The Story of the Cape: God’s Cold and The Origin of Philobaekogy

In the beginning, there was only God. He created light first, to see what he was doing, and then created the heavens and Earth. But he had in mind humans. They required special creation through a long process of evolution. He wanted to make the heart pumping blood through blood vessels by rhythmic contractions, the eye with its important task of detecting and focusing light on the retina, the patella and its function of knee extension, and the mitochondrion with its role of producing adenosine tri-phosphate during cellular respiration.  He wanted humans to be very special creatures, possessing self-consciousness and the gift of language. He used water, methane, ammonia, and hydrogen and mixed them up to generate DNA.

Having completed his work, he rested awhile, for he began having cold symptoms. He looked down to Earth at a small village and called a group of skilled men, and ordered them “Bake me a cake.” The men began work immediately, though they knew not what a cake was. Each man worked alone. One was considering various plants, wheat, barley, and oat. Another was mixing water and flowers, obtaining a sweet and aromatic potion. Eventually, they decided to work together. One of them proposed that they grind some grains of wheat and barley obtaining a flour-like product. They also added ambrosia, mandrake extract, and flower potion. They shaped the compost into a round shape and let it set for a while. But before they brought that to God, one man said “we had better taste it first.” They all had a small wedge—and they all died afterward.

Later on, a group of curious villagers found the rest of the cake and started investigating the mysterious death. They soon realized that the cake was the cause of the death, and that it had to be thoroughly baked before they could serve it to God. They baked it, let it cool down, and then sampled it. This time the cake was safe to eat, but God was not around. The men decided to have some more cake, in the meantime, and to write about its taste, its recipe, its nutritional value, and other such aspects, also in an attempt to find out the original ingredients. They continued eating the cake and continued their research and writings for some time until they finished the cake before they could figure out its ingredients.

Sometime later in the village, a new generation of men heard about the story of the cake. They began writing about the cake based upon the writing of the group of men who had tasted the cake. Unfortunately, the cake was not there anymore. This new generation had to rely upon their imagination in order to say something about God, the cake, and the previous generations of bakers.

Much, much later on, yet another group of men, and this time women, too, began researching the events pertaining the bakers and the cake. They would address themselves as “philobaekuses,” or lovers of baked goods. They would write about the cake relying upon the writings of the previous generation of writers, who in their turn wrote about the cake based upon the writings of the bakers who had the advantage of tasting the first baked cake and study the first generation of bakers who were poisoned by their own unbaked cake.

This newest generation of men and women did what they could. At one point, some of them baked their own cake claiming to have discovered the original ingredients. Others created a caricature of the cake using real sponge to make the layers, cherry-flavored toothpaste for filling, and shaving cream as frosting. Others tried to de-construct the cake. Yet some others even began doubting the existence of God and the cake.

No one ever knew the truth, however. The truth is that God caught a cold and needed something to cover himself with. His voice sounded muffled due to his clogged nose. So, what was understood by the first bakers as “bake me a cake” was in fact meant to be “make me a cape.” And as for God, he died of pneumonia and his celestial cadaver disintegrated in the cold depths of the universe.



Plato on Justice: Mind Your Own Business

In The Republic, four definitions of justice are given by the four characters Cephalus, Polemarchus, Thrasymachus, and Glaucon.

First, Cephalus explains that justice consists in following the laws and repaying one’s creditors. Socrates points out that repaying one’s creditors is not always a good idea. For example, if one borrows a weapon from a man who has gone mad, it would not seem right to return the weapon to him. In other words, although the man is indeed the owner of that weapon, now that he is mad he may use it unjustly and harm others. Therefore, this cannot be a good definition of justice.

Second, Polemarchus, Cephalus’ son, defines justice as helping friends and harming enemies. Socrates, again, says that this cannot be right because men often make mistakes in judging who the real friends are and who the enemies are. And it might occur that one erroneously harm a friend and help and enemy.

Third, the Sophist Thrasymachus, espouses the view that “might is right.” He argues that such terms as “justice” and “right” are relative. What benefits the stronger party is just. The stronger, thus, decides what justice is. Socrates is not convinced; in fact, he says that rulers can make mistakes and unintentionally enact laws that do not benefit themselves, but rather their subjects. Thus, in that case, the stronger would not benefit from being unjust, while the weaker would, and this is inconsistent with Thrasymachus’ argument. Furthermore, Socrates continues, justice cannot refer to the acts of a crafty despot. Even a group of criminals would not be successful if they were not just to one another.

Fourth, Glaucon says that “[justice] is always practiced with reluctance, not as good in itself, but as a thing one cannot do without” (43). To further show his idea, he tells the legend of Gyges, who finds a ring that gives him the power to become invisible. Gyges is able to seduce a queen, murder the king, and take over the kingdom using his magic ring knowing that he will avoid being punished. Glaucon uses this analogy to conclude the sole reason men are just is that they fear punishment.

Thus, in books 2-4 of the Republic, Glaucon and Adeimantus challenge Socrates to show that justice is always preferable to injustice. Namely, Socrates is asked to prove that justice is intrinsically good as opposed to being only instrumentally good. But what does all that mean? According to Glaucon, there are three types of goods:

1. Intrinsic good: anything that is valuable for its own sake is said to be intrinsically good. For example, the pleasure generated by reading a book, sexual pleasure, and indeed any type of enjoyment, are pursued for their own sake and not because they lead to something else as for example wealth, which is a useful good in the sense that it allows a person to buy whatever that person wants.

2) Instrumental good: unlike good for its own sake, instrumental good is something that is desirable for the good generated by it. Wealth, for example, as we noted, is not good in itself; in fact, if you are stranded on a desert island, you may possess a million dollars, but it won’t be any good to you. However, if you live in a society, wealth is a good instrument with which you can buy your personal island and be happy. There is also a type of instrumental good that is not desirable although it can generate good, and that is pain.  Think about the pain one endures at the dentist’s. No one would choose to have one’s tooth drilled by a dentist for its own sake, but rather for the sake of having healthy teeth.

3) Intrinsic/Instrumental: the combination of both intrinsic and instrumental is the third type of good. For example, health is not only desirable for its own sake, but also because it allows one who is healthy to study, work, have sex, make money, buy an island, and so on.  In other words, health is intrinsically good because being healthy is valuable for its own sake, as well as being instrumentally good because of the good it can generate.

Now, Glaucon explains, it appears that justice is a type of good like pain: justice is at best instrumentally good, but certainly not desirable for its own sake—and in fact people are reluctantly just. People practice justice for two reasons: 1) justice is convenient—one is just because he wants to be treated justly in return, and 2) justice is compulsory—one is just because he fears that not being just can lead to punishment. And to emphasize his point, Glaucon tells the story of Gyges. Gyges was a shepherd who found a magic ring that rendered invisible the person who wore it. Gyges took advantage of the ring’s magic property and used it to seduce a queen, murder a king, and take the king’s place unpunished. The moral of the story is that if, like Gyges, people had the opportunity to be unjust without being caught and punished, there seems to be no reason why anyone would prefer justice over injustice.

To defend justice and show its intrinsic value, Socrates conducts a philosophical investigation into the foundation of an ideal city. He proposes that if a city is correctly set up, justice will be found in it; and with the help of Glaucon and Adeimantus, Socrates will be able to identify it. “But why does Socrates wish to investigate justice in a city?” one may ask. The answer is two-fold: first, if there is a justice that belongs to an individual and a justice that belongs to a city, it will be much easier to see justice on a larger scale; thus, we first try to find justice in a city. Second, individuals are not self-sufficient. Human beings have similar goals, i.e., food, shelter, clothing; in order to achieve these goals more efficiently, people gathers together into communities where each individual specializes in a specific craft: I make shoes and she grows vegetables, etc. To be sure, the separation of specializations is the key factor to the establishment of a just society.

The first building blocks of the ideal society are shoemakers, tailors, and all types of craftsmen. And if people desire to have luxuries and live comfortably, a city also needs merchants to sell and buy goods, wine makers, farmers, and so on. A prosperous city, it occurs to Socrates, needs a body of soldiers-rulers who will protect the city from possible invasions. These soldiers are called “guardians.” Guardians must be physically strong individuals, and mentally gifted, as well; and they are chosen for their intellectual and physical abilities rather than for their social class. The less gifted individuals will be soldiers called “auxiliaries,” and the even less gifted will be the rest of the citizens, including craftsmen, farmers, and so on.

With regard to their preparation, guardians will undergo intense physical training as well as philosophical and musical training, and other subjects that enrich their soul and create an internal harmony between the mind, and the body. To keep the guardians away from any source of corruption and ensure total dedication to the commonwealth, Socrates suggests the abolishment of riches among them, and even the abolishment of certain literature that, for example, deals with heroes defying the laws or disrespecting the gods. The purpose of such a meticulous and intensive training is to select and educate individuals who will naturally choose to dedicate their lives to the well-being of the city over the pursuit of materialistic values.

A well-organized body of rulers, auxiliaries, merchants, craftsmen, and the rest of the citizens are all the elements required to the establishment of the ideal city. And at this point, it is time to look into it to find justice. The way Socrates investigates to find justice is to look for specific attributes that a virtuous city must possess; namely, an ideal city must be wise, courageous, temperate, and just.

Wisdom is easy to find, Socrates notes. In fact, if we have successfully trained such dedicated and wise guardians, who know how to rule the city, these guardians must possess the virtue of wisdom. The second virtue is courage.  Socrates argues that a courageous city is shown by the dedication of its soldiers, the auxiliaries. These soldiers, through the education they have received, have the power to preserve the belief in what they should fear, namely, the loss of their integrity, which is their dedication to protecting the city at any cost. The third virtue is temperance. Temperance is indicated by the harmony among all the different classes in the city, i.e., guardians, auxiliaries, craftsmen, and the rest of the citizens. Every member of each class maintains his or her social place and doesn’t desire to become a member of a different class. That is to say, if a city has temperance, a craftsman would never wish to be a ruler because being a craftsman represents the highest achievement of his potentials, just as a guardian would never desire another position than being a guardian. Another way to put it is that a temperate city is one whose citizens are happy to be who they are because they achieve their vocations according to their nature, and therefore will never wish to be something else.

Having found wisdom in the guardians, courage in the auxiliaries, and temperance in the fact that none of the individuals in either group desires to belong to a group other than his own, Socrates needs to find where justice lies in the city. Then suddenly, it occurs to Socrates that justice in a city thus constructed must be what keeps its various groups separated and at the same time makes all the groups work in perfect harmony, just as in music when a series of distinctive notes make up a beautiful melody.

To complete his investigation, Socrates now has to find justice in the individual. He argues that in order to accomplish this task, he has to take the same approach used to find justice in the city.  Therefore, he looks into the individual to find wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice. Justice will be what keeps the parts of one’s soul separated, each doing its own proper work. Socrates shows that one’s soul has these three parts by analyzing inner conflict. Wisdom in the individual, according to Socrates, is what steers a man in the right direction when he experiences an inner conflict.  In every individual there are two elements, one responsible for physical appetites, and the other is a rational element that often allows one to refrain from certain appetites. Take for instance a married man who has an opportunity to commit adultery, but decides not to. What occurs is that the appetitive element in his soul impels him to have sex with the woman, but the rational element stops him from having extramarital sex.  However, sometimes the appetitive element prevails over the rational element; and as in this case, the man decides to have extramarital sex. But there is in the soul a third element, which Socrates calls “spirit.” A person’s spirit works like this: to take the same example, the man’s appetite steers him in the wrong direction, i.e. to have extramarital sex; but the man’ spirit in the form of anger allies with the rational element to fight against the appetite.

The foregoing parts in the individual’s soul (reason, appetite, spirit) mirror the virtues possessed by the guardians, the auxiliaries, and the citizens in the city: an individual’s wisdom, as noted, is the rational element in his soul that refrains an individual from certain appetites; this is paralleled with the wisdom possessed by the guardians who should rule over the appetites of the citizens. Spirit in the individual preserves the power exerted by an individual’s rational element through different obstacles, and allows him to safeguard his integrity; this mirror courage in the city, which is shown by the auxiliaries who have the power to preserve the belief in what they should fear, namely, the loss of their integrity; and temperance in the individual is when each of these parts in the soul performs its own duty appropriately and does not try to take over the function of any other parts, i.e., appetites do not try to rule over reason; similarly, in the city, temperance is indicated by the harmony among all the different classes, guardians, auxiliaries, craftsmen, and the rest of the citizens, when every member of each class maintains his or her social place and doesn’t desire to become a member of a different class. Thus, when reason, spirit, and appetite agree that reason alone should rule over the soul, there is justice within the individual. Equivalently, when the guardians, auxiliaries, and the citizens agree that the guardians alone should make decisions for the entire city, justice in the city is present.

Now let us imagine a city where a shoemaker rules, and a guardian makes shoes, and a soldier cultivates vegetables. Could this be a good and just state? Obviously it couldn’t. Ideally, each class should do its own work and not meddle with another’s. Likewise, could an individual whose appetites prevail over reason be at peace with himself? The answer is again no.

Justice in the individual, then, is an internal order of the soul among the different parts. When in fact the parts in the soul do their respective work, Socrates suggests, justice is produced as in a healthy body, whose organs function properly. Injustice, it follows, is the opposite, that is, a state of internal discord.  At this point, it is clear that justice must be the highest good—which is desirable for its own good and the good it can generate.


Some Aphorisms

* All people are more or less racist. It’s only a matter of degree. So, if you’re white, blacks hate you, and if you’re black, a lot of whites hate you. But if you marry a black person, then both blacks and whites will hate you—and that’s my situation. I am like a pickle, sandwiched between a slice of Wonderbread and a slice of pumpernickel.

*Just as we should be appalled by slavery, we should be equally appalled by a group of rude, uneducated, unqualified, and over-paid individuals who act as masters ruling over the people, i.e., a government! 

*I am against every form of authority. The worst kind is religion. Unlike a government, which, at least in principle, can be overthrown, religion is the most pernicious kind of authority because its authority, allegedly a god, is unchallengeable, unchangeable, and untouchable—the very definition of celestial dictatorship!


“The Golden Dawn”

Alvaro Carlo 2007 “The Golden Dawn” Perspectives Vol. 30, 07/09, pp. 260-290


It was late. It was night. It was dark. It was his first journey to the south and he was eight. “The next stop isMilan,” they announced. Young Carlo tossed impatiently in his seat and thought for a second before asking his father a question.

“Where are we going, dad?”

“I told you. We are going to Laureana to see your grandma.”


“She is very old and I want you to meet her before…”

“She’s going to die soon, dad?”

“Oh, I did not mean that she is dying now.”

“And when she’s going to die?”

“I don’t know. Nobody knows. When you die, you die.”

“Are we there yet?”

“We are just now arriving inMilan. Let’s eat now. Then, you’ll go to sleep and, when you wake up, we’ll be there.”

That was not good news.Milanwas at least twelve hours away from Reggio Calabria. So, young Carlo had to spend the night on the train.

He found consolation in a sumptuous dinner that his mother prepared the night before. She prepared some spaghetti with tomato sauce and four stuffed eggplants. His father, Vincenzo, ate in silence. That was the longest time young Carlo had ever spent with his father alone, and he did not know how to start a conversation. But he had a great question:

“Why haven’t you ever talked to me about God, dad?”

“What God?” Vincenzo replied without hesitating

“How can I talk to God, dad?” the boy asked.

Vincenzo rolled his eyes and told him to put his hands together, get on his knees, concentrate, and pray. The boy paused for a second and then followed his father’s instructions. But suddenly a feeling—like that he felt when he had told a lie to his mom—pervaded him, and so he got off his knees and back up on his feet. His father chuckled, looked into the little boy’s big brown eyes and with a satisfied tone said to him, “Only slaves get on their knees and pray. Besides, I do not like the idea that a god constantly watches us, at any time of the day and the night, and it will never stop watching us because when we die he will allegedly be there. That’s why I never talked to you about God, Carlo. I don’t think there is a god, Carlo, and if there was one, I am not sure I’d be happy about it. Do you understand me?” Carlo nodded and continued eating his spaghetti. Then he sat the fork down, picked up a napkin, wiped his mouth, and asked another question: “What about grandma? Does she believe in God?” Vincenzo hesitated a few seconds and then replied, “Why don’t you ask her? We are almost there anyway.”

“I can’t wait” said the boy and continued eating his spaghetti.

Carlo was excited because he had never seen his antediluvian grandmother. Carlo’s mother, Maria, refused to go with them. “She is a cynical bitch,” she said recounting an anecdote that occurred in 1966. She told Carlo about a certain Francesco Impusino from Polistena who was engaged to Rosa Maria Morabito. Francesco promised to marry Rosa Maria as soon as he was discharged from the army. He was fulfilling military duty inPalermo,Sicily. Francesco was discharged on a day in April 1966, but he never went back to Laureana because he did not intend to marry his fiancée Rosa Maria. A few months later, he sent a letter to his mother. The letter said: “Dear Mom, I’m inMilannow. I found a job as a carpenter in a small company here in the city. I won’t come back, but it’s not that I don’t wanna marryRosa, I just want some time for myself.” Francesco’s mother, Concetta, was desperate and told Grandma Carmela what was happening to her. Grandma Carmela promised Concetta to take care of this matter in return for two pigs, four hens, and forty pounds of corn. It is said that Grandma Carmela sent a letter to Francesco and, a week later, Francesco went straight back to Laureana and married Rosa Maria.

Nevertheless, Young Carlo wanted to meet her—after all, she was his grandma and he knew very little about her. She had a prosthetic right arm, but he did not know what happened to her, and neither did his mom. So, he asked his father and he told him that his grandma’s forearm was amputated after she burnt it in a cauldron in which she was cooking chicken stew with potatoes and peas. Well, at that time, Carlo did not know anything about necrosis and subsequent decay of body tissues caused by an infection, but he knew that they would not amputate a person’s arm due to immersion into boiling chicken stew.

That journey seemed interminable, but finally their train arrived in Laureana the next morning at 6:16 a.m. When they arrived at the station, Carlo went to the toilet. He held his pee on the train because he was afraid of the toilet. When he flushed it seemed to him that the suction might suck him down into the drain hole along with the toilet paper. His father was waiting for him outside the bathroom and was talking to a very attractive young woman who looked like Sophia Loren. The woman pointed at a sign on the near wall that read WELCOME TO THE SOUTH.

Carlo came out of the bathroom and followed his father. “Who is that woman, dad?” asked Carlo. And with a defensive tone Vincenzo replied, “I don’t know her. I just asked her which direction the bus station is.” Then, he grabbed Carlo’s hand and they walked through a long corridor illuminated by a parallel series of two old neon lights located along the ceiling, one pair every eleven steps—well, eleven of young Carlo’s steps. The boy intended to count the lights and then ask his father to guess the number at the end of the corridor. But at the eleventh neon light, he turned around and saw the same young woman to whom his father was chatting walking into the Men’s Room. Carlo was going to tell his father about this oddness, but they were already at the end of the passageway—and he lost count of the neon lights.

Once they exited the train station, the father and the boy walked to the bus terminal. Granny Carmela lived in the periphery of Laureana. They got on the bus and sat in the front row behind the driver. The bus smelt like old people’ sweat. There was a peculiar old man sitting in the front row next to them wearing a worn-out suit and a pair of sneakers without socks, carrying a black kitten and a few eggs in a household basket. Sitting beside him, there was a fat old woman.  Her body was jiggly and she had a big mole on her face—fuzzy, of course—and her sideburns grew like a man’s.

Granny Carmela was there waiting at the bus stop. She welcomed them with a smile and she kissed young Carlo on his cheeks. Then, the three of them walked onto an oak-tree-lined road that led to Granny Carmela’s modest abode.  As they were getting closer to the house, all the colors became muted because of the lithe and dense tree branches.

She lived in the countryside of Laureana in an old cabin with no electricity and no gas.  In the following days, Granny Carmela would take Carlo into the woods to collect hazelnut tree branches and logs for the fireplace. And to illuminate the cozy living room, they used candles. She also took the boy to a place by theVacaleRiverwhere she used to find mandrakes. Carlo did not know what they were; to his young eyes, they were just strange roots that looked like a person in miniature. Vincenzo was always in the house reading medical books and medical journals. He was a private person. During the Great War he ate a cat.

One night, Vincenzo fell to sleep on the couch, after he had read a boring article on organ transplants. Carlo woke up in his dark room brought out of his dreams by a noise downstairs. He was dreaming of his arrival in Laureana, precisely when he went to the bathroom. But when he got out of the bathroom, this time his father was not there. He saw the attractive woman who looked like Sophia Loren. She approached him, but she did not speak. She pointed at the same sign that read WELCOME TO THE SOUTH, he looked up, turned around, and she was gone.

Interested in that noise downstairs, he put his slippers on, but he realized that they were making too much noise and so he took them off, took a candle, lit it up, and walked out of the room barefoot.  He moved cautiously down a crackling staircase that was softly illuminated by the candle that he was clutching in his little hand. When he got in the living room, he tiptoed around his dormant father and went into the kitchen. He realized that the sound was coming from the basement. He was scared, but his curiosity prevailed, and he continued down to the basement. He groped for the handrail and carefully began to descend. The basement was dark and damp. The boy’s feet were cold and he was shivering—but perhaps it was not because of the damp floor.

Behind the door there was a room. The door was left ajar and Carlo peeped through the crack. Grandma was there—in the middle of the room stirring up a large cauldron that was boiling on top of a popping fire. She was wearing a long dark gown with short sleeves and a large pocket at her chest. That was the strange sound: the bubbling mixture in the cauldron and Granny Carmela whispering incomprehensible rigmaroles. Young Carlo choked back his shock, only to see that she was aware of his presence. Her eyes were shining like the eyes of nocturnal animals. “I know you’re there” she hissed appraising him.  “Come in, Carlo.”  And without turning back to see the boy, she continued, “I knew you’d come. It was all foretold. Come here, child.”

Young Carlo was paralyzed, standing behind the door, and with a stammering voice said,

“Nonna…I am going straight back to bed.”

“No, please come in. I have something for you.” Granny Carmela took her shawl and tossed it quickly around her shoulder and over her arm, and walk toward the door where she saw those big eyes.

“Come in” she said to the boy inviting him in, “come, come closer. Don’t be afraid.”

The boy walked in and sat on the chair next to the cauldron and curiously asked,   

“Nonna, what happened to your arm?”

“Oh, nothing, I hurt myself when I was a little girl—but don’t worry about my arm. I have something for you.” She told the boy that he was the chosen one in the family and handed him a book.

The boy tried to read the author’s name aloud, “Crowle…Eliast” but could not pronounce it. The book was entitled The Book of the Law: The Golden Dawn.

 “What am I going to do with this book, nonna? I do not care about the Law.”  Also, she gave him a manuscript bound in a black hard cover with no title, which contained strange lexica, figures, and instructions; she told him not to worry that in due time he would  understand, and a certain Rocco would contact him. Rocco was the son of Concetta, an old acquaintance of Carlo’s grandma. When Concetta died, Rocco moved to New Yorkand opened an Italian restaurant, La Cucina di Rocco.

The boy said goodnight and walked out and went upstairs into his room, sat on the edge of his bed and glanced at the books. He did not know what to do with those books and put them in a drawer next to his underwear and socks and went to sleep.

After sixth days in Laureana, they were ready to go back toTurin. Granny Carmela bade them farewell, and they headed downtown to the train station. They took the 12:45 p.m. Express toTurin. That night on the train, Carlo had the weirdest experience of his life: while he was sleeping, he felt something pulling his pajamas. He woke up and saw several hands coming from the gap between the wall and the edge of his cot. He jumped off the bed and turned on the light; the hands were gone. He tried to wake up his father, who told him to go back to sleep. Was that real or just a nightmare? Carlo went back to bed and covered his head with the naphthalene-scented blanket; however, Vincenzo got up to calm Carlo. Vincenzo turned on the light and told the boy that he would leave it on all night; only then, Carlo uncovered one eye sliding down the blanket a bit to look at his father. The father said: “Have a good night,” and a good night it was.

The next day they arrived home. It was a placid autumn day and a group of children were playing soccer outside in the piazza. Later in the evening while they were dining, Carlo recounted his frightening train incident to his mother, but she did not believe him. The telephone rang; Vincenzo picked up the receiver and held it for a few seconds against his ear—“Nonna died!” he announced.

Later that year, Carlo’s father died too. His death, so they said, was caused by an aortic aneurysm. Carlo saw him at the morgue before they put him in the casket. His body was livid and putrid; his skin was dry and flaky, peeling off like an onion. They buried him in a small cemetery located in the periphery ofTurin. Carlo never visited him because he did not miss him at all.

Twenty years later, Carlo moved toNew York City. When he first arrived in Manhattan, he had déjà vu—it felt like that day he went to Calabria, but this time he traveled by plane and he was welcomed by Rocco. He lived in Greenpoint,Brooklyn, where he rented a room at the YMCA.  Rocco lived inManhattanand still ran the restaurant where Carlo worked as a waiter. Rocco knew Carlo’s grandma before he migrated toAmerica. He asked Carlo if he was interested in joining the circle, but Carlo told him that he was not interested. 

One night, Carlo was working on the night shift at the restaurant. At the end of his shift, Rocco and Carlo sat at a table and drank a glass of wine.

“You see this bottle?” Rocco said “Your grandma gave it to me long time ago and asked me to save it for you.”

“What sort of wine is that, Rocco” Carlo curiously inquired.

“This is vino della Calabria, Carletto!”

Carlo scowled at him and said, “I told you many times not to call me Carletto. I am not a kid!”

Carlo drank the wine and became sick before he could finish the second glass. He ran downstairs to the employees’ washroom to vomit. The pot had crusty formations of brownish bowel-twisted stuff all around the rim, and the walls were flaky, peeling off like the skin of a cadaver, which reminded him of his father at the morgue. While he was bent over the pot, he saw a large number of cockroaches crawling on the floor and up and down the beer kegs. He quickly freshened up and rinsed his mouth with a sip of water that left a metallic taste in his mouth. Then, he changed his clothes, which stank like vomit, and he walked out of the restaurant towardTimes Square.

He saw a Nativity Scene outside a church. It reminded him of the one that Carlo’s mom used to set up every year in December until she misplaced the miniature of baby Jesus and so decided to set up a Christmas tree—Carlo never told her that she did not misplace baby Jesus. He burnt it.

As Carlo walked toward the subway station, he walked through smelly sidewalk steam; the smoke was rising into the sky defying gravity like a phantasm. He looked up to watch it ascending and then slowly dispersing into the air, noticing the clock on the Paramountbuilding. It was almost 2:00 a.m.—it was time to head back to Brooklyn. He took the subway back to Brooklynand got off a couple of stops before Greenpoint, just to make sure he would not vomit on the G Train. But also he loved to walk by the East River and see the reflection of Manhattanon the water, and then straight down onto 14Th Street by the Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse. Then, he retired in his cozy, cockroach-infested room to study the grimoire.

Finally, April came and Carlo took a few days off to go upstateNew Yorkto find a good location. Rocco warned him that he should not work alone:

“Had your grandma been alive, she would not have approved it.”

“Don’t worry Rocco because I am experienced enough to complete my opus.” 

“But look what happened to your father.”

“I am the chosen one Rocco—have you forgotten?”

Carlo searched the right place for months. It was too narrow or too dirty or too near to inhabited areas.  One night, Carlo drove up to the hills onto a secluded street in an isolated area and saw, in the dark, a sinister establishment. It was an abandoned all-girl school. He furtively got in through a big hole in the fence and rapidly entered the deserted building. The place smelt like coagulated blood and stale urine. He turned on his flashlight and looked around. In the middle of an atrium there was a gate standing in front of a trapdoor that led to a dark and narrow passageway. He went down and walked through a corridor. At the end of the corridor, there was what he had been looking for—a spacious room that measured more or less sixteen by twenty meters.

The next day, Carlo went back and cleaned the room with fresh stream water, but the smell of urine did not go away. He took a bath and then wore a black robe. With a rope and a chisel, he traced the circles on the floor. He traced two concentric circles with a diameter of six and seven meters, and then it took him one hour to engrave the lexica, the protective pentacles, the seals, and the runes. It was not enough because he needed sixteen eye bolts and sixteen meters of copper wire, which he found in a local hardware store. He screwed the bolts into the ground along the circumferences of the circles and ran the wire through the bolt’s eyes, but he left an open edge because one is not supposed to jump over the circle.  Outside, it was a placid night, and the moon was smiling, or at least its craters made it look that way.

Carlo entered the circle and placed his paraphernalia down neatly. He had the black book that his grandma gave him when he was eight as well as a grimoire, the mandrake that he had meticulously polished, a blade, the stick made out of the cherry tree branch, a dagger, an amanita muscaria, eight ounces of blood in a small ceramic bowl, and a wafer that he stole from a church. Then, he sealed the edge of the circle and drank the blood mixed with the amanita muscaria. He began before the psychoactive constituents of the muscaria kicked in because he wanted to be in control of himself—he did not want to run the risk of mispronouncing them. He read his grimoire aloud: “Sator, Arepo, Tenet, Opera, Rotas. I petition the abyss— Belphegor, Astaroth, Beelzebub, Oh Mighty Lords, I compel you all.”

Carlo made his speech and waited a few minutes—but nothing happened. The silence in the room and the smell of urine made him unsettled—and the amanita was starting to kick in now. Suddenly, when he was about to sheathe back his blade, he was blinded by something that felt like sand in his eyes.  He threw Carlo out of the circle and attacked him like an insolent foe— that wasn’t contemplated in the grimoire!—but Carlo managed to hit him with his dagger.

Carlo must have wounded him, although he didn’t understand how such a creature could be hurt. Nevertheless, he ran upstairs. The trapdoor was shut, but not locked. He felt that fiendish presence behind him and he knew that he was not going to make it. He kicked the trapdoor open and kept on running. He ran out of the building—and outside was the dawn.


Some thoughts about atheology

Traditional philosophy of religion recognizes 3 positions with respect to religion: religious, atheist, and agnostic. I shall argue that nobody is in truth religious. Rather, an individual is either agnostic or anti-religious.

What is, then, a true believer, if there is such a thing? To answer this we have to consider the way in which the religious individual appraises the concept of God. I argue that prior to satisfying and addressing the following difficulties, one can at best be considered agnostic.

In considering religion

  1. We have to define what we mean by “God”.
  2. Based on the given definition, we have to demonstrate that such an entity exists and that there are clues that point to its existence.
  3. Because there are numerous religious denominations, (i.e., Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, as well as an endless variety of denominations within the same religious tradition) we have to show which of the purported gods the real one is.
  4. We further have to show a compelling reason why one should worship such a divinity, granted that one satisfactorily addresses 1, 2, and 3.

 1) We need to clarify whether we mean, for example, “God” as a personal being or as an abstract entity that has no knowledge of the world and does not interact with humans, or other interpretations.

2) We need to provide arguments that will prove the existence of the defined god.

3) After having defined “God” and provided arguments for his existence, it is necessary to specify to which particular god we are referring. Certainly we cannot say that all religious traditions are fundamentally speaking of the same entity. Every religious tradition in human history has had very specific ideas of the several gods, and these ideas are often in disagreement with other traditions. In fact, even within the same religious tradition there exist opposite views on various important aspects that define god and his relationship with humans.

4) So-called religious people—and very often even non-believers—overlook this point. The question of whether a god exists, it seems to me, is not the end of all. Granted one could satisfy 1, 2, and 3, which I think impossible, it would not follow that one should worship a god. This point is in my opinion at the core of philosophy of religion. It is intimately connected with the notion of free will. More explicitly, it questions the notion that the relationship between God and humans is based upon love and free choice.

Points 1, 2, and 3 do not grant 4. An objection is this: if we establish 1, 2, and 3, then we might find that God wants us to worship him, or at least religious texts confirm this. Yet, we want to push it further and ask this: even if 1, 2, and 3, are satisfied and consequently seem to grant 4, and supported by religious texts, why should one worship because is asked to do so?  What I mean here is best illustrated by Bakunin’s famous statement “If God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him.”

To elaborate more this delicate point, let us illustrate what the relationship between a god and humans entails. Every successful relationship, everybody would agree, must be based on reciprocity. That is to say, if I decide to be friends with another person, that person has the right to either be my friend or not. Compulsory friendship cannot be acceptable because it is not based upon love. Worshipping is by definition not friendship. It is a relationship based on the assumption that there is a superior party, a god, and an inferior party, man.

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 “Implicature is a technical term in the pragmatics subfield of linguistics, coined by H. P. Grice, which refers to what is suggested in an utterance, even though neither expressed nor strictly implied (that is, entailed) by the utterance.[1] For example, the sentence “Mary had a baby and got married” strongly suggests that Mary had the baby before the wedding, but the sentence would still be strictly true if Mary had her baby after she got married. Further, if we add the qualification “— not necessarily in that order” to the original sentence, then the implicature is cancelled even though the meaning of the original sentence is not altered.”


The Contrast of “But”: Drunken Pappas and Bad Marathoners

Grice clarifies the difference between what a sentence literally means and what it may suggest or implicate. That is, he argues that often what a speaker intends to convey is completely different from the meaning of the sentence used by the speaker. For example, I say to my friend Elisa,

“Elisa, we have the elections in Italy. For whom are you going to vote?” and she replies “Well, I hate politicians; they are all corrupted.”

This exchange is very peculiar because Elisa meant that she is not going to vote for anybody; in fact, she meant that she is not going to vote at all. However, she did not explicitly utter

“I am not going to vote”

and her sentence does not in any way suggest that she will not vote, but rather that she dislikes all politicians and she thinks that they are all corrupted.  Therefore, Elisa merely implied that she is not going to vote or, as Grice would put it, she implicated that she is not going to vote; thus, what she had in mind and tried to convey through her remark about the politicians was her implicature, and Grice calls it “conversational implicature.”

Grice also identifies another type of implicature, which he calls conventional. A conventional implicature describes the relationship between two sentences. Generally, the truth of one sentence suggests that the sentence that follows is also true. For example the sentence,

“Joe walked a lot today and his feet stink”

may suggest that Joe’s feet stink as a result of his long walk. That is, Joe’s long walk resulted in Joe’s feet reeking is the implicature. However, the two sentences would also be true if Joe’s feet stank before he took a long walk. Grice also points out that it is possible to cancel an implicature without altering the meaning of the original phrase. In this case, it is sufficient to say

“Joe walked a lot today and his feet stink—not that his feet smelt like roses before he took a walk.”

As we saw, this type of implicature suggests that there is a relationship between two sentences ((1) Joe walked…and (2) his feet…), namely that the truth of the first may demand that the second be also true, but it is not the case. In contrast, entailment is the relationship between two sentences but the truth of one sentence requires the truth of the other. A famous example is the following.

“The president was murdered” entails that “The president is dead.”

Thus, if the first sentence was false, the second would necessarily be false. That is, if the president was not murdered, then the president cannot be dead. An entailment, therefore, cannot be cancelled for it is a necessary conclusion based on the literal meaning of the sentence.

Consider the following sentence.

“He runs marathons but gets winded sprinting for the bus.”

If this person is a marathoner, it is perfectly conceivable that, under normal circumstances, he might get winded running for the bus. In other words, we can cancel the implicature if we work out the sentence as follows.

“He runs marathons but, because he is not training for any competition at the moment, he gets winded running for the bus; in fact, even the world’s best athlete may get winded sprinting for the bus, especially when he does not exercise everyday.” Or,

“He runs marathons but gets winded sprinting for the bus, it is not a big deal; in fact, everybody knows that marathons are running events with very long distances, sometimes over 40 kilometers, to be covered. Therefore, because a marathoner is trained to endure long distances rather than running short sprints, there is nothing surprising in a marathoner getting winded for the bus, which requires a short sprint”

Furthermore, it is not necessarily needed to interpret the implicature as a contrast between being a marathoner and getting winded for the bus, or that it is surprising that a marathoner gets winded for the bus. That is to say, the speaker is just trying to create a “humorous” situation about an athlete and what he really tries to imply is that he thinks that that person is a bad marathon runner; the speaker does not literally mean that the marathoner gets winded sprinting for the bus, but rather uses a sarcastic remark to imply that the marathoner is a very bad runner.

 It has to be said, therefore, that cancelability distinguishes conventional from conversation implicatures.  Conversational implicature may be cancelled, but not always. In his essay “Logic and Conversation”, Grice fails to mention that, with regard to generalized conversational implicatures, the more evident the speaker’s intention to implicate something, the harder it becomes to cancel the implicature. For example this conversation is felicitous and the implicature can be easily cancelled:

A: Yesterday, I had one of the greatest meals I have ever had in my entire life. If you like good food you must check this restaurant out!

            B: What’s the name of the restaurant?

            A: It’s Da Peppino, the one on 5th Avenue.

The next day…

            A: So, what did you think of Da Peppino?

            B: Well, let’s say that they will never see my face again!

In this conversation, A might be inclined to think that B is implicating that the food Da Peppino was really bad. However, this implicature will be cancelled if B adds “Not that I mean that the food was bad, on the contrary, but $350 for two prix fix meals is a rip-off !”

Nevertheless, consider an example of implicature that is less easy to cancel:

            A: I haven’t seen Nick Pappas in a while. How is he doing?

            B: I saw him this morning and he was sober.

Taking for granted that A knows Nick Pappas very well, A may ask B what he implied. B might add,

“I was just joking. We all know that Nick is a nondrinker.”

Obviously in this example, the implicature is less cancellable because the speaker seems to have a clear intention to imply, in this case as a joke, that Pappas sometimes is drunk. But what would have happened if A had not known Pappas? The implicature would have certainly been harder to cancel. In fact, B would have had to try to cancel the implicature by saying

“Not that I mean to imply that he is ever drunk.” However, A would have asked B

“So why would you take the trouble to say that he was sober today?”  The next example is clearly impossible to cancel.

            A: Did you see the latest Mel Gibson’s film?

            B: I only like intelligent films.

B has committed himself and now he cannot in any way cancel this implicature, even if he tries very hard. Can he add

“…but I am not suggesting that Mel Gibson’s latest film is not an intelligent film, on the contrary—I loved it.”

 B cannot cancel the implicature without contradicting himself.

Similarly, conventional implicatures, as I demonstrated earlier with the example of Joe’s stinky feet, may often be canceled. I say “often” because there are certain examples of implicatures that are not cancelable even with the addition of a clause stating that the speaker has opted out. It has been argued, for example, that the implicatures of contrast associated with “but” seems impossible to cancel. Indeed, these implicatures are impossible to cancel but only if a sentence is uttered from nowhere. That is, if I stop somebody and I say to him,

“He is French but he takes showers”

obviously the implicature is impossible to cancel. That is, I clearly implied that French people are dirty, and therefore I cannot expect the person to whom I spoke to believe that I thought otherwise. I may add

“Not that I mean that French people don’t take showers” or even “But I don’t mean to imply that all French people don’t take showers—in fact he is French and he does,”

but that does not cancel the implicature because the additional clause seems contradictory. In this case the “but” seems to be part of the sentence’s meaning. Another example that has no “but” and it is impossible to cancel is this.

“He is Italian; he is, therefore, handsome and intelligent.”

On the other hand, people communicate using sentences accordingly in specific contexts. Nobody would stop a person and, all at once, tell him or her “He is French but he takes showers.” If this were the case, however, the hearer would demand some explanations and the speaker would, if he intended to have a genuine exchange in the first place, clarify his intention by saying, for example,

“I always hear people say that French people are dirty, but I do not believe it. In fact, he is French but he takes showers.”

Also, the example stated earlier, “He runs marathons…” may be rendered felicitous by explaining that there isn’t any contrast between running marathons and getting winded by short sprints, for a marathoner is trained to endure long distances rather than short sprints.

Similarly, consider this sentence

“He is a professional bodybuilder but he gets winded holding a sac of potatoes steady above his head for a few seconds.”

I can cancel the implicature by explaining that bodybuilders are trained to lift heavy weights in rapid successions to enhance their physical aspect; conversely, weightlifters are trained to hold heavy weights over their heads for long periods of time. Therefore, there is nothing surprising in a bodybuilder who gets winded holding potatoes over his head for a long period of time. Furthermore, I may also cancel the implicature by saying that I ironically implicated some sort of contrast between being a professional bodybuilder, (who is supposed to be a strong man) and getting winded by a ridiculous weight like a sac of potatoes to convey, for example, that a certain governor, a former actor, is a mediocre professional bodybuilder.

Finally, certain conventional implicatures are impossible to cancel, especially when a speaker utters a phrase that uses the word “but”. For example, the sentence

“He is a lawyer but he is intelligent”

certainly conveys the idea (implicates) that there is a contrast between being a lawyer and being intelligent; and it seems impossible to get rid of the implicature. However, it has been shown that phrases like “He is a lawyer but…” are never uttered from nowhere, but rather are parts of a conversation; prior to this sentence, the speaker must have stated something like

“By and large, people believe that lawyers are stupid, but I don’t agree. He is a lawyer and he is intelligent.”

Thus, it seems that conventional implicatures do not really exist. By reading “Logic and Conversation,” it appears that even Grice is uncertain about conventional implicatures. In fact, Grice might respond that speakers conventionally use sentences to convey messages that are quite different from what their sentences literally mean. Often those messages are meant to be ironic, not literal, and therefore, like in the case of conventional implicatures, they may somehow be worked out allowing the utterer to opt out.