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The Cone of Certain Death Returns

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

Matthew Threatens to Kill my A/C

I can’t remember the last time this happened. A hurricane is going to come close enough to me to force me to pen up the lawn furniture.

I still recall the hysterical atmosphere of the “Global warming is going to kill us all with giant hurricanes” days. I got whacked by Rita, Wilma, and Katrina, all in the space of one week. Okay, maybe I remember that wrong. But they were fairly close together. Liberals were beside themselves with glee, hoping to see the world destroyed by Mother Gaia’s vengeful huffing and puffing. “Take that for the great auk, you swine!”

Then it all went south. From a liberal’s point of view. The rest of us were thrilled. The hurricanes dried up, and they have not returned. Al Gore is probably still furious.

By the grace of God, literally, Miami hasn’t had a hurricane since…now I have to look it up…well, it turns out Rita didn’t actually hit Miami. I guess the peripheral winds messed things up, and I remembered it as a hurricane. Wilma sort of went north of us, but it made a big mess here. Katrina actually hit us. All three storms hit in 2005.

I remember thinking Wilma wasn’t that bad. It hit in October, so when the power went out, the temperature in the house was maybe 84 degrees instead of infinity. Sleeping was not possible, but one did not necessarily leave a wet spot when one got off the couch. Katrina was an August storm, so the lack of A/C was ample grounds for suicide. I remember sitting very still, watching drops of sweat pour off my nose.

The center of Matthew is expected to pass about 150 miles to the east, and given the size of the storm, that makes it unlikely that I will see hurricane-force winds. The weather people are projecting 40 mph or so. I can handle that. I’m not even sure I need to take the garbage cans in.

Hurricanes swirl counterclockwise. That means they push water toward the west on their upper sides. We will be to the west of Matthew. Storm surge (rising water due to hurricane winds) should be very light, due to the distance between us and the eye. Andrew put big steel commercial ships on dry land; that won’t happen this time. Not here!

A lot of people flip out with preparations. I do virtually nothing. Unless a true monster storm hits, things go back to normal in a week, and you can buy ice and batteries (and McMuffins) the day after the storm. If another Andrew were coming, I would be pretty depressed right now. I would be wishing I had a diesel generator and 500 pounds of Beef-a-Roni, because I would be looking at maybe six weeks without power, along with maybe three weeks without water. But Andrew was special.

I served with Andrew. I knew Andrew. Andrew was a friend of mine. Matthew, you’re no Andrew.

Maybe I shouldn’t joke. I’m sure terrible things have happened in Haiti. They build flimsy houses, and it seems like every storm that passes kills a lot of people.

I hate a stinking hurricane. I just hope I dodge this latest bullet.

If you live in a place where you might get a real hit, you should get a generator and a huge cooler. Fill the cooler with sandwich stuff and ice. Get jugs of water. If you don’t have a real phone (not mobile or portable), get one, because only hardwired phones work after storms. Get a flashlight for everyone in the house, and get batteries for two weeks.

That’s about all you can do.

Oh…do your laundry.

Don’t worry too much about fuel. Gas stations don’t stay closed long unless your area is totally flattened.

If you don’t hear from me, it means Mother Gaia finally got me. So what? My demise is a drop in the bucket compared to all the times I’ve used my septic tank.

I win on points.

Unexpected Message

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

Who’s Sharing YOUR Bed?

Something fascinating happened last night.

First, some background. For some time now, I’ve been waking up–consistently–between six and seven in the morning. I thought it was God, waking me up to pray. Also, I have been asking God to expose the people and spirits who are against him in my life, and I have asked him to defeat them and drive them away, no matter who they are.

This morning, I woke up, as usual. This time, I heard a voice. It was as though I had answered the phone and someone was speaking to me. Just after I awoke, I heard a woman with an American accent say something I no longer remember, and then she said, “See you later.”

She said it with a smug, hostile tone, like someone who was tormenting me and who expected to be able to come back and torment me in the future.

It got me thinking.

My prayer life has gone nuts over the last few years, and it keeps getting more powerful. More and more, I spend time on the offensive, attacking people and spirits that work against God. It works. That has to make demons and fallen angels very angry.

When Eve fell, evil spirits received the keys to the earth. It wasn’t supposed to be theirs, but they won it by fooling a carnal woman. Since then, Satan has ruled the world, and the spoiled, vicious children of the fallen angels have tormented human beings.

We talk about evil spirits (when we admit they exist) as though they’re isolated rogues, out of control. In reality, they have every right to be here and to abuse us. We gave it to them. In fact, demons are human. They are our brothers and sisters. They were created when angels had sex with human beings. The fight between demons and humans is actually a family squabble; it’s sibling rivalry.

It’s crazy to think you can give yourself to God and go on the attack without infuriating the beings you’re humiliating and driving out. They’ve had it good. They haven’t been pitched into the lake of fire. They can’t die. They are allowed to wander the earth, hidden from us, torturing and killing the beings they hate the most.

They don’t want to have that taken away from them. It’s the best thing they’ll ever have. They have no other hope of pleasure or safety. Soon they’re going to find themselves burning forever, in complete humiliation and powerlessness. It should be obvious that they will fight back.

Christians don’t like to talk about this. When you mention demons and angels, people who call themselves Christians–people who claim to worship a spirit–tell you you’re mentally ill. That’s the way Satan likes it. The best way to divert attack is to convince your enemy you aren’t there.

I see why God hates lukewarmness. If you’re lukewarm, you’re probably praying every other day and doing pretty much as you please. You’re not aware of the supernatural. You’re not doing anything to defeat Satan. You’re just lying back on the couch, allowing the enemy to have his way with you. You’re like a drunken college girl, lying beside a dumpster, exposed, with her legs up.

A lukewarm person doesn’t fight back, and God doesn’t do all that much fighting for him.

I have problems. I have had failures that were extremely improbable and damaging, in spite of my carnal efforts. No wonder! I blew my front door off the hinges and lay down on the floor, waiting passively. What did I expect?

This defeated, worthless, doomed thing has been coming to me every morning, and I haven’t done enough to get rid of it. What else is coming to me? What other problems are caused by trespassers I welcomed and fed?

When Jesus sent the disciples out (Matthew 10), he ordered them to do four things: “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons.” Those were his priorities at the time. He didn’t say, “Buy 20 purple suits for $3000.00 each, build a pink megachurch, and start a TV show.” The things he told them to do were important. They’re still important. He said he had come to set the captives free. He wasn’t just referring to salvation. You can’t be free in this life until you dethrone the spirits that control you.

This message draws all kinds of resistance, because demons do not like being humiliated. Their inheritance is weakness, servitude, and pain, and they do not want to receive it. They will come after anyone who speaks against them, and they will use Christians to shut such people down, because Christians have credibility among Christians.

I felt I should pass this information along, because chances are, you are not doing much about your spirit problem.

I want whatever authority and deliverance I can get. I plan to keep going forward so I can get whatever is available.

These things are real. Don’t expect them to go away just because they’re bored.


Thursday, September 8th, 2016

It’s Available, Cheaper Than You Think

As much as I try to avoid saying anything useful, occasionally I have to break the rules and tell you something that could help you. This is one of those times.

For years, I’ve been trying to defeat nighttime congestion. It’s a horrible problem. When your nose clogs up during the night, you may dream you’re suffocating. Nighttime congestion puts you in the habit of feeling stifled and frustrated, so you don’t fully escape the aggravation during the daytime.

I’ve used nasal sprays. They work, but you have to use them every day, because once you’ve used something like Afrin two days in a row, you will start to get rebound congestion. Every time the spray wears off, your nose will close up, even if there is nothing around to provoke an allergic response. Also, sprays will irritate your nose to the point where you’ll blow out blood and little scabs.

Cleaning up helps, because it gets rid of dust and mites, but I don’t think anyone who lives in a normal house with fabrics and paper and so forth can ever get it clean enough to completely get rid of congestion. Maybe you could do it if you had a bare closet containing only a cot.

A few years back, I got a Honeywell air purifier. This thing is a big box the size of a hamper. It has three filters in it. A noisy fan blows air through it, and supposedly, it takes allergens out of the air.

Here is a summary of my conclusions regarding Honeywell air purifiers. They do remove dust from the air. They also blow dust into the air, because they keep air moving. They don’t have much of an effect on allergies. They make a nice white noise, however, and that’s very helpful when you’re trying to sleep, especially if you have Hispanic neighbors. The noise costs $200 plus electricity, so it’s not a great deal. The filters are expensive, too.

Last year, somehow or another, I decided to try adding things to the air in the house. There are certain substances that naturally open your airways up. Camphor, pine oil, tea tree oil, menthol, and so on. One of the chemicals that do the work is alpha-pinene.

Alpha-pinene is expensive in its pure form. Guess how you can get it cheap? By buying turpentine. Alpha-pinene is one of the main ingredients in turpentine. Why does a quart of turpentine cost six bucks, while an ounce of alpha-pinene or pine oil costs seven bucks? I do not know.

Anyway, I found that splashing a little turpentine in a dish and leaving it in my bedroom was very helpful with congestion. If you don’t like the smell of turpentine, you can buy tea tree oil and put a few drops in a dish. Somehow the aromatic chemicals overcome the funk and must and whatever that make nostrils clench up.

You can also buy tea tree oil and put it on your upper lip. Or you can buy Vick’s Vaporub, which contains camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol.

Vick’s sells little waterless vaporizers that plug into electric sockets. The problem is that they use little pads that will cost you about $400 per year, and you also have to find a free socket.

Whatever you use will evaporate during the night, but you can always start over.

You can’t just buy a jug of turpentine and take the cap off every night. The good parts of the turpentine evaporate and leave the useless parts behind. If you leave the jug open, the good stuff will disappear early, and then you’ll have nothing. You have to dispense and use a small amount every night.

It also works to deodorize your house. I add it to mop water, and sometimes I pour it on the floor under the air conditioner air handler. It blows throughout the house.

Miami’s natural smell is like the smell of a pile of warm sweaty underwear. That’s just the way it is. It’s nice to have something clean and crisp to counteract it.

I tried these things in 2015, and they worked. Somehow I got distracted and quit. Big mistake. I went back to it this week, and it’s wonderful. I don’t have to worry about lying on one side so the nostril on the other side will open up. I don’t have to lie on my back so both nostrils will open. I just sleep.

Now, what do I do with the machine? My neighbors are still noisy and thoughtless. I need sounds to shut them out.

I’ve decided to try a dedicated white noise machine. I already have a Homedics Sound Spa clock radio, which is very nice. It plays relaxing sounds. The problem with it is that the digital audio clips it uses are short, and once you’ve heard one a few times, you know exactly where it stops and starts. You start listening for the repetitions, and then you lie awake. A true white noise machine doesn’t use digital files.

A company called Marpac makes a machine called the Dohm Sound Conditioner. It comes in a model with one speed and a model with two speeds. It’s completely analog. It has been around since 1962. You can adjust the pitch and volume of the sound. I ordered one, and if it works, the Honeywell is going on Craigslist.

If your nose keeps you awake and you’re tired of the terrible medications used to treat it, give this a try. I think you’ll be glad you did.

Proof that All Socialists are Evil

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

My Mind has Been Violated by a Pedantic Bolshevik

I feel like I owe Virgil an apology.

I got my copies of The Aeneid from Amazon. I was looking for a translation by Allen Mandelbaum. That’s the translation Columbia University uses.

I did my homework. I searched by ISBN and everything. Unfortunately, Amazon has a problem with Mr. Mandelbaum. When you try to buy his translations, they sell you books translated by a person named Mackail. It doesn’t say “WARNING! MACKAIL!” in big red letters on the front, either. I never found it on my paperback version, and the Kindle version I bought concealed it pretty well.

I was reading, and criticizing, the Mackail translation. I thought I was looking at Mandelbaum.

The paperback I bought is so cheap it’s not worth it to return it. I’m throwing it out. I did get Amazon to refund the 99 cents I spent on the Kindle version. I ordered the Kindle version of Mandelbaum’s translation, but I was afraid to order a new paperback because of the confusion at Amazon, so I went to Barnes & Noble.

I read a little bit of Mandelbaum’s work today. What a relief. It’s much less opaque than Mackail’s constipated wall of compressed and convoluted verbiage. Mandelbaum seems considerably less likely to throw out words that are obscure even to a national spelling bee alumnus such as myself. Mackail used “guerdon” and “foison,” like, yeah, people just KNOW those words.

“Inly.” Who says inly? Even inly?

It reminds me of William F. Buckley, who used to memorize obscure words and repeat them just to make himself look smarter. My feeling is this: if you have never seen it in the Sunday New York Times puzzle, it’s probably a word you will never find useful, and you shouldn’t go out of your way to use it. Unless it’s math or science. “Holonomic” is useful to some people, but it doesn’t pop up in puzzles.

Check this out; you won’t believe it:

‘Am I then to abandon my baffled purpose, powerless to keep the Teucrian king from Italy? and because fate forbids me? Could Pallas lay the Argive fleet in ashes, and sink the Argives in the sea, for one man’s guilt, mad Oilean Ajax? Her hand darted Jove’s flying fire from the clouds, scattered their ships, upturned the seas in tempest; him, his pierced breast yet breathing forth the flame, she caught in a whirlwind and impaled on a spike of rock. But I, who move queen among immortals, I sister and wife of Jove, wage warfare all these years with a single people; and is there any who still adores Juno’s divinity, or will kneel to lay sacrifice on her altars?’

Oops; I accidentally cut the line that says, “Foison foison guerdon inly.”

According to Wikipedia, Mackail was a socialist, so I guess there was nothing good about him at all.

Here is Mandelbaum’s version of the above text:

‘Am I, defeated, simply to stop trying,
unable to turn back the Trojan king
from Italy? No doubt, the Fates won’t have it.
But Pallas–was she powerful enough
to set the Argive fleet on fire, to drown
the crewmen in the deep, for an outrage done
by only one infuriated man,
Ajax, Oileus’ son? And she herself
could fling Jove’s racing lightning from the clouds
and smash their galleys, sweep the sea with tempests.
Then Ajax’ breath was flame from his pierced chest;
she caught him up within a whirlwind; she
impaled him on a pointed rock. But I,
the queen of gods, who stride along as both
the sister and the wife of Jove, have warred
so many years against a single nation.
For after this, will anyone adore
the majesty of Juno, or, before
her altars, pay her honor, pray to her?
Foison, inly, inly, guerdon?

I added a bit at the end to give it flavor.

Anyway, it’s considerably more readable. I don’t know what Mackail was smoking when he wrote his version, but I can see why it’s available free on the Internet (as a socialist’s goods should always be), while Mandelbaum gets paid.

I feel better now, but then I’m not focusing on the time I’ve spent suffering with Mackail. If I thought about that a lot, I would be pretty miserable.

Best not to dwell on misfortune. Cervantes is on the way, and I don’t want to be depressed when I collide with him.

The Foul Wind That Blows From Ausonia

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

Ex Libris Ant Man

People must think I’ve stopped blogging again.

I am still buried in my dad’s business affairs. It’s as if I’m treating a sick calf that keeps vomiting up garbage it ate before I showed up. A lot of things got screwed up over the last year and a half. I am untying the Gordian Knot with tweezers, one strand at a time.

Prioritizing is not easy. I set time aside for this or that, and then I get sandbagged by something equally urgent. The people I deal with must think I’m just lying on the couch, eating fun size Snickers bars all day. Good guess. No, I’m chiseling away at the job. It may look different to the people I deal with. Each one of them only sees his little corner of the maelstrom.

I have a few major tasks to finish this month. Once that’s done, my life will probably seem as featureless as limbo.

I haven’t looked at C programming in several days. By the time I get done fooling with Quickbooks, creditors, flaky contractors, and ordinary bills, all I want to do is space out and watch Misfit Garage.

I’m keeping up with The Aeneid, sort of. I let it go for a couple of days. The paperback I ordered arrived. It’s really something. It’s supposed to be a long book, but the version I got is about 3/8″ thick. I opened it up, hoping I had made an impossible error in judging the poem’s length. No, sorry. It turned out I bought the microprint version. You have to read it with a proton microscope.

The print is slightly bigger than phone book print, and there are no gaps to speak of. I’m not sure why anyone buys this version. I tried to read it for a while, and then I gave up and went back to my phone.

It’s boring. It’s so incredibly boring. I don’t care if saying that proves I’m a clod. It’s terrible.

Aeneas is in Sicily. He sailed there from Carthage, where ***SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER*** he jilted Queen Dido, who proceeded to kill herself (because anorexia and self-cutting hadn’t been invented). In Sicily, he ran into other Trojans, and he decided to hang out a while. As usual, the top priority for these Hellenists was naked sports.

I don’t actually know that they were naked, but I’m willing to assume it out of laziness.

Aeneas had a bunch of ships full of really tired people who want to found a nation and relax, so of course, he decided to hold games.

It’s the usual stuff. Tedious narrations of unentertaining events in which the self-pitying, diaper-worthy losers cry like fat girls who didn’t make the cheerleading squad. Really off-putting.

Here is my position on men crying: if you cry because your mom got run over, fine. If you cry tears of joy because your son was just born, great. If you cry because you lost a stupid foot race, you are a pansy, and someone should slap you.

Once again, I find myself filled with contempt for the values of the Greeks (yes, they were Trojans, but same culture). The shallowness is profound (I love a good oxymoron). All they care about is winning and being admired. It’s like reading about a bunch of neurotic, narcissistic, superficial Olympic athletes. This is what hanging out with Lance Armstrong must be like.

I have no respect for people like that. Zero. I have no desire to be around them. Egotistical people ruin the world. They are idiots.

Virgil is very long-winded. I keep wondering…is this because ancient people had no entertainment and long attention spans, or is it just that he was a bad writer with no understanding of pace?

I lean toward the latter explanation. You’re not allowed to criticize the classics, but I do anyway, so I will say it: Virgil needs an editor. Bad.

I don’t really need to know everything that happened in the boat race between Mnestheus and Sergestus. Wrap it up. Keep it punchy. Five hundred or a thousand words will do it to death. You don’t need five thousand.

To prove my point, let me remind you that Shakespeare lived before TV, and he wasn’t a bore. Lots of respected pre-technological writers weren’t bores. Virgil is a bore. He is an epic bore, in more ways than one.

Today I saw an interesting article on the web. Some guy thinks he has found the 40 smartest people who ever lived. I checked the list out. I saw something astounding. The guy whose IQ may have been 400? No. The guy who could recite The Aeneid WORD FOR WORD.

What on earth was wrong with him? How could he stand it? How could he bear reading this miserable work over and over until it was committed to memory? What possible reason could he have for wasting that much time? Who sat beside him for four days holding the text as he recited, checking his accuracy?

Here’s a secret: it’s a lie. No one can memorize 400 pages without a mistake, and no one would sit still to check his memory. I can’t prove any of this, but then there are a lot of crazy stories I can’t disprove.

People tend to lie about geniuses and people they simply want to pretend are geniuses. John Kennedy told a reporter to say he read 2,000 words per minute, and now we accept it as gospel. There are some crazy-smart people out there, but no one memorized The Aeneid. I won’t believe it without proof.

Some of the genius stories are credible. If a kid goes to a reputable university and gets a doctorate at 13, I believe it’s legitimate. Things like that have happened. I think. It’s not all that shocking. People tend to underestimate the capabilities of smart kids, so they don’t teach them as much as they could. It happened to me. A super-brilliant kid (or even a kid who is merely really smart) with attentive parents should have no problem graduating from college before puberty. But I do not buy the memorization story.

Maybe I’m wrong; maybe it’s easier in Latin. Maybe it rhymes. But what a thing to do to yourself. What use is it? It’s not like your friends are going to beg you to come over and recite a boring poem for 19 hours. No one will pay you for it. “Come over and remind me how bored I was in college.” No.

It’s kind of a bummer, reading about all these smart people. It’s obvious that many of them had parents who made a responsible effort to cultivate them. No kid walks into a university admissions office alone at the age of 9. I love my parents and all that, but they did a very bad job. I can’t memorize The Aeneid, and I don’t think I was ever in any danger of revolutionizing physics, but I had a certain amount of potential, and my parents let about 90% of it go down the toilet. On the up side, I saw every episode of Star Trek at least five times, I didn’t have to play organized football, and I got to eat a lot of ice cream.

Here’s something else that’s interesting: a lot of the smart people in the article didn’t achieve much. Some did great things. Others hid away from society. One works at Home Depot.

The guy Will Hunting was based on took a civil service exam and got a low grade. Seems like no one is safe from underachievement. I don’t know how you get a low grade on that type of exam. I assume he forgot to breathe. Maybe they put the thermometer in the wrong end.

I can relate to these people, from my own relatively amoeba-like level. I may well be the least ambitious person on earth who is not in a coma. Ambitious people give me the willies. I wouldn’t want to be in a room with Reince Priebus or Hillary Clinton for more than a few seconds.

Leonardo da Vinci was known for underachieving, if you can believe it. He had a reputation for starting things he didn’t finish. I suppose the ideas were more interesting than the implementation. You have an exciting idea, you do enough work to prove it’s good, you say, “Yeah, I can do that,” and then you wander off and play Grand Theft Auto…feeling successful.

Leonardo did not understand Latin. He was spared the Virgil experience. Lucky guy.

I guess it’s time to call more flakes and do more bookkeeping. I hope to be done with Virgil soon. When things settle down, I may just climb into the refrigerator and stay there until September.


Here’s horrible news. Amazon’s listings for The Aeneid are screwed up. They claimed they were selling me a translation by Allen Mandelbaum, but they actually sold me one by a guy named Mackail. So now I’m 39% of the way through the book…with a translation I wouldn’t wish on Hitler.

Arrggh. It’s hard out here for a classics scholar.

You’re It!

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

I May Open an Account at the Liquor Store

I am close to finishing the job of preparing my dad’s tax documents for his accountant. I thought it would never end. Even when it’s done, the job of arranging his affairs will continue for at least a month or two.

I feel like I was ambushed. When a person suddenly loses the ability to handle his business without help, having the job thrust on you is like having someone throw you a bale of wet hay without warning. At first, you’re going to reel a little.

As the job has progressed, my dad’s value as a resource has dropped fast. I used to be able to ask questions about his practices or about the locations of things I needed, and he could help. Now a question that should take five minutes to answer can result in over an hour of talking in circles. It’s better to let him rest and figure things out on my own.

If you have an older relative whose finances are complicated, you need to keep an eye on them. They may be saving every single computer document in one folder, with titles like “1.” They may be throwing all their paper documents into one accordion folder. They may have piles of new checkbooks and deposit slips for accounts that were cancelled years ago. They may have accounts for which they haven’t saved statements, and you will have to unearth the accounts and get the required papers. You will probably discover late fees and open balances. You may find out there are safe deposit boxes you never heard of.

My natural tendency in life is to live and let live…because people do not listen to me. If I see you doing something really ill-advised, and I’m confident you’re informed, I will probably leave you alone unless you ask for my opinion. I stayed out of my dad’s affairs because I didn’t know whether I was going to inherit anything and I didn’t want to spend my life arguing with him, knowing he would almost never accept my advice.

That’s how this mess happened, but I don’t think there was much I could have done differently. It would have been nice if I had been able to have some input, because he made mistakes I knew were going to bite him in the future. I am definitely having input now, after the mess has been made. This is nearly a solo act now.

Maybe your older relatives won’t listen to you. That’s not your fault. I advise you to keep sounding them, because they may become more open to advice as they start to sink, and you may not know it if you don’t test the waters on occasion.

I Can Haz Aeneid?

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

Reading the Classics in the Age of Instant Electronic Gratification

I managed to get free from The Symposium. What a disgusting experience; an entire book dedicated to predatory gay relationships, with a side order of specious, disappointing argument. I’m so glad I’m finished with it.

I’m now working on The Aeneid, Virgil’s book about the founding of Rome. In case you’re interested, Virgil had a last name. His full name is Publius Vergilius Maro. Sounds Italian. Maybe he wore shiny suits without vents.

“Hey! You leanin’ on my chariot?!”

I was hoping for a quick read, but according to Amazon, the book has 400 pages. It makes me wonder if I want to go on living.

I say “according to Amazon” because I don’t have a hardcopy yet. I ordered one, but I got a head start using Kindle. I’m using Kindle for PC, and it doesn’t show page numbers, so I’m not sure what’s going on. I do know this: after one 30-minute session, I’m 1/12 of the way through it.

It makes me wonder how anyone survives Columbia College. According to the syllabus, you get one week to read this book. I read faster than other people, and it will clearly take me six hours to get through it, not including side excursions to look things up. So for a real student of average ability, let’s say ten hours, all told. How are you supposed to cope with that while carrying at least three other courses?

More and more, I understand why people use Cliff’s Notes.

I do not like The Aeneid. It is extremely boring. It is very badly written. I guess that’s heresy, but we always cut the ancients more slack than we do contemporary writers. Homer was a terrible writer; he was verbose, repetitive, and totally unfamiliar with structure and pace. Plato is somewhat better; his big problem is his subject matter. Virgil is a horror.

Shakespeare was magnificent. Voltaire wrote well. Rabelais wrote well. I’m not prejudiced against all dead writers.

Unfortunately, I found a page on Columbia’s website that suggests I may have to read stuff beyond the list I already have. They provide a list of all the works known to have been read for Lit. Hum. since the earth cooled. If the list is correct, my 2015 syllabus doesn’t cover all the junk I chose not to read a thousand years ago, when I was supposed to. I may have to read The Golden Ass (totally serious) and a number of other things I would rather use as doorstops.

What drives a person to become a classics scholar? How can they take the pain? Maybe it’s not so bad, because there aren’t that many classics. It’s not like Virgil is still writing in a converted barn in Vermont. If he were, we could hire someone to bump him off. But that won’t be necessary.

Check this out; it’s some text from Virgil:

Arms, and the man I sing, who, forc’d by fate,
And haughty Juno’s unrelenting hate,
Expell’d and exil’d, left the Trojan shore.
Long labors, both by sea and land, he bore,
And in the doubtful war, before he won
The Latian realm, and built the destin’d town;
His banish’d gods restor’d to rites divine,
And settled sure succession in his line,
From whence the race of Alban fathers come,
And the long glories of majestic Rome.
O Muse! the causes and the crimes relate;
What goddess was provok’d, and whence her hate;
For what offense the Queen of Heav’n began

I didn’t bother looking for a good place to end the excerpt. It doesn’t matter; the point is to show you what I’m dealing with. The above bit comes from a translation Columbia doesn’t use. It was handier to access for copying. Can you imagine sweating through 400 pages of that?

Here’s something that will chill your bones even further: many of the paragraphs are over a page long. That’s inhumane. It must be due to translator ineptitude. I doubt Virgil used paragraphs at all.

I don’t care what you’re writing; you can break it up better than that. Long paragraphs are for the lazy and the uneducated.

There must be 500 words to a page. It’s crammed in there as if paper were platinum. To get another turgid word into a page, you would have to grease it and use a hydraulic press.

No one actually enjoys reading this crap. No way. They can pretend all they want. No one wants to read 500 convoluted words that add up to, “Aeneas raised his sail.”

I guess two things have to be considered. First, ancient people had almost no entertainment, so they probably wanted books to be as long as possible. They were probably like people who didn’t want Breaking Bad to end. When your book ended, you went back to your grimy, unpunctuated, hopeless potato-eater existence. Second, they didn’t have a lot of works to compare. Maybe they thought Virgil did a fine job.

You don’t read books like this one in order to enjoy them. You read them to gather information which, it is to be hoped, improves your mind.

That’s not true. In reality, that’s a loftier motivation than most of us have. We really read them (or the Cliff’s Notes) in order to get grades and get dreary classes behind us.

It appears that writing is a lot like blogging. The earlier you started, the more likely you are to receive attention and praise, regardless of the quality of your work. If Virgil wrote The Aeneid today, he’d be held for observation and banned from owning a computer.

I’m forcing myself not to look, but I’m afraid Dostoevsky is in my future. I have tried to read him before. I thought it would kill me. You read a paragraph, and you pause to regain your strength. You read another paragraph. You look out the window. You read another paragraph. You flip to the end of the book to check, and yes, it’s 900 pages long.

Maybe I’m secretly (or not so secretly) a lowbrow. Maybe I need the pop-up Aeneid. Maybe I need a version edited by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, with car chases inserted in random locations. I want the Nicholas Cage Aeneid: Gone to Rome in Sixty Seconds.

Here’s what my review of Citizen Kane would look like:

The best thing is to think of these books as trips to the dentist. It’s impossible to enjoy many of them, so why try? You don’t come home disappointed when you don’t enjoy getting a filling. Fillings are good for you. Spinal taps are good for you. Having a gangrenous leg amputated out in the woods with no anaesthetic is good for you. Don’t feel bad about not enjoying it. Just lie back and think of England.

The problem is that so many people pretend to enjoy boring books. They make the rest of us–the honest ones–feel guilty. I’m not afraid to confess my inadequacy. This book is boring. I do not like it. If that bothers you, shoot me. Pierce me with a dart from Phoebus’ gilded bow.

It could be worse. I could be Kanye West, a self-proclaimed “proud non-reader of books.”

Maybe he’s not crazy after all. Maybe he’s right when he says he’s a genius.

He also said, “I would never want a book’s autograph.”

I’ll just leave that there.

I don’t enjoy Charlie Parker, either. Shoot me some more. I proclaim it from the rooftops. His music sounds like hailstones falling on a cement patio. I don’t care if it’s brilliant. I don’t turn on the stereo to be lectured.

Perhaps I have now purged to the point where I can force myself to read more. I wish Virgil were still alive. I would create a very scathing Internet meme with his picture on it.

Don’t buy this book. Read the Cliff’s Notes. I absolve you.

Top Sneer

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

When People are Down is the Best Time to Kick Them

Today over breakfast, I watched the latest episode of Top Gear. I mean the real Top Gear, not the Australian mess or the twice-euthanized American version.

I must humbly confess; I was dumbstruck by the confirmation of my rightness.

A while back, I wrote that one of the Beeb’s mistakes was hiring Matt LeBlanc. I said it was a mistake because he was so much better than the other hosts. If they had filled his spot with another mediocrity, it would have taken fans longer to realize how awful Chris Evans, Rory Reid, and Chris Harris were. It would have taken them longer to realize Sabine Schmitt (did I spell it right this time?) belongs in a Stig suit, not a star’s dressing room.

WOW, was I right. I was so right it hurts. I may need Oxycontin to dull the pain of rightness overload.

Today the show started out with…someone…talking about…something. I’ve forgotten already. Once again, I was reminded of Top Gear’s most conspicuous new feature…the fast-forward button.

After that, I believe Rory Reid popped up. This is the guy your mom kept begging your sister to date. He is soft and comforting, and he would never cheat on your sister, and they would even share things like bunny slippers and needlepoint equipment. This time, I couldn’t take it. I zipped forward again.

Eventually, LeBlanc appeared on screen. Ahhhhh.

He was reviewing a bizarre retro 911. “Retro 911″…I repeat myself. Anyway, Porsche decided to build a new 911 with no turbo and a real stickshift. It’s not a computerized toaster. It’s not a smartphone on wheels that shoots around the track on its own and then emails you a Snapchat video. It’s a car, and it’s controlled by a part known as a “human being.”

In his reaction to the car, LeBlanc displayed something previously unseen on the new show: passion.

He hopped in the 911 and drove it around the test track. His voice grew soft. His eyes shone. His hands shook. He kept telling the crowd he was in ecstasy. Was it real? Who knows? He’s an actor. William Shatner wasn’t really mad when he fought Ricardo Montalban. But LeBlanc convinced me. At least as well as I was convinced by a bald Jewish sci-fi actor wearing shoe lifts and a girdle.

Car shows shouldn’t be about numbers and electronics. They should be about the pleasure we get from cars. In LeBlanc’s short segment, we got a taste of that.

I can picture LeBlanc lying under his car on a Sunday next to a pile of wrenches and snap-ring pliers, fumbling for a beer can standing just outside the limit of his peripheral vision. Chris Evans? Not so much. I can picture him calling a mechanic to run over and fix the low tire pressure on his frame-off-restored Lamboghini Miura. “It says 24! It’s supposed to say 35! What’s wrong with it?”

Evans is supposed to be a car buff and collector, but it’s not credible.

He did a ridiculous segment on companies that take old English sports cars and rebuild them with modern parts that make them work better. For example, the headlights actually come on. He started with an Aston DB5. Then he did something really dumb: he talked about the Jaguar E Type (pant pant) restoration made by Eagle. We’ve already seen that at least twice. Clarkson (PBUH PBUH) covered it already.

Then he did the unthinkable. He rolled out an MG that cost over a hundred thousand pounds.

Somewhere in his cranium, the wires just aren’t touching.

MG has never made a sports car. They have never made a good looking car. They made ugly-cute convertibles for women, gays, and old men.


Think, Evans. Think.

As I was watching the segment and listening to him talk about the car’s 300+ horsepower, I said out loud, “The only part they kept was the one they should have thrown out: the body.”

What the MG restorers did was like transplanting Isaac Newton’s brain into a cancer patient. They got the whole transplant ethos backward. You’re supposed to put good stuff into good stuff. You don’t scour the world looking for new kidneys for Charles Manson.

Evans (Clarkson is equally at fault) demonstrated shocking ignorance of a fact every American knows: any car can be restored and improved, and you don’t have to pay the cost of a house to have it done. Evans and Clarkson seem to think the Eagle people did something no one else can do. Hello? Here in the US, it’s so common we have a word for it: “resto-mod.” And there are hundreds or thousands of shops that can do it for five figures.

I record a show called Fantomworks. It’s about a guy in the DC area who restores cars. Personally, I wouldn’t think of taking a car to him, because he takes old cars that are worth maybe $20,000 in showroom condition and charges people a hundred grand to fix them. But whatever you want done, he can do. An Eagle E Type resto-mod runs around a million dollars. I guarantee you, the Fantomworks boys can do it for less. And there are a dozen shows about other garages that do the same thing.

Open any American hot rod magazine. What do you see? Stunning resto-mods that didn’t cost a million dollars apiece to make.

I paused the program when the ridiculous MG appeared. I want breakfast to stay put. Spending a fortune to fix this thing is like spending a fortune to remaster a William Hung album.

I guess I’ll turn the show back on and see if there’s anything else I can stand to watch. I already blew through the celebrity laps. They’re unbearable. That type of segment is inherently boring, which is why Clarkson kept it short and fast. Evans prolongs it! Insane! He always has two celebrities instead of one, and they’re likely to be boring English celebrities I’ve never heard of. It goes on forever. “What kind of motor did you have when you were 17? Fiat Panda? Jolly good. Let’s look at 15 grainy photos while I say things that aren’t funny.”

I’m fast-forwarding. Oh, no. There’s some sort of “challenge” thing, involving all 53 of the new hosts. No. No. No. I do not want to spend another ten minutes feeling sorry for Rory Reid and Chris Harris.

It has LeBlanc in it, but that’s no help. You can fix an Italian jacket by taking a stain out of it. You can’t fix a stain by adding an Italian jacket to it.

Evans is still wearing those smelly-looking jeans and the ridiculous 1975 punk rocker boots. Where did he get jeans with legs that thin? They look like they’re stuck to his skin. As much as he wears them, they probably are.

One good thing about LeBlanc’s tenure is that it shows that a US version of the show would work just fine. I mean a US version that wasn’t done really badly. A version without Rutledge Wood. A version with a test track, a live audience, celebrities, and writers.

A version with a trio of meat-eating Republicans who aren’t pansies.

It will never happen.

Imagine Top Gear with Donald Trump, Matt LeBlanc, and James Woods. Who cares if Trump doesn’t know cars? He’s the most entertaining conservative alive. He could criticize foreign cars and maybe start his own sports car company to crush Porsche.

Trump: My lap was the fastest.

LeBlanc: Actually, it was the slowest.

Trump: I won!

Woods: Excuse me–Carrot Top’s dad–you lost.

Trump: It was YUUUUUUUGE!

Instead of the Stig, they could have Ted Nugent. The Nuge. “My lap time would have been better, but I had to swerve to run down some hippies.”

Oh, well. Amazon’s show is supposed to air eventually, and maybe in a year it will be in syndication on channels people actually watch.

And the new show isn’t a total loss. I can think of three guys who are really enjoying it.

Magical Filth

Friday, June 17th, 2016

Faithful as the Dew

I am cogitating on the tenacity of household filth.

Today after I showered, I took a wet sponge and wiped the floor in the general area of the trash can. This floor was mopped with bleach this week. It should be as clean as a clean room at Intel. The sponge came up with a grey line of crud on it.

Where does this stuff come from? How can this happen in four days?

I think the underwear gnomes from South Park are shredding their stolen drawers, turning them into dust, and spreading them on my floors.

1. Spread underwear dust on floors.
2. . . .
3. Steve loses mind.

Is that reference too obscure? I don’t care. When did that ever bother me?

The hairs are even worse. They reappear on the floor within two hours of vacuuming and mopping. I actually find hairs on the floor while I’m putting the vacuum away.

Maybe I have some sort of condition. Maybe I’m the Reverse Bubble Boy. Instead of protecting me from the world with a bubble, I should protect the world from me.


I can never resist a good obscure reference. Never.

I would ask for suggestions, but I don’t think the problems can be fixed. I should put grey tile on the floor so nothing shows.

I need to do what elderly women all over the world do: have one filthy bathroom for actual use, and one spotless, cordoned-off display bathroom which no one is allowed to approach.


Homer Don’t Play Dat

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

Actually He Does

I have an exciting event to report. I finished Herodotus a couple of days ago. This must be how a woman feels when she passes a 15-pound baby after two days in labor. Now I’m enjoying a thrilling ride through the world of Greek tragedy, courtesy of Aeschylus. The next reading on the Columbia University Lit. Hum. list is The Oresteia.

When the Greeks put “eia” on the end of something, it means they’re talking about something which is deeply involved with whatever comes before the vowels. For example, in The Iliad, Diomedes has a long stretch where he kills all sorts of people and inspires the other Danaans, and this bit of the epic is called the Diomedeia.

I haven’t finished The Oresteia, but I feel confident Orestes will pop up shortly.

The Oresteia is a trilogy, so of course it contains four plays. Yes, that’s right. Four. The first three are real bummers, and the fourth is what’s known as a “satyr play.” I think that means Charlie Sheen will be involved. I don’t know much about satyr plays, and I doubt I read the one from The Oresteia back when I was 19. This week I read that satyr plays are humorous plays, perhaps intended to offset the dreariness of tragedy and wake up the audience.

I found a neat book on Scrib’d, explaining Aeschylus line by line. The author is a guy named Logan (no adamantium). He supplies all the benefits of a college lecture, without the aggravation of dragging yourself to class in three-degree weather with a hangover. Also, it looks like the entire Cliff’s Notes volume on the trilogy is available online, free, at the Cliffsnotes site.

I am very, very glad to be done with Herodotus. The digressions were killing me. I feel like rewriting it with the crap removed and selling the result to college students, but if they won’t read the original, they won’t read my version, either, and besides, their profs probably like the crap.

Now that I’m way into the Lit. Hum. syllabus, I’m starting to see how it makes sense. Sort of.

Homer helps you understand Greek thought and culture, as well as Greek history (or at least what they thought was their history). The Old Testament…okay, I’m not sure how that fits in. Sappho…let’s face it. She was included to make feminists happy. I read the whole thing, and I got virtually nothing out of it. Feminists like to pretend women played a big role in shaping Western thought, but guess what? They didn’t. Sorry about that. Anyway, you can’t understand Herodotus if you don’t know Homer.

I just realized why the Old Testament was included. Two reasons. First, it allows the far-left nuts at Columbia to pretend they respect the Bible and our predominantly Christian culture, although this is not true. Second, it gives them an excuse to call the stories in the Bible “myths” over and over, as if the creation story were just as inane as the story about Atlas convincing Hercules to hold the world for a minute and then running off. It also gives them an excuse to talk about actual myths that are similar to the Bible, as though they prove the Bible is also a myth. Okay. Whatever. I guess all nickels are made of wood.

Herodotus has some importance because it gives you some notion of the history of the Western world, excluding Egypt, up until the third century BC. It also shows how the Greco-Persian Wars may have been important to the development of modern democracies. The Persians wanted to take over Greece, and they sometimes installed tyrants, which were what we would call dictators. Democracy was developing in Greece at the time of the Greco-Persian Wars, so–I am guessing–academics probably think that if the Persians had won, democracy would have been lost, and we would now live in a mean old right-wing world with kings and emperors, a constitutional right to concealed carry, leaded gas, DDT, and no government-funded sex changes.

If that’s what they’re hoping to teach us, I think they are wrong, because my vast studies tell me the Persians were actually pretty cool. They expected their possessions to send troops whenever the Persians wanted to conquer someone, and they imposed fairly low taxes as tribute. They generally let their possessions govern themselves. That is what I have been told. If it’s true, then wouldn’t the Persians have allowed the Athenians to continue voting on internal stuff?

I suspect that resisting the Persians was a big mistake, and I doubt the imperialist, rapist, thieving, lying, slave-owning Greeks were high-minded sponsors of individual liberty. Like most wars, the wars between the Persians and Greeks surely had a lot to do with preserving the status of the people in charge and very little to do with freedom.

I could be wrong.

Herodotus leads into Aeschylus because Aeschylus was a veteran of the Greco-Persian Wars. He fought at Salamis, where the Greeks beat the daylights out of the Persian navy. Okay, maybe that’s not the strongest connection ever, but it’s a connection. If the Greeks had lost, or if they had won but Aeschylus had fared poorly, we would have no Oresteia. Also, the trilogy is about the things Agamemnon went through after Troy, so it’s linked to Homer.

It’s linked to Sappho because women are just as good as men, and testosterone is bad.

I’ll go ahead and say it. Aeschylus is a drag. I can’t believe the Greeks enjoyed watching this stuff.

The Greeks always used the same set: a big shed. There was space in front of it where the actors stood. Pretty exciting. Sometimes they stood on top of the shed, and sometimes they swung down on blocks and tackles, pretending to be deuses ex machinae. I made that phrase up. They would pretend to be gods who were lowered in, in a creaky and highly convincing imitation of flight, to save Thebes or whatever.

Right away, it sounds bad.

The plays had only three actors, not counting chorus members. And the actors were all male. So let’s say you have a play with eight characters, including three babes. The babes would be played by the same fat, hairy guys who played the men. Hubba hubba. Move over, Sofia Vergara.

Instead of doing the intelligent thing and using more actors, they had the actors use masks. So in one scene, the actor wears his Tevye mask, and in the next, he wears a different mask and pretends to be Tzeitel. His daughter. Totally convincing. No problems suspending disbelief there.

Sounds like something Rupaul probably did when he was a kid.

The chorus is a bunch of people who sing and play instruments. The tragedies of Aeschylus were musicals, and we don’t know the score. I don’t even know what to say about that. Imagine trying to understand “Springtime for Hitler” if you don’t know the tune.

I’m not far into the first play, Agamemnon. So far, it’s a whole lot of whining. Everyone is moaning about how hard life has been since Agamemnon left. Here’s a thought: how about not sacrificing your daughter and sailing off to spend ten years trying to win back your brother’s slutty wife?

Don’t get mad at me for calling Helen a slut. She said the same thing about herself.

Everyone in the beginning of the play talks about how they miss Agamemnon, the guy who murdered Iphigeneia, abandoned Argos (Aeschylus changed it from Mycenae for political reasons), caused all sorts of poverty and disruption, and got a whole bunch of people killed.

Why would you miss this person? He was an idiot and a psychopath. Greek law doesn’t actually require you to wreck your life trying to drag a skeeze back from Troy. He could have stayed home and prospered.

In addition to the chorus and characters, these plays need another component: Homey the Clown. He could confront these people while they’re whining and use his loaded sock to beat some manliness into them.

Doesn’t the word “stoic” come from Greece? I guess the Argives weren’t familiar with it.

The Greeks are really disappointing. They’re brave…when they’re sure their enemies can’t fight back. They’re honest…until you turn your backs on them. They’re merciful…except when they’re raping, murdering, mutilating, torturing, and pillaging. And they’re incorruptible…except when they’re taking every bribe in sight.

Reminds me of the politicians and judges here in Miami.

I’m looking forward to moving on to books that are thinner and which are written in a manner that doesn’t require a decoder ring and a Ouija board. So far, reading the Greeks has been like wading through chest-deep snow. Except for Sappho, which was like playing Wheel of Fortune with two letters and then not getting a prize.

I am hoping to put Aeschylus behind me by the weekend. I am feeling better and better about skipping the reading when I was in college. Some of these books are impacting my life positively; the rest suffer by comparison to Cliff’s Notes. God bless the people who see fit to devote their lives to studying this petrifying material. I hope it was worth it to get out of serving in Vietnam. I am content to hear about the more boring parts of it second hand. Actually, an English translation is second hand by definition, so…

I better shut up before Homey hears me.

Greece is the Word

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

Learning Makes Your Head Hurt

One of many great things of getting off Facebook is that it gave me more time to read. Lately, I have been reading a lot. This may sound like nothing new, since I was already reading tons of stuff on the Internet. The difference is that now I’m reading actual books. Some of them are even made of paper!

The Internet is a phenomenal resource, the likes of which the world has never seen. But somehow books are better. When you read a book from beginning to end, you get one coherent viewpoint (if you’re lucky), without a lot of jumping around. Reading things on the Internet is like watching movies on cable. You pick up a little here and a little there, and the big picture suffers. Between the time cable became popular and the introduction of pay per view and the DVR, it’s completely possible that I never saw the beginning of a single TV movie.

At least it feels that way.

I am still working on Herodotus. I got into this book as part of my guilt-motivated program of trying to read the books I pretended to read for Columbia University’s Literature Humanities course, and once I was in, I was disturbed to see how long it took. I read very quickly, and it seemed like I was getting nowhere. Suddenly I had new sympathy for little twerps students who are currently struggling with heavy doses of assigned reading.

Last week I discovered the problem. I had misread the syllabus. Somehow this seems like a fitting punishment for a person who got B’s for doing as close to nothing as possible. I thought I had to start off with pages 1 through 140. Looking at the syllabus through bleary eyes after cracking the 140 mark, I discovered I was supposed to read paragraphs 1 through 140. Or something like that. Herodotus is divided up into little sections which look like paragraphs to me. I would speculate that they are the original Greek page divisions, but it’s my understanding that his work was first written on scrolls.


I was reading well over twice as much as I had to.

The nice thing about this is that my contempt for college students was restored. Little sex-crazed goofs, whining about safe spaces and roofying each other.

When I discovered my error, I decided to keep going, because I knew I would eventually want to finish the entire book, and it would be a bummer to have to go back and read the stuff between the parts I had already read.

So now I’m stuck in the 300’s, plowing through a lot of small talk. It’s really difficult, because he talks about 5,000 ancient countries and cities, and each one has 15 names which he uses interchangeably. I read The Iliad and The Odyssey last month, and even after that, I didn’t know until last week that Lacedaemon was Sparta.

Also, the book must have 3,000 characters, and he brings them in the way pigeons poop on expensive suits. No warning. BANG…there’s Adrastus. Is that the same Adrastus he talked about fifty pages ago? Danged if I know. Flip, flip, flip, flip, flip…

I’m actually looking for a book on the Ionian Revolt, because I have realized that there is no way on earth a human being can understand Herodotus’s summary without help. The weird thing is that any book I read will be based on Herodotus, but at least the author will, hopefully, have unraveled the digressions and put it in order.

Writing the previous paragraph reminds me of another annoying issue that has come up: the proper way to use apostrophes when turning names that end in “s” into possessives. My Lit. Hum. professor taught my class that we should avoid the common practice of simply adding an apostrophe to the end of the word, and I figured he must be right, since he swam in a sea of terminal-“s” names all day, every day, with a Ph.D. to back him up. I stuck with that for decades, but then a few years ago, I read that it’s only okay to add an apostrophe and a new “s” when the result is easy to pronounce. So it’s okay to write “Jesus’s,” but you should never write, “Cambyses’s.”

It’s bothering me right now, so I think I’ll check The Gregg Manual, which is a neat reference book. I probably have Strunk & White somewhere, but I don’t know if they cover this problem.

Well, Mr. Gregg and The Macmillan Handbook of English (saved from my college days) agree: you use an added “s” except when the result is hard to pronounce. But Mr. Gregg says “Jesus’s” is hard to pronounce. Geez. Doesn’t seem hard to me.

One of the aggravating things about grammar is that authorities disagree. People who have different authorities run around correcting each other (especially in Internet comments) when neither side can really claim the high ground.

I may not be able to find a book on the Ionian Revolt. Given that they all pretty much have to restate Herodotus, maybe the people who have considered writing such books have changed their minds. This is a good example of a gap the Internet can fill. Somewhere out there, I promise you, there is a web page that sums it up in an organized manner. There are probably a bunch of websites that will do. Even Wikipedia is better than fighting with an old Greek who loved to gossip.

In addition to ancient history, I’ve been reading up on the Holocaust and submarines. I’ve always wondered how submarines work, and it occurred to me that it’s possible to find out, so I downloaded a free book, and I bought a couple of videos. I also watched some stuff on Youtube.

Torpedoes always mystified me. How can you make an engine burn alcohol under water in a sealed tube? Turns out they had compressed air tanks inside them, to feed the engines! That’s why they left bubble trails. Submariners liked electric torpedoes because they didn’t leave trails. The problem with the trails is that they were like arrows guiding destroyers’ guns directly to the submarines.

If you combine things like books, video, and the web, you can learn a lot in a hurry, in much greater depth than any student could have only 25 years ago. And yet somehow Americans are more stupid than ever! How did we pull that off? It must be the damn cat memes. They take up all the bandwidth and keep us distracted.

I’m making good use of Google Books, Google Play Books, Amazon’s Kindle Store, and Scrib’d, along with various public domain downloads I’ve found, but paper books are still hard to beat. You can make notes in them. You can draw diagrams. You can make corrections. Try that with a tablet. Maybe in ten years. Also, I don’t have to worry that Big Brother Bezobama is going to get mad some day and suck all my books out of my electronic devices. He’ll have to send the jackbooted thugs. And I have all sorts of bullets. He can get at a few things, but the rest are here moldering safely on shelves, coffee tables, and exercise equipment seats.

I feel so smart these days. And I didn’t even have to stay at a Holiday Inn Express and catch a disease from the bedspread.

Before I sign off, I may as well admit that I have a new Facebook account. Because I’m a hypocrite. No, it’s because I wanted to put up a message to the people who wonder where I went. People thought I blocked them and unfriended them. Facebook doesn’t put up an announcement when you leave. So I put up an account with a brief explanation, but I refuse to add friends or spend time on the site. I may use it when necessary; some companies use Facebook to communicate with people, so if I deal with such outfits, I will have access.

I will be the only person on Facebook with NO friends. A new low. At least on Myspace I would have Tom.

I never hear from Tom. I quit looking at Myspace, and he cut me off dead. Some friend.

That’s all I have now. Wish me luck with the Ionian Revolt thing. Agent Mulder has to be right; the truth must be out there somewhere.

Lesbos: the Coachella of 600 B.C.

Monday, May 9th, 2016

Songs Without Music Without Words

My progress through the Columbia College Lit. Hum. syllabus continues.

This weekend I knocked off Sappho’s Lyrics. This is about 340 pages of song fragments. The original Greek is included. The book is arranged so you see Greek on one page and the English translation on the other.

Here is my verdict: I don’t get it.

Take 340 pages and divide it by two. That gives you 170. Then jack up the margins so they take up half the page. Then lose maybe two thirds of the original material. You end up with a very short work. On top of that, many of the fragments are completely incomprehensible. Some lines contain only one word.

There isn’t a lot of meat here. There are some full paragraphs and pages, but they are separated by big gulfs of emptiness. You pretty much have to take it one line at a time.

Here is how page 15 reads, if you string the words together: “. . . so . . . Go . . . so we may see . . . lady . . . of golden arms . . . doom . . .”

This is not just literature; it’s archaeology. It’s like trying to guess what a pharaoh’s tomb looked like after 75% of the contents were removed.

There are some pleasant bits of poetry, and there is information that tells us a little bit about Greek culture. All in all, I would say it’s a lot like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. You visit just so you can say you saw it, not so you can praise it as a coherent, useful work. Have I used that analogy before? I like it.

I think Mr. Cliff agrees with me. He never wrote notes for Lyrics. If Cliff don’t care, I don’t care.

I looked around for information, and I learned a few things about Sappho. It looks like she was the Madonna of her time, except without the tastelessness and lack of talent. She was a sort of rock star. She wrote songs that were so popular, they were disseminated around the Mediterranean during her lifetime.

In the ancient world, Sappho was a big deal. She was mentioned by many ancient authors. They thought she was swell.

That’s great, but her melodies are long gone, and most of her words have also disappeared. It’s as if we were trying to reconstruct the Beatles using LP’s with big wedges cut out of them. Actually, it’s worse. It’s like trying to reconstruct them by looking at old captures of Leo’s Lyrics (a webpage that contains popular song lyrics) with half of the words corrupted: “Rocky Raccoon . . . checked into . . . Gideon’s . . . legs.” To say that finding meaning in this stuff requires value added is a gross understatement. If a scholar isn’t careful, he will end up publishing his own thoughts and feelings instead of Sappho’s.

Not that a scholar would ever do a thing like that. Oh, no.

I have to wonder: are the scholars who seem excited about Sappho just overheated? Are they letting their emotions drive them to make more of the ruins than they should? Probably.

If someone found the feet of the Colossus of Rhodes and started giving tours in a glass-bottomed boat, I wouldn’t sit in the boat shrieking that it was the most beautiful statue I had ever seen. I would probably say, “Wow, it must have been neat before it was destroyed.” That seems like a realistic reaction to reading Sappho.

I can’t find the fierce lesbianism modern scholars impute to her. She was apparently married, and she makes references to children. It sure looks like she was a mom. There are lesbian moms, but they’re generally not homosexual icons.

Human beings used to have a thing called “platonic love,” which seems a little creepy by modern standards. It was okay for two men to hold hands and tell each other how beautiful they were; it didn’t mean they were sneaking around. The Iliad is full of this stuff. The men get excited and talk effusively about their love and admiration for each other, but there are no gay relationships.

The men of The Iliad are heterosexual to a fault. At worst, they’re on the down-low. They are enthusiastic about taking female sex slaves, and they seem to view rape as a healthy, liberating hobby. They are like goats on Viagra and bath salts. Their emotional behavior toward other men seems to stop at the bedroom door. Maybe it was the same with Sappho.

Platonic love is pretty much dead (whew) among modern American men, but it’s very much alive among women. Young women get together for sleepovers, do each other’s hair, lie in the same beds, and dance together in their underwear. Doesn’t make them lesbians.

So they claim.

Anyway, platonic love more than suffices to explain the things Sappho wrote.

Sappho says a number of clever things about human nature, but I don’t think that, by itself, makes her a genius. Human beings had been around for a very long time before she was born, and it doesn’t take a million years for us to size each other up. Being the first recorded person to say this or that doesn’t make you the first person to say it.

I will read up on her a little more, but I don’t think there’s that much to learn.

Currently, I’m reading The Odyssey, which is the story of Odysseus’ return from Troy. It was translated by Richmond Lattimore, the same guy who wrote the translation of The Iliad Columbia uses.

The Odyssey has two important virtues The Iliad lacks: 1) there is an actual story, and 2) it’s shorter.

The Iliad runs around 900 pages, and almost nothing happens. There is no structure whatsoever. Scholars pretend there is, but there isn’t. The Achaians do well against the Trojans. The Trojans get discouraged. The god start helping the Trojans. The Trojans do well against the Achaians. The Achaians get discouraged. The gods start helping the Achaians. Repeat this about fifty times, and you have The Iliad.

Spoiler: the Trojans lose. But the action stops abruptly before Brad Pitt gets shot in the foot.

The Odyssey is different in that things occasionally happen. It’s not an endless cycle of alternating favor. Odysseus gets captured by a nymph. He gets freed. He has adventures on the way home. When you read The Odyssey, you feel like you’re making progress.

In the end (SPOILER), Odysseus wins. You have closure. Real closure, not the crappy kind you get in The Iliad, which ends with Hektor’s pincushiony, not-so-godlike body going home in a wagon. Even the coke-sniffers in Hollywood knew The Iliad needed punching up. That’s why they added the stuff about sacking Troy. If they had pulled the plug when Peter O’Toole got on the wagon, there would have been riots.

Here’s a theory which I would like to contribute to Iliad scholarship: The Iliad ends abruptly because the people who were subjected to Homer’s seemingly endless droning chose Hektor’s return as a good excuse to get up and leave. Or maybe they hit Homer in the head with a club at that point, to shut him up.

If anyone wants to offer me a university chair, I am open to negotiation. A chair may not be enough. I may hold out for an ottoman.

It will be hard to choose among the offers. Universities are clamoring to get conservative Christian professors who carry loaded pistols.

The next book in the syllabus is Genesis. I plan to skip that. I feel like I have that one under control. I’ve even read supplementary materials, such as Jubilees, Enoch, and The Modern Fundamentalist Fascist’s Guide to Homophobia, which I co-authored.

After that comes The Histories, by Herodotus. This book bears the distinction of having been not read by me in two different courses. I took an ancient history course in high school, and I’m pretty sure I avoided reading Herodotus, and then I almost certainly skipped it at Columbia.

Herodotus contains the story of the battle of Thermopylae, better known to Beyonce fans as 300. I watched 300 the other day, and I was highly annoyed to see bare breasts pop out for no good reason. You never know when nudity will reach out and grab you. I watched a movie about Beethoven the other day, and Ed Harris mooned the camera.

I think that was harmless. My feelings for Ed Harris aren’t even platonic.

As I so often do, I will go out on a limb and speculate. Because it’s easier than finding out the truth. I speculate that Xerxes was not an eight-foot-tall circus morphodite whose palace was actually a body modification parlor, and I further speculate that he wore actual pants. I doubt he had a ten-foot-tall giant that could fight even after you shoved a spearhead six inches into his skull (via the eyeball). I doubt the Spartan army dressed like a dance team from La Bare, and that they went on long journeys equipped only with spears, velvet cloaks, and dark red Speedos.

I don’t think the Spartans built a mountaintop temple on a crag so steep a fit man could barely climb it. How would you get the construction materials up there? How about food and water? What about wifi?

Anyway, that’s next.

I’ve learned one nice thing about the ancient Greeks. They treated their gods better than we do. They didn’t just hop in boats and sail off to kill people. They prayed and sacrificed beforehand. They were constantly asking the gods what they were doing wrong, so they could fix it. Imagine how much easier our lives would be if we treated the actual, real-life God that way.

I also noticed a major problem with the Greek religion. Well, two problems. First, the official name of the religion appears to be “mythology.” When you’re a Greek, that has to be bad for your faith. But also, the Greek gods do not get along.

Imagine that. Imagine you pray to Jehovah, and he gives you the okay, and then Jesus says, “Yeah, right, we’ll see about that,” and then he sneaks around behind the scenes, shipwrecking you on islands populated by one-eyed giant cannibals. That’s not how Christianity works. Christianity says, “God is one,” meaning, “God is unified.” The Spirit-led are unified. If we disagree about anything, it means someone is doing it wrong.

In mythology, you can’t make all the gods happy. Please one, and another one is on your case. That’s no way to run a godhead.

Another major problem: the Greek gods are a bit thick. None of them ever says anything intelligent or mature. Dealing with them is like placating huge, armed children. It’s like the segment of the old Twilight Zone movie, where adults had to kiss the rear end of an omnipotent little kid in order to keep him from projecting them into the violent horror of “Cartoon World.”

If stupid, immature gods are your thing, mythology is for you. And don’t believe the lies. It’s not the national religion of Mexico, no matter how many times you think you hear them say, “Yay, Zeus.”

That’s all I have for now. I am officially in charge of doing my elderly father’s taxes now, so I have to go and immerse myself in the new level of Tartarus known as Quickbooks. Odd name for the program, since “quick” means “alive,” which is the opposite how how I expect it to make me feel.

They say only death and taxes are inevitable. If only death came first.

Quick! Drinkin’ Buddy! To the Minivan!

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

Fool me Once, Shame on You. Fool me 30,000 Times, Shame on Me

Old people know stuff. Old people can connect the dots. I’m going to apply my old person skills right now and see if it pays off.

A man in Ann Arbor, Michigan, just confessed to poisoning produce at Whole Foods. Let’s add up the facts and see what we can guess.

1. Ann Arbor. This is a suburb of Detroit, which is a Muslim stronghold. That area of Michigan is almost a caliphate.

2. The criminal is male, and most Islamist terrorists are male.

3. In the store surveillance video, he appears to be pretty hairy, which is not exactly rare among people from the Middle East and nearby regions which are dominated by Islam. The Boston bombers were dark, hairy individuals. So was the nut in San Bernardino. For that matter, so was bin Laden, and so were all of the 911 killers. Is it racist to say people from that area are hairy? Yeah, okay. And there are probably lots of tall blonds in Japan.

4. The police have the man in custody, and they refuse to reveal his name.

My bet: low-budget Muslim terrorist. I would say “lone wolf,” but wolves are intelligent. Mouse poison on organic figs is not the way to kill people.

I could be wrong. Maybe he’s a Baptist whose ex-girlfriend runs the produce section at Whole Foods. Maybe she dumped him, and now he’s out to punish the world and get her fired.

Maybe he finally realized he was paying way too much for tabouleh.

Cops and journalists now have a well-established history of holding onto the names of Muslim terror suspects. If a random individual who is not a Muslim commits a crime, they release the name in a hurry. Journalists, especially, like to get the information out there fast. They don’t do that with Muslims or people who seem like they may be Muslims. They wait, as though hoping the suspects will magically turn into Norwegians. They keep trying to perpetuate the myth that there isn’t a problem among American Muslims.

For some reason, they love pretending Christians and white supremacists (same thing, in the mind of the press) are the real danger. The truth is that Christians have little interest in terrorism, and white supremacists can’t get it together well enough to do much. Most of them are too busy doing roofing, watching game shows and pirated porn in their girlfriends’ moms’ trailers, or working on chain gangs.

Place your bets.


Sometimes it’s sort of nice to be wrong. It restores your faith in mankind’s ability to not be completely predictable.

The Whole Foods guy is a blond man named Kyle Bessemer. Assuming he’s not convert, he is a plain old non-Muslim American.

I was right about the San Bernardino dude, though, so it all evens out.

Ilium, my Ileum

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

Make it Stop

It’s not even noon, and I want to sit down and read The Iliad, just so I can be closer to never having to look at it again.

That book is like Hillary’s cough. It won’t go away.

When I was in college (the math and science phase), I kept a lot of my textbooks after the classes ended. I even bought extra books. I bought a pile of quantum mechanics texts. I have tons of Dover Press math and science texts, including one written by my undergrad student advisor.

I kept my copy of The Riverside Shakespeare. It’s very nice. And it’s Shakespeare, so I might actually want to look at it occasionally. I kept a French poetry text by Morris Bishop.

I love Schaum outlines. I must have ten or twelve. I also kept one book and a number of study aids from law school.

The Iliad reminds me why I sold or threw almost all of my college texts out. The notion of looking at it after I complete it is inconceivable. Merely seeing it on a shelf would put a knot in my stomach.

As, when the flowing-haired Thetis, whilst browsing in the orchard of fabled Hemeroskopeion, reaches for a fallen plum ripened by the blessed rays of Apollo’s orb, and on bringing it to her fig-like lips, discovers it to be a ball of horse manure and feels her entrails tighten within her, so would my gizzard toss in my belly as I gazed upon the blind bard’s tome.

How can people dedicate their lives to studying this stuff? It takes all kinds. Some kids dream of becoming morticians.

My dad has a copy of The Great Books of the Western World, which, since he wants to throw it out, is technically mine. It’s a neat resource. It contains Homer, Plutarch, Shakespeare…just about everything you need to read in order to look down on people. I don’t know how great the crusty translations of the foreign stuff are, but then I don’t know what translations P.G. Wodehouse and the guy in Quiz Show used, either, and they managed to come off as erudite.

I feel like the smart move is to Scrib’d the best translations I can find, for nine bucks a month, and then be content with the Great Books after that.

Cliff is a genius. I’ll bet he came up with his notes idea while he was reading The Iliad. He was a junior in college, and he was sitting at his desk with The Iliad to his left and a loaded revolver on his right, and he was about to toss a coin, when suddenly, like Phoibos’s arrow, inspiration struck. And now he’s rich, and kids have time to Tweet, smoke dope, and weep about their need for safe spaces.

We haven’t done right by Cliff. He’s a hero. A humanitarian. Right up there with Salk and Pasteur. God bless him. Someone should build a statue.

Or maybe they should just write a short summary describing a statue.

My brain is dry. I can’t think of anything else to say. I guess it’s time to go face the music.

Achaianz n the Hood

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

They Didn’t Choose the Hero Life

I finished my daily dose of The Iliad a few minutes ago, and I feel I have to come here and vent until the pain in my wounded soul subsides.

I am very disappointed in the Greek concept of heroism. These guys stab other guys while they’re running away. They run like hell when they think the other guy has a god’s favor. When a god saves and heals them after they’ve been beaten, they come back and talk smack. Like having mommy pull you out of a fight makes you a tough guy.

The whole premise of the book is ridiculous. One idiot steals another idiot’s wife. A bunch of other idiots go to war to get her back, offering their lives in exchange for the return of what is essentially a common strumpet. The gods take sides, helping them kill each other, but they’re not consistent. Zeus’s brilliant plan is to help the Trojans mess up the Achaians until they burn one ship, and after that, to let them sack Troy, burn it, and force themselves sexually on everyone they can catch.

What is the point? Why would you help the Trojans if you plan to wipe them out a week later?

How about this idea: stay home and grow old while making money. Live to see your children marry. Don’t go to war unless someone bothers you. Am I crazy? Am I the only one who sees this as the obvious course of action?

You know what the Iliad characters are? Gangsters. Punks. They’re just like the simpletons in New York and L.A. who run around killing each other out of boredom. Your life is dull and pointless, so instead of finding an actual purpose an adult can be proud of, you stir up crap and get off on the stress.

They talk constantly about glory. It’s okay if some Trojan with Zeus on his side spreads your intestines out on the beach in an unfair fight, because you get glory.

You can’t spend glory. You can’t put it on toast and eat it. If you believe in the nutty Greek religion, after you get speared, you expect to be in hell, where you can’t even enjoy your glory. How stupid do you have to be to fall for a deal like that?

The characters are imbeciles. The gods are sociopaths. I don’t care what happens to any of them. They’re all jerks.

I’m still only on page 593. You want to hear about a mythical Greek figure I can relate to? Here it is: Sisyphus.

Reading The Iliad is like going to see the Mona Lisa. You don’t go to be impressed or to see something which is done well. You go so you can have the experience of seeing it.

The Mona Lisa is fat and ugly. The landscape behind her is amateurish. The colors are basically shades of cockroach-wing brown. The composition is right up there with the photos on baseball cards. But it’s an important painting, so you pay money to go to the Louvre and look at it.

I am looking at The Iliad. It’s like a Mona Lisa that takes two weeks to take in.

I’m starting to feel better now.

Every day, I’m eager to sit down and read this book, simply because I know it will make it be over that much faster.

I’m open-minded. People have different tastes. If you like Homer, you have something wrong with you. But I respect you.

Just to show that I’m a classics fan at heart, I’ll post a video that shows how a true artist presents a great work of literature. It’s Kirk Douglas in the Mexican version of 1954’s Ulysses. I don’t know why Homer couldn’t have presented it this well.