Saturday, January 31, 2004
CHATTER: Ancient Philosophy
Res ipsa loquitur:
There's a poignant moment in the current movie "Lost in Translation" where Bill Murray, who plays an unhappy American actor shooting a commercial in Tokyo, is talking to Scarlett Johansson, a newlywed married to a jerk who dumps her in a luxury hotel while he goes about his glamorous business elsewhere.
Johansson asks Murray, who when he isn't selling a certain scotch spends his time drinking it, what he's doing in Japan. He says he's making a fast $2 million doing the commercial when he knows he really ought to be doing proper theater somewhere. In other words, he's selling out.
He, in turn, asks what she's doing with her life. She says she just graduated from college and isn't quite sure.
"What did you study?" Murray asks.
"Philosophy," Johansson replies.
"There are a lot of career opportunities in that racket," says Murray, dripping with sarcasm. "I'm sure you'll find the angles."
I've always been a big Bill Murray fan. (Hey, he used to spend summers up in Minocqua and loved Paul Bunyan's all-you-can-eat breakfast on Highway 51). But I think he's dead wrong about philosophy. It just so happens I've been thinking about a career change in that very direction.
Here's my thinking: A good philosophical approach to life is absolutely essential. Your daughter is getting every square inch of her body tattooed, you consult Euripides and everything is put in proper perspective. Your wife runs off with the captain of your bowling team (a guy with a 189 average, at that) and you look up what Plato had to say on the subject (unfaithful wives, not bowling). Right away you feel better.
The problem is we don't have any respectable philosophers working these days. It's a lost art, like television repair. Sure, there are plenty of idiots on cable TV dispensing advice on every imaginable topic, but they are basically impostors. We haven't had any really commercially viable philosophers since the 18th century when Goethe talked about how "one does not get to know that one exists until one rediscovers oneself in others." And, frankly, even that wasn't all that great.
It's hard to beat guys like Aristotle, Plato, Socrates and even a second-stringer like Publius Syrus for sound philosophy. Whether they were opining on patience, the nature of justice, vice or virtue, they were pretty much head and shoulders over anyone before or since. The problem is you read what they had to say and, for whatever reason, people nowadays can't figure out what most of it means.
Which is where I come in: I'm not planning to create a whole lot of clever new sayings for everyday problems because it's clear I can't improve upon what's already been done. What I can do, however, is translate the good stuff into words that regular people can understand.
"Leisure is the mother of philosophy," the great smart man Thomas Hobbes wrote in 1657. What does that mean for us today? Simple: In order to think deep thoughts and get your head on straight, take regular naps.
Aristotle had some smart things to say about anger management, but, and this is just one man's opinion, he had a hard time expressing himself. On that very subject, for example, he wrote:
"It is easy to fly into a passion - anybody can do that - but to be angry with the right person and to the right extent and at the right time and with the right object and in the right way, that is not easy and not everyone can do it."
I think he's onto something there but, again, I get a brain hemorrhage trying to follow his train of thought.
If someone asks me the same question that was put to old Ari, I simply say, "Pick your shots." I ask you, whose interpretation makes more sense?
For his part, Plato had some strong opinions on the class structure of society. He said, "There are three distinct classes, and any meddling of one with another, or the change of one into another, is the greatest harm to the state and may be most justly termed evil-doing."
In the current world, I believe he was really addressing the "state" of National Football League fans. The three classes, in descending order of civility, are people who root for the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings. To put any combination of the three at a single table for a Friday fish fry in, say, River Falls, could prove catastrophic.
Plus, in reference to the "change of one into another," I think he means that if you are born in Minneapolis and you nonetheless realize that The Pack is a superior team, there is no sense trying to morph into a supporter of the Green and Gold. This goes against nature and fate will deal with you harshly should you attempt the switch. [more from Steve the Philosopher King at the Wasau Daily Herald]
CHATTER: Super Bowl Roman Numerals
I can't remember previous Super Bowls causing such brain cramps in sports writers in regards to Roman numerals, but over the past couple of weeks I think every sports writer has mentioned/whined something about Super Bowl eks eks eks vee eye eye eye. So I'll just mention a couple of interesting observations gleaned from such columns. First comes Jim Pettit's observations in the Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer:
A lot of people cannot tell you what year this is (MMIV) in Roman numerals. That doesn't mean they are dumb, just that they don't bother to remember information they seldom use. For example, would you care to sit down and try to work a high school algebra problem? I wouldn't.
Sportswriters are probably glad that Roman numerals are history.
Can you imagine a paragraph such as: ''The Lions drove LXXIX (79) yards in XII (12) plays for the winning touchdown, a III (three)-yard run off left tackle by running back Nero Jones. Jones, who is the oldest team member at age XXXIV (34), was honored in pre-game ceremonies when his jersey number XXVII (27) was retired. The drive's key play was a IV down (fourth, OK I'm fudging) and XIX (19) pass for XXI (21) yards from quarterback Roger Marius to wide receiver Tony Caligula. Marius completed XXXI (31) of XL (40) passes for CD (400) yards as the Lions wrapped up a XII-II (12-2) season.''
By the way, New England is favored by VII (seven) points over Carolina on Sunday. Kickoff is at DCXXV (6:25) p.m.
Don't forget to set your sundial.
Not bad ... we won't confuse him by introducing Roman timekeeping to the kerfuffle. Next, we'll skip Ned Barnett's whingeing in the Times Record but will highlight his useful observation:
Maybe the letter-numbers still make sense. The first championship was played in a Los Angeles arena called the Coliseum. And the Super Bowl rosters this year still echo with names from the ancient age. There's a Julius, a Troy, even a Roman - Roman Phifer of the New England Patriots. He wears No. XCV.
Actually ... there's a Tully and a Jason too ...
NUNTII: You Could Cut the Irony With a Knife
Interesting little tidbit from the BBC ... no direct ClassCon in it, but I couldn't help thinking about, say, the Elgin/Parthenon Marbles as I read it:
A Greek museum has denied the National Gallery in London the loan of an El Greco painting because it is afraid the painting may be confiscated.
The painting, a landscape of Mount Sinai painted in about 1570, is the subject of a long-running legal battle.
A Swiss man, Joram Deutsch, said he is the rightful owner of the painting, which he said was stolen by the Nazis.
He added he is the son of the Hungarian owner's lawyer and is entitled to claim the painting.
The artwork is currently owned by the Historical Museum of Crete in Heraklion. They have owned the painting - which they bought for £480,000 - since 1990.
Mr Deutsch tried to obtain it through a court order when it was shown at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The case was dismissed by a judge on technical grounds last week.
The director of the Historical Museum of Crete, Alexis Kalokairinos, told BBC News Online the museum did not want to risk another court case, even though it was sure Mr Deutsch did not have the right to the painting.
"I'm sorry about the decision not to send the painting to the National Gallery," Mr Kalokairinos said.
He said the Metropolitan Museum had found that the painting had never been looted by the Nazis during World War II.
He said the museum was unconvinced by Mr Deutsch's claim. "What we also need to know is what is the interest Mr Deutsch has in this case," the director said.
He said the painting had been exhibited many times outside Greece since 1990. He said the museum had investigated its history and was convinced it had adhered to international law.
CHATTER: Trivia Question
The Sydney Morning Herald has some ClassCon in its 'Big Questions' column:
Why is the king of hearts the only king without a moustache?
At one time, the King of Hearts represented Charlemagne, the King of Diamonds Julius Caesar, the King of Clubs Alexander the Great and the King of Spades was King David from the Bible. According to John Berry's book The Playing Card, the identities were given by the French who were instrumental in bringing the pleasures of card playing to people in Europe and the New World. According to Berry, the king of hearts had a moustache, as did, apparently, King Charlemagne. The moustache was lost through poor copying of the design.
AWOTV: On TV Today
Nothing of interest ...