.)

So I’ve thought at this – I’ve guessed at more:
I’ve watched the light seep up the floor.
(There is a lozenge-shaped hole in the door.)
Things appear in light, and light takes time.
The fact lingers behind.

Only in sleep can a mind meet a mind.

How fine the turf!  Translucent, semiotic.
How cordial comes the wind, abaft.
How forever the landscapes in dreams…
Remember our running?
Starlight poured from your seams.

* Dante Alighieri, Paradiso.

Vanquished do I confess me by this passage 

More than by problem of his theme was ever 

O'ercome the comic or the tragic poet;

For as the sun the sight that trembles most, 

Even so the memory of that sweet smile 
My mind depriveth of its very self.