Saturday, December 18, 2010

Works Cited

This is not so difficult to understand. Those who had fought for what they called the revolution maintained a great pride: the pride of being on the correct side of the front lines. Ten or twelve years later (around the time of our story) the front lines began to melt away, and with them the correct side. No wonder the former supporters of the revolution feel cheated and are quick to seek substitute fronts; thanks to religion they can (in their role as atheists struggling against believers) stand again on the correct side and retain their habitual and precious sense of their own superiority.

But to tell the truth, the substitute front was also useful to others, and it will perhaps not be too premature to disclose that Alice was one of them. Just as the directress wanted to be on the correct side, Alice wanted to be on the opposite side. During the revolution they had nationalized her papa's shop, and Alice hated those who had done this to him. But how should she show her hatred? Perhaps by taking a knife and avenging her father? But this sort of thing is not the custom in Bohemia. Alice had a better means for expressing her opposition: she began to believe in God.

Milan Kundera, Eduard and God

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Gift Horses

CARLOS: You know what we say in Spanish?


CARLOS: A caballo regalado no se le miran los dientes.

How do they say it in Spanish... slower?

CARLOS (slower):
A caballo regalado no se le miran los dientes.

Ah. We have the exact same saying in English.

And as well we should! It comes, my friends, from St. Jerome, famous translator of the Bible into the Latin Vulgate. Jerome gave away his extensive writings free of charge, and thus, to a critic, threw back this pithy rejoinder.* From this beginning, it now occurs in over a dozen languages, suitably calqued.

Although I never thought about what the hell it means until today. For those who don't know, the idea is if the horse is a gift, you shouldn't inspect its teeth (which would give you some idea of the age and health of the animal).

darovanému koni na zuby nekoukej, darovanému koni na zuby nehleď

Dutch: een gegeven paard niet in de bek kijken, Men moet een gegeven paard niet in de bek kijken

Finnish: lahjahevosen suuhun ei saa katsoa

French: à cheval donné, on ne regarde pas la bouche

German: Einem geschenkten Gaul schaut man nicht ins Maul

Hungarian: ajándék lónak ne nézd a fogát

Icelandic: ekki vera vanþakklátur

Italian: a caval donato non si guarda in bocca

Polish: darowanemu koniowi nie zagląda się w zęby

a cavalo dado não se olha os dentes

Russian: дарёному коню в зубы не смотрят

Slovak: darovanému koňovi sa na zuby nepozeraj

Spanish: a caballo regalado no se le miran los dientes

Swedish: skåda inte en given häst i munnen

*Which is not to say Jerome originated the phrase. It may well have enjoyed wide currency at the time -- or not. It's simply the earliest instance.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Holiday Parties are Fun

PARTNER: I was telling Scott about this. People in my family have a tendency towards obsessive behavior. A cousin of mine says that every time she buys something, she feels like she's had sex. It's that good.

SCOTT: That's funny. Every time I have sex, I feel like I've bought something. Of course, I usually have.

PARTNER: You should write that down.

SCOTT: All right.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Works Cited

Although the palace at Gatchina had nine hundred rooms, Nicholas and his brothers and sisters were brought up in spartan simplicity. Every morning, [Tsar] Alexander III arose at seven, washed in cold water, dressed in peasant's clothes, made himself a pot of coffee and sat down at his desk. Later when Marie was up, she joined him for a breakfast of rye bread and boiled eggs. The children slept on simple army cots with hard pillows, took cold baths in the morning and ate porridge for breakfast. At lunch when they joined their parents, there was plenty of food, but as they were served last after all the guests and still had to leave the table when their father rose, they often went hungry. Ravenous, Nicholas once attacked the hollow gold cross filled with beeswax which he had been given at baptism; embedded in the wax was a tiny fragment of the True Cross. "Nicky was so hungry that he opened his cross and ate the contents--relic and all," recalled his sister Olga. "Later he felt ashamed of himself but admitted that it had tasted 'immorally good.'"

Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra

Does the Universe Have a Purpose?

The aforementioned Craig - Dawkins debate has been webbed. The debate actually includes at least 6 people, three theists and three atheists. It's also held, honest injun, in a boxing ring!

The topic was "Whether or Not the Universe Has a Purpose" but this instantaneously becomes a debate on the existence of God, as the theists assert the universe only has a purpose if God exists and the atheists apparently accept the premise. But the questions are distinct -- or at least, there's a colorable argument they are. No one attempts to color it in.

At any rate, it turns into a fairly useless exchange, with Craig inserting the only interesting bit of philosophic rigor in his opening statement. Debaters are given less and less time for rebuttal as the affair proceeds, so it all eventually devolves into one-liners, and not particularly good ones.

Here's an interesting review.

On the religious topic, I continue my push through the New Standard Bible and the Oxford Bible Commentary. It's slow going -- a month and I've just reached Deuteronomy -- but historically fascinating.