Sunday, July 31, 2011

Worst of the worst

Which type of blogger am I? Probably a mix of 5 and 3 with just a hint of 2...

[Warning: In appropriate language ahead, squeamish folks beware!]

But time passed, and the bloggers started getting worn out, tired with the hectic pace of updating multiple times a day. They began writing longer posts that appeared less frequently, eventually shape-shifting into a MILF-ish group whom we now call the Cracked Columnists. By late 2008, the Cracked Blog was dead, a loss which would soon rattle the w

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Acceptable names for dogs

According to the ancient Greek writer Xenophon (in his treatise On Hunting), you should give dogs
"short names which are easy to call out, such as, for instance:

-Xenophon, On Hunting, Trans. Robin Waterfield (New York: Penguin Classics, 147)

I think this probably transfers into the modern world if and only if you combine one of these names with a Biblical name: "Sunbeam Jezebel", "Mighty John the Baptist", "Peppy Lazarus", etc. Come to think of it, those might make some decent names for children...

Anne Bradstreet: A Review

Anne Bradstreet by D.B. Kellogg (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2010).

In this short biography, D.B. Kellogg never says that Anne Bradstreet fought off a pack of angry bears with an axe while surrounded by chanting Native Americans in war paint, but she might very well have written a poem about it...

The difficult thing about writing a biography about someone like Anne Bradstreet is often how little information has come down to us. And when biographers don't know a lot about the person, they are often tempted to use general information about the time period as filler. In this short biography of Anne Bradstreet, Kellogg avoids this danger quite skillfully by mixing together a picture of Bradstreet's life and just enough information about the Puritan world to explain what might otherwise be obscure and difficult events and poems. For example, Kellogg explains that Bradstreet's family had worked for Queen Elizabeth, and that she considered the reign of Elizabeth to be one of the best periods in English history to date. Which in turn explains her lines praising "she that swayed the Scepter with her hand."
Overall, this biography is a well done blending of historical setting, biographical information, and literary explanation. I would recommend this to anyone wanting to learn more about early American poetry, the New England colonies in the early 1600s, or, of course, Anne Bradstreet.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hiero the Tyrant

As if I didn't have enough Blog-posting-series going (what the heck is the name for one of those anyway? a "bleries"? a "selog"?), I've decided to use the blog to help me keep track of some extracurricular reading I've got going on.
Basically, I've decided to try to read ~10 pages/day of some work that is 1) in the neighborhood of political theory and 2) definitely not related to my dissertation topic. The goal is both keep me thinking occasionally about the broader scope of the discipline (especially since I don't have plans to teach any political theory this fall) and to keep me from suffering insanity-by-dissertation. I will put some of the more interesting ones down here in summary form for those who might find the subject matter appealing.

So, without further gilding the lily (or, as my high school freshman English teacher said, "without further gelding the lily", yeah, he was weird), here is:

Hiero the Tyrant by Xenophon

Hiero was a real-life tyrant in the Greek city-state of Syracuse. He was known for making Syracuse a world-(or at least a Mediterranean-) power and for his patronage of the arts, including his support of the playwright Aeschylus, the philosopher Xenophanes, and the poets Pindar and Simonides. As with most ancient Greek tyrants, the historical figure was put into power by the democracy and ruled in the name of the people. And as with tyrants of any nationality, the power occasionally went to his head (for example, Hiero was the inventor of the idea of a "secret" police force).

Xenophon's dialogue consists of a conversation between Hiero and Simonides, and has little to do with the historical figures, and instead reflects an idealized discussion between a wicked tyrant (as opposed to a good tyrant, which was a more common Greek idea, or even the noble head-of-the-household described in another of Xenophon's works: Oeconomicus (="Household Management", which becomes the root of our word "economics") and a free citizen. The point is not to discuss a historical event, but rather to reveal the nature of the place of virtue and wisdom in society and leadership.
Below is my summary of the dialogue:

Chapter 1
Simonides: How is being a tyrant different from being an ordinary citizen?
Hiero: It's been so long since I've been a citizen, I've forgotten what it's like. Could you remind me?
S: It's a life of pleasure and pain, which come both from the body (physical pleasure and pain) and the mind (psychological pleasure and pain).
H: So far, the two are the same, for both experience pleasure and pain.
S: But the tyrant must experience more pleasure!
H: Not at all, the ordinary citizen does.
S: Then why do men become tyrants at all?
H: Because they don't know any better. Citizens, for example, are free to travel and see the wonders of the world (the pleasure of the eyes), while the tyrant must stay home, either to execute justice or to keep his power base secure.
S: But, what about the pleasures of hearing? Doesn't a tyrant hear only good things?
H: Yes, but he knows people are thinking evil of him, despite what they're saying.
S: What about food and drink, aren't those better for the tyrant?
H: The tyrant gets so much delicious food that delicious food itself becomes common, so he no longer has the pleasure of an occasionally great meal that the average citizen enjoys. That's why a tyrant's food must be so sharply seasoned, to make it less bland for him.
S: What about sex? Isnt' that better for tyrants since it can be with anyone?
H: No, because:
1) the tyrant always has to "marry down", since he can never truly marry his equal; he can't even marry to advance his lot in life, which is the great hope of the majority of people;
2) sex outside of marriage for a tyrant is sex with slaves, which isn't satisfying anyway;
3) sex must be (for the tyrant) without desire, since it's always available, and consequently is without delight;
4) even when the tyrant experiences true affection for his partner, he can't be sure that it is genuinely returned, and he remains always in danger of being betrayed by those who claim to be closest to him.

Chapter 2
S: None of those differences matter, since the true differences are wealth, power, and the immediate obedience to your will that no ordinary citizen could ever hope to receive.
H: Alas, those are merely a gloss of externals that deceive the rabble into thinking that the tyrant's life is good.
In truth: first, the tyrant is never truly at peace, since he's never truly safe. Second, most of the tyrant's enemies are in his hometown. Third, his very house is full of danger. Fourth, not even a truce with his enemies truly makes him safe.
So, although the relationship between tyrants and citizens looks like the relationship between two warring states, it's really not, because at some point the wars between states come to an end, while even after achieving utter victory over his enemies, the tyrant remains at war with his subjects.

At this point, stupid blogspot refused to save the work I'd done of typing in my notes. So, instead of going back and redoing all of the work I've lost, here's a summary of the rest of the work:

Summary of the Rest of the Dialogue:
Essentially, Simonides convinces Hiero that he can indeed be a good tyrant, if only he would think of the state before himself. He would be loved and safe if, instead of building up his own mansion, he built up the state; if, instead of glorifying himself and competing with his own citizens, he glorified the state and led his citizens in competition with other states; and, most importantly, if, instead of taking on the tasks which people hate him for (enforcing public justice, for example), he outsourced those things to the private sector, encouraging private competition to take the place of government functions.
Which is an interesting argument, given how old it is. Of course, it must be remembered that this was competition amongst the nobles and high middle class, not the open and free competition we have today. The Greek idea was that competition amongst excellent people creates greater excellence. Throwing a "lesser" person into that mix would only lower everyone involved and create false ideas of equality.

All around an interesting (and entertaining) dialogue.

True humility

"... In order to [achieve a] sense of our own meanness and unworthiness that is implied in humility, it is not only necessary that we should know God, and have a sense of his greatness, without which we cannot know ourselves, but we must have a right sense also of his excellence and loveliness. The devils and damned spirits see a great deal of God's greatness, of his wisdom, omnipotence, &c... But they have no humility, nor will they ever have, because, though they see and feel God's greatness, yet they see and feel nothing of his loveliness. And without this there can be no true humility, for that cannot exist unless the creature feels his distance from God, not only with respect to his greatness, but also his loveliness." Charity and its Fruits, 135.