My college experience included a mandatory music tutorial. Singing was a big part of the class. Everybody was required to learn and sing works by Mozart, Palestrina and, naturally, St. John’s alumnus Francis Scott Key.
Although every single student was required to take this course, rumor has it that some professors refused to teach it on philosophical grounds. Their objection was not that it was an unfair requirement or that the forced singing was cruel; their objection was that the music was too good. These professors were non-Christians, and since the bulk of the music we studied was religious, they were concerned that the beauty and power of the music would break down their rational defenses against religion. Being forced to listen to Bach’s St. Matthew Passion over and over might undermine their reason and and convert them. Music is that powerful.
Nobody seemed concerned that listening to Don Giovanni over and over might turn them into amazing lovers.
Beer of the Week: Warsteiner Premium Verum -”Verum” means “truth”. Whether the name implies that it is “truly premium” or a “true pilsner”, I do not know. Perhaps the meaning could be that this is “true beer”. Although a bit light on both smell and flavor, I could get behind the claim that this is “true beer.” This seems like a very solid, if not exceptional, European pilsner; and to me a good pilsner is true beer.
Recording for the Week: Ave Verum Corpus by Wolfgang Mozart – Instead of a reading this week, there is an audio recording. There are plenty of wonderful pieces of music that I could have used to illustrate the point about the power of music, but I could not pass up the opportunity to pair Premium Verum beer with Ave Verum Corpus. Not being able to understand Latin is no defense against the power this piece of religious music. The music is so beautiful that the words simply must be right; how can something so wonderful be wrong?
(Then again, the titular “magic flute” in Mozart’s great opera has been claimed by some to be little more than a thinly veiled dick joke. So beautiful music doesn’t always carry with it profound truth.)
Question for the week: Almost everybody has felt music effect their mood, but has it ever effected your reason?
This is a very popular time of year for people to go on vacations. You can tell by all of the beach photos showing up on your facebook feed. So (aside from drinking beer) what is the best way to relax while on holiday?
Turn of the century astronomer Simon Newcomb had a few thoughts on the subject. In his essay The Extent of the Universe, Newcomb writes that “Bodily rest may be obtained at any time by ceasing from our labors, and weary systems may find nerve rest at any summer resort;” but that is merely physical rest. To rest the mind and the soul he prescribes contemplation of the night sky:
“I know of no way in which complete rest can be obtained for the weary soul—in which the mind can be so entirely relieved of the burden of all human anxiety—as by the contemplation of the spectacle presented by the starry heavens.”
The movements of the heavenly bodies are regular, ordered and unchanging. (Well, not exactly unchanging, but Newcomb points out that the amount of change over the whole history of human existence has been all but imperceptible.) This is why the astronomer Ptolemy asserted that the study and contemplation of the skies instills the soul with “the sameness, good order, due proportion, and simple directness contemplated in divine things.”
So even if you don’t get a chance to go on a fancy vacation, pick a clear night when you can lie on your back with a beer in hand (be careful when trying to drink in that position) and marvel at the beauty and order of the heavens. “The thinking man who does this under circumstances most favorable for calm thought will form a new conception of the wonder of the universe.”
Beer of the week: 5,0 Original Export – Despite only 5.2% alcohol it does taste more strongly of alcohol than the 5.0% 5,0 Original Pils. The whole brand is about making beer as cheaply as possible, so it is hard to be disappointed. It isn’t very good, but is exactly what it aims to be: a drinkable, very cheap beer. (No surprise that it is a product of Oettinger.)
Reading of the week: The Extent of the Universe by Simon Newcomb, Excerpt – In the hundred or so years since Mr. Newcomb died, tremendous advances and discoveries have occurred in the field of astronomy, but that is no reason to stop reading his work. The philosophical truths about the contemplation of the heavens remain unchanged.
Question of the week: Why does Newcomb think that the contemplation of the heavens can relieve anxiety while Pascal claims that thinking about the vastness of space fills him with dread? Is the difference in how they are thinking about the subject? Or is it due to a fundamental difference in the men themselves?
I like hunting, but I need justification for ending a life, even the life of a small rodent. In my mind, there are two valid reasons for hunting: use (including meat, leather, other useful animal bits) and pest control. Killing an animal for a trophy or simply for the thrill seems extremely wasteful to me.
My father hunts foxes and coyotes, and this requires a different justification: competition. Since my father primarily hunts deer and small game, he is in direct competition with coyotes and foxes. He reasons that if he doesn’t kill the coyote, the coyote will kill the deer that he wants for himself. I don’t buy that as a justification for killing foxes or coyotes.
In the first place predators play an important role in population control. And population control, you may remember, is one of the reasons for hunting in the first place. My father wants all the deer to himself, but there are already too many deer. The deer population in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is so high that there are more deer-car collisions here than in almost any other state. So from a simple balanced ecosystem stand-point, we want more predators, not fewer.
My second (and more aesthetic) objection to hunting predators is that it doesn’t seem sporting. If I shoot a rabbit I eat it, but hunting is still primarily for sport; and shooting your competitors is simply not according to Hoyle. If killing the competing predators is acceptable, then is the next logical step shooting other hunters? Perhaps Dick Cheney wasn’t a terrible shot with atrocious gun-handling habits; he just wanted all of the game for himself.
Beer of the Week: DAB Original by Dortmunder Actien Brauerei: I thought that the “A” in “DAB” was for the word “aktion” (action); that’s why I have paired this beer with an action-packed hunting reading. However, the word is actually “actien” (joint-stock?). Oh well. The beer itself is good, but not remarkable. It is much better than comparable American macro-brews, but this German macro has its own mass-production stamped all over it.
Reading for the Week: War and Peace by Count Leo Tolstoy – Book Seven of War and Peace includes a grand wolf hunt. After the wolf is captured, the hunters move on to small game. The dogs in the hunt are worth entire villages and their owners are keen to test them against each other.
Question for the week: Given the cost of equipment, travel and time off work,how expensive is a pound of game meat really?
As promised in the comments of the most recent post, here is a picture that I find both hilarious and profoundly disturbing. This bulletin was posted on the campus of a certain institution of higher learning near Dallas, Texas:
Seriously!? Texas college students need constant reminders that slavery is illegal? It’s been 150 years and they still have trouble remembering? Yikes!
And besides, this is in a place where almost nobody but students and school employees will see it. What is the concern, exactly? Are they worried that professors will enslave grad students and force them to grade hundreds of essays without pay? Wait a minute… maybe slavery really is a problem there!
I recently read an article about a Quaker church picketing Wendy’s because of the company’s failure to sign an agreement with a farm worker’s union to pay more money for tomatoes. Why, you might ask, should a company voluntarily pay more than market price for produce? The answer is simple, to keep from getting protested. The concept is sold as “stopping the exploitation of migrant workers,” but there can be little doubt that when the pen meets the paper, the agreement is strictly about public relations and extortion. That is, extortion in the form of: “if you don’t pay us, we will picket your restaurant.”
I would like to pause here to address the bile I’ve surely raised in some of my readers. First, I am simultaneously grateful that I have never had to pick tomatoes in the Florida sun and very appreciative of the men and women who do that job every day. Second, I definitely support unions as a free association of people with a common interest. I also support the concept of peacefully protesting. The First Amendment covers both of these and it is good to see people exercise their Constitutional rights while they still exist. (The fact that union king pins often end up exploiting workers just as much as anybody else and the dangers of protests giving way to mob mentality and vandalism are simply unfortunate realities that must be contended with.)
But all that isn’t what I want to write about. What really interests me about the news article is the focus on Quakers. Quakers, as it happens, are among my favorite Christians. They were also a favorite of Leo Tolstoy’s. Quakers are peaceful and educated, and they also founded my home state. However, they seem to have forgotten their parables. The article claims that the Quakers were protesting “unequal pay in the fields.” In the Gospel according to St. Matthew, Jesus tells a story about a man who hired a number of workers to pick fruit in his vineyard. (“Why does that sound familiar?” you wonder.) Well these workers labored for varying amounts of time, but when it came time to pay them, everybody got the same amount. Those who worked all day were understandably miffed. But the landowner laid down some heavy logic on them: they don’t have a legitimate gripe with the landowner since they had freely agreed to work for that pay. They have no right to be upset at the landowner for not paying them more because they hadn’t been tricked or coerced in any way. They got exactly what they had bargained for.
Beer of the Week: Apostel Bräu - The text of the Gospels doesn’t make it clear that Jesus told his parables to the Apostles over a tall glass of beer, but I think it is heavily implied. Apostel Bräu is clearly not the same as the beer the Apostles would have had since it only dates back to 1713. Like almost all German beers (regardless of the truth of the matter,) the makers of Apostel Bräu claim to brew in accordance with the traditional German Purity Law or Reinheitsgebot. With these appeals to tradition, the beer’s name, and the “stained glass” design, the can evokes thoughts of the old brewery/monasteries. Unfortunately, this beer is no match for a true abbey beer. The beer itself seems quite modern in the sense that it is bland and inoffensive. It is not bad, just absolutely unremarkable.
Reading for the Week: The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-15) – Of course the parable isn’t really about economics. The point of the parable is that heaven is not earned through righteousness in this life. The righteous therefore should not begrudge the wicked their salvation; the salvation of the wicked is a greater mercy and more fitting for a benevolent God. But I prefer the economic lesson: there is nothing unjust about a voluntary transaction between informed, free parties.
Question for the week: I think that the interpretation of the parable in the paragraph above (that heaven is not earned) is thoroughly in keeping with the teachings of Luther. But seems likely to rub some sects the wrong way. What other meaning could that parable have?
Astute observers will have observed that every reading on this page is in the public domain (at least in some country.) In part this is to assure that if one of these short readings inspires a reader to delve further into the original text, it is readily available. It is also so that I don’t get into trouble for distributing copyrighted materials. But that is not much of a worry considering the fact that this is not a profitable website and there is not nearly enough traffic to attract any attention.
Additionally, most of the greatest works of all time are in the public domain, so why bother with anything else? In the 2 years since I’ve owned a Kindle, I have not once paid for a downloaded book. Amazon has so many free classics that it seems silly to buy anything else. So when I looked for Steinbeck books on Kindle, I was put out. It seems that the works of Mr. Steinbeck will not enter the public domain for another decade or so. So what am I to do?
One option is to buy a digital copy. But I don’t even have a credit card attached to my Amazon account because I NEVER BUY CONTENT. Another option is to illegally download a pirated digital copy. But that’d be illegal. The third option is to go to the library and check out the book I want (if it happens to be available.) Finally, I could buy a paper copy.
We’ll eliminate buying either the digital or paper copy because I am not made of money. Now which is better, to pirate a digital copy or to check out the book from the library? Pirating is illegal. That is, I think, the only negative aspect. It is malum prohibitum: wrong only because there is a rule against it. The argument that pirating robs from the artist is invalid since the artist doesn’t profit from me going to the library either (also the artist has been dead for nearly a half century now.) Going to the library and checking out the book has many more visible negative aspects than piracy does: the pollution and waste associated with driving to the library, the additional human labor required by library staff to re-shelf the book, etc., the inconvenience to others should they also happen to want the same book at the same time. These negatives are quite small, even to the point of being totally negligible, however, piracy has none of these downsides. Piracy, in this case, is probably better for society as a whole.
But it’s against the law, so I got a library card. Oh, and the library card is made of plastic, so add the associated pollution to the list of cons.
Beer of the Week: Efes Pilsner – This Turkish beer does not inspire a lot of hope. The malt is supplemented with rice and the beer is very light and nearly odorless. But for what it is, it really isn’t bad. Like so many other adjunct lagers, it’s rather sweet but one could certainly drink a lot of the stuff. (And no doubt, some Turks do drink a lot of it.)
Reading of the week: Well, I wanted to use Chapter 13, Section 1 of East of Eden by John Steinbeck for this week’s reading. It is an amazingly powerful indictment of collectivism and a bold claim that any religion, government or philosophy that undermines the concept of the free individual is an enemy to humanity itself. But East of Eden is still under copyright, so if you want to read it (and you should,) you’ll have to go to the library. Or you could do a google search for “East of Eden, Chapter 13 Josh Crain” and click on the first result. But don’t have any delusions about it, there is no reason to think that Mr. Crain has obtained the proper rights to reproduce this insanely beautiful (and I really cannot stress how amazing it is) piece of writing.
Question of the week: Steinbeck claims that every great creation is the work of a single mind. Collaboration is a phantom; in reality, one creates and the group then builds upon the creation of the individual. What does that mean for great artistic partnerships such as Lennon and McCarthy, Rogers and Hammerstein, or The Coen Brothers?
This week was the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the single bloodiest battle of the American Civil War. The battle had a tremendous number of lasting effects. For one, much of the land in and around the town of Gettysburg is now property of the federal government. As a child, I would run and play among the boulders of a section of the battlefield park known as Devil’s Den. I probably did not give adequate reflection to the fact that many young men fought and died among those rocks. But I was six; give me a break.
Perhaps the most notable offshoot of the battle was the inspiration for the single most celebrated piece of American propaganda ever written: The Gettysburg Address. It is almost universally praised as a brilliant piece of oration. In some circles, however, Lincoln has been accused of blatant hypocrisy in the Address. The principal point of the speech is that the Union troops who fought and died fought in defense of the principle of self-determination. In actual fact, the Confederate soldiers were the ones fighting for self-determination. The elected legislatures of their states had, by democratic vote, decided to secede from the United States. Secession was a radical but not unprecedented course of action. If it was more radical than the American Revolution, it was only more radical because as states they had more government input than they had had as colonies.
Secession has been derided as “unconstitutional”, but it may even have been less radical than the creation of the Constitution itself. The Constitutional Convention was brought together to revise the Articles of Confederation, not to throw them out and invent a new government. And the proposed changes were to be approved by Congress and by the states, but the framers specifically included instructions for the ratification of their own new document. These instructions totally bypassed Congress (from whom the Convention originally received the authority in the first place) and also determined that the new Constitution would be effective even without the consent of every state. As it turns out, consent of the governed may not be the great American guiding principle that Lincoln and so many others claim it is.
Beer of the Week: Spitfire Kentish Ale – The Spitfire fighter plane was an instrumental tool of the British military in the Battle of Britain. If either side had a few Spitfires at the Battle of Gettysburg, history would remember the battle quite differently. Mainly it would be remembered as “the battle where some insane time-travelers showed up with weapons that would not be designed for another hundred years and wreaked havoc.”
Spitfire Kentish Ale, however is not a weapon. It is a beer is brewed by Shepherd Neame, brewers of Bishops Finger. As such, Spitfire is also protected by a ”Protective Geographic Indicator” by the European Union. Heaven forfend that another beer should be marketed as “Kentish Ale”. Anyway, Spitfire sure is a pretty amber beer. The smell is tangy and sweet and a bit grassy. The full malt body is balanced nicely with slightly spicy hops. It is pretty darn tasty.
Reading for the Week: The Gettysburg Address – This blog post certainly seems to come down on one side of the whole issue. It is important to note that the Confederate States made their decision to secede based on the argument about the spread and maintenance of the institution of slavery. Lincoln was right to start his Address with “the proposition that all men are created equal.” Early drafts of The Declaration of Independence, to which Lincoln refers, included an indictment of the slave trade; it was only a matter of time before the philosophical values of the Declaration came into direct conflict with the awful institution of slavery.
Question for the week: The Gettysburg Address includes the line “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here.” Did Lincoln really not think that this speech would be remembered? If so, was it because he thought that it really wasn’t all that good?