Friday, December 6, 2013

My Heart Belongs to Daddy

No person connected with me by blood or marriage will be appointed to office." 
Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th U.S. President
Nepotism in many ways is like its furtive sibling, onanism: a practice that people are irresistibly compelled to indulge in, and one that gives them great satisfaction, but one in which no one can take public pride.”
John Homans*
Draw round my bed: is Anselm keeping back? Nephews--sons mine . . .”
Robert Browning, “The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed's Church, Rome”
One wonders if on their deathbeds Pope Alexander VI, who “elevated not fewer than ten of his relatives to the College of Cardinals, and endowed others with a host of fiefdoms in the Papal States,” or Pope Sixtus IV, who “elevated six of his relatives to the Sacred College,”** were surrounded by those who gained from the largesse of their relative.
One wonders, also, if Adam Bellow was at the foot of the bed of his Nobel Prize winning father, Saul, when the latter shuffled off this mortal coil. As he himself admitted in New York magazine, “The son of a famous writer, I attended an exclusive private school along with the children of other distinguished people: writers and actors, musicians, politicians, art dealers, and editors of the New York Times.” He has also admitted to being a great lover of nepotism; in fact he wrote a whole book to praise it. 
Of course, he found it necessary to try to separate the nepotism of Renaissance popes from that of democratic American life. Bellow doesn't see us as “returning to a society based on hereditary status, complete with a corporate aristocracy and a political House of Lords.” What he sees is something like “the family that works together, stays together.” He says, “Occupational traditions within families are very much a part of our national fabric,” going on to point out that children go into family businesses and some actors' children become actors and some home run hitters' offspring also swing major league bats.
As John Homans pointed out in his review of Bellow's book In Praise of Nepotism, the author uses a definition of nepotism so capacious that whatever sordid taint the word had is so diluted as to be barely detectable.” Surely, the issue with nepotism isn't talent following talent from generation to generation, or learned skill following learned skill from generation to generation, but of the privileged using their advantages to maintain their power from generation to generation. 
It is interesting that Bellow cites Jim Hightower's attack on George Bush the elder: "He is a man who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple." But he sloughs off this observation that holds true in so many cases to justify Bush junior's electoral success as somehow down to personality and achievement. Nevertheless, Bellow does attempt to defend nepotism (however he defines it)--an attempt which is perhaps an apologia pro sua vita, understandable as he himself seems to be too honest to sing in the shower, “I did it my way.”
I once had a desk plaque that read: “All I Ask is an Honest Advantage.” I would clasp to my bosom the man who would defend any advantage I had and proclaim:
I will go to the barricades to protect your right to dine on caviar and champagne, while I gobble my bowl of gruel.”
But somehow I doubt I shall ever meet that fellow. The defenders of privilege always seem to be those people who already have them and not those people whose cupboards are bare.
I will clasp to my bosom, though, Paul Bernal, who recognizes his privileged status and what that should entail: 
With great privilege should come great humility. Those of us who are privileged . . . should be able to find that humility. To know that we really don’t know what it’s like to live without our privilege. We can try to imagine – but we’ll never really succeed. And we should know that we’ll never really succeed – and be far, far more willing to listen properly to those who do know it. Most of all, though, we should know when not to talk as though we had all the answers. We should know when to shut up.”***

Thursday, November 14, 2013

That's All, Folks!

Anthony Tommasini, a music critic of the New York Times and opera buff, has written a recent article in which he chooses to “speculate on what happens after the final curtain falls” on several favorite operas, such as Rigoletto.
In the last moments of the opera as traditionally staged, [Tommasini explains] Rigoletto, a hunchbacked jester, hears the lecherous Duke of Mantua singing in the distance. Rigoletto realizes that the body in the sack he is dragging to the river cannot be the Duke, whose assassination he ordered to avenge his daughter’s honor. To his horror, it is his daughter, Gilda, who, in the throes of passion and shame, has sacrificed herself for the Duke.
But what happens after the opera ends? Will Rigoletto try again to have the Duke killed? Or kill himself?
 Will the Duke continue his life of entitlement and debauchery, seducing any woman who intrigues him?
Well, what happens after the opera ends is that everybody takes off his make-up and goes home.

“A work of art contains its own logic”--Eric Bentley 
"All art is a matter of choice”--Harold Gotthelf
To expect the characters of an opera or play or novel to continue to have life and to continue to act after the artistic work has concluded is pure nonsense. Fictional characters are just that--fictions--who exist strictly within the bounds set by their creators. Lady Chatterley can’t traipse away after Lawrence’s final period and go off to teach Esperanto. She is locked up within the pages of the novel that bears her name. It’s a fun parlor game to play “What Happens Next?” with literary characters:

Horatio tours Denmark explaining to the citizens the (delayed) actions of Hamlet. 
The Montagues and the Capulets dispute the siting of the memorial statues of Romeo and Juliet, and so they never get built. 
Stephen Dedalus, having received rejection letters from 43 publishers, gains employment in a shoe store. 
Vladimir and Estragon receive a text message from Godot: “Meet at Burger King.” 
And so on and so forth.
Yes, it's a fun game; unfortunately too many people take it seriously.

The writers (playwrights, librettists, novelists, etc.) have made up their own minds where to begin their story and where to end it. The play (opera) ends here! Curtain! Tommasini's wanting to look behind the curtain reminds me of the mild panic some fans of the Sopranos exhibited when David Chase pulled off the TV equivalent of a quick curtain—the final blackout screen. They insisted that something must being going on behind the screen. If only they could see the scraps that ended up on the cutting room floor—then they'd know.

"I remember asking [Harold] Pinter about my character. Where does he come from? Where is he going to? What can you tell me about him that will give me more understanding? And Harold just said, ‘Mind your own fucking business. Concentrate on what’s there.’”
Alan Ayckbourn 
(There are several versions of this anecdote with minor word changes.)
If the writer doesn't want the audience to know what went on before the story, then it's not part of the story. And just as Pinter exploded about the beginning of his play, we must imagine that the writer would be just as furious at tampering with his ending. If the writer doesn't want a mystery to be solved, an enigma deciphered, a paradox un-paradoxed, then so be it; the writer can live with uncertainty. If that is his view of things, the audience, instead of denying him his vision, should honor it.

At the end of the movie Kind Hearts and Coronets Louis (Dennis Price) has to choose between wife (Valerie Hobson) and mistress (Joan Greenwood). Who will he opt for (with accompanying consequences)? Curtain! The dilemma is the point—not the resolving of it. To promote a guessing contest about whether he lived happily (or unhappily) with Edith or Sibella—or even lived--is to selfishly usurp the artist's prerogative. It is a form of solipsism.

A writer chooses where to begin, and where to end.

End of story—literally.

Or as Tommasini would know from Pagliacci:
"La commedia è finita!”  

Friday, November 8, 2013

Marching Along Together

You know the old joke about the mother exclaiming to her neighbor about her son's feat during the school band's performance in the town’s parade? “My Herbie was the only member of the trombone section who was in step!”
The other day I received in the mail the opportunity to purchase for $2.98 (instead of $5.95) a book entitled 100 Words Almost Everyone Mispronounces. I declined to purchase said book--not because I was feeling parsimonious that afternoon but because it was a “Herbie” book. I did not even have to think twice about whether I wished to be in step with the authors or with the “Almost Everyone” so sneeringly put down in the title. The book’s assertion that what “Almost Everyone” who speaks a language does can be declared wrong is so patently absurd that only people like the mother of a Herbie or an Edward S. Gould (or modern Gould-digger) cannot see through it.
[In 1867 Gould wrote: 
"Another blunder, of which the instances are innumerable, is the misplacing of the word only. Indeed, this is so common, so absolutely universal, one may almost say that “only” cannot be found in its proper place in any book within the whole range of English literature …."]
Another who might not recognize the “absolutely universal” is the stick figure in the famous advertisements for the now-defunct Philadelphia Bulletin newspaper, whose catchphrase was: “In Philadelphia nearly everybody reads The Bulletin."

I have purposely, until now, declined to identify the authors of the $2.98 bargain book. They are the “American Heritage Editors,” who are, I imagine, the same people responsible for the dictionary of the same name. You will, of course, give that tome a wide berth; if you are looking for the best American dictionary, you will want to get one published by Merriam-Webster. (Note: anyone can use the name “Webster” in a dictionary title, so you want to watch for that “Merriam” bit.) The best $19 or so that you can spend on the English language would be for Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, which does not prescribe usages out of the blue, but offers historical-based discussions and examples of what writers have actually done (for example, contra Gould's screed against the “misplaced” only, the DEU offers evidence otherwise from the works of authors ranging from Dryden to T. S. Eliot and beyond).
My guess is that Herbie was not only out of step, but also out of tune.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


According to the United States Government’s Small Business Administration website, one provision of the Affordable Care Act (so-called “Obamacare”) is that  
Beginning in 2015, employers with 50 or more full-time/full-time equivalent employees that do not offer affordable health insurance that provides minimum value to their full-time employees (and dependents) may be required to pay an assessment if at least one of their full-time employees is certified to receive a premium tax credit in an individual health insurance Marketplace. A full-time employee is one who is employed an average of at least 30 hours per week.
The chief honcho of one large pizza chain (name withheld so as not to give them any publicity) was so incensed by this requirement that he proposed cutting the hours of his employees to under 30 a week, so as not to have to comply with this provision of the law.

So consider: Here’s a guy who so much loves his pizza dough kneaders and pie slicers (people undoubtedly only making minimum--or near-minimum--wage and without personal health coverage), that he is willing (a) to make them poorer and (b) to ensure that in times of illness they are unlikely to benefit from medical care.
Among the placards the New York City Transit Authority has had on display in its subway cars for a while now is a public service ad (offered in both English and Spanish) telling the riders, “If you are unwell--stay home.” The aim of the ad is to prevent the spread of disease.

Only recently, however, the Florida state legislature rejected a proposal to require paid sick leave for employees.

I, therefore, would be leery about patronizing Florida food service establishments with minimum-wage employees—those who can’t afford to stay home when ill or to see a doctor. Imagine the gleeful germ ballets that must be endemic there.
The September 16, 1961 issue of the New Yorker featured a “Talk of the 
Town” piece by Donald Malcolm about a conversation with an imaginary 
“plump and solemn gentleman” who has decided to run for mayor of New 
York City. He has, he claims, a fool-proof plan to end the slum housing 
problem in the city. What he proposes is “a simple ordinance requiring 
every landlord to live in the meanest apartment in the nastiest building he 
owns.” The virtue of this ordinance is that it would ensure that each 
landlord would have to improve all his properties at the same time if he 
didn’t wish to have to continually uproot himself and move to a new 
“meanest” apartment.

Perhaps that plump gentleman’s proposal should be adapted to the healthcare issue in this country. What if there were a law mandating that every legislator could only have the healthcare coverage of the worst-insured member of his constituency?

UPDATE (Oct. 14, 2013):

A day after I posted this blog entry published a story (brief excerpt below) that relates directly to some points I made in my essay:
One of the country’s largest and most profitable hospital chains has been defeated in its effort to take away its nurses’ sick days, according to the union that mounted nine strikes there over the past two years.
“The nurses would’ve come to work sick, and the patients’ health would’ve declined,” said California Nurses Association Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro. “Because the nurses would be exposing current patients to the past patients’ illnesses.” While nurses “take the risk of being around very sick people,” DeMoro told Salon, they “are not super-women.”
According to CNA, eliminating paid sick days was one of nearly two hundred concessions sought by California healthcare giant Sutter Health, in negotiations over union contracts covering three thousand nurses and hundreds of other employees at central California hospitals. Others included eliminating health coverage for nurses who work less than thirty hours a week, and reducing – to six hours – nurses’ minimum time off between shifts. The union says it defeated virtually all of the concessions in new contracts which were approved by members in votes which ended last week. CNA notes that Sutter financial statements show over $4 billion in profit since 2005.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Bang, Bang

Imagine you're the toughest, most macho National Rifle Association member. You think that guns should be allowed in schools, churches, bars, and sporting venues to scare away the bad guys. Now there you are, walking down the street, a sidearm holstered at each hip, an Uzi slung over your right shoulder and an AK-47 over your left. I come up behind you (or from the front or side), pull out my pistol and blow your head away.

Your armory was no defense; indeed, even if you could have somehow juggled them, adding a grenade launcher and a flamethrower would have aided you not a whit. Your safety did not rest on your arms—but on my lack of weaponry.

Of course, there is no such thing as absolute safety, for there is always a weapon around. If not the paring knife in the kitchen, there is always, as Clue players know, the candlestick in the dining room. Or that rock at the side of the road.

But relative safety (if not absolute safety) is the issue. I can only increase my relative safety (and you increase yours) by disarming other people as much as possible (even if we can't hide all the rocks from them). Which really means mutual disarmament. I'm safer if you destroy that Uzi and AK-47 and the rest of your stockpile, and you are safer if I destroy mine.


Upon the whole, I never beheld, in all my travels, so disagreeable an animal, or one against which I naturally conceived so strong an antipathy,” Lemuel Gulliver asserts near the beginning of Part Four of Swift's satire. What Gulliver has seen is a creature called a “Yahoo.” After giving the creature a blow with the flat of his sword, Gulliver is confronted by “a herd of at least forty ..., howling and making odious faces.” For safety Gulliver runs
to the body of a tree, and leaning my back against it, kept them off by waving my hanger [sword]. Several of this cursed brood, getting hold of the branches behind, leaped up into the tree, whence they began to discharge their excrements on my head; however, I escaped pretty well by sticking close to the stem of the tree, but was almost stifled with the filth, which fell about me on every side.
The land in which Gulliver is stranded is not populated only by these humanity-in-the-raw creatures, the Yahoos, but also by a race of rational horses, the Houyhnhnms. When Gulliver tells the horse that befriends him (his “master”) about destructive European warfare, his master thinks Gulliver has said "the thing which is not“ [the Houyhnhnms have no word for lying]. After all, says the horse,
nature has left you utterly incapable of doing much mischief. For, your mouths lying flat with your faces, you can hardly bite each other to any purpose, unless by consent. Then as to the claws upon your feet before and behind, they are so short and tender, that one of our Yahoos would drive a dozen of yours before him.
That humans have managed to create a world such as Gulliver describes with
cannons, culverins, muskets, carabines, pistols, bullets, powder, swords, bayonets, battles, sieges, retreats, attacks, undermines, countermines, bombardments, sea fights, ships sunk with a thousand men, twenty thousand killed on each side, dying groans, limbs flying in the air, smoke, noise, confusion, trampling to death under horses’ feet, flight, pursuit, victory; fields strewed with carcases, left for food to dogs and wolves and birds of prey; plundering, stripping, ravishing, burning, and destroying
can only be due, says the master horse, to a corruption of reason that “might be worse than brutality itself.”
If we could negotiate a disarmament that reduced mankind's means to fight others only to the weaponry that nature itself has given, such as the act of climbing a tree and shitting on one's enemies, we would be much better off. All we would have to do after a battle would be to jump into the nearest lake and wash ourselves off. We would be soaking wet—but alive.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Living End

The results of probably the most important research project of the last decade have just been released. The project, entitled De Morti Hominum, is a meta-analysis by Szabo, Fincke, and Fischetti of 1,117 studies in 28 languages of human deaths published over the last five decades. A baker’s dozen of major findings of the meta-analysis, sometimes surprising, are summarized below.

1)     Ubiquity—The presence of death was so widespread that it covered all the continents and non-continental areas (such as Polynesia).

2)     Concentration—Although death was ubiquitous, an interesting trend was discovered, which Szabo et al. have termed the “National Concentration Effect” (NCE). For example, most deaths of Chinese people happened to occur on the Asian continent, while most Brazilians died in South America.

3)     Racial Factors—Apparently, race played no part in the avoidance of death, there being records of the mortality of members of all racial groups. Strangely, however, in some areas of the globe the deaths of certain races seemed to be over-represented and others under-represented (e.g., members of the Caucasian race versus the Negroid in Lapland). Szabo et al. suggest introducing more members of the Negroid race into Lapland for a controlled longitudinal study of this phenomenon.

4)     Religious Factors—Another anomaly was noted in studying deaths by religion. In every decade many more Christians and Muslims died than Jews.

5)     Age Factors--Death was no respecter of age; deaths were recorded of humans of all ages from neo-natals to centenarians.

6)     Occupational Factors—The belief that an active life (contrasted with a sedentary one) would render one immune to death was disproved when statistics showed that persons in active professions (such as athletes, lumberjacks, and firefighters) were subject to death like those in sedentary ones (such as accountants, computer hackers, and newscasters).

7)     Indoor/Outdoor—Similarly, there was no escaping death whether one worked outdoors (like a farmer) or indoors (like an elevator operator).

8)     Body and Exercise—The study showed that the shape of one’s body did not determine one’s death outcome. Persons of all body shapes from the obese to the anorexic were subject to mortality. And no exercise regime—from yoga to Pilates, from weightlifting to stationary biking—increased one’s chances of ultimately avoiding death.

9)     Verticality—Height also showed no statistical probability of avoiding death, as records from different parts of the world evidenced the mortality of dwarves and giants, although most persons who died were between 152 and 188 centimeters.

10) Eating Habits—The belief that abstaining from eating certain foods (such as meat) would immunize one from death was also shown to be erroneous, as vegetarians and vegans did not avoid death in any great numbers.

11) Gender Issues—Nearly half those who experienced death were female and nearly half were male. The researchers were unable to determine the exact percentages of each gender because of “Nomen Ambiguity” (NA), the uncertain status of persons with given names such as Kelly, Stacy, and Morgan.

12) The Crucial Factor—The only statistically-relevant factor discovered in the study was the all-important one: the cause of death. Records from all countries (of deaths of persons of all races, religions, occupations, etc.) showed that all deaths were caused by cessation of cardiacal activity (in layman’s terms, the heart stopped). Prior to this cessation, the only thing all of the decedents had in common was life. Thus it can be concluded that life is the major contributor to death.

13) The Major Anomaly—The study showed that for decades prior to bodily death, political commentators had already been brain-dead.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Symbolic Value

Quick! Give me a word beginning with “P.”

Sorry, English speakers who said “Pi or “Pie,” or “Pye.”  Congratulations to all the native Greek speakers who offered a word beginning with “Rho.”

The symbols used in any language are not representations of a Platonic ideal, eternal and universal, but arbitrary scratchings limited in time and territory--consider that the English language once had the symbols thorn (Þ), edh (ð), and ash (æ), which are long gone. 

Once having become literate, native speakers of a language are able to navigate their way through the (seemingly complex—at least to outsiders) thickets of strange clusters of symbols. No native English speaker is stymied by “knave” or “knife,” “knight” or “light,” or pronounces “portion” as “port-eye-on.” Similarly, while a non-Swede may be fumbling with the given name of former professional hockey player Kjell Samuelsson, any native speaker of Swedish knows it’s pronounced “Shel.” Each language adapts its set of symbols to fit its own sounds. (OK, non-Polish speakers, try figuring out the pronunciations of Arsenal Football Club’s two Polish goalkeepers, Łukasz Fabiański—not too hard--and Wojciech Szczęsny. Natives of Warsaw will have no problem.) 

So, I say “pooh”—with a “pee”--to those who wish to tamper with English spelling. And that includes my beloved Bernard Shaw, who left a ton of money in his will to encourage the development of a new English alphabet (with at least 40 characters!).* 

It’s too bad that Shaw didn’t pay attention to the dialogue between Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvais, and the Earl of Warwick, an English noble, in own play Saint Joan, which humorously demonstrates why English spelling must remain independent of changes in pronunciation.

Both men see a threat in Joan to the pillars of their worlds, the Catholic Church for Cauchon and feudalism for Warwick. 

CAUCHON. I see you are no friend to The Church: you are an earl first and last, as I am a churchman first and last. But can we not sink our differences in the face of a common enemy? I see now that what is in your mind is not that this girl has never once mentioned The Church, and thinks only of God and herself, but that she has never once mentioned the peerage, and thinks only of the king and herself.

WARWICK. Quite so. These two ideas of hers are the same idea at bottom. It goes deep, my lord. It is the protest of the individual soul against the interference of priest or peer between the private man and his God. I should call it Protestantism if I had to find a name for it.

CAUCHON [looking hard at him] You understand it wonderfully well, my lord. Scratch an Englishman, and find a Protestant.

WARWICK [playing the pink of courtesy] I think you are not entirely void of sympathy with The Maid's secular heresy, my lord. I leave you to find a name for it.

CAUCHON. You mistake me, my lord. I have no sympathy with her political presumptions. But as a priest I have gained a knowledge of the minds of the common people; and there you will find yet another most dangerous idea. I can express it only by such phrases as France for the French, England for the English, Italy for the Italians, Spain for the Spanish, and so forth. It is sometimes so narrow and bitter in country folk that it surprises me that this country girl can rise above the idea of her village for its villagers. But she can. She does. When she threatens to drive the English from the soil of France she is undoubtedly thinking of the whole extent of country in which French is spoken. To her the French-speaking people are what the Holy Scriptures describe as a nation. Call this side of her heresy Nationalism if you will: I can find you no better name for it. 

Bad playwrights make their characters solemnly aware of their place in history (in a way that no real person would be) or crystal-ball gazers with a better track record than Nostradamus. Shaw, a great playwright, comically has his clergyman and his nobleman alert to the historical moment, but (as we, six centuries later, know) wrong as to the language. How so? By having his characters pronounce the words “Protestantism” and “Protestant” as “Proh-testantism” and “Proh-testant” (based on the pronunciation of their root word, “protest”) and the word “Nationalism” pronounced “Nay-tionalism” (based on its root word, “nation”).**

If spelling reformers ever got their grubby hands on the language to put spelling in line with  pronunciation,*** then words would get separated from their roots and their siblings. For example, one could not then tell at a glance that “nation” and “national” are at root the same.

Historically, it has been the meddlers and “correctors” who have wreaked horrors on English spelling by, for example, attempting to reconcile English spelling with false Latin or French etymologies (like the busybodies who stuck the “b” in “debt” and “doubt” and the “s” in “island”).

In conclusion, it is worth considering an anecdote I once read (I wish today I knew the source): 
A visitor to a library (or museum or similar venue) in London asks a somewhat-elderly guard on duty for directions.
 “You want Section I,” replies the guard. “’I’ as in ‘epple.’”  
*Eventually, a version of Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion was published in the new alphabet. It was hardly a bestseller.

**While both “protest” and “nation” were in the English vocabulary at the time of Joan of Arc (early 15th Century), “national” and “Protestant” were products of the 16th,”Protestantism” of the 17th, and “nationalism” of the 19th—according to the OED.

***And whose pronunciation would have the right to be the foundation of new English spelling? Some plummy-voiced BBCers, maybe? Who died and left them God?

Saturday, July 13, 2013


Today we salute Goldilocks. Yes, I know she had the nasty habit of breaking into the homes of others—but she was, perhaps, the foremost empiricist among all the fairy tale characters.

She is worthy in a way that too many business moguls and politicians and pundits of a certain bent are not. Ideologues to the nth degree, they offer tautologies as counsel, question-begging as wisdom. “The government must not over-regulate the (fill in the blank) industry,” they spout—and to the unwary such a proclamation might pass as astute political advice. But as the philosopher Julian Baggini, points out, “An adviser can always be right yet not much use.” He goes on to offer a few examples of advice that is right but not of much use: “never buy anything that is too expensive”; “do not marry the wrong person.”

Something that is “too expensive” is beyond a reasonable valuation, and thus just as un-right as “wrong” is, by definition. Baggini slaps the wrists of the Greek wise men who supposedly came up with the injunction on the Temple at Delphi—“Nothing to Excess.” Their advice comes close to being “vacuous,” he says. The difficulty in life is in knowing “how much is too much, not that too much is bad.”

But as Goldilocks showed us, excess lies off to both sides of the ideal. There’s too hard, but also too soft; too hot, but also too cold. In testing the chairs, the bowls of porridge, and the beds, she was eventually able to discover the right level of comfort for sitting and sleeping and the right temperature for ingestion.

Our anti-regulation ideologues, in their proclamations, have no minds for testing. If they did, they would acknowledge that while something “over” is (by definition) bad, so is something “under” (consider plants that are over-watered and those that are under-watered). Under-regulation is just as bad a policy as over-regulation; the issue—as the question-beggers do not wish the public to recognize—is how much regulation is not too much, or not too little—but just right.

See: Julian Baggini, Should You Judge This Book by Its Cover?: 100 Fresh Takes on Familiar Sayings and Quotations

Friday, June 28, 2013

Philosophy 101

Socrates was always gadflying,
Going round probing and prying.
The folks in the agora
Got sorer and sorer
And soon had old Socrates dying.


Socrates' method was ironic.
While his follower's was Platonic.
Go on, be brave!
Get out of the cave.
Or else you'll remain moronic.” 


Seneca said take it day by day;
Over events we really have no say.
He was tutor to that zero--
The emperor known as Nero.
And with his life he had to pay.


"It is not very rough
To shave away the extra stuff,"
Said William of Occam.
(Don't ever mock'm;
He'll surely call your bluff.)


There is really no fakin’
Respect for Roger Bacon.
For in the 13th Cen.
Unlike other men,
He tried to get science shakin’.


My mail filter thinks him a sham
And sends his messages straight into SPAM.
But Rene Descartes
Is really quite smart,
Insisting, “I think, thus I am.”

Your hat you must doff
To each French philosophe.
For they never were frightened
To make people enlightened
And smart as a university prof.


Existentialists, needing a bard,
Latched onto the Dane Kierkegaard,
Who, never dissembling,
Showed in Fear and Trembling
How living is really quite hard.


Among the big American names
There is a certain William James.
In thought, never static,
He was rather pragmatic
And investigated mystical claims.


About Sisyphus, said Albert Camus,
He had only one thing to do--
To push up that rock
Each day round the clock.
For that was the punishment due. 


“Simone,” said her lover, Jean-Paul,
“Let’s you and I tonight have a ball.
“There’s no-one to phone;
“We’ll do it alone.
“Hell is other people, after all.”


Kant was too cagey;
Nietzsche too ragey.
Hit the bottle.
And Aquinas was much too beige-y.