Thursday, November 30, 2006

Not Quate Adequite

Another in a series of articles to use with students. (hat tip to Lizzy, who stayed home sick today so she could find this)

Lohan sends her condolences to Altman's family
Updated 11/21/2006 7:26 PM ET
Lindsay Lohan released a statement Tuesday extending her condolences to Robert Altman's family:

"I would like to send my condolences out to Catherine Altman, Robert Altmans wife, as well as all of his immediate family, close friends, co-workers, and all of his inner circle.

"I feel as if I've just had the wind knocked out of me and my heart aches.

"If not only my heart but the heart of Mr. Altman's wife and family and many fellow actors/artists that admire him for his work and love him for making people laugh whenever and however he could..

"Robert altman made dreams possible for many independent aspiring filmmakers, as well as creating roles for countless actors.

"I am lucky enough to of been able to work with Robert Altman amongst the other greats on a film that I can genuinely say created a turning point in my career.

"I learned so much from Altman and he was the closest thing to my father and grandfather that I really do believe I've had in several years.

"The point is, he made a difference.

"He left us with a legend that all of us have the ability to do.

"So every day when you wake up.

"Look in the mirror and thank god for every second you have and cherish all moments.

"The fighting, the anger, the drama is tedious.

"Please just take each moment day by day and consider yourself lucky to breathe and feel at all and smile. Be thankful.

"Life comes once, doesn't 'keep coming back' and we all take such advantage of what we have.

"When we shouldn't..... '

"Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourselves' (12st book) -everytime there's a triumph in the world a million souls hafta be trampled on.-altman Its true. But treasure each triumph as they come.

"If I can do anything for those who are in a very hard time right now, as I'm one of them with hearing this news, please take advantage of the fact that I'm just a phone call away.

"God Bless, peace and love always.

"Thank You,


"Lindsay Lohan"

Find this article at:

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

(Two) Million-Dollar Comma....

I just have to save a copy of this for use in classes.


Million-Dollar Comma May Aid Canadian Company

Listen to this story...

All Things Considered, October 25, 2006 · A contract dispute in Canada centers on what's being called a million-dollar comma. Canada's telecommunications regulator has decided that a misplaced comma in a contract concerning telephone poles will allow a company to save an estimated 2 million dollars (Canadian).

The current exchange rate is around .88 cents (U.S.) on the Canadian dollar.

The contract between cable company Rogers Communications and telephone company Bell Aliant allowed Rogers to use Bell Aliant's telephone polls. Bell Aliant sought to get out of the deal.

Canada's telecommunications regulator said the case hinged on the placement of the second comma in this clause:

"This agreement shall be effective from the date it is made and shall continue in force for a period of five (5) years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five (5) year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party."

Rogers had insisted the contract was good for at least five years; Aliant said the comma denotes that the deal can be terminated at five years -- or before, as long as one year's notice is given.

The ruling commission said that the comma should have been omitted if the contract was meant to last five years in its shortest term.

The case is now being appealed; Rogers claims that in its French version, the contract has a different statement clarifying the point.

Robert Siegel talks with Robert Janda, a law professor at McGill University in Montreal about the case.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Another use for blogs

Aside from just giving me and identity to use when leaving comments on other people’s blogs, I’ve discovered the usefulness of blogs as a filing cabinet. Things I’ve sent to several people in recent months I can post here. This will save me from searching my e-mail for whatever I’m looking for.

So while I still don’t really have anything new to say, I might occasionally stick some stuff up here from the days when I did have something to say.

But I’d still prefer it if you just came over and shared a beverage.


Tolle Lege: Winter’s Tale

This is an introduction to Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale that I wrote some time back. It was written to go with copies of the book that I gave to a couple of people, including my then headmaster. At the point where I tell the recipients to turn to a particular page, you can jump down to the previous post, where I’ve pasted in that whole chapter (it’s a page long) and a quotation from an Image interview with Helprin. My apologies for the awkwardness of jumping back and forth. Enjoy anyway.


~~~Begin Quotation~~~
Churchmen... burn themselves up in seeking, and they find nothing. If your faith is genuine, then you will meet your responsibilities, fulfill your obligations, and wait until you are found. It will come. If not to you, then to your children, and if not to them, then to their children.
-- from Mark Helprin’s A Winters Tale (italics mine)

X and Y,

I got suckered into Classics and into teaching in large part through my love of reading. Every now and again I come across a book that reminds me why I do what I do.

You are holding in your hands one of the most luminous novels I've ever read. When people ask why I teach, I want to hand them this book and say, “because books like this exist.” I even once used a chapter as part of devotions here at Trinity. It was the short chapter entitled “Nothing is Random” that stands at the beginning of section three. It’s about a page long and starts on p. 359. Go ahead and turn to it now and give it a read.

[cf. previous post]


All done? Is it not a fine attempt at reconciling free will and predestination? And that final line, “...justice becomes apparent not as something that will be, but as something that is.”

Now, you will have noticed that I underlined a few words in your copy of that chapter. My one complaint about this book as an object is that the editor and publisher really should have sprung for italics in a few places where the emphasis makes the reading clear on a first pass. Be that as it may, while I was reading this novel for the first time, I never put my pencil down, but marked passages left and right and kept running indices of particular themes and great quotations. Be warned and keep a pencil handy.

Why do I like this novel so much? Normally, I need good characters to hook me into a story. But here, I didn't really care about the characters and yet I read on avidly. I think perhaps it was the story itself that carried me along.

If that’s the case, if this is a plot-driven novel with (what seem to me to be) broadly drawn characters without a lot of depth, in fact a sort of sideshow of stock characters and off-stock characters who’ve been languishing on a shelf waiting for a story they could actually work in... If that’s the way this novel is put together, it may be that my background makes me a bit more receptive to it than most people are. I spend a fair bit of time in ancient literature, where it is the plot and the language that carry things along, rather than the psychology of the characters.

I suppose that what I’m trying to avoid saying is that I found this to be an ancient epic of a story.

One of the main things I love about this novel is its sense of language. The prose is quite nice, and at times nearly breathtaking. Take the sections where the winter scenes are evoked with such beauty that you can almost see the cheesy Currier & Ives (or even Norman Rockwell) illustrations trying to capture the stark beauty of a time gone by. Into the midst of at least two of those scenes, the story tosses in a simile that breaks the illusion, makes me remember that the setting is not from some Capra film, but from the post-atomic age.

For example, on p. 542, in a long description of the spontaneous street fairs that arise on the ice, you can almost see the skaters trailing their scarves, stopping at the stands for quaint snacks, behaving like a pre-television community. Listen:

The nine-year-old boys seemed to be the fastest and the most daring. They were as skinny as elastic bands, knew no danger, and stopped only long enough to shovel fruit pastries into their mouths. Then they were off at a hundred miles an hour, dodging, darting, and continually raving in squeaky voices for everyone to move out of their way.

Can’t you see them? Can’t you hear them? And what are they dressed in when you see them? Lots of wool; no nylon or synthetics in bright colors, just natural fabrics and earth-tones. Even they velocity is evoked with a the rather old-fashioned hyperbole a hundred miles an hour. But this illusion is shattered with the very next sentence:

“As speedy as pions, muons, and charmed quarks, they were all places at once, the possessors of pure boundless energy.”

And we are jerked forward into our turn-of-the-millennium era. But I can’t help but notice that those bygone boys who zip ahead so post-atomically aren’t simply like quarks; they're like charmed quarks. And what sort better.

And of course, in a novel so propelled by language, there are the characters who are tied up in language. There’s Craig Binky, editor of the Ghost, and his riotous malapropisms. There is Hugh Close, a virtual throwaway, but still a man far overqualified to be a rewrite editor: “Words were all he knew; they possessed and overwhelmed him, as if they were a thousand white cats with whom he shared a one-room apartment. (In fact, he did not like cats, because the could not talk and would not listen.)” (229-30).

And there is Mrs. Gamely, my favorite -- an illiterate with an extraordinarily fine command of precise usage, a woman who welcomes foreigners so she can soak up their words and who requires a team of lexicographers to keep up with her vocabulary. Read pp. 201-204, right down to the hysterically incongruous and jarring “Who knows? The point is, he thought he was a cat.”

Another thing I really liked about this novel is its sense of humor. There are the ironic touches like those above, the screwball touches like the telegrams fired back and forth on pp. 141-2 (cf. Mrs. Gamely's advice on finding someone in NY, p. 288). There’s even the profoundly stupid, like world’s worst outdoor guide, Jesse, who seems to be whittling himself to death -- “But he never thought that he would die in a bark suit, strapped to a shock pancake, next to an incompetent midget.” (267).

And the humor and language combine in some brilliant descriptions. In the ice scene I refer to above, with the squeaky nine-year-old pions, is a description I will probably always remember, especially since I’m so fond of hard-boiled eggs. -- “Above innumerable fireboxes, caldrons steamed and boiled, lobsters tumbled, and many grosses of eggs jigged in the hysterical dances of the legless bald.” (542)

For the language and the humor alone, I would love this novel. But I think there’s some meat to chew on as well. For example, most of those notes that I scribbled were on such themes as bridges, justice, balance, loss, and rebirth. But rather than give you a run through one or the other of the themes of Winter’s Tale, I’ll give you a quick taste of the meat of it through those stock characters. This will also allow me to give you a question to mull over as you read.

One way to discover whether a person has understood what they’ve read is via a diagnostic question. I was delighted to discover that Walker Percy held this same view, and that he had a diagnostic question for the readers of Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Liebowitz, a book for which I, too, have a question. If you’ve read CfL, then perhaps you’ll recognize the value of these two questions.

Percy’s: Who or what is Rachel? (the second head on the woman at the end of the book)

Mine: Is this book fundamentally optimistic or fundamentally pessimistic?

My diagnostic question for WT is more like Percy’s character question for CfL:

Who or what is Peter Lake?

It will give away nothing to warn you about another character, Jackson Mead. Who is Jackson Mead? It becomes clear that he’s trying to bridge heaven and earth, trying to make heaven accessible on earth, and this is nearly always assumed within the novel to be a laudable goal. Yet in the epilogue, I read “But Jackson Mead was convinced, as always, that the next time, a new means at his disposal would allow him to return from the high place from which he had been cast.” Cast from a high place, trying to get back, plenty of time to bide... Now who could this be? And if my suspicion is supportable, what does this do to the notion of the bridge and Mead’s stated goals, always presented in a favorable light within the novel?

So as you read, pencil in hand, ask yourself: Who or what is Peter Lake?

Pax Christi vobiscum vestrisque,

Mark Helprin on Predestination and Free Will

Nothing is random, nor will anything ever be, whether a long string of perfectly blue days that begin and end in golden dimness, the most seemingly chaotic political acts, the rise of a great city, the crystalline structure of a gem that has never seen the light, the distribution of fortune, what time the milkman gets up, the position of an electron, or the occurrence of one astonishingly frigid winter after another. Even electrons, supposedly the paragons of unpredictability, are tame and obsequious little creatures that rush around at the speed of light, going precisely where they are supposed to go. They make faint whistling sounds that when apprehended in varying combinations are as pleasant as the wind flying through a forest, and they do exactly as they are told. Of this, one can be certain.

And yet there is a wonderful anarchy, in that the milkman chooses when to arise, the rat picks the tunnel into which he will dive when the subway comes rushing down the track from Borough Hall, and the snowflake will fall as it will. How can this be? If nothing is random, and everything is predetermined, how can there be free will? The answer is simple. Nothing is predetermined; it is determined, or was determined, or will be determined. No matter, it happened all at once, in less than an instant, and time was invented because we cannot comprehend in one glance the enormous and detailed canvas that we have been given -- so we track it, in linear fashion, piece by piece. Time, however, can be easily overcome; not by chasing the light, but by standing back far enough to see it all at once. The universe is still and complete. Everything that ever was, is; everything that ever will be, is -- and so on, in all possible combinations. Though in perceiving it we imagine that it is in motion, and unfinished, it is quite finished and quite astonishingly beautiful. In the end, or rather, as things really are, any event, no matter how small, is intimately tied to all others. All rivers run full to the sea; those who are apart are brought together; the lost ones are redeemed; the dead come back to life; the perfectly blue days that have begun and ended in golden dimness continue, immobile and accessible; and, when all is perceived in such a way as to obviate time, justice becomes apparent not as something that will be, but as something that is.

“Nothing is Random,” the first chapter in the 3rd section of Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale


I see no contradiction between free will and predestination. Why is this? It is because I believe that time is an illusion, that, given our mortal limitations, it is the artifice by which we struggle to perceive a reality that has no time. In other words, it all happened and is happening, at once. Take, for example, the sequential progress of a movie. It seems to be rooted in linear time. Frame after frame passes in forward motion. And yet, before and after the show, the film is in the can, absolutely still, all in one place and position, immobile. If it is true that time is a function of the speed of light, and if it is also true that a point, as in Euclidean geometry, is illusory, then light on a course from the earth outward, when apprehended from far enough away--from infinite distance, from God's perspective--would not possess the attributes of motion. And therefore there would be no time. In the absence of time, there need not be a contradiction between that which is predestined and that which is chosen. And, by the way, this would also explain the close connection between time and death. Perhaps death is the condition when the illusion if time loses its grip on us. In life, people frequently report not only deja vu but sensations of time slowing, or even stopping. Please do not misinterpret me or draw the wrong conclusions about my seriousness when I remind you that I do not wear a watch.

--from an interview with Mark Helprin published in Image #17

Sunday, October 01, 2006

God Squashed; NBC Steams VeggieTales fans

If I were the sort who blogged, this is the sort of thing I might blog about.

AP via CNN

(also featured at

I can see the re-worked first episode now:


with that great song:


It's just sad.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The key word was Normally

I still don't normally participate in these sorts of things, but...

A certain Rogue Classicist followed Glaukopis' lead on this Myers-Briggs-style Mythological personality test. I can't say I'm all that happy with the site that hosts the quiz, and so despite it's mythological content, I won't be putting up a link for my students to follow. But it's nice to have some place to file my own oddball results.

Because so much on the web is so very ephemeral, I'm going to paste in the blogger code and then, below that, plain text of the results.

Izzy / Nemesis

Edit: I'm scraping out the code and leaving the plain text. I dislike the spacing in the html and don't want to waste time fussing with it.


33% Extroversion, 66% Intuition, 72% Emotiveness, 23% Perceptiveness

You are a normally quiet person with very strong convictions and a marked activist streak. You have a clearly defined sense of right and wrong, and you like seeing people punished for their transgressions. You are Nemesis, goddess of punishment. You are a champion for the defenseless, you love poetic justice and, if karmic retribution doesn't have its say, then you'll have yours. You are astute, rarely fooled, and idealistic.

Famous People like you: Goethe, Voltaire, Susan B. Anthony, Robert Burns

My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
You scored higher than 99% on Extroversion
You scored higher than 99% on Intuition
You scored higher than 99% on Emotiveness
You scored higher than 99% on Perceptiveness

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Warren (violator of the artistic proverb "ne sutor ultra crepidam") chides me with:
"Write something allready, Izzy! Congrats on the job stuff."

The thing is, I really meant that first post. My head is a vast, empty, uninteresting space right now. It has been getting worse for several years. I do hope that the new job will allow me space for a life and time to read. We'll see. But for now, my words of last December are still true:

"I haven't anything to say.


"The only reason I got this ID was so I could respond to other people's blogs on a very occasional basis."


Sunday, March 26, 2006

I don't normally participate in these sorts of things, but this "answer these questions" activity combined Music and Randomness. How could I not?

Gashwin's blog pointed me to Zadok's iteration of the questionnaire. The instructions are:

Go to your music player of choice and put it on shuffle. Say the following questions aloud, and press play. Use the song title as the answer to the question. NO CHEATING.

Herewith, my answers:

How does the world see you? Wouldn’t You Think I’d Know By Now? (J. Henry Burnett)

Will I have a happy life? Forgive & Forget (Bob Bennett)
This seems like sound advice.

What do my friends really think of me? You’re the One (Sweet Comfort Band)
As if.

What do people secretly think of me? U.F.O. (Larry Norman)
This seems more on target.

How can I be happy? Hero (Steve Taylor)

What should I do with my life? Good News (2nd Chapter of Acts)

Will I ever have children? Lord of the Starfields (Bruce Cockburn)
Wasn't something like this once said to Abram? Does this mean I can expect our first child when I'm 80?

What is some good advice for me? True Confessions (Tonio K)
Oddly enough, there's a Lenten Reconciliation Service at St. Tommy tomorrow evening.

How will I be remembered? Big Race (All Saved Freak Band)
At least it's not "Big Racist, which, given my upbringing, wouldn't be too surprising.

What is my signature dancing song? The Golden Age (Mark Heard)
Since I can't really dance (no rhythm at all), a non-dance tune seems appropriate.

What do I think my current theme song is? The World (Fireworks)

What does everyone else think my current theme song is? Wondering Where the Lions Are (Bruce Cockburn)
...especially my students, who would like to feed me to them ASAP.

What song will play at my funeral? Dancing Barefoot (U2)
This would be cool.

What type of men/women do you like? House of Mirrors (T-Bone Burnett)
Don't we all want people who just reflect us back to ourselves?

What is my day going to be like? Rock of Ages (Gillian Welch & David Rawlings)
"When my body gives out / Gonna read those final pages."

knows not single soul in this town who would have this oddball collection of music, but in desperate need to share a few beverages with anyone who does

Monday, January 09, 2006

Omar, Homer, and the Cobbler

I used to work at Duke's Perkins Library with a young woman who had done her undergrad at Bryn Mawr. It was she who told me that Mary Patterson McPherson was prone to tell students that the real purpose of a Liberal Arts education was "to make your head a more interesting place to live." I heartily agree.

Omar reads his namesake:

Back in March of 2004, the Washington Post had a brief article on the doings of the famous Egyptian actor Omar Sharif. It turns out that the septuagenarian was teaching himself Homeric Greek so that he could read the Iliad and the Odyssey in their original languages. Part of that article read:

Fluent in several languages, the elder Sharif said he has taken up the study of ancient Greek. "One of two things will happen: I will have died learning something useless but beautiful, or I shall die having read Homer in the original. It may seem stupid but you have to have a beautiful mission in life."

harvested in March 2004, link now dead

Let's hear that again: If he does not complete his task, the worst that happens is he "will have died learning something useless but beautiful.... You have to have a beautiful mission in life."

He wasn't taking up this task for it's utility, because it might be useful, rather, he took up the task for it's beauty.

Ornamental Knowledge

This marvelous quotation from Sharif put me in mind of a gem from one of the novels in Robertson Davies' Salterton Trilogy:

"Oho, now I know what you are. You are an advocate of Useful Knowledge."
"You say that a man's first job is to earn a living, and that the first task of education is to equip him for that job?"
"Of course."
"Well allow me to introduce myself to you as an advocate of Ornamental Knowledge. You like the mind to be a neat machine, equipped to work efficiently, if narrowly, and with no extra bits or useless parts. I like the mind to be a dustbin of scraps of brilliant fabric, odd gems, worthless but fascinating curiosities, tinsel, quaint bits of carving, and a reasonable amount of healthy dirt. Shake the machine and it goes out of order; shake the dustbin and it adjusts itself beautifully to its new position."
-- Humphrey Cobbler challenging Hector Mackilwraith in chapter five of Tempest-Tost

Allow me to take this moment to introduce myself to you as an advocate of Ornamental Knowledge.

Now, go learn something cool. And remember, as a very wise tiger once said, “if nobody makes you do it, it counts as fun.”

(Clickerize to embiggenate.)