As I was walking around town yesterday, this appeared:

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  • bk

"Best not pray for justice lest you receive it." What a fantastic line. And—believe it or not—this happened to be playing on my random music shuffle:

Dies irae, dies illa ("Day of wrath, day of anger")
Solvet saeclum in favilla, ("will dissolve the world in ashes")
teste David cum Sibylla. ("as foretold by David and the Sibyl")
Quantus tremor est futurus, ("Great trembling there will be")
quando judex est venturus, ("when the Judge descends from heaven")
cuncta stricte discussurus! ("to examine all things closely!")

That coincidence gave me the cultural-Catholic shivers—nobody, except the most downtrodden, is looking forward to that inspection. As Stephen Colbert once said: "If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we’ve got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition—and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

That gorgeous bit of sidewalk vandalism also got me wondering whether "justice" and "vengeance" have any etymological relationship. Turns out they don't: justice comes from Latin iustitia "righteousness, equity," and vengeance comes from Latin vindicare "assert a claim, claim as one's own; avenge, punish." But nemesis has an inflection of each—it comes from a Greek goddess who was the personification of wrath against the unjust. And her name is specifically tied to redistribution of cosmic resources.

1570s, Nemesis, "Greek goddess of vengeance, personification of divine wrath," from Greek nemesis "just indignation, righteous anger," literally "distribution" (of what is due), related to nemein "distribute, allot, apportion one's due," from PIE root *nem- "to divide, distribute, allot, to take" (cognates: Old English, Gothic niman "to take," German nehmen; see nimble). With a lower-case -n-, in the sense of "retributive justice," attested from 1590s. General sense of "anything by which it seems one must be defeated" is 20c.

Maybe yesterday's vision was just God's way of telling me to go to Vermillion tomorrow night and listen to Charles talk about Piketty.

(And if you want to hear a speedy metal version of Mozart's "Dies Irae," check this out.)