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Six Feet Over Everest

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

Bad Choices and Globetrotting Cockroaches

Every once in a while, I see the word “Everest” on the Internet, and I start reading about high-altitude mountain climbing. It’s fascinating, and not in a good way. It’s like reading about people who die feeding sharks or trying to commune with bears.

Everest is popping up in the news right now. I should have seen that coming. Because of the way the weather works in Nepal, people climb Mount Everest in May. An American internist named Roland Yearwood just died up there, and his sherpa is in bad shape. An Indian climber named Ravi Kamar is also in trouble. He’s missing. Terrible to think about.

Here is the question that has been bugging me lately: why do people who climb tall mountains get frostbite?

The obvious answer (“It’s cold up there.”) doesn’t cut it. It’s cold in lots of places. It’s cold in outer space, but astronauts don’t get frostbite when they spacewalk. There has to be more to it.

I found some articles aimed at climbers. One claims something like 90% of frostbite incidents involving climbers are caused by human error. The others list things people do wrong.

Surprise, surprise. That’s pretty much what I figured.

The articles list a bunch of causes. People wear things like jewelry, which slow circulation. They wear boots that are too tight. They wear boots that aren’t very good. They wear boots that are worn out. They wear the wrong socks. The best boots come in two layers: outer and inner. Climbers let their inner boots freeze while they sleep, so when they put them back on, they’re applying ice to their feet.

Here’s another cause they mention: not turning around when you start to freeze. I can understand that. You’ve spent a hundred thousand dollars on your climb. You’re in your late forties, so you may not be physically able to return in the future. You’re a thousand feet from the top. Your buddies already summited, and you feel bad about it, because you’re the kind of competitive, insecure person who thinks he has to climb Mount Everest. Everyone back at J.P. Morgan or the department of thoracic surgery is rooting for you on Instagram. When your feet or fingers start to feel funny, the natural urge will be to keep going. Maybe they’re supposed to feel that way! Think of the glory. Think how all the other Google kids will be buying you free lattes.

I could never be a mountain climber. I’m too old, and I don’t want to do it in the first place, but even if those things weren’t true, I would still fail, because every time I started to think I MIGHT be getting frostbite, I would turn around and walk home. A nice, mild case of frostbite will cost you the tips of several fingers. There is not much of a limit to what severe frostbite can do to you. Noted frostbite victim Dr. Beck Weathers lost his right arm halfway up to the elbow. I’m not going out like that. Not without a better reason than Instagram likes.

“Steve is a sissy.” “Steve is a quitter.” Say what you want, but follow it up with, “Steve has all his limbs. Steve hasn’t had skin grafts. Steve isn’t a frozen mummy lying beside the trail wearing the wrong boots. Steve will never have to be carried around in a basket because of ego tourism.”

I think if I were up there freezing to death, I’d make the thumbs-up gesture with both hands. That way, when people walked by my dead body years later, they’d get a little encouragement.

I also read that things like smoking, drinking, and diet-induced bad circulation cause frostbite. Don’t people make any effort to screen themselves? I guess not. A man in his eighties just died on Everest.

I saw another story about bad Everest behavior. A couple of vegans tried to climb Everest, in order to prove “vegans can do anything,” and one of them died. What can you say about that? Was someone out there making rude claims about salad impacting people’s ability to climb mountains? This is like climbing Everest to prove people who wear blue socks can do anything. It’s a solution to a nonexistent problem.

Maybe the vegan angle was his way of getting other people to pay for the trip. Sponsorship angles are very important to Everest tourists.

NASA should try that. Think how much money we would save if we sent up space shuttles and stations with Coke logos on the sides. They could call their outfit “NASACAR.”

The vegans tried to climb Everest. The wife got sick very close to the top. Naturally, the husband and the guide turned around immediately, got her to safety, and begged God to forgive them for their foolishness. Well, not really. The actual story is horrific. The husband asked his sick wife if it was okay if he kept climbing and came back for her. When he got back, they headed for the nearest camp, and she didn’t make it. Now he tells interviewers how empty it was, summiting without her. As if that were the problem with the story.

He is now planning a trip to recover her body. Picture me throwing up my hands.

People amaze me. You have to be a little off to climb a mountain that kills 3% of its tourists. Climbing unprepared is a completely different level of insanity. How many photos of freeze-dried bodies do you have to see on Google before you decide to buy good boots and gloves? What does it take to convince you that you should start with a plan that includes firm guidelines on when to turn back?

Climber: So the really good boots are $1000, and the ones that make your toes fall off are $600. And my budget for the trip is $100,000.

Salesperson: That’s right.

Climber: I’ll take the cheap ones and a Gopro.

If the human race lasts long enough, we will eventually be able to fly people to the top of Everest or build some kind of tram system. It may be 50 years from now, but it will happen. We are constantly improving our tools. I wonder what would happen if it suddenly became possible to pay a reasonable fee, ride a cable car, and have lunch at the summit.

I can tell you what would happen. Climbers would go up there and blow up the machinery. They would shriek about how wrong it was to take the challenge out of it. They would say everyone should do it the hard way, i.e., by emptying their IRA’s and being dragged up by sherpas.

I say let’s do it. Let’s put a McDonald’s up there. McMuffins on Everest! I’m down. Starbucks is probably there already. Maybe if getting to the tops of huge mountains were easy, fewer people would feel motivated to struggle and die on them. The Facebook photos would lose their eclat. “Here I am on the summit! Took four days and cost me three fingers, but I made it! I’m hugging Grammy and Grampy, who came up on the cable car! Thank goodness Mr. Toodles brought his dog sweater!”

It’s so strange that people are willing to climb big mountains. It’s not like there’s a big pot of gold on top of each one. What do you really get when you climb Everest? A nice view and severe credit card debt. You can’t even say you did something really hard, because people who have done it say it’s not that difficult. You don’t really climb. You just walk. Very slowly. It’s dangerous and unpleasant, but it’s not that hard. An old lady did it twice.

Maybe the pride is based on beating the odds. You rolled the dice, and the weather happened to be okay, so you made it. I’m not impressed. If you want to be a big mountain climbing braggart at your local bar, don’t walk up Everest. Climb K2, which is the world’s second-highest mountain. You can’t walk up this one. It’s held out to be the hardest mountain to climb. The K2 death rate is nearly 20%. In your face, Everest tourists. Still, there is nothing valuable at the top.

I leave you with a bit of the greatest piece of mountaineering literature: “archy on everest,” transcribed in 1935 by author Don Marquis. It’s part of a series of essays about the mountain, dictated by the first westerner to climb to the top: Archy the cockroach. Non-climbers will find it accessible because of the lack of technical jargon.

everyone i meet is all hopped up
with the altitude
caught up with the maharajah of nepal
gaily hopping over snow and ice
bare legged i said to him
hello spinach face are you starting
a nudist colony up here
and he replied
an avalanche
tore off my panche
and left me feeling funny
but we never rest
on everest
my himalaya honey
yes i says but who was that lady
i seen you walking with
a mile of so below
that wasnt no lady he says quick as a flash
that was the taj mahal

That bit about the avalanche makes me think of what happened to Sir George Mallory. But I won’t go into that. Still too soon.

At Liberty to Speak

Saturday, May 13th, 2017

Trump Offends on His Day Off, by Acknowledging God

I’m waiting for my laundry to dry, so I felt like I should write.

Trump spoke at Liberty University today. This is the school Jerry Falwell ran. Not sure if he founded it. Go check. It’s a Christian school.

I saw a little bit of his speech. Trump praised a Catholic clergyman in some way or another. I thought that was funny. Liberty is probably full of Protestants who see Catholicism as paganism in disguise. Trump is not what you would call a minister, so he may not be aware of the issue.

Is it good to invite Trump to speak at Christian colleges? Probably. He’s not a great Christian, and he’s no role model, but he’s a friend of Christianity, so he should receive honor and gratitude, just as Nehemiah showed honor and gratitude to Artaxerxes. The relationship doesn’t become a problem until we start pretending Trump is one of us. That’s hypocrisy. His record of fornication and adultery is solid, and he runs casinos. He’s not Jerry Falwell.

Incidentally, we should ask ourselves what Artaxerxes did. He commissioned Nehemiah to build a WALL and a TEMPLE. Aliens had overrun Jerusalem, and the temple and walls had been destroyed. Nehemiah and others rebuilt Jerusalem and wielded power over the aliens and pagans. MJGA. “Make Jerusalem Great Again.” Trump wants to build a wall, and he may give us time so many of us have the chance to become God’s temples.

Trump is a phenomenon. Every time I look at the news, I see people screaming and wetting their pants over something he has said. He says some pretty wild things; there is no denying it. I’m not disturbed by it. I think it highlights our snowflake natures. We’re like women now; we look for ways to turn every remark into a slight, and we think verbal slights are more important than actions. Trump’s actions have generally been unremarkable. He’s not running around the South Lawn naked. He hasn’t bombed North Korea. He hasn’t interned anyone. He just flies off the handle on Twitter, like the rest of us, and then he forgets about it. Is that really a big deal? We ought to get used to it.

A leader who says nutty things can be a real advantage. Look at the the Kim dynasty in North Korea. They scare the daylights out of the entire world, when in reality, they could be extinguished in a week of military action. They hav a few puny bombs we could probably neutralize before they could be used, and their army is small and poor by western standards. Nonetheless, when the Norks scream and throw tantrums, we bow and grovel and make concessions. We don’t want to set them off. If Trump’s tweets put the rest of the world on edge, it’s probably good for us. It sure beats Obama’s policy of traveling the world to kneel and apologize to second- and third-world Mickey Mouse regimes that need a boot in the rear.

When you box, one of the best things you can do is to keep your opponent off balance. That tactic works in every area of life. People like Trump and Kim Jong-Un and Philippine President Duterte never let their adversaries find balance. They keep them on the defensive. They force them to react instead of planning. I have no problem with that. We’ve kissed up to erratic foreign leaders for decades. Let’s see what happens when the shoe is on the other foot.

No one is going to nuke us over a tweet. No one will send troops across the border. There will be huffing and puffing, but they can’t blow our house down. I say relax and enjoy it.

Maybe Trump will teach us a valuable lesson. Maybe he’ll teach us that sticks and stones may break our bones, et cetera. We used to know that. It’s funny how we have become less wise with time. The natural thing is for wisdom to accumulate, but we manage to lose it. That should be impossible.

We shouldn’t be sweating so much over other people’s contrived, manipulative offense. We hold most of the cards. They should be concerned about offending us.

I’m not going to worry about it. I hope he’ll do a few good things while he’s in office. It would be great to have a 6-3 Supreme Court, real progress on restoring the Second Amendment, and no estate tax. I’m sure he will help the unborn, and he will be much better for Israel than Clinton. Good enough. America is going down the tubes, so anyone who slows it down is okay in my book.

COMEY OUT

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

Nugent In?

I just read that Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. I don’t know too much about this story, but I really enjoy Trump, and I thought I’d publish my short list of potential Comey replacements.

1. Donald Trump. Where does the Constitution say you can’t be president AND FBI Director? nowhere. Because the Constitution was written before the FBI was created. LOOPHOLE!

Instead of the bizarre, disturbing interactions we’ve seen lately between presidents and FBI directors, we’d see useless, self-serving, highly entertaining press conferences that looked like this:

2. Steve Bannon. He’s not that busy these days, and his appointment would fill DC with the sound of exploding heads.

3. Bill O’Reilly. I seriously believe it would be worth it to see America dissolve into chaos if it meant I got to experience one week of a Bill O’Reilly FBI regime. I don’t think Bill would do a good job. I don’t think he has any qualifications at all. I just think it would be funny to see the looks on people’s faces. Everyone on the left thought O’Reilly was toast. Imagine having him pop back up in a major political office with a guarantee of nearly four years of uninterrupted rule. I don’t watch Rachel Maddow, but on the night Bill got appointed, I’d be there with Jiffy Pop made and all my phones turned off.

4. Sarah Palin. Please, let it happen. And I want her to ride to the office every day on a snow machine.

5. Ann Coulter. She’s a nut; I know. That’s irrelevant. I just want to see people like Andrea Mitchell and Wolf Blitzer suppress the gag reflex while saying, “FBI Director Coulter.”

6. Franklin Graham. With a big white cross on the front of his podium. He could establish a special task force to hunt down people who cross state lines to break commandments. The hilarity could prove unsurvivable.

7. Joe Arpaio. JOE ARPAIO. Forget all the other choices. This is the one. I want to see the air conditioning go off in all our federal prisons, and I want to see Gitmo detainees in pink boxer shorts.

Let me know your choices. If you can top Arpaio, I’ll send you a case of Golden Double Stufs.

Learning not to be a Mark

Sunday, May 7th, 2017

Real Estate Education Continues

Today I’m waiting to see what happens with the offer we put in on the house in Marion County. The listing agent got the bad news on Friday, and I assume they’re going to make me sweat until Monday. I’m not sweating, though. The house is not ideal, and there are a couple of other possibilities that might be better.

I looked over the county website and learned some things. Maybe a discussion of my diligence will help other people.

When you buy a house, you don’t just walk in, look around, guess what it’s worth, and offer that amount. There are a ton of things to consider. I don’t know a whole lot about getting loans, but I can tell you about other things you need to think about.

1. Get it appraised before you make an offer. If you’re borrowing, the bank will want an appraisal anyway, so you might as well get it over with. Also, how are you supposed to decide what to offer if you don’t know what the house is worth? The people who own the house I want overpaid by maybe $250,000. They really got ripped off. Now they have it priced $110,000 over the appraised value. Zillow provides online estimates of home values, and Zillow thinks it’s underpriced by over $30,000. If I didn’t have an appraisal, I would have thought the property was worth more than it is, and I would not have had a sane valuation to beat the sellers with.

Maybe I’m wrong; apparently, most people don’t get appraisals before making offers. It sounds like a very stupid approach to me. You can get a $3,000,000 suburban house appraised for $400, and it might save you $400,000.

2. Get ahold of the covenants and restrictions. People who craft deeds have the crazy ability to restrict what buyers do with their land. You might buy land for a chicken farm and find out a lunatic vegan (redundant) who used to own it put in a restriction barring all types of meat farming. The restrictions on the place I’m trying to get say I can’t raise pigs or carry on a business. Annoying, but not deal-breakers. Besides, if things ever get so bad I need to raise pigs, I’ll raise them anyway, and my neighbors will be in the same boat, so they won’t complain.

3. Look at maps of your lot and the surrounding lots. There might be weird little strips of land set aside for driveways or something. I was excited because I thought I was next to a peanut field I could buy and add to my lot, but I found out there’s a skinny driveway strip between me and that lot, so if I wanted to increase my holdings by buying the peanut field, I would have to buy the other lot, too, or drive all the way around the driveway when I wanted to go from my house to the peanut field.

4. Find out if you’re in a flood plain or some other area with problems. If your house is in an area that floods even once a century, you may have to buy expensive insurance. If you have a wet area on your land, which, in a sane world, you could fill in and improve, the tree-huggers may have you by the throat. They may have had it declared a “wetland” (synonym for “dirty swamp”), and you may be stuck with mud and mosquitoes for life.

5. Get the best inspector you can find, and do not let the realtor pick him. The realtor just wants your money. He wants a quick sale. He may have inspector buddies who will do anything he tells them. Once you buy a place, after inspections and appraisals, you’re pretty well stuck with it, and the inspector is not going to come over and write you a check for a hundred grand because he missed the sinkhole under your foundation. That will be your problem.

6. Make sure you know what’s happening on surrounding properties. I thought the house I like was next to a pasture belonging to a nearby farm. In reality, the pasture is an undeveloped lot belonging to an absentee owner. Six months from now, a family from Hialeah could have a 6,000-square-foot orange McMansion sitting on it, and they could be having salsa parties every night until 4 a.m., with drunken guests vomiting mojitos over my fence. If my deal goes through, I want that lot.

Interesting fact: there are eight lots in my subdivision, and to change the covenants and restrictions, you need seven of the eight owners to vote yes. If I buy the pasture, I’ll have two of the eight lots, and no one else will be able to do anything unless I approve. That would be cool, because I would never agree to anything unless they agreed to cut restrictions I didn’t like.

Twenty-nine percent of one of the other places I like is in a “Zone A” flood plain. That means it’s expected to flood once a century. What a bummer. I don’t want to buy the insurance, and I don’t want to come downstairs after a rain and find the piano floating in the living room.

The lesson I’m learning is this: when you buy real estate, it’s impossible to have enough information. Everyone except you will be trying to cheat you, and they want you to know as little as the law allows. I’ve been looking at this same house since early March. It’s early May, and I am still learning things I wish I had known sooner.

I keep marveling at the things I hear about the way other people buy real estate. No appraisals. Offers based on whimsical asking prices. Offers above the asking price, to secure deals in hot markets. I think people are nuts. It’s hard for me to believe people buy properties so stupidly, but it appears to be true.

Should it surprise me if people routinely pay too much for houses? No. Most people get gypped very badly when they buy cars. They buy new instead of used. They bargain down from MSRP instead of bargaining up from cost. They look at monthly payments instead of total cost. They believe salesmen who say, “I’m trying to get you a good deal.” People are not shrewd.

I remember a Harley salesman telling me a regular customer came into his dealership, threw the keys to his old bike on the counter, pointed out the bike he wanted, and said, “Make the payments two-fifty a month.” He didn’t care how the dealer arrived at the figure. Imagine how much money that guy threw away. He probably got a twenty-year note at 20% interest. I guarantee he paid at least $36,000 for an $18,000 bike.

I went to law school with a guy who bought a Camaro with student loan money. We used to call it “the Ferrari,” because after paying the interest, it cost as much as a Ferrari.

No one expects consumers to know anything about money. I remember talking to a cell phone company about something or other they wanted me to buy, and they said it only cost twenty bucks per month. I would have to pay that over two years. I said, “So $480.” She was stunned. She didn’t know the figure herself until I said it; she was not used to thinking about the total cost. I said whatever it was was not worth $480 to me. That’s how you have to think about money. I’m bad with money, and even I knew that.

Regarding houses, I’ve heard people say, “If you’re planning to live there the rest of your life, it’s okay to pay too much.” No it’s not! That’s crazy. If money doesn’t matter, let the other guy sell for too little.

The sellers of the house I want are detached from reality. I don’t understand why they paid so much, and I don’t understand why they’re asking so much. Maybe they used the same realtor twice. Maybe he helped the original seller nail them to the wall, and now he has gotten their sale listing by claiming he can limit their losses with an astronomical asking price.

Realtors will do anything to get a listing, and they don’t care if it hurts the owner. If you’re a realtor with one listing, it opens doors to other properties. When people call you about it, you can show them your listing plus dozens of others belonging to other realtors. You can deliberately suppress the sale of your listing in order to keep calls coming in. If you have a seller who is dumb enough to give you an overpriced listing, it may work out well for you. You can sell other houses off of the leads it generates, and eventually you may get the sellers to face reality and lower the price to a level where you can unload the place and get a commission. In a case like that, you’ve basically used the owners to finance the promotion of your business.

I’m not a sharp buyer. I have some experience with selling and managing real estate, but I don’t know a lot about buying. I’m trying to wise up so I don’t get skinned.

Maybe I should stop being so picky about the house. There is always a house out there you can buy for less than it’s worth, and you don’t have to live in it forever. Maybe I should be looking at a good buy I can stand instead of an okay buy which is close to what I really want.

I wish we could buy a big lot and build on it, but right now, that’s a bad idea. It costs more than buying a newish place with the bugs worked out. If the green place doesn’t work out, there’s another place which is cheaper and has no outbuildings. We could take that and build a dynamite shop building in a month.

I’ll give myself this much credit for brains: we’re offering to buy the farm machinery and most of the furniture. The machines are nearly unused, and the place is decorated beautifully, with nearly new furnishings. We can sell the awful stuff we have here, or we can give it away and get a tax deduction. Save on moving expenses.

The experiences of the last year have really gotten me thinking about how to handle property, and I’m getting ideas. Eventually I want to dump all of my dad’s residential rental real estate. Residential tenants are whiny and needy. They’re also hard to evict. Commercial is the way to go. Commercial tenants improve the property, they leave the improvements behind, they don’t bother you until they leave, and you can throw them out in a heartbeat.

I’m not worried at all. The longer buying takes, the better I get at the whole enterprise. If the place we’re trying to buy can’t be had at a reasonable price, it will be an opportunity to find something better and more economical.

I do want to get out of here, though. I have heard enough Spanish and car horns for two lifetimes.

Kim Impossible

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

All is Not Well on Gilligan’s Island

Vince Gilligan has blessed us once again. The second episode of the third season of Better Call Saul has aired. I have thoughts concerning this momentous event.

Jimmy McGill (Saul) has a girlfriend named Kim. She is supposed to be a straight arrow. She’s an associate with his former firm, Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill. His brother, Chuck, is the most-senior senior partner. Chuck took Kim’s only client, and Jimmy got the client back for her by falsifying documents Chuck was using in his representation. Chuck got Jimmy to admit what he did, and he recorded the confession without telling Jimmy.

Now Jimmy knows about the tape. A grunt at HHM found out about the tape, and he told Kim. Kim then went to Jimmy, demanded $20 cash from him in order to be able to represent herself as his criminal defense attorney, and told him about the tape. She wanted to tell him about the tape, but she was concerned that her remarks would not be confidential. As his attorney, she figured, she would be able to speak under cover of attorney-client privilege. Does that work when you know about the crime before you become the defendant’s attorney? I do not know. It smells off.

The HHM boys can’t play the tape for the client, because that would make them look like vengeful idiots, and it would offend the client. Going to the cops would not be a slam-dunk (in BCS logic, anyway), so there is no point in trying. Chuck has a plan for the tape, and it involves further action. In Episode 3, he showed what the plan is.

Kim had a lot of Jimmy-related problems before the tape kerfuffle arose. She has committed two crimes with Jimmy. On one occasion, she helped him con a very sharp, successful securities trader into buying them hundreds of dollars’ worth of drinks. Second, she got Jimmy to help her con an amorous engineer into giving her a $10,000 check to invest in a non-existent enterprise. She didn’t profit from these crimes, apart from the free booze. She didn’t cash the check. Still, they were serious crimes.

Here’s another thing: squat cobbler. Jimmy had a drug-dealer client. The client was robbed of some drugs plus a baseball card collection. Stupidly, the client called the cops, thinking he could get the baseball cards back without having any issues related to the drugs. He didn’t mention the drugs. The cops found a suspicious cavity in his house, suitable for hiding illegal items. The cops kept calling the client, claiming they were real excited about the cards, but they really wanted to get info on his suspicious hiding place.

In real life, the answer to this problem would be to tell the police this: “If you find the cards, let me know, but I don’t want to be bothered until then.” Better yet: “I don’t care about the cards. Let it go.” The cops can’t make you come to the police station over and over just because they feel like it. Jimmy’s answer, however, was to claim his client hid embarrassing fetish videos in the hole, and that they featured vignettes of him sitting on pies and crying. Jimmy made up the name “squat cobbler” to describe the fetish. He told Kim about it, so now she probably has a legal obligation to tell the bar association. But she has not done so.

Kim has bar trouble waiting to bite her on the butt, along with two solid criminal cases which would bring bar troubles of their own.

What is Vince Gilligan going to do with this? More importantly, will he bring the Skipper into it?

Here’s what I’m thinking. During the Heisenberg years, Kim Wexler is dead or in prison. We never saw her in Breaking Bad, which took place after the Saul prequel. That means something happened to her. Gilligan has put several nice traps in front of her, and they are waiting to spring open and swallow her.

Jimmy is a tragic figure. He screws up and screws up and screws up. He knows he’s ruining his future, but he can’t stop. It’s his nature. Tragic figures are more interesting if their screwups hurt the people they love. I think Vince Gilligan will pull that string eventually.

We’re supposed to think Kim is pure and responsible, but she is neither. She committed two ridiculous, brazen crimes, in a sparsely populated state, against two victims who were highly likely to run into her later in the course of business. She concealed a crime (Jimmy’s) that would send a goody-two-shoes like Chuck running to the bar with bells on. She also recommended Jimmy, a con artist, for a job with another firm. This is not how pure, responsible people act. Maybe Gilligan is planning to shatter the audience’s rosy estimation of Kim.

Scenario: the securities trader walks into HHM one day looking for representation. The partners haul Kim out and sing her praises to him. “This is the gleaming angel that will handle your case.” We already know the securities trader is a shrewd and somewhat nasty character. Would he nark on Kim immediately and go to another firm? Of course not. He’d smile and shake her hand and act like he had never seen her before. Then in private, they’d talk. He’d be able to make her do anything he wants. Sex. More crimes. Squat cobbler. Who knows?

Scenario: the amorous, rejected engineer comes to HHM for help. Kim is assigned. Because he’s not sharp or nasty, he flips out instantly and starts ranting about her crime in the lobby. Kim’s life is thrown into turmoil. She loses her job. Prosecution is a real possibility. Chuck may squeal on her; it’s what he loves.

Maybe the engineer will turn out to be nasty after all. That would be more interesting than a nasty guy we already dislike.

She has bills to pay. Maybe she’ll have to start working for Jimmy. Maybe Jimmy will call Mike Ehrmantraut to come up with a way to squeeze the engineer. Blackmail is a possibility. Maybe the engineer has a trove of squat cobbler videos. Mike goes to the engineer’s house to “reason” with him. The engineer tries to shoot him. Mike shoots first. Kim is overwhelmed with guilt, so she kills herself.

Kim is going down. That, I am sure of. Maybe there will be some kind of standoff, and Kim, wanting to restore sanity, will get in the way and take a bullet.

I’m not sure why I watch this show! It’s kind of depressing, knowing it has a miserable ending. Jimmy is going to end up managing a Cinnabons stand in a mall in some flat state full of wheat. Walter White will die. Jim’s romance with Kim will end in failure. Mike will be shot in the belly by a high school teacher. Badger will never get his GED. Q will get distracted and let two planes crash into each other.

In any case, it’s fun to guess. My sincere apologies to anyone who doesn’t watch the show.

The Word of the Day is “Denial”

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

It’s Like Al Franken has Gone to Heaven, and We’re Forced to Watch

I made conservatives mad when I gave up on Ann Coulter and Ted Nugent, and if anyone had known about it, they probably would have been mad when I said I didn’t support Milo Yiannopoulos. I guess I’ll continue doing what I do best: Bill O’Reilly is not helping us.

Leftists are digging up dirt on O’Reilly, pointing out that he has been accused of sexual harassment on a number of occasions. He has been sued for it, successfully. Fox has paid out eight figures in hush money. O’Reilly doesn’t admit fault. At all.

Conservatives are saying it’s a witch hunt (like the Bork hearings or ridiculous attacks on Trump over Russia, which were and are bona fide witch hunts). They’re saying O’Reilly is the victim here. Come on. Be serious.

To anyone who says leftists don’t care about harassment, and that the O’Reilly siege is only about silencing a prominent conservative, I say, “I agree.” Leftists don’t care about the many women Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, George Stephanopoulos, and the rest of the Clinton Gang destroyed or at least soiled. They don’t care about them any more than they care about the millions of women who have been pressured into abortions they didn’t want. That’s true. Doesn’t matter. If O’Reilly is guilty of the things of which he has been accused, he should be released.

Is it really that big a deal if the office horndog makes advances toward disgusted women? Sometimes it is, and sometimes it’s not. It depends on the facts. Merely asking someone out is not harassment. But O’Reilly is accused of far worse things. He is accused of extremely gross, persistent advances, and of coupling them with threats and attacks. His accusers say he followed through on his threats. He is accused of using his power to make and break careers to push women into the sack with him.

That’s a whole lot worse than a few inappropriate come-ons.

No sane person would want his mother or sister to have her career wrecked by a creep who sees other people as disposable receptacles, and seeing them give in and allow themselves to be violated would be even worse.

As for the advances themselves, at least in the case of former producer Andrea Mackris, they were pretty bad. In her complaint, she said she had recorded him, and the transcribed portions are extremely graphic, prolonged descriptions of the sex acts he wanted to perform. The recordings must have existed, because no lawyer on earth would willingly make up transcriptions and submit them to a court, knowing he would be forced to come up with actual recordings later. Disbarment would only be the beginning of his problems.

If the recordings hadn’t existed, Fox would have forced Mackris’s lawyer to admit it, and Fox wouldn’t shell out $13 million to settle frivolous suits it expected to win. It seems likely that O’Reilly told his counsel the recordings existed, and Fox buckled and paid the plaintiff off.

I am tempted to remind everyone that O’Reilly is not indispensable. He can be replaced easily. He’s not really that good at what he does. But to talk about his value to conservatism would be to take the position that a highly successful ally should be permitted to profit from egregious, malicious wrongdoing simply because of his value to a cause. That’s wrong. If a lowly copywriter would be fired for what O’Reilly did, then O’Reilly should be whacked with the same axe.

If we’re going to talk sympathy and patience, where is the sympathy for the women? Losing your career is a whole lot worse than losing one gig.

To argue that O’Reilly’s supposed value to the right justifies letting him ruin women’s careers is to commit the sin of the O.J. jurors, who would literally have permitted Simpson to cut his ex-wife’s throat in the courtroom without repercussion. “I’m on your side, and I’m successful” is not a good excuse for destroying people in the name of base, lower-brain drives.

If I’m against O’Reilly, why am I not against Trump? Mainly because Trump has not been accused of harassment. He has been accused of adultery (consensual) and putting his hands on willing women (also consensual). Leftist propagandists have accused him of sexual assault, but they based their claims on a video in which he described consensual contact. Also, Trump has not been accused of linking women’s careers to their pliability. O’Reilly and Trump and very different.

I’m not thrilled that a serial adulterer is in the White House, but I don’t go around crusading for adulterers and fornicators to be fired. That standard wouldn’t leave many people standing. That would be a very personal standard based on my religious views. My stand on O’Reilly is pretty much the same standard the vast majority of Americans would observe.

I can be a good Christian and not insist every person who commits gross sexual sin be fired, but I can’t see myself pleasing God AND insisting a persistent destroyer of weaker people should keep his job.

If the poop on O’Reilly is true, and it looks like much of it is, then he may a very bad guy. It’s easy to excuse inappropriate flirting, but ruining people who turn you down is sick and cruel. It goes beyond lust, which is something everyone has to fight with, and into the realm of viciousness. It is also blatant corruption.

What if he decided to come clean and change his ways? What if he apologized on the air and said he intended to turn over a new leaf? Would that justify keeping him? I don’t know. There has to be some punishment for what he has done already, and merely losing a job is not a penalty commensurate with the offenses in question.

I say let him go. He has had plenty of chances to turn this around, and it hasn’t happened.

That’s the memo for today. Name and town, if you wish to opine.

Defund the NSA

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

We Get all our Info From Infowars and Huffpo

I haven’t written about the Trump wiretap kerfuffle since the weekend the story broke, because I don’t know what’s going on. My hope was that Trump would emerge with some amazing presidential inside poop proving his privacy was invaded, but so far that has not happened.

I hoped Trump would come forward with evidence, not so much because it would put heat on Obama, but because it would mean Trump was behaving responsibly and planning things in advance instead of shooting from the hip. It would also indicate that the government’s astounding obliteration of the Fourth Amendment might come under attack by the very branch of government which is primarily responsible for it.

I saw that Kellyanne Conway walked Trump’s comments back, saying Trump didn’t mean Obama personally ordered a wiretap job. That’s not credible, since Trump referred to Obama as a “sick” or “bad” guy. You wouldn’t say something like that if you didn’t think the person you were taking about was personally responsible.

It’s still too early to figure out what’s happening. Liberals are using the word “deadline” a lot, but as far as I know, such a date is a deadline primarily in their imaginations. They wanted to be able to go on the news the day after the deadline and say Trump lost because he didn’t produce the info on time.

The House Intelligence Committee asked for information, and they did provide a deadline, but it’s not like Trump is going to be put in front of a firing squad because he’s late. It looks like the big penalty is that the House could start sending subpoenas, which isn’t that big a deal. This isn’t the Watergate hearings. No one is going to be impeached.

I am still hoping Trump had some basis for his claims, other than a Breitbart news story. We would all like to think the president sees all sorts of classified information, and that he knows more than we do. A sad reality of life, however, is that the government is not very much like the slick, James-Bondy apparatus we see in the movies. Spies don’t really have watches with lasers in them, you can jump over the White House fence without being detected for a surprisingly long time, and even with the liberty-destroying intelligence-gathering toys our masters now have, the government still lacks a lot of important information, and it is much too stupid to know what to do with the information it has.

Remember Esteban Santiago, the Ft. Lauderdale airport gunman? He told the FBI he heard voices in his head, and that the CIA was forcing him to watch ISIS videos. He was in the military, which is a pretty good place to be if the government needs to know everything about you and control your movements. He informed the goverment of his problem, and they did virtually nothing. To the government, the first indication that action needed to be taken was a flurry of 911 calls indicating that individuals had been shot dead near a baggage carousel. That was the subtle clue that finally got them moving. After they let him check a pistol on a plane.

Yards away from the area where Santiago was shooting whoever he wanted, TSA agents responsible for our safety were calmly handling the genitals of innocent passengers who had not told the government anything at all about ISIS videos and whom no sane government would ever have considered to be security risks.

The government has always been real stupid. We need to accept that as a premise of life.

Crazy as it sounds, presidents often learn things they should already know…from watching the news. It may well be that Trump got excited about something he read at Breitbart over breakfast.

If that’s the case, I am disappointed in Trump, and I hope he comes to understand that a president needs to aim before he fires.

Still, we don’t know the truth yet. Maybe Trump is polishing up a bombshell. Maybe we should read Breitbart regularly to keep informed.

I don’t read Breitbart because Andrew Breitbart and I did not like each other, and because I always found the site boring. I don’t think Breitbart was a good person at all, and based on the bizarre comments which are typical of a disturbing percentage of his readers, it looks like he attracts a very unsavory crowd largely worthy of the “Nazi” and “white supremacist” labels the left is throwing around.

I thought it was creepy, the way Breitbart kissed up to Drudge so he could turn Drudge into a creek that powered Breitbart.com’s water wheel with a flow of hits. Remember how Drudge, under Breitbart’s control, used to link to Breitbart.com about ten times per page?

Remember how Breitbart jumped ship, without hesitation, to help former-fake-conservative Arianna Huffington start her awful, loathsome website? This is not a man whose face I want on my T-shirts. I think all he cared about was getting rich.

Breitbart, Coulter, Nugent. To me, they look like a trinity of figureheads raised up to bring shame and embarrassment to conservatives. But most people are too team-oriented to criticize these rusty icons.

If Trump is wrong, and he really is as irresponsible as that would make him look, I still would not regret voting for him. What choice did I have? I would have voted for just about anyone other than Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. I considered making a T-shirt with “TRUMP 2016” on it, over a photo of Hillary.

A moderately irresponsible, recently converted conservative is much better than someone who would persecute Christians, destroy Israel much faster, step up the murder of the unborn, and turn not being gay into a third-degree felony.

I thought Trump had something up his sleeve. Maybe he does. But at this point, I think the most likely thing is that he was just angry about the Breitbart article. Why he was looking at it at five in the morning, I can’t even guess. The time of day was one of the things that made me think he had evidence. Who looks at blogs at five a.m.? I figured he had been up late conferring with associates and raising hell about evidence that came from other channels.

I figured I should write about it, since it’s a bit cowardly to say you think Trump is probably on solid ground and then shut up when it starts to look like you guessed wrong.

Maybe I’ll get to write a third piece in which I gladly announce that I was wrong to think I was wrong. That would be nice.

Taps

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

“Living Dead” Shadow Co-President Accused of Spying on Trump

What a strange presidency we have.

When Trump got elected, I predicted two things: 1) whatever Trump did, he would do better than politicians, because he’s an extremely competent businessman who knows how to accomplish things, and 2) his presidency would be very, very entertaining. As of today, I think prediction 2 has been proven right. Trump just accused Obama–personally–of wiretapping Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.

Since I’m making two-item lists today, I’ll continue. There are two possible outcomes here: 1) Trump will be proven mainly right, and it will be a big embarrassment for Obama and the left, or 2) Trump will be found to be overreacting to a Breitbart story that came from Mark Levin, and it will be a big embarrassment for Trump and the Republicans.

I feel like making a guess.

My guess is that Trump will be proven mainly right.

Here’s how I see it: as president, Trump has deep access to classified information, and he has lots of power to force bureaucrats to do research and answer questions for him. Maybe he was motivated by the Levin story, but that was yesterday, and he didn’t make his wiretapping tweet until today, so he has had ample time to get on the phone and scream at people. It may well be that he has been up all night dragging people into the Oval Office and forcing them to give him briefings.

Trump made his announcements at around 5:30 a.m. today. That suggests he didn’t sleep last night. There is no reason for a president to be up in the middle of the night on a random Saturday, so if he tweeted at 5:30, he had probably been awake for quite some time, and the most likely explanation is that he was digging into the wiretap story. I don’t think he woke up at 5:15 to use the toilet and said to himself, “What a great night’s sleep I had. I think I’ll say something completely insane on Twitter, which could destabilize my administration.”

Trump said “Just found out.” It could mean he was up before 5:30, for some trivial reason, and some aide or other came up to him and said, “Hey, did you read Levin’s story?” It could also mean he had been putting the screws on people all night, and he got his solid evidence not long before 5:30. That’s the most likely explanation, because if he was simply responding to Levin’s emotionalism, it would be uncharacteristically impulsive, even for Donald Trump, who loves to talk off the top of his head. It would also be very foolish; too foolish to be likely.

It’s as though Trump learned something shocking, and it enraged him, and he decided to stay up all night and make some heads roll.

If Trump is wrong about Obama, he can be sued successfully for libel. He’s not an imbecile; he is aware of the existence of tort lawyers. I don’t think he would expose himself to a lawsuit unnecessarily. Obama would love to hinder the Trump administration by dragging a sitting president into court. I can’t see Trump opening himself to that move.

Weird as it sounds, the most likely explanation, given the facts I have now, is that Trump has the goods on Obama. Maybe he’s exaggerating things a little, and maybe the “wiretaps” he has mentioned aren’t the simple phone bugs the rest of us think of when we hear that word, but Obama probably collected intelligence, using wires (email, Internet feeds, whatever), and if it wasn’t illegal, it was probably ethically questionable.

Obama is the first zombie president. When a president leaves office, the classy, patriotic, and traditional thing is to go away and be quiet for at least two terms. Obama is setting up headquarters in DC, and he plans to make life miserable for Trump. What a strange man he is. It reminds me of the silly fake presidential seal he used to use before he was elected. He was like a little kid, playing cowboys and Indians, wearing a plastic sheriff’s badge.

He pretended to be president before he had standing, and now it looks like he’s going to pretend to be president after becoming unemployed. I think he wants to condition the press to listen to Trump and then rush across town to see what The Other President says.

This is a remarkable confrontation. Neither Trump nor Obama can continue without taking steps to resolve this. Trump has to prove his accusations, or Obama has to disprove them. If Obama disproves them, Trump will look like a real idiot, and he may face a painful lawsuit. He could even be pressured into resigning simply because a president can’t run around accusing his predecessors of wiretapping. If Trump proves them, Obama will be disgraced, and he could even face felony charges, along with a number of other people in his administration.

Obviously, I prefer the latter alternative. I support Trump, and whatever his faults may be, I want him (or some other Republican) in the White House when Ruth Ginsberg dies.

An interesting thing about this kerfuffle is that Obama has a plausible path to prison here, but Trump’s worst-case path leads only to financial pain and forced retirement.

I just don’t think Trump is crazy enough to make these accusations without checking his legal footing. Trump is a weird guy, and he tends to think out loud instead of waiting for corroboration, but he’s not a complete moron. He’s very, very sharp.

My best guess, and a guess is all it is, is that people who jump for Obama surveilled Trump, and Trump can prove it.

Now, what will happen when Trump proves Obama’s people spied on him?

My opinion can be discerned from my use of the phrase “Obama’s people.” Obama isn’t an utter idiot (I assume), any more than Trump is. He’s naive, gullible, feckless, and incredibly conceited, but he has a normal instinct for self-preservation. If Obama spied on Trump, he used layers of surrogates. If wrongdoing is proven, there will be a whole squad of potential Scooter Libbys waiting to receive the skewer in Obama’s stead.

If Obama is behind this, and he didn’t take great pains to insulate himself from responsibility, then his arrogance is even worse than we thought, and that would be remarkable.

It’s possible. Obama has been careless before, and he tends to screw up and then wait for the press to save him. He seems to have delusions of invulnerability. He seems to see himself as The Chosen One, and a lot of his fans agree. I wonder if he’s crazy enough to wiretap a presidential candidate. Hmm. Nixon was smarter than Obama, and…

We don’t have to consider the possibility that Obama is morally above something like this. We know him better than that.

I suppose there is a third possibility. Deep State intelligence people hate Trump, and they like sandbagging him and setting him up. A really sharp, unpatriotic, and unscrupulous group of spooks could harm Trump very badly by feeding him false information and leading him to accuse Obama wrongly. I wonder if they could pull that off.

I might get hammered for this (by one of the two people who read this unimportant blog), but it seems like there is a common pattern in which a black person or group of blacks crosses a threshold of power that had previously been an impregnable stronghold, and then they blow it. Bill Cosby is an example. So is Michael Vick. The first black player on the University of Kentucky basketball team, which was coached by a ferocious racist, turned out to be a rapist. For some reason, black people tend to gain control of things that are already in decline or headed for disaster. It must be a supernatural thing. I wonder if it’s at play here.

It’s not uncommon for prominent black people to end up in trouble with the law. It’s very strange. Ray Nagin. Al Sharpton. Kwame Kilpatrick. O.J. Simpson. Wesley Snipes, Lauryn Hill, James Brown, Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife…

Imagine the outcry we would hear if Obama were indicted. “They won’t let a black man win.” Black Lives Matter would go nuclear. We would never hear the end of it.

As for the outcome of the wiretap fuss, I’m just guessing for entertainment purposes. I’m not pretending to be a pundit. Guessing is fun. The older you get, the more you know about human nature, and the better you get at predicting people’s behavior. I like exercising that skill. Wrong or right, I enjoy it. I do pretty well.

I won’t enjoy it if Trump gets the worst of this. I voted as well as I could, and I prayed for Hillary to fail. That was all I could do. I can’t control the world. I’m not going to eat my liver over it.

Now, let’s make the popcorn.

More

I can’t stop thinking about this story.

Think about this: when you and I go to the airport, and we are sexually violated by the TSA, no one cares. The government now monitors all of our car travel via electronic toll devices, cameras, license plate scanners, and roadside sensors. I didn’t read about that somewhere. I figured it out by looking out the car window. The government looks for us in public places using facial recognition. The government collects our emails and phone calls, and that goes for all of us, not just radicalized Muslims.

No one cares. We’re nobodies. The Constitution is dead, except for the imaginary parts that permit homosexual “marriage” and let women kill their own babies. Our outrage and pain don’t matter, even though insult and personal outrage are the very reasons the Bill of Rights was written.

Now, suddenly, a PRESIDENT may have been violated, by another president! Finally, someone who matters is suffering. How about that? What will happen now?

Will the spooks and hacks sit Trump down and convince him we have no choice but to abandon the Constitution? The spooks will say life with no rights is better than being blown up by Muslims. The hacks will say life with no rights is better than having terrorist attacks on Trump’s watch, which could cost him the next election. Will Trump listen?

Most voters don’t care about their rights. The legendary American love of liberty is a complete myth. Americans don’t really love liberty, except when it comes to vices. Tell an American he can’t smoke weed or look at pornography, and he’ll get very upset. Tell him you’re recording all of his phone calls even though he has nothing to do with terrorists, and he’ll bless you for it.

Here’s a funny thing about human nature: people in authority don’t care at all about injustice, but they lose their minds when people insult their dignity or power.

If you call a cop because someone stole your bicycle, he won’t look for it. You will never see it again; I guarantee it. Have you ever known anyone who got their stolen goods back through police action? Me, neither. Give a cop the finger, which is completely legal, and he will make you his number one case. He will find a way to cite you or arrest you. As a matter of fact, that happened to a cousin of mine.

One of the best ways to get a judge to stomp your adversary is to make the judge think he, himself, has been insulted. It has worked for me. Cite the judge’s own holy words, show him opposing counsel has blasphemed him, and he will drop the whole courthouse on your opponent’s head. Citing your own problems and your adversary’s misdeeds may not even wake a judge up. Judges are lazy, and so are their clerks. They just want you out of their hair.

Human nature. Look at it objectively, and you will rarely come to the wrong conclusion.

If Obama wiretapped Trump illegally or unethically, or even if he did it legally and simply made Trump mad, Trump may look for ways to attack our Orwellian captivity, simply to avenge what happened to him.

That’s interesting, to say the very least.

More

Finally, Obama has finished polishing up his response. Through a spokesman, here it is:

A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice. As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.

Okay, let’s put on our special cynicism goggles and look for the real meaning.

“No White House official ever interfered.” Notice it says “White House official,” not “administration official” or “surrogate” or “executive department personnel.” If Obama had been able to say, “It never happened,” why didn’t he say it? He’s just deflecting blame from his inner circle, which is one of the possibilities I predicted. A lot of people who worked for Obama could have wiretapped Trump, and only a small percentage worked in the White House.

Obama was the head of the executive branch, so if anyone in that branch wiretapped Trump, it’s Obama’s baby and he has to breastfeed it.

He says no White House official interfered with an independent DOJ investigation. Let’s see. Are there investigations that aren’t independent? Nixon’s investigations of his political enemies were not exactly independent. Are there investigations that aren’t handled by the DOJ? The CIA isn’t part of the DOJ. Neither is DHS.

What we have here is a carefully worded non-denial that took several hours to draw up. Obama may be setting some underling up for a spell at Club Fed. On the other hand, if Trump is completely wrong, maybe Obama is trying to bait him into parsing his flak’s words, just as I am right now. Obama baited the birthers, including Trump, by postponing the release of his long-form birth certificate, and they looked bad when it came out, even though the official who signed it was named Ukulele.

Here is my guess: Trump is right, and Obama will throw a lackey under the bus. Obama’s bus can hardly move for the bodies stuck to the undercarriage, so this would be a continuation of SOP. George Bush probably has a furnished apartment under that bus.

If I’m right, there is a there, there, and Obama is trying to move there to somewhere else.

The press is all over this. They’re 100% in the tank for Obama, even though they haven’t had time to investigate. They are risking humiliation by covering this story as if Trump has already been proven wrong. Many are leading with the statement that Trump misspelled “taps” on Twitter, as if that were the real news here. That’s about as brazenly biased as a journalist can get without wearing a ball cap with the words “I am Lying” emblazoned on the front.

This could be a major time bomb in the laps of the MSM. Trump makes true accusation. Press crucifies Trump without checking the facts. Trump produces proof he’s right. That would be a real nitroglycerin enema.

If Trump is wrong, things will be pretty bad for the GOP for a month.

Wonder what will happen next.

Russian to Judgment

Monday, February 27th, 2017

The USSR Started World War Two

I try not to do anything important on weekends. In my creaky old age, I have come to understand that compartmentalization and boundaries are very important. Working during your leisure time can be just as big a vice as goofing off at your job.

It sounds lazy, and to some degree, it is, but it’s also correct. For the most part, two types of people work during their leisure hours: workaholics and the irresponsible. I’ve noticed that irresponsible people are always rushed. They are never at peace. They never know when they’re supposed to work and when they’re supposed to rest. Responsible people make plans and schedules, and they have peace.

That being said, I find it a lot easier to refuse to work when I shouldn’t than to make myself work when I should!

Over the weekend, I tried not to do anything useful, and I treated myself to a movie and a documentary. The movie was Battle for Sevastopol, the “true story” (Is any movie really a true story?) of Lyudmila Pavlichenko, a Russian sniper who had 309 confirmed kills in World War Two. The documentary was The War, a treatment of World War Two by Ken Burns.

If you don’t know who Ken Burns is, he’s the man who made the documentary Jazz.

The sniper movie was quite interesting. It was made by Russians. Because it was made by Russians, the perspective on World War Two was very different from what we see in movies made by people in other nations that fought the Germans. We emphasize the huge contribution we made to the defeat of the Nazis. We generally ignore the huge Soviet contribution.

The Russians lost something like 20 million people in the war. Millions of them were Jewish Holocaust victims. Many were soldiers and non-Jewish civilians killed by the Nazis. Many were killed by Stalin and his underlings. Overall, the Russians had a very bad time during the war.

Americans didn’t join the war in Europe until shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack in late 1941. By then the war was over two years old. It started with the invasion of Poland. France fell in 1940, and by the time we got involved as combatants, Germany had occupied all of western Europe except for Switzerland.

Americans helped invade Italy in 1943, and we also flew suicidal bombing missions over Europe. We began fighting in Africa in 1942. Our ground troops didn’t go after the heart of Nazi Europe, farther north, until D-Day, which was June 6, 1944.

Russia’s ground war with Germany started in June of 1941.

For a long time, Russians were nearly alone against the Nazis in the north and east.

To watch the movie, you would think Americans hid in their closets while brave, principled Russians died. Pavlichenko made a fundraising tour in the US after she became unable to fight, and she asked American men if they hadn’t hidden behind her long enough.

Here’s the thing the movie doesn’t tell you: the Russians brought their problems on themselves. It was 100% their fault. The Russians started World War Two, by invading Poland!

You’re thinking that’s not right. The Germans invaded Poland. Well, you’re half correct. The Russians invaded Poland beside the Germans.

In August of 1939, Stalin and the Nazis signed a “nonaggression” pact, which was not “nonaggressive” at all. They planned to be very aggressive to the rest of Europe, but they agreed not to fight each other. They divided Europe up in advance, agreeing to cede certain conquered nations to each other.

Funny how that’s not in the film.

Less than two years after the pact was signed, the Germans attacked Russia. Suddenly, Russians were the victims! They needed our help!

Please. Their hands were wet with blood.

Would the Germans have invaded Poland in 1939 if the Russians hadn’t agreed to help? Doubtful.

The Russians were sleazy traitors to the rest of the world. They made it possible for Germany to occupy western Europe. If we were unable to put troops on the ground until mid-1944, the Russians should have blamed themselves. Before the Nazis could occupy France, they had to get through Poland with Russia’s help.

Clearly, we did not hide from battle. Our young men were already preparing to die in battle when Pavlichenko made her ridiculous accusation; they just couldn’t get into France. Europe was a fortress Russia helped build. To expect us to march in under an iron dome of Nazi air superiority made possible by Russian collaboration would have been insane. Much better to let the burden fall on the people who created it.

Russians like to say they won the war (which they started) for everyone else. Guess who supplied their planes, trucks, food, ammunition, and supplies? We did. Russia’s industrial capacity was tiny, due to the ravages of leftism. They depended on us. Without our help, they would have had an even worse time expelling the Nazis.

They fought bravely. But think about it…they had no choice. The Nazis were on their soil. The Russians weren’t fighting for Europe, which they had just tried to conquer along with Hitler. They were fighting to save themselves. Even a rat will do that. It’s not praiseworthy. They picked up a snake, and they got bitten. Then they asked us to pick it up, too, and we did.

America didn’t win the war by itself. True. And we do tend to minimize the Soviet contribution. But it’s libelous to say we didn’t do our part, and it’s disgusting and cowardly to omit mention of the fact that Russia started the war along with Germany.

Why is it so few people talk about Russia’s responsibility for the war? It’s obvious. It must be the usual leftist revisionism. We learn about history from academics, journalists, and entertainers, and guess which way they lean?

It seems inconsistent for entertainers to ignore Russia’s guilt while playing down Russia’s help. I think I understand, though, at least when it comes to show business. When you make movies for Americans, you usually have American writers and directors, and you want to reach an American audience. You want to make money. It’s easier to make money here when you praise American heroes.

Some people give Russia credit for saving Jews from the Nazis. Hmm…how many Polish Jews died as a result of Russian and German aggression? Answer: three million.

So much for that canard. If you’re responsible for the deaths of half of the victims of the Holocaust, you can’t really claim you protected the Jews.

If Russia is so nice to the Jews, why have Russian Jews spent an entire century trying to get out?

I like Russia. I like Russians. It’s a different country now. I hope they succeed and improve. But come on. The USSR did tremendous evil, and America’s contribution to ending the war was essential. As for the Japanese defeat, well, we pretty much own that. We produced atom bombs no one else could make, and we supplied our naval might. We worked with the Chinese and British, mainly. The Russians got involved in August of 1945, after Nagasaki. They didn’t even agree to help until February of 1945.

Even the British weren’t around at the battle of Midway, which was the turning point in the Pacific war. That was all us.

It’s amazing how people twist the truth.

If you’re feeling bad about the way we downplay Russia’s part in the war, now you can start feeling better.

The sniper movie is very good. Just make sure you don’t pay any attention to Pavlichenko’s ridiculous insult.

Hasta la Vista, Knight Aberrant

Saturday, February 25th, 2017

Cervantes << Rabelais

I feel like I should let the world know I finally finished the reading in Cervantes’ Don Quixote. I got done yesterday, I think. I can’t describe my relief.

Now that I’ve read a good deal of the book, including the ending, I can say with confidence that it’s overrated and poorly done. The people who admire this book are just dazzled by its age, and by the fatuous remarks of other fans who preceded them.

One of the last things I read concerned Sancho Panza’s brief experience as pretend governor of an “insula” (island) provided by a duke who enjoyed making fun of him. The people of the island (if it is an island; I didn’t read the part where Cervantes describes it) go to Sancho with three cases to judge. Sancho comes up with very clever solutions to the last two cases, a la Solomon. The solution to the first case isn’t clever at all and appears to be a wild guess which may or may not be just.

The clever solutions are plagiarized from other authors. I’ll give you one example. A man is accused of rape, and the woman demands money. Sancho gives her the man’s money and then tells the man to take it from her. She is too strong for him, and she pushes him away easily. Sancho gives the man his money back, reasoning that if the defendant isn’t strong enough to take her purse, he’s not strong enough to rape her. I forget where the story came from, but the translator, in a note, says it’s stolen.

Plagiarism is one of the marks of a hack. If you have something original to say, you say it, hoping to be credited for your brilliance. If you steal other people’s work, you tacitly admit you have no talent of your own.

When I saw the door to the prison starting to swing open, I started reading another book. I bought a copy of The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick. A friend said I should watch the Amazon series of the same name, so I bought the book, knowing nothing ruins a good book like seeing the movie first.

Now that I think about it, nothing enhances a book like reading a worse book first.

In two sessions, purely for pleasure, I effortlessly breezed through maybe forty pages. What a change of pace. When I was reading Cervantes, twenty pages seemed like the toils of Sisyphus. But then Cervantes is a bad writer, and Dick isn’t.

I know people will argue with me and try to tell me I’m not smart enough to see Cervantes’ hidden genius. Yeah, okay. Keep telling yourselves that. I may not be Maxwell Perkins, but I’m not completely stupid, either. I can tell the difference between Shakespeare and John Grisham.

I guess I shouldn’t use John Grisham as an example. Some people think he’s a good writer. He’s not, but some people think he is. How about Dan Brown? No, I guess some people think he has talent, too.

Barbara Cartman! Harold Robbins! Jacqueline Susann! There must be somebody who will serve as an example.

How about this: “I can tell the difference between Francois Villon and Rod McKuen”?

On the web, I saw people looking for the hidden meaning of Don Quixote. Let me help. There is no hidden meaning. Cervantes isn’t D.H. Lawrence. He wasn’t consciously writing about archetypes that move in all our thoughts. He was a debtor trying to raise cash by writing a popular novel.

You can project hidden meaning onto anything if you try. You’ll probably reveal more about yourself than about whatever it is you’re studying.

The next book on the Columbia College Lit. Hum. list is Milton’s Paradise Lost, which is almost 400 pages of very stuffy blank verse. In case you’re wondering, blank verse is just poetry that doesn’t rhyme. For reasons not entirely clear to me, some writers like to force their work to adhere to certain rhythms without using rhymes to pull it together.

I get rhythm. I totally get rhythm. David Mamet is a master of it. Every naturally funny person understands timing. What I don’t get is sticking to fixed rhythms that don’t improve the work in any way. Why use six syllables when you’re dying to use ten? It turns literature into Twitter.

It reminds me of haikus. Well, I should say, “It reminds me of haiku,” because if you’re really smart, you have to say “haiku” instead of “haikus.” Anyway, haikuS are stupid. God doesn’t charge us by the syllable. Use all you want.

I don’t think anyone really likes haikuS. It’s like pretending to like Japanese rock gardens. Real exciting; three rocks and some sand. Yeah, that’s just as good as the garden at the Tuileries. I can hardly tell the difference.

To grow a real garden, you need artistic talent, enough character to do hard work, and a green thumb. To produce a rock garden, you just need Roundup.

Tip for the Japanese: “garden” implies “foliage.” The English word you’ve been looking for is “sandbox.”

I expect Milton to be a chore, but I’m hoping there will at least be a plot.

I also blew off a lot of the reading in Columbia’s Contemporary Civilization class. It’s similar to Lit. Hum., but it’s philosophy and poltics instead of literature. I was thinking I would do the reading for both classes, but I don’t know if I can stand the pain. Maybe bad literature is inherently more painful than politics and philosophy. Hmm. I could always read two books and see if I can bear to continue.

They had a third class called Art Hum. That one is a breeze. You look at slides. “This is a kouros. This is an Ionian column.” I don’t know if the materials are available, though. It would be a real shame if I had to cancel that project.

I don’t like modern art. I don’t know if I want to suffer with it. Anything past Monet, you can keep. If I have to pretend I like Jackson Pollack and think his “work” has value, I may become ill. I’d rather sit through twelve hours of John Cage.

No I wouldn’t. Not unless it was 4’33” with the MP3 player on repeat. Here’s one of my favorite versions, but I also like the duet Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix are currently doing:

John Cage must be the greatest composer ever, because no matter what other composers write or play while they’re alive, they start playing Cage’s work as soon as they die.

I like Salvador Dali, but I don’t think he’s deep. I think he’s sort of like M.C. Escher. Makes you go “GEE!”, but you wouldn’t want his work to represent earth in an interstellar art competition.

Maybe I’ll do CC and Art Hum. in 2018. It would be unfair to my future self to concentrate all the remaining pleasure into 2017.

Truck pulls! That’s what I really need! I need to watch me some truck pulls! Get me some corn dogs and a Busch Light! ‘Murica! ‘MURICA!!!!

I’m off to Bass Pro Shop to buy some Uncle Buck’s cajun foie gras seasoning.

One More Thing Lawyers Have Ruined

Friday, February 10th, 2017

The Grand Tour Fails to Reach its Potential

It’s funny how you can sometimes detect the activity of lawyers without being told they’re at work.

I’ll give some examples.

I have bought key lime juice. There are two brands available where I live. One is labeled “Mrs. Biddle’s Key Lime Juice.” The other is labeled “Key West Lime Juice.” Why? Obviously, the second one isn’t made from key limes. If it were, they would use the phrase “key lime juice” on the label. In order to get around the illegality of selling Persian lime juice as key lime juice, they invoke the name of Key West, which has nothing to do with lime varieties.

Here’s another one. Have you ever bought a junk food item with a label that says it contains “creme”? It said that because it didn’t contain cream. “Creme” doesn’t mean anything. It could be lithium grease. Real cream comes from a cow and costs a lot of money.

I’ve watched all of the episodes of Amazon’s The Grand Tour, and I see lawyer footprints all over it.

First of all, no Stig. The BBC owns the Stig (perhaps literally). Amazon found a legal way to replace his vibe on the show. They hired an American driver named Mike Skinner, and they call him “The American.” He’s not as good as the Stig, because the writers who write his material aren’t good, but if he had better lines, he would be a fine replacement.

He has a lot of potential. The constant jokes about him being American could be funny. Problem is, they’re very weak. Maybe bad British writers are to blame. Someone who actually understood American Southerners could write very funny stuff for Skinner.

Second thing…no celebrities. This is a major problem. I suppose it’s possible celebrities are boycotting the show because of the odor of racism, but I doubt that, because they do appear in short, generally silent cameos in which they die horribly. They don’t give interviews or drive laps.

Somehow, lawyers have interfered with the practice of putting celebrities on the show. I don’t know what the issue is. One would think that it would be impossible to protect the concept of interviewing celebrities about cars, but the BBC must have found a way, because there is no other plausible explanation for cutting out a huge part of the fun of the show.

Instead of stars in a reasonably priced car, the show has a feature called Celebrity Brain Crash. It’s supposed to be a quiz, but the gimmick is that every celebrity is killed while making his or her way to the studio. It was funny the first two times, but now it’s annoying, and surely Amazon knows that and wants to fix it. Because they never did, lawyers must be getting in the way.

I guess it’s possible that the creators of the show are just incompetent, but how could anyone be that bad at his job? It’s the kind of decision a producer would make if someone were secretly paying him to fail.

I like the show, and I’ll keep watching it, but it’s in danger of turning into the American Top Gear, which was terrible because it had no celebrities and a hosting team headed by a hipster sissy.

Overall, the show is pretty good, but not quite as good as the original. The writing is weaker; that’s the main issue. Bezos needs to hire some people from Top Gear or some top sitcoms. Male Republicans, if possible. Whether Bezos wants to admit it or not, 90% of the fun of Top Gear was the persistent lambasting of political correctness.

No one really cares whether the Porsche 918 is as fast as the Ferrari Enzo. People want to see the boys make fools of themselves, and they want to see them have interesting interviews with famous people.

A reviewer from The Guardian says people don’t like the “scriptedness” of the new show. He’s right. With the old show, it was always nearly possible to make yourself believe the things you saw on screen were simply things that had happened on their own. With the new show, the action is about as spontaneous as The A-Team. The Grand Tour punches you in the face with its artificiality.

Maybe they need to hire Ted Nugent. That would help.

The Grand Tour doesn’t have a home city. They have a tent they fly around the globe, and they put it in a new place almost every week. Fun idea, but you have to wonder if the work and expense of moving around makes it hard to keep a good staff together and get things done. Here’s something strange: the show doesn’t make much use of its locations. If they were to put the tent in the Bahamas, they might very well film most of the show in Egypt. If you’re not going to use the location, why go there?

One of their locations disturbed me pretty badly. They went to Scotland. Most of my ancestors were Scottish. When they stood in front of the studio audience (tent audience?), I noticed that there wasn’t a single good-looking person in the crowd. I’ll be honest; they looked WRONG. Like someone had hushed up a radiation accident in the 1970’s. Their Dutch audience looked way better. Maybe I need a gene transplant.

If I were running the show, I would find a way to get some celebrities to talk to. I would also beat the writers with a stick and hire some new ones. After that, I’d find a studio in England and stay there. What they’re doing now is like moving a tomato plant from one pot to another every week and expecting it to grow.

It’s still better than the BBC’s offering.

I have to wonder if the hype about Amazon’s giant budget is true. The Grand Tour looks like it costs a lot less than the old show. The projects are much less ambitious.

Top Gear itself is returning soon, with Matt LeBlanc still in charge. Unfortunately, his ineffective co-host Chris Evans will be replaced by the soon-to-be-proven-equally-ineffective Rory Reid and Chris Harris. These guys are not even a little bit funny, and Top Gear is a comedy show. No one at the BBC seems to understand that. They think it’s about cars!

I plan to watch the new season. I’ll do what I did last time around. When LeBlanc or the Stig is on the screen, I’ll watch. I’ll fast-forward past the plastic twins. I should be able to get through an episode in 15 minutes.

Steven Seagal is a Hero

Monday, February 6th, 2017

Don Quixote is Just a Psychopath

I’m sitting here trying to find the gumption to continue reading Don Quixote. No wonder I skipped so much of the reading when I was in college. I feel like I’m getting psyched up for a colonoscopy.

In an earlier post I quoted the author Vladimir Nabokov, who said a bunch of flattering and patently inaccurate things about Don Quixote. For one thing, he called the protagonist “gentle,” which is like calling Richard Speck gentle.

Here’s something weird: Cervantes fan-niños can be found on the web excoriating Nabokov for criticizing Cervantes. Nabokov called Cervantes’ work “crude and cruel.”

I wonder what the truth is. Was Nabokov pro- or anti-?

I have to go with the critical Nabokov. Don Quixote is remarkably free of any type of compassion. When DQ breaks an innocent man’s leg, it’s a trifle. It’s supposed to be funny. Cervantes himself calls a hunchbacked, one-eyed girl who has done nothing wrong “this engaging creature” (en Español). When DQ gets impatient with Sancho Panza, whom he considers a friend, he beats him with his lance, and we’re supposed to go on liking DQ.

I’m thinking Cervantes may have been a sociopath. He may have been unable to feel love or pity, so he may not have realized it when he crossed the line.

To push the notion even further, I think this book may be a good litmus test for sociopathy. If you really enjoy it, and the cruelty doesn’t wear you down, you have an issue. Some essential pieces of your heart are missing. You would probably enjoy a GWAR concert.

One of the rules of fiction is that if you want to put suffering in your work, and you don’t want the reader to sympathize, you should make the characters who suffer look like they deserve it. You can see this rule at work in any Steven Seagal movie. Steven Seagal can’t just march onto the set and start snapping people’s arms backward at the elbow and setting them on fire. Maybe it was hard for his directors to make him understand that, but it’s true. If he wants the audience to root for him, the people he hurts have to be set up in advance. They have to put him in a coma and shoot his partner. Something like that.

If Cervantes had written a Steven Seagal movie, it would have started like this: Steven Seagal is lying in bed with his really good-looking wife. They smile and cuddle. Then he shoves a bayonet through her throat and says something snotty while she dies. No, no, no. That doesn’t work. You have to lay some sort of John Wick-style groundwork. Stomp on a puppy. Steal Keanu’s Mustang.

Maybe the people who defend Cervantes are cruel and underdeveloped. Cervantes can’t see his own problem, and neither can they, because they’re just like him.

Just spitballing here.

What time is it? About 1:30? This isn’t working. I haven’t killed enough time. I still have time to sit down and read. Man.

I saw some foolish person claiming Nabokov was worse than Cervantes, because Humbert Humbert, the main character in Lolita, was a sexual predator who went after a young girl. What a stretch. You’re not supposed to like Humbert Humbert! Hello? It’s okay if a villain does bad things. Obvious, right?

I plan to gag my way through at least 30 pages today. I’m glad the copy I bought was cheap. I would hate to spend more than ten bucks on an experience like this.

It’s 1:34. I guess I better get to work.

Chivalry Isn’t Dead

Sunday, February 5th, 2017

It’s Just Nauseous

Update on my progress through Don Quixote: today I made it to page 206, and I thought I could force myself to go all the way to the start of a horrible verse on the bottom of the page. No dice. After a few sentences, I realized I could not face another line. It’s as if my mind threw up.

Back to work tomorrow, I guess.

The World Gets an Intervention

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

President Tough Love Melts the Snow

Trump’s first couple of weeks in office have been very interesting.

I don’t really follow the news any more, but I’ve noticed a few things. Trump is doing stuff he promised to do, and that is making heads explode all over the world.

This morning I realized that the single thing that makes Trump a revolutionary president is this: he is the first president elected in my lifetime…who didn’t owe anything to special interests. That’s incredible!

You can say I’m wrong, and that this faction or that faction helped him. That’s not what I’m talking about. No one gets elected without support. Trump got help from various groups, but unlike every other president elected in (at least) the last 50 years, he was not the CREATION and SERVANT of any particular group, except for his bona fide grassroots fan base.

Democrats serve large corporations, unions, minority blocs, women, and various fringe-nut groups. Republicans serve wealthy donors and a certain percentage of corporations liberals are trying to destroy. Trump serves millions of nuts in red hats. I don’t mean “nut” in a bad way; I’m just describing their enthusiasm.

I also realized Trump knows exactly what he’s doing. Do I mean he understands foreign policy or the ins and outs of his job? No. I mean that when he acts like a loose cannon, it’s very deliberate. He’s using negotiating skills he learned from multiplying a $1 million seed loan by 9,000. He is being the same aggressive businessman he has always been, and even if he’s a nasty guy on a personal level, his aggression is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. It’s just good business.

Americans have a sick tendency to treat business contacts like family members. We talk about “offense” and “feelings.” That’s not healthy at all. Business is hardball. Attorneys use the term “arm’s length” to describe the way businesspeople treat each other. You try to do what’s right, and you avoid breaking the law, but other than that, you look after your own interest, and you expect the other party to look after his. This may not be a great strategy in the Christian world, in interpersonal dealings, but in secular business, it’s normal and correct.

Why is Trump offending foreign leaders and other poobahs who are used to being treated like snowflakes? Because unlike them, he’s a businessman. He has spent his life getting things done, not trying to get elected and collecting poorly disguisded bribes. Unlike government employees around the world (like Obama, who has never had a real job), Trump knows what it’s like to wake up in the morning and know that if he doesn’t hustle, he can lose everything he has and end up selling cars for a living.

Trump is hungry. Most government employees are not. They are parasites, and they’re used to failing upward. Naturally, they expect deference and butt-kissing. The people Trump deals with in business don’t expect that, and Trump probably doesn’t know how to do it anyway.

Trump is giving world leaders a lesson in growing up.

People say he’s going to start a war. Really? Did the Ayatollah Khomeini start a war when he kidnapped and held Americans for 444 days? Did Kim Jong-Il start a war when he violated international agreements and built nuclear weapons? It’s pretty hard to start a war. Even Hitler had to take over half of Europe to really get other countries off their duffs and into uniform. I seriously doubt Trump has the ability to start a war except by large-scale military action. Tweeting and making blunt (truthful) remarks in phone calls will not do it.

People say other countries will be less likely to cooperate with us and help us. Seriously? Like they help us now? Are we going to lose all the aid the Saudis send us? Are the Japanese going to stop funding our military? Are Mexicans going to stop sending us unvetted people they can’t feed? Trump understands something the rest of us have forgotten: we have a very powerful negotiating position. Suddenly, we’re using it, and Trump is the only one who isn’t upset.

This is how he got rich. He wasn’t born a billionaire. This isn’t a charm offensive, intended to butter up nations that don’t respect us and don’t do anything for us. It’s business. Trump isn’t doing anything new. He’s doing what he has done for fifty years, in a different office.

Trump won’t start a war, but he will get us better deals. He doesn’t care what rich people or selfish voting blocs think, because they didn’t do a thing for him, and they can’t give him orders. He will be motivated by egotism, the joy of the game, and a desire to make America more powerful. I never thought I’d see someone like that occupying the Oval Office.

Is this a good thing? I don’t think it matters. His policies, not his manners, are what will determine whether America prospers on his watch. Making stupid decisions politely will kill a country just as quickly as making stupid decisions rudely. Obama used to go on apology tours, criticizing America and bowing to sleazy tinpot leaders in silly nations that cause problems. It wasn’t helpful at all. We lost respect all over the world. He attacked business and caused a dramatic upturn in the pathological entitlement mentality of the unproductive and irresponsible. If the Fed hadn’t inflated our currency, we would still be in a recession, and we will eventually have to eat the bill for that inflation. We cannibalized ourselves. You can’t gain weight by eating your own flesh.

I hope Trump will make good decisions. He probably will, because he is dynamic and extremely capable. His big obstacle will be pride. If he can manage to change direction when needed, admitting error, he’ll be a great president. If not, well, at least he saved us from a socialist federal judiciary, and he slowed down America’s slide into all-out, open, state-sponsored persecution of Christians and Jews. I suppose our lives are worth something.

I don’t care if he offends people. He’s not a game show host. He’s a president. Obama offended me and my kind a thousand times. No one seems to think that matters. If leftists hate listening to Trump and living under his rule, all I can say is, welcome to my world. I got over it, and so will they.

America is a snowflake nation, and because we’re snowflakes, we can’t even see it. Electing Trump is like rolling a car window down while driving on a freezing day. The shock will do us good.

Some Giants are Just Windmills

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

Or Just Windy

My efforts to complete the reading list for Columbia College’s Lit. Hum. course continue. I would almost call it a quest at this point, which is fitting, since I’m currently mired in Don Quixote.

Once again, I am having a hard time comprehending the enthusiasm scholars have for an ancient book. I started reading quite some time ago, and it has been so unpleasant, I only reached the hundredth page today. It reminds of of a joke I once read about a book a reader didn’t like. His review read, “I couldn’t pick it up.”

The cover of the book has two blurbs of praise on it. One comes from the author Vladimir Nabokov. I know I’ve read Lolita, because I remember a phrase from the book, but I must not have been very moved, because that phrase is nearly all I remember. Is Nabokov a good writer, or was he just a purveyor of lurid pulp novels? I don’t recall.

Here is what Nabokov says:

Don Quixote is greater today than he was in Cervantes’s womb. [He] looms so wonderfully above the skyline of literature, a gaunt giant on a lean nag, that the book lives and will live through [his] sheer vitality. . . . He stands for everything that is gentle, forlorn, pure, unselfish, and gallant. The parody has become a paragon.

Based on my hundred pages, that looks pretty crazy.

First of all, I can’t figure out how to make the quotation work with the brackets removed. Sometimes that can be a real puzzle. Try “than he was in Cervantes’s womb. looms so wonderfully…” It’s hard to see how that could make sense. Maybe Nabokov was drunk, and he dictated the blurb into a publisher’s answering machine.

Apart from that, it’s hard to see why anyone would call Don Quixote gentle or unselfish. He was a violent lunatic who went around hacking at innocent people with a sword. How can that be gentle? I don’t know if English was Nabokov’s first language. Maybe he misunderstood the word. He also forced Sancho Panza to share his misery and join in the beatings he received, paying him nothing in exchange. If that’s not selfish, then I need to look the word up and refresh my memory.

In my dim memories of Columbia, Don Quixote is a too-long and somewhat humorous book. I am sticking with “too long,” but I feel I must withdraw “humorous.” It’s not even slightly funny. DQ attacks a windmill, and it lifts him by his lance and drops him on the ground. Is that funny? I don’t think so. It was funny when Rabelais’ Frere Jean D’Entommeures used a cross as a battle weapon and shoved it up a man’s rear end, and it was funny when Gargantua’s horse drowned a bunch of pilgrims in urine. These things were gross and sophomoric, but they were funny. Falling off a windmill is not funny or even clever. It’s not even funny by Three Stooges standards.

Cervantes seems to have a few things going for him. He is intelligent, and he appears to be well-read. He can put a paragraph or a page together. But he’s not very creative, and his stories are pointless. They don’t have any connection to each other. One of the unwritten rules of fiction is that you don’t add anything that doesn’t serve a purpose. When you write an Archie comic book, you don’t have Jughead see a flying saucer on the second page and then never mention it again. DQ wanders from isolated adventure to isolated adventure, and once an event is behind him, it vanishes as though it had never been written. That’s not how novels are supposed to work.

It’s more like a Fifties TV series than a novel. One week, Lucy dresses up as a man so she can join Ricky’s band to see if he’s cheating on her. The next week, Fred is arrested in the ladies’ room of a major department store. One episode has no relationship to the next. DQ has the same kind of existence. He bounces around in Spain, like a chrome bearing in a pinball machine. He hits the windmill bumper and bounces off. He hits the Basque squire bumper and bounces off, minus one ear. I can’t wait for him to roll between the flippers and disappear.

I’m not impressed by Cervantes’ knowledge of old literature. Think about it…how many books did a man of his era have access to? You couldn’t log onto Amazon and have any of millions of titles installed on your tablet in thirty seconds. You had to read the classics and whatever crap had been written up to your time. OF COURSE he had read Virgil and Homer and all the books of chivalry. What else was there to read? If you had been alive back then, you would have read all of that stuff, too. How many books did you read last year? Probably more than Cervantes read in five years.

When I was at Columbia, I took the DQ course taught by a man I will call Dr. S; a scholar people referred to as a genius. Like many other students, I thought it was ridiculous, and I never saw the brilliance of the book or, quite honestly, of the man who taught the course. He’s dead, so I can say that. The course was a rite of passage and an easy B, so everybody took it. S never said anything I considered remotely smart, and I never developed the impression that Cervantes was a writer of real stature.

Not all of my professors were like that. I took an advanced French poetry course taught by a guy named Daniel Penham, and I thought he and the material were great. I kept the textbook and looked for other books by the same author (Morris Bishop). The class was small, all of the students sat around a single table, and Penham told us all sorts of interesting things about France, French, the poets, and so on. I’m not the problem here. If S’s class or Cervantes’ book had had the stuff, I believe I would have perceived it.

People I knew thought S was incoherent. Sure seemed that way to me. Maybe he was slipping by the time I took his course. They said he was being treated for cancer.

It looks like an emperor’s-clothes situation to me. If people say a writer is brilliant for five hundred years, it doesn’t matter whether they’re right. Anyone who disagrees will be sent to sit on the Group W bench. I will take my seat gladly if it means I don’t have to read any more Cervantes. Life is too short.

In the liberal arts, you don’t have to do much or be very smart to be considered brilliant. Memorizing a lot of things and learning a couple of languages will do it. It’s strange that liberal arts professors have big egos and consider themselves gifted, when they walk the same halls as physicists and mathematicians.

Liberal arts people are intellectuals. The thing people forget is that “intellectual” doesn’t mean “intelligent person.” It really means “academic” or “academic buff” in practice. It describes an insular group of people who read the same books and use the same argot to confirm each other’s borrowed perceptions and opinions. Intellectuals use a lot of big words, but that doesn’t mean they’re bright. It just means they’re clannish. Sailors use a lot of funny words, too, but no one thinks it proves they’re smart.

Okay, okay. I’ll go sit on the bench.

I feel like these books are cages. I committed to read them, so I can’t spend much time reading things I actually consider interesting. I’m working on Dark Sun, the follow-up to The Making of the Atomic Bomb, and I really want to read the Eugene Sledge and Robert Leckie books I bought. Arrgh. I wish I had one of those Matrix plugs I could jam in the back of my head to get DQ into me in three seconds.

Don Quixote de la Mancha: If you are a gentleman, take up arms that I might engage you in mortal combat. If not, let me know, and I will send my cloth-eared squire to beat you with a stave.

Morpheus: How the hell did you get in here?

I’m glad there are people who dedicate their lives to studying and preserving this material, and I’m also glad there are people who dedicate their lives to embalming the dead and squeezing other people’s boils. I think that sums it up. Was the Vietnam War really so scary that it was worth it for men to bury themselves in this stuff in order to get deferments? How bad can land mines and punji sticks be?

Maybe I can force myself to sit down this week and knock this book off. Like the Abbe Faria, digging his way out of seclusion with a spoon, I could eventually tunnel my way back into the light. I suppose that’s the best option, since I can’t go back in time and pay Cervantes for his manuscript so I can burn it.

Enough for one day. I need to go weld something.