Category: odds and ends

Cardinal Newman on Education and Journalism

Other obligations prevent me from writing up a full post this week, but rather than skipping a post entirely (other than the already completed lain20th series) I thought I’d turn over the blog to Bl. John Henry Newman. Below are a few excerpts from the preface to his excellent book The Idea of a University, in which he discusses the general purpose of education and, in particular in this section, contrasts it with those who have merely the appearance of an education.

[T]hese Discourses are directed simply to the consideration of the aims and principles of Education. Suffice it, then, to say here, that I hold very strongly that the first step in intellectual training is to impress upon a boy’s mind the idea of science, method, order, principle, and system; of rule and exception, of richness and harmony. This is commonly and excellently done by making him begin with Grammar; nor can too great accuracy, or minuteness and subtlety of teaching be used towards him, as his faculties expand, with this simple purpose. Hence it is that critical scholarship is so important a discipline for him when he is leaving school for the University. A second science is the Mathematics: this should follow Grammar, still with the same object, viz., to give him a conception of development and arrangement from and around a common centre. Hence it is that Chronology and Geography are so necessary for him, when he reads History, which is otherwise little better than a storybook. Hence, too, Metrical Composition, when he reads Poetry; in order to stimulate his powers into action in every practicable way, and to prevent a merely passive reception of images and ideas which in that case are likely to pass out of the mind as soon as they have entered it. Let him once gain this habit of method, of starting from fixed points, of making his ground good as he goes, of distinguishing what he knows from what he does not know, and I conceive he will be gradually initiated into the largest and truest philosophical views, and will feel nothing but impatience and disgust at the random theories and imposing sophistries and dashing paradoxes, which carry away half-formed and superficial intellects.…

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Notes on Approaching the Confucian Canon

Let me begin with something of a disclaimer. Though I’ve read all but one of the Four Books and Five Classics, and even written about some of them, I don’t consider myself an expert on Confucianism by any means. So take this post with a grain of salt, and expect it to be revised in the future as I read and reflect on the subject more. I’m writing it simply because I am asked occasionally how to approach the Confucian canon, so I thought it would be helpful to have a single place to point these people to, where I lay out some basic advice based on my experience.

Much as with choosing a translation of the Analects, which I’ve addressed previously, the main questions are how deep you want to go, and how much guidance you’d like. What I’ll do here is lay out which books you should read in the order I’d recommend reading them, with a few comments on each covering their main topic, availability, a link to my reviews where available, and whatever else may be relevant. Keep in mind that the reading order is a bit loose; for the Four Books I’m drawing from Chu Hsi’s recommendations given on this page.

If you just want the bottom line, I’d say if you just read one book it should be the Analects. If you want one more add Mencius, then the Doctrine of the Mean and Great Learning together. Add An Introduction to Confucianism if you want the big picture, and The Everlasting Empire if you’re addicted to context. For the Five Classics, add the Odes if you’re interested in poetry, the Documents and Spring and Autumn Annals for history. Finally, add the Changes and Rites if you want to be a completionist.

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The Catena Aurea on Biblical Genealogies

Looking at the state of Christianity, the lack of unity is disconcerting, as “each has a cry of his own, I am for Paul, I am for Apollo, I am for Cephas, I am for Christ.” Those in favour of ecumenism sometimes go too far, but it’s hard not to sympathise with their goal of fostering more unity among Christians, as long as it can be done without falling into indifferentism. There is, though, one thing regarding the Bible that seems to be universally agreed on, and that’s that the genealogies are the most boring part of Scripture.

Now, the ancients seem to have delighted in this sort of thing; they were probably more patient than we are, but they also had more appreciation for family than we do, and thus had a greater interest in ancestry. Nonetheless, the modern attitude isn’t totally new. St. John Chrysostom said of Christ’s genealogy in Luke 3, “because this part of the Gospel consists of a series of names, men think there is nothing valuable to be derived therefrom.” However, Scripture doesn’t record anything without reason, so he adds, “Lest then we should feel this, let us try to examine every step. For from the mere name we may extract an abundant treasure, for names are indicative of many things.”

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On Human Sacrifice in the Book of Judges

Recently, I’ve been working my way through Scripture, and one thing it’s reminded me of is how wild the Old Testament gets, particularly in the Book of Judges. It makes one fully appreciate why the sacred author says twice, including the very conclusion of the book, that “In those days there was no king in Israel: but every one did that which seemed right to himself.” The only times that Israel wasn’t a near anarchic, heathen-ridden mess was under the guidance of the judges.

Perhaps the most difficult incident, though, is Jephte’s sacrifice of his daughter, in the eleventh chapter. Now, whenever I come across a passage in Scripture that I don’t understand, I typically turn to commentaries. My edition of the Douay-Rheims Bible includes Bishop Richard Challoner’s notes, and I also use the iOS app Catena, which offers commentary by a number of saints and theologians. There’s something on almost every verse, and on important passages a few Church Fathers or other luminaries will weigh in, and you might end up with a few paragraphs worth of notes. This incident, though, prompted a free-for-all among the commentators. They do divide into a few camps, but it seems like every scholar to have ever picked up a Bible has felt the need to offer a word or two or two hundred on this.

Now, typically, I’d just share this sort of thing on Twitter. In this case, though, there’s just too much – I took a dozen screencaps on my phone and still couldn’t fit everything, and I didn’t want to leave anything out. It’s so interesting, though, and likely helpful for anyone troubled by the passage, that I couldn’t bear to just set it aside. So, I’m going to do something a bit different for this blog and offer it all here.

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Which Translation of The Analects Should I Read?

So, let’s say you want to begin a study of Confucianism. One reasonable place to start is The Analects of Confucius, but once you decide to do that, you run into a problem – which translation do you use? The number of options can easily overwhelm a newcomer; collecting them somewhat casually, that is, just buying one as I come across it and not actively seeking them out, I own nine versions and have read eight. Which you choose does matter, too. Though the most common ones are all decent enough, each translator makes different stylistic choices which will affect how much you get from the book, both in terms of understanding and enjoyment.

So, I thought I’d offer some advice to those new to the Analects. The impetus is that I’ve just finished revising my Confucian Twitter bot, in which I consulted most of these translations. I should, though, offer a few caveats. First, Chinese is Greek to me; I can recognise some of the written characters that are shared with Japanese, but otherwise, I don’t speak the language and therefore I can only judge these translations on clarity and style, not accuracy. Second, I haven’t read every available translation, though I have read those that appear to be most popular. Missing are those by Edward Slingerland, W. E. Soothill (which I own but haven’t yet read), and Annping Chin; there are probably others, as well, but I may come back and update this post in the future when I do get around to them.

Now, what I’ll do here is begin with a few general observations and recommendations, then go through and offer specific comments on individual translators, along with samples of the same handful of passages. Specifically, I’ll use 1.1 (Book 1 Chapter 1), 1.2, 2.16, 7.8, 11.11, and 15.25 (note that different editions number the chapters slightly differently, so in some cases these will be a bit off).

If you just want a recommendation and don’t need the minutiae, I’ll say that Simon Leys is the most beginner-friendly, followed by D. C. Lau. Wing-Tsit Chan has the most well-rounded translation, but his version is part of a collection called A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, so he doesn’t include the entire work. It’s a large enough selection to give one a good idea of what the Analects are about, though, and if you’re interested in other works of Chinese philosophy then Chan provides an excellent starting-point.

Only one translation is outright bad, and that’s Leonard Lyall’s, which I’ve reviewed previously. I also would not recommend Ezra Pound’s as a first translation. Pound’s version is interesting and worth reading, but he’s very idiosyncratic, so save his for after you’ve read one or two others. Most of the rest will work well enough, though.

Finally, a note on Romanisation. Translations from the past twenty-five years or so will typically use Pinyin; before that it varies, but Wade-Giles or some variation thereof are most common. I prefer Wade-Giles partly for aesthetic reasons and partly because it’s more intuitive for native speakers of English, but it’s not a major issue, so don’t worry about this aspect too much. It only becomes an issue when cross-referencing names and places with other translations or other works about China, because it’s not always obvious how to “convert” between systems. There are charts for Wade-Giles and Pinyin, though readers of James Legge will be in a tough spot, but usually these things aren’t too hard to figure out once you’ve used them for a while. If you plan to dive into relatively recent works about China, you may want to favour a translation that uses Pinyin to make your life a little easier.…

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Medieval Monsters

I recently received the book Medieval Monsters, an art book collecting illustrations from various medieval manuscripts, by Damien Kempf and Maria L. Gilbert, as a gift, and it’s one of those books whose main flaw is that it’s not big enough. That is, I wish it were bigger both in the sense of having more content and just being physically larger. At just 6″ x 7.5″, this is the smallest art book I own. More typical  would be something like The First World War in Colour, which is 8.5″ x 11.5″. To be fair, most of these illustrations don’t have a lot of detail and so may not merit as much space as some other genres of art, but a larger size would also allow for more content. On a positive note, the paper and print quality is nice, so what is here looks good.

One other small complaint, at just under a hundred pages there’s not really space here for a full treatment of the art. Anyone looking for a full discussion of medieval art and manuscripts will need to look elsewhere. However, Kempf and Gilbert do accomplish just what they set out to do, and there’s just enough text to give some context to the pictures and to relate some always-interesting myths and anecdotes. Discussing a picture of St. Dominic, for example, the authors say:

The Spanish saint was known for h is intense devotion to Christ: he would spend sleepless nights praying and reading. According to a medieval legend, Dominic’s mother, when pregnant, dreamed of a dog carrying a torch in its mouth that would teach and enlighten the world. Dominic and the members of the monastic order he founded, the Dominicans, were called the ‘dogs of the Lord’ (Domini canes), and their mission was to fight against the evil temptations of the world.


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Mischief Making in Two Wonderful Dimensions

MMboxSo, this past week I got a request to review a video game. It’s a bit outside the “bibliophile’s journal” theme I’ve been doing, but since I have posted about a few games before I thought it would be a nice change of pace. Also, this guy suggested that I’d look like some kind of nerd if I only write about books all the time, and I certainly wouldn’t want that. Anyone interested solely in Serious Business can come back next week, when I’ll have a post on Klemens von Metternich, followed by more from William Shakespeare.

Before we get to the main subject, though, let’s go back to the mid-90’s. The PlayStation and Nintendo 64 were the coolest things around, because now, for the first time on home consoles, games were in three dee! The days of side-scrolling in a mere two dimensions were gone, and now we could walk around awkwardly in three dimensions. Let me say, I was in elementary school at the time and was the first kid in my class to get an N64, and my social standing among my peers has never been higher, before or since.

Looking back, those early 3D games have, for the most part, aged pretty badly. Even in cases where the designers got the controls right, which certainly could not be taken for granted, the graphics were hideous. Very blocky with few textures was the house style for those early N64 games. Frankly, Super NES games were far more aesthetically appealing.…

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Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis

The short review of Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis is that it’s Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together but smaller.

Not that it’s a small game by any means, especially for the Game Boy Advance. It’s shorter and has fewer classes and side-quests, but I easily got thirty hours of gameplay out of it, and could see myself replaying it in the future to see the other endings. The graphics and music are both appealing, and look pretty good for a portable game, and though the story and characters aren’t as good as the original game, they’re still enjoyable. The gameplay is very similar to the older Tactics Ogre as well, so fans of that game, or tactical RPG’s in general, should be able to pick it up quickly.

There are some things about the game that annoy me, though. In Let Us Cling Together, I mentioned that I much preferred the large armies in the sister series, Ogre Battle, as opposed to fielding only ten characters at a time for each mission. In Knight, the number of characters on the attack team is reduced further, to just eight at a time. This does force the player to think even more carefully about which characters and classes to use, but also reduces the number of strategies available, especially with the reduced number of classes in this game. As a result, though the game never felt monotonous, there’s less variety from one mission to another than there could be.

Another change for the worse is that in Knight, turns are taken a full team at a time. So, the player’s army moves first, and once every character has done something, the entire enemy team moves, and so on. In Together, turns were taken on a per-character basis, not per-team, beginning with the fastest characters. Furthermore, if the difference in characters’ speed stats was great enough, a very fast character might move twice before a really slow one. This added an extra layer of complexity to planning out a strategy, which is simplified here to no benefit that I can see.

A couple more minor things, the game is very stingy with certain types of equipment. Swords are plentiful, for example, but archers are significantly less useful here than in the original game because they’re using outdated bows for a good 1/3 of the later missions. Also, about halfway through there’s a mission where the player has to split his army. Now, you can recruit about as many characters as you want, but since you only field eight per mission the obvious strategy is to come up with a standard team of eight and only use those. So when you suddenly need to field two teams, you find yourself with eight strong characters and a bunch of bench-warmers.

One improvement over the original is that enemies no longer have a set level, but their strength is set in each mission relative to the player’s army. So, they’ll always be slightly stronger than player characters, which is good because the AI is noticeably dumber than before. Of course, the dumber AI also means that this game is a bit on the easy side; I only had to replay a few levels, and though you can’t just coast through, as long as you stick to a handful of winning strategies there are only a handful of missions that present much of a challenge.

Perhaps the best thing of all is that, because enemy strength is relative to the player’s, you don’t have to spend nearly as much time in the insufferable training mode.

So, overall, The Knight of Lodis is a worthwhile sequel, just not as good as the original. Play Let Us Cling Together first, but for fans of the franchise Knight will be worth your time.…

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Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together

Though I haven’t played video games with any regularity in several years, there are a few games that I still remember very fondly and even revisit once in a great while. A couple of my favourites are the two fantasy-themed Ogre Battle games, both the Super NES original and its Nintendo 64 sequel. For years, I’ve also owned the two Tactics Ogre spin-off games, but never really played either of them until now, and I’ve just finished the PlayStation port of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together.

Tactics Ogre is a tactical RPG, similar to Final Fantasy Tactics, which followed it and shared the same director, Matsuno Yasumi. Though this style of gameplay became fairly popular after FFT, I never really cared much for it, which is why it took me this long to get more than a couple hours into TO. While I understand the appeal, these systems feel somewhat tedious to me, moving characters around individually rather than in groups (as in Ogre Battle) and controlling every little thing. Also, one thing I liked about the Ogre Battle games is that directing units of characters around a fairly large map made the game feel more epic in scale, like I was a general carrying out a full campaign involving dozens, even over a hundred (IIRC) soldiers. Moving only ten characters at a time on a small map in TO, though, doesn’t make me feel like a general on campaign, it makes me feel like I went to the local bar and after a few drinks too many some bros and I decided “This empire’s goin’ down.” Actually, that’s not too far off, since the game starts with the main character, his sister, and a friend deciding to ambush a company of foreign knights.

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Travails of a Language Autodidact

A couple months ago, I put my Japanese study on hiatus and bought a copy of French for Reading, by Carl Sandburg and Edison Tatham. I did so partly because four years of studying Japanese started beating me down. Though I’d made several strides with James Heisig’s book Remembering the Kanji, my progress with that slowed to a crawl. So, I decided to move to a textbook that could be completed relatively quickly, but still give me something to show for my efforts at the end.…

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