Monday, March 31, 2014

AUTISM In London in 1900: A Novel (pt 1)

(AUTISM In London in 1900 is not going to be the title of the novel. Well -- probably not. I'm writing this novel directly onto the blog, and when I write a novel, I generally don't have a title for it when I start. As soon as I know the title of this one, so will you.)

At about 9:14 AM on Tuesday, the 8th of May, 1900, police were in Victoria Station, looking for a fugitive, questioning people who might've seen him running through a crowded platform. A Constable Smith was herding a young man toward Inspector Raymond, who was in charge of the investigation -- herding is how Smith thought of the difficult task of impelling the young man toward the Inspector. At first Smith had just taken the man by the arm, but he hadn't seemed to've liked that at all and became very upset and gave a loud and alarming bellow until he was let go of again, when he went right back to muttering, as he'd been doing until he was touched. The man seemed witless and didn't react at all to Smith's request to come with him, but by standing a step back from him and thrusting his arms in the direction of Inspector Raymond -- as if he were rolling a barrel -- Smith was managing to impel the man in Raymond's direction. The herding didn't seem to bother the man, and it didn't interrupt his excited, nonstop muttering. And the muttering was why Smith was bringing the man to Inspector Raymond: because he was muttering about a man who'd just been running through the platform, quite possibly the man the police were looking for.

Hugh, one of the Constables standing next to the Inspector, saw the two of them coming and approached. Smith only had time to shout, "Don't touch -- " before Hugh did, in fact, touch the poor man's arm, at which he stood still and bellowed just as before. Hugh immediately let the man's arm go again. The muttering began again. Hugh and Smith exchanged a glance and shrugged at each other. Then Hugh leaned in close to the man's face and asked, "Would you come with us, please?" The man stopped muttering just for the instant it took him to nod, and he did, indeed, docilely follow Hugh. Young Hugh, Smith thought: a sharp lad, that one. Most likely make Chief Inspector long before I retire a Constable. Got him to follow, just like that. I couldn't even get him to stop muttering and listen to me.

Inspector Raymond raised his chin in a gesture for Smith to speak. "This young man here, Sir, he may've seen the one we're looking for. He -- "

Hugh interrupted Smith, abruptly, but he managed to pull it off without seeming rude: he leaned in close to the man's face again and asked slowly: "What is your name?" The man's stream of muttering paused long enough for him to answer: "Charles Evans," and then the muttering resumed; "...was just a bit off, a minute or two fast but then for an 1883 it's not so much but of course I have no way of knowing how often he re-sets it and of course the maintenance the maintenance is a complete unknown but it's just so strange with that chain to have it together with that chain is really very unusual and it was about to come out the pocket it was about to come out it was about to come out it was like he didn't know he had it it was about to come out and there was a scratch near the stem but of course that's hardly unusual the chain with it though that chain with that's very unusual..."

"He's been like that almost non-stop for two minutes, Sir, and who knows how much longer before I noticed him. I think he's talking about a man who was running through the platform a little while ago, running so that his watch almost flew out of his pocket, and there was something unusual about the chain -- " Evans paused in mid-babble and said a bit louder than his usual mutter:

"Yes, the chain, the chain, it was very unusual with an 1883, with an 1883, of course there are millions of them and their chains are never like that, never," dropping back down to the mutter, "I've never seen one like that, and the thing is that I don't if know he was careless or if it needed to be repaired, and, oh," and he stopped muttering suddenly and his eyes rolled and he fainted. Raymond and Smith each managed to grab one of his arms before he fell, and carried him toward a bench, Raymond shouting for the people on the bench to please let us have it, thank you, ladies and gentlemen, and at about that moment Evans regained consciousness and went very stiff and bellowed piteously. "He doesn't like being touched, Sir," Smith noted, but Evans still wasn't walking on his own, and the bellowing -- it was really heart-rending, you'd think Evans was being burned alive -- continued until they sat him down and let go. Then Evans was quiet, no more muttering. He just sat there rocking back and forth with his shoulders hunched very high. The Inspector leaned in close and said gently, "don't worry, we're not going to touch you any more." At that Evans dropped his shoulders a bit and seemed much more relaxed. He became less hunched, rocked slowly, rubbed his thighs with both hands, then took a deep breath and shuddered. "Johnson," the Inspector barked. "Get the man some water. Hornsby. See if there's a doctor about in this crowd. Church. You know Latham, at the Latham plant? The young one, Albert Latham. See if you can fetch him. Use the telephone, there. They have a telephone in the plant."

Sunday, March 30, 2014

CS Lewis And Jesus And My Dog-Grooming Business

"A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” -- CS Lewis.

The more of Lewis' writing I read, the more creepy, disgusting and appalling I find him to be. "Kill him as a demon," eh? And people let children read books this man has written. As far as Jesus goes, if he existed, I think he might have been quite a nice guy, but not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and not the kind of person you'd want to have in charge of anything. Certainly not a worldwide organization of billions of people. Not even a small dog-grooming shop. You come back to the shop after leaving Jesus in charge for a minute, and:

"Jesus! What happened to the place?! Wait -- what happened to you?!"

"Some men came in while you were gone. One of them struck me on the cheek, and so I turned the other cheek and he struck that one, too."

"Oh, Jesus! When will you learn to take care of yourself? So, I guess those men stole all of our dog-grooming equipment too, huh? Don't see any of it anywhere."

"Yes, they took all of the money and the equipment. And so I gave them the dogs as well."

"You WHAT?!"

"Yes. My Father in Heaven told me that, because they took the money and the grooming equipment, I was to give them the dogs as well."

"Jesus: those weren't our dogs. Our customers will sue us. And they'll win. Our insurance company will drop us like a hot rock."

"The men jeered at me as they left, and threw a bottle of beer at my head, and so I blessed them."

I don't think I would dislike someone like that. I don't think I could. As angry as I might be about the way he had just ruined my small business, somehow, I can't imagine being angry at Jesus. Maybe because it would have been so clear that he simply didn't know any better, and was sincerely doing the very best he could. It's easy to imagine hanging out with Jesus and having fun. It seems that just about everyone likes the person they imagine Jesus to have been, atheists as much as anyone else. Maybe it's because most of us -- not CS "kill him like a demon" Lewis, perhaps, but most of us -- have a strong instinct to protect helpless creatures, and if ever there were a helpless human being... I might trust someone like Lewis, on the other hand, to run the dog-grooming shop, as long as I never had to see him or talk to him.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Why I Stopped Reading The Watch Snob

Don't get me wrong: the Watch Snob may be the perfect column for you. The guy is witty, there's no denying it, and he knows a lot about watches. It's just that we don't all want the same thing. I recently read a Watch Snob column in which he asserted that a small watch does not look ridiculous on a large wrist, whereas a large watch looks ridiculous on any wrist.

And that's why I'm wishing the Watch Snob bon voyage and happy horology. I'm not into this small-watch deal. I realize that many of the most expert watchmakers on Earth have expended their careers on smallness. I know that many, maybe most watch connoisseurs see a watch which is much thinner than a wafer, and have big watchgasms. And I'm not knocking that. It's pleasure, and it's not hurting anybody. It's just not me.

Luckily, when it comes to watches, I am not under any pressure from peer pressure. (I was about to write that I was not under pressure from peer pressure, period, not just when it came to watches, but I'll have to get back to you about that after a few more therapy sessions.) Those people who are considered (by whom, again?) to be the cool kids will laugh at you for liking the wrong kind of watch, and I don't care, and I don't care if they (who, again?) think I'm cool. Ironically, to judge from his column on pocket watches, the Watch Snob may actually think I'm sorta cool for not caring about his opinion of me. Which actually wouldn't be so strange: I have mixed, by no means entirely negative feelings about the Watch Snob, and in my experience feelings very often turn out to be mutual.

The thing is, again, judging from his column on pocket watches, the Watch Snob doesn't know a lot about pocket watches. In fact, there's nothing in that column which I didn't already know. Which makes it the first Watch Snob column I've read which didn't contain significant new information about watches for me.

Which means, Watch Snob, (I wipe away one manly tear) that you and I've opened us two differnt cans a peaches. I must go my own way now, and yes, yes, it almost certainly means that when and if I get stinking rich I will buy a wristwatch or two which deeply offend you. I wish it were differnt, Budro, but this is how it is.

PS, 31. July 2014: It turns out that I actually still read a Watch Snob column now and then. They're informative and funny, and I like someone with their own opinions, not borrowed ones. Also: close your eyes and say to yourself, "The Wrong Monkey and the Watch Snob." You immediately pictured two super-villains teaming up to fight Batman in Gotham City, didn't you? How cool is that? Now, whoever is running the Ask Men website: would it kill you to put dates on the Watch Snob columns so that we can tell when he said what? It would be very helpful, kthnx. For one thing, the Watch Snob's opinions actually change now and then, as happens with anyone who's really thinking, and for another, he very often refers to current situations and upcoming events in the horological industry. So get your shit together and put dates on his columns before he moves to some other publication that has their shit together or just opens his own website.

Friday, March 28, 2014

I'm Disappointed In Bart Ehrman -- But Should I Be?

That's not one of those weaselly titles with a question in it which is, in the author's mind, already conclusively answered, as has been the case in at least one recently-published, briskly-selling book. If you see a question mark in the title of something I've written, it means I'm really not sure about the answer. If I were sure, the last part of this blog entry's title would read either -- And I Should Be or -- But I Shouldn't Be. Until recently it would've been -- And I Should Be, but I'm always going on about how it's bad to be closed-minded, and now, even though it makes me uncomfortable, I am questioning a belief which I have held firmly for some time: the belief that Bart Ehrman squanders his gifts by lending his name and presence to sensationalistic, non-scholarly projects. (See for example The So-Called "History Channel", ch 1, How Bart Ehrman Makes A Joke Of Himself By Appearing On The So-Called "History Channel".)

Of course, if I didn't think rather highly of Ehrman's abilities, there would be nothing for me to be disappointed about.

(Another belief I've held for a while, but not as firmly, and which I have questioned lately, is that there actually are intelligent biblical scholars. Lately I've wondered whether I might be wrong about that, and whether Ehrman, R Joseph Hoffmann, Eric Meyers, Shaye Cohen and a handful of others might only seem intelligent by contrast to the dullards who are the majority of their colleagues. I go back and forth about that one. But for the present, for the sake of argument, let us proceed assuming that some Biblical scholars, Ehrman included, are bona fide scholars, intelligent, learned, diligent and scrupulous.)

Apparently, Bart Ehrman's last 5 books published by Harper's -- Misquoting Jesus,God's Problem,Jesus, Interrupted,Forged: Writing in the Name of God--Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Areand Did Jesus Exist?have sold a combined 750,000 copies. Those are not the last 5 books Ehrman has published, but only 5 of 12 books he's published since 2005. The other 7 were published by Oxford, are aimed at Ehrman's fellow scholars and presumably have sold much less than 750,000 copies all together. Apparently the general public has a horror of footnotes and bibliographies. I'll never understand that. Footnotes and bibliographies are great. The general public are completely missing the boat on that one. Be that as it may, Ehrman's books for Harper's are the one which have made him famous. They've also surely made him at least $1 million since 2005. Maybe $2 million, or $3 million or even more. (Some authors have much better royalty arrangements with their publishers than others.)

And I don't have a problem with Ehrman making money. I sincerely hope that I myself make 7 figures over the course of the next 9 years -- or 8 figures, or preferably even more.

My problem, the bug up my butt, the disappointment referred to in the title, has to do with how many compromises Ehrman makes in order to make that living and to get those books out there. If Ehrman only wrote the books with the footnotes and the bibliographies -- the really good stuff, that is -- and none of the books "aimed at the general public" by making them much less good -- isn't that extremely condescending toward "the general public"? -- and if he worked as hard at marketing his books for Oxford as he does with his books for Harper, would he still be famous, would he sell hundreds of thousands going on millions of copies of the actual good stuff, or would he be just one more well-respected professor of Biblical Studies who very few people had ever heard of? I guess we'll never know, will we? If Ehrman refused to appear on programs which are absolute crap, and everything the so-called "History Channel" makes is crap -- would he be obscure? Or maybe, just maybe, would there be no "History Channel" if Ehrman and his colleagues had some standards about where and when they gave on-camera interviews, and would there instead be high-quality programs on historical topics everywhere you looked on the tube? We probably won't be testing that hypothesis very soon either, will we?

Ehrman's 6th book "for the general public," How Jesus Became God,was published by Harpers this week. It actually has some footnotes. Does this mean that something somewhat like what's bugging me has begun to bug Ehrman too? Eh. Let's come back down to planet Earth and wait and see. On the same day that Ehrman's book was published, Harper also published a book consisting of 5 negatives responses to itby "evangelical scholars." In quotes because this is the 21st For Crying Out Loud century, and you really have to pick one: evangelical, or scholarly. And these 5 guys have picked the former, and won't let Ehrman or anyone else suggest that Jesus wasn't really our Lord and the Savior of Our Immortal Souls -- won't let him say it without going unchallenged, that is. They can't actually stop Ehrman from writing things which contradict Christian beliefs. Those days are a couple of centuries gone now, nyaa, nya nya nyaaaa nya.

The thing is, Ehrman co-operated in this publishing stunt. It's not unusual for a volume to come out dedicated to refuting some book of Ehrman's. But the way it generally works it that the refutation is published a year or two after the book it purports to refute. Ehrman and these 5 evangelicals showed each other their work in advance of publication in order to let Harper's publish the 2 books at the same time. It's very much like the Ham-on-Nye debate. And my first reaction was to be disappointed in Ehrman for participating in this simultaneous-publication stunt, because it makes it look as if he considers the arguments of evangelicals, that Jesus was divine, and sent to Earthy by Almighty God to save our souls -- as if all of that stuff which we all get shoved down our throats every day rose to the level of deserving to be invited to a debate with him. And maybe Ehrman does think so, and for all I know he actually debates these same 5 people in lecture halls and whatnot, all the time.

But maybe, maybe, the Ham-on-Nye really helped the cause of science and rational thinking. I know that it confirmed many people in what they already believed, but maybe, maybe, Ham looked ridiculous to some people who hadn't thought he was going to look ridiculous. Maybe some minds were changed. And if that's the case, I don't suppose I can really consider Ham-on-Nye to have been a waste. And if the comparison of Ehrman's book to this book by these 5 yokels has a similar effect, and if Ehrman is having such effects not by accident, but because he knows what he's doing -- well in that case I would have been wrong to be so disappointed in him.

I still don't think it's certain that Jesus existed, of course, and Ehrman apparently still does. But reasonable people can disagree from time to time.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Chess Log: Quick Checkmate Against Old Steinitz

1. e4 e5 2. ♘f3 ♘c6 3. ♗b5 d6 4. d4 exd4 5. ♘xd4 ♗d7 6. ♘xc6 ♗xc6 7. ♗xc6 bxc6 8. ♕f3 ♘f6 9. e5 ♘d5 10. c4 ♘e7 11. exd6 cxd6 12. O-O ♕c7 13. ♖e1 ♖b8 14. ♘c3 g6 15. ♗f4 c5 16. ♖ad1 ♖d8 17. ♘d5 ♕d7 18. ♘f6 1-0 {Black checkmated}

I played White. 1. e4 e5 2. ♘f3 ♘c6 3. ♗b5 d6 is known as the Old Steinitz Defense, named after Wilhelm Steinitz, generally considered to have been the world champion of chess from 1866 to 1894, although there was no official world championship at the time. 4. d4 is a standard move for White, 4. ... exd4 is mentioned in Modern Chess Openings, 13th Editiononly in passing as leading to a line which is better for White, and when I responded with 5. ♘xd4 we were, as far as I can tell, off the reservation, doing things which Grandmasters wouldn't even consider doing, for reasons obvious enough (to the Grandmasters) that Modern Chess Openings saw no reason to warn against them. I knew that 5. ♕xd4 is considered the proper move here, but after playing it many times both here and, more often, in the corresponding place in the Modern Steinitz Defense, I was very tired of it, because -- at least at the level of chess I play -- it tends to lead to mid- and endgames with many pawns and few pieces remaining, which I find relatively boring. This game turned out completely different than that, with Black being mated when his King was immobilized by his own Rook, Queen, Knight, black Bishop and just one of his Pawns. By the 17th move, I don't know whether Black had any good options left. 17. ... ♖d7 instead of 17. ... ♕d7 would've kept the game going longer, but at the cost of Black trading his Queen for my Knight, just for starters, with other Very Bad Things looming.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"Is Truth Compatible With Fiction?"

That is the rhetorical question posed by some perfectly sensible atheists, when asked whether science is compatible with religion. They are confident that falsehoods always melt away in the light of facts, and that religion is on its last legs.

Unfortunately, they are far too optimistic. Depressingly, they sound like many 18th-century atheists, confident in Enlightenment, who were sure that religion was on its last legs, about to disappear very shortly, to melt quickly away in the glorious sunshine of Reason and Knowledge and Science. How could it not vanish, that aggravating nonsense? And yet, here we are, in the 21st century... What about before the 18th century? Before the 18th century, in Western "civilization," all the way back to the 5th century, when the Christian crackdown became complete, atheists were forced to keep their atheism to themselves. Before the 18th century, we can only guess which brave individuals might have been trying to send an atheist message between the lines of their writings. We can be sure that Hobbes was. As far as I know, the existence of any further atheists is controversial. Spinoza, Descartes, Machiavelli, Boethius -- their religious views are hotly debated.

Surprise surprise, many believers hang on to their beliefs quite tenaciously. If they do not reject science on religious grounds, they rarely miss an opportunity to insist that religion and science never conflict, and to chuckle condescendingly at people who think they do. The thing is that believers keep inventing new fictions when the older ones wear out, rather than embracing facts. Some whoppers currently popular among Christian theologians, people who actually hold Doctorates and are allowed to teach at otherwise-reputable universities:

* Before 19th-century American fundamentalism, it had never occurred to anyone to take the stories in the Bible literally.

* Galileo and the Inquisition just had a friendly chat, not a conflict; and/or: The issue between Galileo and the Inquisition had nothing whatsoever to do with science (because the Inquisitors were the most learned men of their day, and as science-friendly as could be, harrummph harrumph), but only with a personal quarrel between Galileo and the Pope.

* The Inquisition never killed anyone! (Yes, they actually say such things. All the Inquisition did was torture people and then hand them over to secular authorities who had no choice but to burn them alive.)

* Augustine and Aquinas were friends of science, nay -- there were scientists.

* (Etc. Fill in your own favorite examples of hair-raising, jaw dropping denials of plain reality which believers bring forth, rather than just say: okay, religion was mistaken, and science is a big improvement over it.)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Tacitus On Nero's Persecution Of Christians

Sometimes something's right in front of you for a long time before you notice it. I think I may (finally) have come across a reason to doubt Tacitus' account, in book 15, paragraph 44 of his Annals of how Nero blamed the great fire in Rome in AD 64 on the Christians, who were generally disliked, in order to divert suspicion from himself:

"Sed non ope humana, non largitionibus principis aut deum placamentis decedebat infamia, quin iussum incendium crederetur. ergo abolendo rumori Nero subdidit reos et quaesitissimis poenis adfecit, quos per flagitia invisos vulgus Christianos appellabat. auctor nominis eius Christus Tibero imperitante per procuratorem Pontium Pilatum supplicio adfectus erat; repressaque in praesens exitiablilis superstitio rursum erumpebat, non modo per Iudaeam, originem eius mali, sed per urbem etiam, quo cuncta undique atrocia aut pudenda confluunt celebranturque"

People eager to establish that Jesus existed -- too eager, in my humble opinion -- point to that passage, by Tacitus, who not only was not a Christian but disliked Christians, as evidence that he existed. Other people, who actually want to investigate the matter as opposed to declaring it settled, more reasonably characterize the passage as evidence of the existence of Christians, in Rome, during Nero's reign.

That's how I'd always thought of the passage. I wasn't convinced by arguments that the passage is a later Christian interpolation, or that "Christus" is a misprint and should read "Chrestus," some other guy, not Jesus. [PS, 5. August 2015: My bad, "Chrestus appears in Suetonius' biography of Claudius, not in Tacitus.]

And I'm still not convinced by those arguments, I still find it reasonable to believe that the passage above is reasonably close to how Tacitus wrote it, (The oldest manuscripts we now have containing the passage are from the 15th century, so reasonably close is as close as we're going to get unless and until some much older evidence of Tecaitus' text appears.) and I still see no reason to presume that Tacitus was referring to anyone other than Christians.

And Tacitus has a very good reputation, entirely well-deserved, I think, for being a careful and accurate historian.

But we should never assume that it's certain that any assertion made by any historian is accurate, without looking into the matter a bit for ourselves. What had been staring me in the face for a long time concerning this passage in Tacitus, one of the most closely-inspected and thoroughly-discussed texts concerning the question of Jesus' historicity, without my noticing it, are the following reasons to wonder whether Tacitus may have been mistaken:

Tacitus was about 8 years old in AD 63 when the great fire occurred, and most likely he was not in Rome at the time. In all likelihood there is nothing first-hand about his account of the fire, which was written after AD 100, and maybe as late as 125 or later. Also, many scholars have conjectured that, meticulous and scrupulous as he was, he may have been prejudiced against Nero, and eager to make him look worse than he was. This prejudice may have coincided with a desire on the part of the Christians -- a perennial desire on their part -- to cast themselves in the role of victims. Also, the Christians may have wanted to exaggerate the size and early date of their presence in Rome. I'm picturing Tacitus eagerly taking dictation while a Christian witness eagerly exaggerates things: "Tortured and killed all of you he could find in the most cruel ways he could think of, did he?! Tell me more!"

What really makes me stop and think is that after AD 100, perhaps after 125, writing for an audience many of whom lived in the city of Rome, Tacitus describes who Christians were and where they came from and who their first leader, Christ, had been, and how Christ had died -- in short, he seems to have assumed that his readers hadn't heard of Christians. Does it make sense that in 100 or 125 practically no one in Rome knew who Christians were, while back in the year 64 they were so widely known and disliked that they suggested themselves as natural scapegoats for a disaster?

I'm not sure it does make sense. Perhaps not as much sense as the possibility that Tacitus is an early example of someone taken in by a Christian falsification of history.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dream Log: Fearing A Shark, Writing A Screenplay

I dreamed that I and some other people were in a hot-air balloon over the ocean. Looking down at the ocean felt like looking up. It felt as if gravity were pushing us up into the basket of the balloon. Looking down/up at the ocean, I saw a huge shark just below/above the surface. I only saw its back, but I thought it might be a great white. I was concerned that someone might fall down/up into the shark's path.

And then I was away from balloons and the ocean and with some prominent American demimonde types. Prominent, and yet unspecified. R Crumb might've been in there somewhere. They hired me to write a remark of Fritz the Cat. But that made no sense for several reasons: Ralph Bakshi, the actual creator of Fritz the Cat, was nowhere around; the unspecified, almost-identified makers of this remake were a different bunch than anyone Ralph has ever run with; I've never seen Fritz the Cat and it wasn't shown to me in preparation for my job here; the original is an animated film and I was writing the screenplay for a live-action movie; and a cat was not among the protagonists in the screenplay I was writing. Just as in another dream I had recently in which I was in the supporting cast of a play starring Danny R McBride, I felt totally unqualified and unprepared, but no-one seemed to question my suitability for the job, so I decided to just hang in there and keep winging it, in large part because I needed the money.

Toward the end of the dream I was negotiating with the producers to add a 2nd screenwriter, without reducing my fee of $10,000. This 2nd writer was going to help me with details, to which I referred as matters of "structural integrity." I was trying to make the case to the producers that the 2nd screenwriter would be money well spent, and I assured them that I had nothing against sharing an equal screen credit with the 2nd writer.

Who Was Jesus?

I don't know. And neither do you.

I do know something about this picture, though:

-- which appears near the headline of this article by Father James Martin, in which he purports to tell us about Jesus, interpreting passages from the Bible and, as usual, maintaining a 10-mile distance from anything he might know about the actual composition and transmission of the Bible. He's clearly not interested about any of that, any more than most of us would have any interest in his blathering on and on about his magical invisible friend.

So let's get back to that picture. It's a popular one. It's part of a mosaic in the Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul, which was a church from the 6th century until 1453, when the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople and renamed the city Istanbul. From then until the 20th century the building was a mosque. After WWI the Ottoman Empire was dissolved, and Turkey became a secular republic, and the Hagia Sophia became a museum showing many Muslim artworks, and also many Christian artworks, some of which had been covered up or destroyed or partly destroyed during the building's Muslim period. "Hagia Sophia" means "St Sophia," which means "Holy Wisdom." This mosaic was partly destroyed, as you can see in this picture, which also, with the people in the foreground, gives you an idea of its size:

This mosaic is one of a genre which was popular in Byzantine art, known as a Deesis. The figure on the left is the Virgin Mary, and the figure on the right is John the Baptist. Mary and John are both raising their hands in a gesture asking for Jesus' mercy in dealing with mankind.

It is generally thought that this mosaic was made in 1261, when Orthodox Greeks regained control of Constantinople from Venetians and other Catholics, who had conquered the city in 1204, and had been plundering its artworks so energetically for 57 years that today it is much easier to find major works of Byzantine art in Western Europe than in Istanbul. The territory which Catholics controlled from 1204 to 1261, consisting of Constantinople and a few thousand square miles surrounding the city, is known as the Latin Empire. This Deesis mosaic is one of the major artistic celebrations of the restoration of Byzantine control of Constantinople.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Malleus Maleficarum And The Malaysian 777

So on the one hand I finally found a copy in the original Latin of the Malleus Maleficarum, a 2 volume set edited by Christopher S Mackay, Copyright 2006, paperback edition with corrections Copyright 2011. Iss a Ding. See link below. Translations into English are a dime a dozen, but I think this may actually be the first edition in the original Latin since 1669. So I'm reading Mackay's introduction to this splendid edition, about how people were tried and tortured and burned in the Middle Ages for being heretics, and how witches, a sub-set of the set of heretics, were thought to have been ensnared by demons who lived in the air above the Earth who guided them in the ways of evil -- which was defined as everything which was not considered pious Christianity -- and had sex with them, and how women were thought to be particularly susceptible to being seduced by demons and becoming witches and how "heresy" is Greek for "choice" (Yikes!) and a person might well be condemned as a heretic for choosing to interpret a Bible verse in ways unpleasing to his friendly local Inquisitor, and how a sect, another term from the Greek, before Christianity was simply a philosophical school and nobody got killed for belonging to them, but in 1480's when the Malleus Maleficarum was published, about a century into what is now called the "witchcraft delusion," which would continue for another 2 centuries, during which tens or hundreds of thousands of people would be tortured, condemned and burnt as witches, most of them women -- in the 1480's the leader of a sect was generally considered to be Satan himself. Less than 60 years after the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum, Copernicus would published his book demonstrating that the Earth was not the center of the universe, his book which his friends persuaded him not to publish until near the end of his life, because they were afraid that he would be accused of working with Satan, and tortured and burned to death. And then about 85 years after that came the little unpleasantness between Galileo and the Inquisition, which apologetics are strenuously attempting to make it seem as if it has been misunderstood and overblown, and in between was Giordano Bruno...

And on the other hand I run into someone talking about how science supposedly "blinds" us to "deeper wisdoms" to found in place like, Oh, yes, the Bible.

And then on the 3rd hand I see headlines about how people are closing in on the crash site of that Malaysian 777 which recently vanished. How are they closing in? By praying about it? Yeah, that must be it. Science would be no help to the people searching. It would only blind them, surely. How can modern man be so arrogant as to think that he knows better than God how to search for traces of the victims of a catastrophe?

And why o why won't people see that the very idea of this supposed conflict between religion and science doesn't go back any earlier than the time when people in Christendom were first allowed to make the ridiculous assertion that the conflict existed, without risking imprisonment, torture and death by fire? What IS it with these people?!

Things Which Existed In the 13th Century But Not In The 9th

Crossbows. Rockets. Maybe guns, and maybe not; they existed by the 1320's. Spurs. Trebuchets.

Eyeglasses. Sunglasses. Mirrors.

Widespread use of written vernaculars in Europe. Near-total eradication of "pagans" in Europe. The Inquisition.

Universities in Bologna, Padua, Naples, Oxford, Cambridge, Salamanca and Paris.

Paper. Paper mills. Vertical windmills. Wheelbarrows. Horizontal looms. Spinning wheels. Wine presses. The adding of hops to beer.

The dry compass. The astronomical compass. The stern-mounted rudder.


Possibly mechanical clocks. They were around by the early 14th century.

Kings of England, of the Germans, of Poland, Denmark, Portugal.

Gothic architecture, a "King of Jerusalem" and a whole other host of changes brought to Europe by the Crusades.

A separation between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

Monday, March 10, 2014

"Pope Francis' [BLEEP!] May Be Bigger Than Anyone Dreamed"

The title of this blog post is an homage to Jimmy Kimmel's brilliant "This Week In Unnecessary Censorship," a recurring bit on Kimmel's show in which video clips of mostly politicians, but also other famous people are shown, altered by Kimmel's staff with unnecessary bleeps and blurs to make it look as if, for example, George Bush Sr were swearing like a sailor, or as if Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and Northern Ireland were mooning the public before hot cameras. Kimmel is too modest, of course: what he's doing is quite useful in pointing out how ridiculous censorship is. Here comes the headline from this blog, but uncensored. Clutch your pearls:

"Pope Francis' Reforms May Be Bigger Than Anyone Dreamed"

I bet a lot of you were thinking that the bleeped word was a lot naughtier than "reforms"!

What has prompted me to such disgusting behavior? The Ban Bossy movement, is what. Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook, wants us to stop saying "bossy" because it discourages girls from leading, or so some people say. I don't want to discourage girls from leading. But I also don't want people to tell me stop using this or that word. Telling me to do that is... Oh, what's the right word for something like that? ... It's on the tip of my tongue.

As I pointed out in two recent Wrong Monkey posts, here and here, and in other blog posts and elsewhere, I don't think that banning individual words is a great idea. Or even so much as a mediocre one. I agree with the goals of the PC speech movement: empowerment. Overcoming discrimination. Increasing people's respect for one another. Yes, yes, yes! Sign me up for all of that. But I think that the method of the PC speech movement, identifying individual words and then discouraging people from using those words, is just fucking awful.

You want to talk about language? Okay, let's talk about language. Let's get down and dirty and nitty and gritty and talk about it. Kim Keating has jumped aboard the Ban Bossy bandwagon. What's that? you never heard of Kim Keating? Me neither. Let's see how she describes herself in her HP Blogger's Bio:

"Kim Keating is founder and managing director of Keating Advisors. With over 18 years of experience, Kim serves as a trusted advisor to individuals and leading organizations. Under her guidance and expertise, Kim helps organizations develop a clear talent management vision and strategy. She specializes in working with leaders to align their strategy and build compensation systems that are objective, transparent, and support fair and equal pay. She help individuals negotiate more effectively and women, in particular, to level the playing field by providing customized compensation data."

Never heard of Keating Asvisors? Let's see how they describe themselves:

"Keating Advisors is a strategic human resource consulting firm that helps clients develop innovative talent management strategies and reward systems."

For all I know, Ms Keating and Keating Associates may be brilliant at helping companies, and, in particular, at getting fair and competitive pay for women. And if they are, that's great. That's very important work. But if after 18 years as a human resources consultant, she can't hire somebody who can write better than that, then she's one of the last people I want telling me how to use language.

We've got POETS for that sort of thing. I can't say it enough, I want the same things that advocates of PC speech want, and I couldn't disagree more strongly with their methods in trying to achieve those goals. I'm not going to support PC speech, and I'm not going to try to advance someone to the chairmanship of General Electric based on her or his skill at writing sonnets. And that's that.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Vatch Ze Vatch!

As I was about to check my overnight earnings from this blog, it occurred to me, assuming that I had become filthy rich overnight, that I might paradoxically have to have a watch custom-made for me which looked very conventional. I say that because so many new high-end watches seem to have weird "contemporary" faces which I don't like and find hard to read. Then there's the Roger Dubuis Excalibur, which I had to look at for a very long time before I could see that it has an hour hand and a minute hand at all. (Still haven't found the second hand, if it has one, or any other dials. There are some round things there which if they are dials I don't know how to read. $13,000.)

The watch Liam Neeson gave to Diane Kruger in Unknown looks like it might be more what I want, and it looks like what t3 half-disparagingly calls "big and clunky" and soooo 2 decades ago. Neeson's character says you can tell by the weight that the watch is "the real thing," which to me suggests gold and/or platinum, in the case and maybe in the metallic flex band as well. Maybe the watch snobs at Forbes and t3 snicker behind their fists at the taste in watches of Neeson and/or the other makers of Unknown. On the other hand, maybe Liam and the boys laugh right in the watch snobs' faces. A part of me sort of hopes they do. Maybe what I want is much easier to find than you'd think by reading the watch snobs.

Then again, maybe that watch Liam was wearing isn't what I want at all. Maybe it has 5 dials on the front and 3 more on the back and they all blend into their backgrounds so well that I'd never find half of them, let alone figure out what each one meant, and maybe the watch snobs all cream when they see that watch in that movie.

What is this "what I want" I'm talking about? Lots of heavy metal: maybe a combination of platinum and rose gold, (Is rose gold the leisure suit and sun-dried tomatoes of the 2010's? Will people shake their heads in dismay at rose gold in 2025 and ask what people possibly could've been thinking? I'm guessing: no, because I always hated leisure suits and never particularly liked sun-dried tomatoes. Which may indicate that in 2025 people will look at these unreadable dials on luxury watches being made now, and shake their heads and ask what people possibly could have been thinking.) big thick heavy case, perhaps heavy metal again in the band, in short: go ahead, TRY to make it heavier than I'd like.

And of course, a dial that's extremely easy to read. Maybe only one dial on the face. I'm still weighing that. It might actually be cool even to me to have some sort of multi-dial chronometer set-up. Just: not at the expense of the readability of the hours, minutes and seconds where I am at the moment. People should be able to read the time on my wristwatch across a crowded and dimly-lit ballroom while I vigorously do the monkey.

Of course, this is all assuming that I don't concentrate exclusively on pocket watches after becoming rich. (Didn't happen overnight last night.) But the choice of new high-end wristwatches is vastly greater than that of new high-end pocketwatches. And I'm wondering how high the high end in new pocket watches is. So far, I've found exactly 2 count em 2 makers of new luxury pocket watches: Audemars Piguet, a solid-gold variety of whose Royal Oak wristwatch t3 mocks as big and clunky and soooo 1990's ($69,200), and Patek Philippe. A new 18k-gold Patel Philippe pocket watch will set you back $35,000, give or take. Audemars Piguet is currently offering 1 new pocket watch, a hunter's watch, which is not the style I'm looking for. (A hunter's watch is a pocket watch with a cover which must be sprung open in order to read the time. Then the cover is snapped shut again before the watch is pocketed. I don't want that cover. I don't know why a hunter would want it either. I'm not a hunter, but it seems to me that the last thing a hunter would want would be little springing and snapping sounds to scare away the game.) I don't know how much the Audemars Piguet pocket watch costs. Looking for that info on the Internet, my search is swamped by depressing things like "replica" (fake, but honest enough to come right out and call themselves fakes) Audemars Piguet watches. And it seems to me it would be tacky somehow to call up a Audemars Piguet boutique and ask. (I'm afraid to call, okay? I came right out and said it.) I'm guessing that their hunter's watch is very low 6 figures, or 5 figures. There are quite a few wristwatches which sell for 7 figures, and probably some which sell for 8 figures. Up there at the top end of wristwatches, some watches are custom-made to order. Would the makers of such timepieces be at all interested in making new pocket watches? You know, you pay that much, you want the craftsmen to be inspired, not just drudging along for the sake of the money alone and then sneering at you behind your back after you've bought the ugly white elephant you made them attach their name to. (Their NAME!)

Does it make any sense at all to spend over $10,000,000 on a watch? It seems that many of the boutiques of luxury watch brands today are located in the same places where the most numerous and tallest skyscrapers are going up. And that aint Switzerland, or LA or SF or anywhere in Germany or England or Russia, or anywhere in the Western Hemisphere south of Miami. Perhaps an Audemars Piguet or Greubel Forsey boutique in some place like Dubai would happily quote me 7-figure prices on their finest items. Perhaps making ridiculous rates of consumption as conspicuous as possible is one of the absurd points being made by whoever shops in boutiques like those. It's a bit different from me going to Kroger's or Meijer's, or, on a special occasion, Plum Market or the mall.

For $30,000, give or take, depending on the price of gold that day, I could just buy a 20-troy-ounce ingot of 24k gold and carry that around in my pocket. It wouldn't tell time but it would be nice. A conversation piece fer sher. What's that you say? Eccentric? I wear a cheap pocket watch. Sometimes, at the same time that I'm wearing the cheap pocket watch -- at this very moment, for example -- I also wear a very old self-winding Timex wristwatch which I got at a yard sale for two bucks. That man who recently said to me, "You can only wear one watch at a time anyway--" that guy doesn't know me very well. The eccentric ship sailed a while ago. I like who I am, and that really is the main thing.

Friday, March 7, 2014

An Open Letter To John C McGinley About His Article 'What Really Happens When You Use the R-Word'

Mr McGinley, I think you're an excellent actor. One example: your work on "Scrubs." Let me ask you something: what do you think of the hundreds if not thousands of times over the course of that series when your character called Zach Braff's character a "girl" and/or called him by a woman's name? It wasn't the high point of the series for me. The clear implication was that there was something wrong with being a girl and/or a man's being effeminate and/or emotionally open and sensitive. These sentiments were constantly slung af Braff's character in order to get laughs. I suppose we should stop using the word "girl." Clearly, using the "G-word" is hurtful.

What's that? I'm being ridiculous? You're right, I'm being completely ridiculous.. And you and all other advocates of PC speech are being just as ridiculous, because the problem is not particular words, it's how those words are used. It's racism and sexism and other forms of prejudice. The problem is a lack of love and a lack of common decency. It's using words to hurt. The words themselves are not the problem, and focusing on them in this way is only a distraction from the actual problem, and the entire PC-speech movement a huge waste of time. And I say all of this as an autistic who is occasionally called the "R-word," and who happens to find the word "autistic" very useful and doesn't want to see "the A-word" be tabooed. But that's the direction we're headed in.

We want the same thing here: more respect for each other, more caring in the world, especially for people who are relatively defenseless. Please don't think I would ever wish any hurt to your son. I wish you all the best, and I wish him a long life full of love and joy, surrounded by people with hearts as good as yours.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Open Letter To Amanda Gutterman

Dear Ms Gutterman, the following is in response to your Huffington Post article What I'm Actually Giving Up For Lent, about your participation in the campaign to stamp out "the R-word." I originally posted it as a Reader's Comment under your article, but it occurred to me that I might want to save it and publish it here, rather than wait and see whether it was going to pass through HP's moderation. In my original Reader's Comment I wrote "the R-word" rather than "retarded," but this is my house, and here people can say what they actually mean, so I revised my comment:

I'm against PC restrictions on speech. I'm sometimes called retarded, and it doesn't make me fall to pieces. Technically it's incorrect to call me retarded, because I'm a high-functioning autistic with a high IQ, but to some people, I seem retarded, and that's not going to change by tabooing the word. Will it soon be taboo for people to say "autistic," will we be pressured to say "the A-word" instead? It's ridiculous. You can use each and every un-PC word on a regular basis and still be a loving, nurturing person, and you can avoid them all and still be quite hateful. If you rub shoulders with celebrity supporters of causes like the Special Olympics, you might have occasion to talk to the Farrelly brothers, who agree with me on this subject. I suspect you might not want to talk to them because of that. I hope I'm wrong, that you're not that closed-minded. You wrote: "The Medievals [sic!] were right in that words have magical power in a way that is both social and scientific." No, medieval people were completely wrong about that. That's an utterly ridiculous thing to believe. The truth is closer to the opposite: words have MORE power to hurt when we taboo them. Not less. As always in discussions about things like this, I urge you to watch Bob Fosse's movie Lenny.People who watch that movie with an open mind might learn things about the benefits of free expression and the hateful ugliness of censorship.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

In Which I Hand CS Lewis And GK Chesterton Their Butts

(Very often, amazingly, Christians point proudly to these two fellas. Obviously, Lewis and Chesterton aren't the very brightest of all the billions of Christians there have been. But maybe they're the best of the Christian equivalent of New Atheists: Christians who've made a career of defending their side. Well, enough of their supposed brilliance! Watch as I decimate their "arguments" with ease! [Plus one each by Aquinas and William Lane Craig while I'm here.])

“Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning." -- CS Lewis "Rejecting the meaning you assign to the universe, CS, doesn't mean it has no meaning. To some degree our lives mean what we are able to make them mean. This means you're weren't listening to Jean-Paul Sartre, even if that sounds mean." -- The Wrong Monkey

“A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.” -- CS Lewis "A young Christian who wishes to remain so -- Christian, that is. Young is more difficult -- does not need to be careful about how much Lewis or Chesterton he or she reads. One page of Nietzsche or Twain or Russell or Sartre or The Wrong Monkey or Schopenhauer or Marx or the Bible or Augustine or Aquinas or Kierkegaard or Carlin or Napoleon or any of thousands of other authors, on the other hand, could instantly and irrevocably mess that plan up. But only if this young Christian really wants to learn, which most of them don't, which is why they end up old and stupid and unbearable like you!" -- The Wrong Monkey

“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” ― Thomas Aquinas "That must be why you spent so much time and effort writing those proofs of God's existence. Have I told you I'm a big fan, Thomas? Well I'm not, and anyone who's told you otherwise is a stinking liar! I find your writing unbearable at best! On the question of the existence of God, arguments for are easily ripped to shreds by an average atheist who is not yet full grown, and arguments against are generally ignored by the best of you, when they're not they're distorted into strawmen. Debating with Christians is a waste of an atheist's time, time much better spent warning others about people like you." -- The Wrong Monkey

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such a violent reaction against it?... Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too--for the argument depended on saying the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus, in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist - in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless - I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality - namely my idea of justice - was full of sense. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never have known it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.” ― C.S. Lewis "See what I wrote above about meaning. Other than that -- wow, what can I say, except: You really can talk some mess! And maybe you should've checked out some other people's arguments against the existence of God, instead of just assuming that yours was state-of-the-art, and that when you thought you'd found a hole in it you were done." -- The Wrong Monkey

“‎"If there is no God, then man and the universe are doomed. Like prisoners condemned to death, we await our unavoidable execution. There is no God, and there is no immortality. And what is the consequence of this? It means that life itself is absurd. It means that the life we have is without ultimate significance, value, or purpose.” ― William Lane Craig "You had a couple of deep thoughts and scared yourself, and instead of continuing to think, which often, perhaps more often than not brings some consolation with no sacrifice of intelligence, you retreated to the standard conservative-Christian fall-back position and dedicated your life to interfering with those of us who are trying to continue to think." -- The Wrong Monkey

“For when we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we worship anything.” ― G.K. Chesterton "Speak for yourself, Fatso!" -- The Wrong Monkey

“The defiance of the good atheist hurled at an apparently ruthless and idiotic cosmos is really an unconscious homage to something in or behind that cosmos which he recognizes as infinitely valuable and authoritative: for if mercy and justice were really only private whims of his own with no objective and impersonal roots, and if he realized this, he could not go on being indignant. The fact that he arraigns heaven itself for disregarding them means that at some level of his mind he knows they are enthroned in a higher heaven still." ― C.S. Lewis "Atheists aren't mad at the cosmos, CS. We don't arraign heaven. In order to be able to do so we would first have to believe that heaven exists. We are impatient with morons like you, and we are angry that you still have power so grotesquely unproportionate to your intelligence and skills. As powerful as you Christians still are, and as fat as Chesterton was, very few non-Christians ever confuse or conflate you with the entire universe" -- The Wrong Monkey

“If there were no God, there would be no atheists.” ― G.K. Chesterton "If there were no diseases, there would be no physicians. If there had been no Chesterton, there would have been much more cheese for everyone else. (He was very fat.)" -- The Wrong Monkey

“Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. In practice it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it.” ― G.K. Chesterton "You must have had some very powerful connections, the way you prattled on endlessly about it. Unless what you really meant, and I think it was, is that you wished you lived in a Medieval world where no-one was allowed to breathe an un-Christian word in your presence." -- The Wrong Monkey

“There are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions.” ― G.K. Chesterton "I've never met anyone like that. This is the very first time I've ever even heard of someone like that, and I'm 52 years old and astonishingly well-read. It's clear why being a Christian interferes with someone's ability to be a good novelist much less than it interferes with other things: both activities require that one constantly make stuff up. Of course, Christianity also requires that one insist that the made-up stuff is true, while the novelist admits that it is fictional." -- The Wrong Monkey

Monday, March 3, 2014

Another Archaeological Find In Israel, Another Round Of Mind-Numbingly Stupid Comments

The dig is at Abel Beth Maacah. The stupidity, as usual when anything old is found in or near Israel, comes not just from fundamentalists shouting Hallelujah! this proves the Bible is accurate, but also from a lot of atheists, and that's what annoys me, because you'd hope the atheists would know better. Well, that is, maybe you'd have some hope if you weren't very familiar with them thar New Atheists, and their propensity to think that a sharp comment about archaeology is something like

"I hope to find that building that spiderman climbed in issue 127."

Oh. Ha. Haha. Yeah, that really added to the discussion. Sadly, I quoted that Spiderman comment, I didn't make it up, didn't have to.

What is rare and precious in discussions of old things found in or near Israel, and of old religious manuscripts, are comments which are actually about the archaeological discoveries, comments which evince an actual interest in the objects themselves and the light they shed upon history. As opposed to what? As opposed to saying, for the 45,763rd time, something which amounts to: "Fundamentalists are stupid." Which is all that the comment quoted above is saying. Now, I don't disagree with them about fundamentalists, but the thing is, I heard them the first 45,762 times, and I had figured that out about fundamentalists before I ever met them, all on my own, and there's an interesting discovery here, giving the opportunity for an interesting discussion, and it looks like it might be drowned out, as have so many other potentially interesting discussions, by this neverending Itchy & Scratchy show put on by the fundies and them. If only they could actually either learn something about this actual discovery, and talk about that, or shut the fuck up for once, and give those of us who want to discuss archaeology a fucking chance to do so for once in their fucking life.

I don't expect they will.

These discussions aren't really about archaeology, they're about Christian fundamentalists and New Atheists calling each other names. Just lately, geomorphologists have been comparing what Livy and Polybius wrote about the 2nd Punic War with what they've found on the ground in Spain, France and Italy, and they may have actually discovered some ancient battlefields with the help of those ancient authors. Always keep in mind, I'm only a layman, but if I understand what's going on here, then, it seems to me, the possible implications of these finds for archaeology, ancient history, ancient literature and other academic fields are whatcha call huge, potentially big, big stuff for people who are actually interested in archaeology. But it doesn't have anything to do with the Bible, and so most of the idiots yapping back and forth about that find in Abel Beth Maacah, and about the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi library and the Gospel of Jesus' Wife and the Tel Dan Stele and so forth -- or, I should actually say, ostensibly yapping about such things, while actually knowing practically nothing about them -- these people probably will never hear anything about it. Which, from my point of view, in some ways, is actually a good thing.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

I DON'T Think Our Culture Lets Celebrities Get Away With A Lot --

-- *shielding myself from the pelted rocks and garbage* -- that's right, that's what I said. I'm used to idiots getting happy every time they hear about a celebrity getting arrested, and assuming they have every right to know the salary of every professional athlete in the US, and not thinking about how convenient that is for the owners of professional sports teams, and related parasites like shoe companies and college and high school athletic departments. The way most fans fixate on the money being made by the athletes, without whom, of course, sports would not exist, very conveniently prevents them from even wondering how much money the team owners and the other parasites make. Great scam for the parasites. They don't have their financials in the headlines. Would you like it if your salary were published as if the public had a right to know what it was? I'm used to people who haven't spent a half-hour on their feet or eaten six ounces of vegetables in the past month, and who therefore look like Jabba the Hut, nastily mocking the looks of, oh, say, Scarlett Johansson or Matthew McConaughey. I'm used to loathesome little worms who have absolutely no sympathy for people who literally cannot step outside without being swarmed by the press, and who literally can't throw anything away without some creeps pawing through it -- I'm used to all of that. I don't like any of it but I'm used to it. But this screed about supposed privileges of celebrity by a certain Rev. Galen Guengerich, rife with leering fantasies of celebrity appetites and allusion to Greek tragedy, took even jaded me aback. Dixit Guengerich:

"this tendency to excuse libertine excesses by talented people inverts our moral hierarchy"

What?! Did I just slip into a time warp to the 1890's? Demon rum, "libertine excesses" and "our" moral hierarchy? Really? Rev Guengrich, you Unitarian member of the Council on Foreign Relations you, why don't you ask Robert Downey, Jr, to name one celebrity you didn't, just how this "buying your way out of trouble by being famous" thing works. (I realize you probably won't ask him, not F2F anyway, but if you do, and you're not frail or particularly small, I hope he punches you in the face!) (And it's very selfish of me to wish that, because if he punched you, Downey, with his long criminal record, would probably serve 30 days or more.) To name a celebrity you did name, why don't you ask Roman Polanski about the things he's gotten away with, the next time he's in NYC. Oh, that's right -- he hasn't been in the States since 1977, and probably won't be coming back soon, because the cops here still have a hard-on for him. To name two more people you named, why don't you ask Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Winehouse about the stuff they got away with -- oh, that's right, you can't, can you. You could ask Lindsey Lohan, who went from being crazily adored to pathologically hated in such a short time that it makes me worry for Jennifer Lawrence, how being a big shot made her impervious to anorexia -- no, wait, don't ask her that. She almost died from anorexia.

But you're right, of course: only showbiz stars abuse alcohol and other dangerous drugs, molest children, starve themselves and crash their cars. No, wait, that's not right at all. It's gibberish. Everything you're saying is gibberish. "We" don't have a "moral hierarchy," you and I. We have two very different ways of regarding morality. And we're only two people. And the 3rd-to-last sentence of your screed is so garbled that I don't know whether you're condemning American Hustle and Wolf of Wall Street as "glorification of exercises in excess," or praising them because their "excess" is "somehow redeemed or shown to be destructive." Do you? In any case, it's great to see that someone is on the case, that someone has not allowed himself to be distracted by things like real violence and racism and climate catastrophe with attendant famine, and instead is zeroing in on the true danger of our time: naughty movies. And don't you worry about a thing for yourself personally, you're going to be just fine: if those gigs with the Unitarian Church and the Council on Foreign Relations don't work out, there will still be many a street corner in Knoxville and Atlanta and Topeka and Boise where you will be able to thump a Bible and fit right in.