Monday, March 30, 2015

Slick vs Non-Slick Covers On Paperbacks

I don't know when the slick covers started to appear. I know they were around by the 1960's. In the 1990's they began to be replaced by non-slick covers. Some of you will agree with me that the newer, non-slick covers are much more unpleasant to the touch, and many of you, perhaps most of you, will have no earthly idea what I'm talking about.

And so, for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm going to give you some examples, so that you can go to your local library or used-book store and put your own fingertips on these items: Grand Street vol 3, #4, 1984, #37 & 38, 1991, and #46, 1993, are all slick; #55, 1996, and #69, 1999, are non-slick.

The 1999 paperback re-print of Cambridge University Press' 3-volume edition of Steven Runciman's History of the Crusades has slick covers.

Cormac McCarthy paperbacks published by Vintage: the 1st Vintage International editions of All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing and Cities of the Plain have slick covers. The 1st Vintage International editions of Outer Dark and Child of God have non-slick covers. The Vintage Movie tie-In editions of No Country For Old Men and The Road have slick covers.

The 1993 Quality Paperback Book Club volume containing The Orchard Keeper, Suttree and Blood Meridian by McCarthy has a slick cover.

The cover of the 2006 30th Anniversary edition paperback of The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, published by Oxford University Press, is slick on the back and spine and non-slick on the front.

1988 Harcourt, Brace 3rd edition of the AIA Guide to New York City, slick; 2010 Oxford 5th edition, non-slick.

Dtv (Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag) was all slick until the late 1980's when it began to convert; by the late 1990's, or earlier, it was all non-slick.

clasicos castilia of the 1980 and 90's were slick. Back then their pages were sewn in signatures instead of glued to the spines, which is unusually high-quality for paperbacks. I don't know if they're still slick or sewn in, I hope they're both.

Somebody somewhere must think that the new non-slick covers are better. I certainly don't, and I know that at least some other people also are strongly in favor of slick. Non-slick covers are intensely unpleasant to my touch. I've gone so far as to completely cover the non-slick covers of some books with scotch tape. That results in a feel similar to slick covers.

Maybe with your support, this long international nightmare will finally end.

Sort, Stack, Pile, Build: Dream Log, Plus: Nothing Brilliant to Say About Architecture

I had some dreams in which the action was mostly internal, inside my head: I was in various social situations in which I felt awkward because I was unsure whether I was the only one feeling any sexual tension. I was thinking about architecture (So far this post reminds me of Woody Allen's early prose), about becoming an architect, as I have at several points in the course of my waking life. But just as in real life, so too in the dream I was 53 years old, and I worried that that might be a little old to start taking courses in architecture with an eye toward becoming an architect.

Then I woke up, and at first I thought that, although perhaps I would in fact not actually become an architect myself in waking life, I was going to write a brilliant blog post about architecture, and I would look up some bios of architects who I thought had started on architecture after false starts in other careers, and maybe that would even make it seem as if 53 was not an outrageously old age to start becoming an architect. I also thought that I would look through a volume by Ernst Gombrich -- this volume, as a matter of fact --

-- in the hope that there were extensive passages on architecture in it which would fire my imagination and inspire my prose.

There are some references to architecture in that volume by Gombrich, but not nearly as much as I had hoped (In retrospect, I think that the design of the cover had subconsciously reminded me of architectural drawings.), and what was there did not have the desired inspirational effect. Not that I read anything there which was unsound or sub-par. It just didn't resemble what I had very vaguely imagined. Also, contrary to what I had thought, the famous architects whose bios I researched all either came from families of architects or wanted to be architects well before they were full-grown, or both.

Even worse, it seemed that I did not have anything brilliant at all to say about architecture. On the contrary, my thoughts on the subject were of the crudest, most rudimentary nature possible: sort, stack, pile, build. This and that printed diagram look like diagrams of buildings, because of the right angles. Ugh. This building has a stairway here, that part of that building is falling apart. It took me a while to become completely awake, as far as the dream-feeling that I had something important to say about architecture was concerned.

Friday, March 27, 2015

I Don't Know Whether Mechanical Watches Would Survive An Electromagnetic Pulse

An electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, accompanies the blast of a nuclear bomb and disables all electronics within the range of the bomb's blast. Of course, this tended not to be noticed in bomb blasts because anything the pulse had disabled had also been destroyed by the blast and heat and radiation. But then devices began to be built which would produce just the pulse, and not the nuclear blast. The point of weaponizing such devices would be to cripple the enemy's electronics without killing people. As it was phrased in the Soderberg-Clooney Ocean's Eleven's rather unrealistic depiction of a big EMP, the desired result would be not Hiroshima, but the 17th century.

As both an admirer of mechanical watches and a person who attempts to be realistic and rational, until recently I had thought that since, oh, 1980 or so, there had been very little, and ever less, rational reason for making or buying mechanical watches. Which is fine: there's also no rational reason to make and buy paintings or Ferraris. There's a lot more to life than rationality.

But then I thought, Wait a minute: EMP's! 17th century? This would mean that suddenly the possessers of mechanical, wind-up or automatic watches would instantly go from eccentrics and conspicuous consumers to kings and queens among men, because when it came to time-keeping, everyone would have to rely on things like clocks powered by pendulums, wind-up portable alarm clocks -- and those mechanical watches. Fine jeweler's stores, with more mechanical watches and fewer quartz-powered ones, would become logistical centers from which We Would Rebuild.

But then I thought again: wait a minute, maybe an EMP would have an effect more drastic than the 17th century: mechanical watches are full of many tiny delicate metal parts. Would an EMP magnetize all those parts? If so, the mechanical watches would be just as dead as any electronic timekeeper. (And would large metal objects as well as tiny ones be magnetized? Would cars and trucks and trains be piled together in big magnetic clumps?)

So I researched the question of how mechanical watches would hold up under an EMP blast, and I still don't know the answer, because I don't know enough about physics to evaluate the answers I've found, nor the people answering. There are some people who say yes, the watches would hold up just fine and their wearers would indeed be kings and queens among men, and there are others who say no, mechanical watches would be magnetized and therefore destroyed in all their function, and still others who maintain that only a few mechanical watches, perhaps including those with Omega's new co-axial movement, would survive and still function, and the rest would be completely useless, some temporarily and many forever. (No, I have no idea whatsoever how Omega's new co-axial movement works, or whether Omega is massively overhyping it or whether it truly is a great advance in timekeeping, or anything. No idea whatsoever. I do know that NASA officially approved Omega watches for astronauts to wear in space, and I have no idea whatsoever how much importance, if any, to attach to that fact, or if it means anything at all when comparing Omegas to Rolexes.) I don't know how to evaluate the technical arguments made by the people on either side, nor do I know how to tell who is to be taken seriously as an authority on this question, and who is to physics as Dan Brown is to history.

My general (very very amateur) impression is that there may well not be enough data yet to know how mechanical watches would withstand an EMP.

Or is the gummit sitting on huge amounts of the relevant information, deliberately collected during its bomb tests over the decades, and on huge stockpiles of Omegas? (Duh-duh-DUHHHH.)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Even Atheists Often Fall For Nostalgic Nonsense And Myths

For example, some extreme malarkey along the lines of "Humans were all united until race, religion, politics and wealth divided us." is actually very widespread in atheist communities. The amount of stuff you have to not know in order to go for this kind of tripe is huge.

In reality, long before there were homo sapiens, millions of years ago -- millions -- our ancestors began to develop weapons from stone and other materials, and as a result of this and other evolutions, they began to be eaten by large carnivores less often, and to kill each other with those weapons. We don't know that they weren't killing each other with their hands and feet and teeth before that, but the but the traces of the wounds left by the hominid-made weapons are clearly distinguishable from those made by teeth and claws.

We don't know when this time before religion may have been: artifacts made by homo sapiens over 30,000 years appear to have been made for religious purposes.

Did politics make people more unequal than they had been? I don't know -- and neither do you -- but I do know that organization closely related to religion first moved humans from living in trees and caves to living in towns. Cities as old as 6000 BC are built around religious buildings, and and as new as AD 1700, and all of them in between. The earliest known people who could write, from before 3000 BC, were temple scribes as well as administrators, and educational institutions truly free of religious influence are still a very recent thing.

No human civilization has a known pre-religious stage, as anyone with the slightest acquaintance with prehistoric humans knows. You think things used to be better before religion, by all means, be my guest and go live in a tree and leave those of us alone who can handle the truth.

I'd like for us to evolve beyond religion, but we're not going to to do that by replacing traditional mythical pasts with new myths.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


6 atheists were featured: Richard Dawkins; Dave Silverman, president of American Aheists, the people who stir so much shit and accomplish so little by putting up nya-nya-nya-nya-nyaaaaa-nyaaa atheist billboards and litigating to have expressions of religious sentiment removed from public places (Imagine: one day they may succeed in removing "IN GOD WE TRUST" from our money. Whoop-dee-frekin-doo!); and 2 other people, one a young man who leads an atheist group at a university in northern Alabama or Georgia; and the other a young woman who's studying at Harvard Divinity School while simultaneously being an atheist.

Oh, and I almost forgot: also a Christian clergyman who is a closeted atheist. CNN deliberately hid his identity. They are undeliberately but just as effectively hiding the names of the 2 students in the South and at the Harvard Divinity School; their names seem to be written down nowhere on the CNN website or anywhere else on the WWW. The only way I can think of at this point to retrieve their names, and whether the young Southern man is studying in northern Georgia or northern Alabama -- could just possibly be northern Mississippi too -- would be to watch the show again, and frankly, it wasn't that good. If you can retrieve their names you're a better man than I, or maybe just a man with less on his schedule.

Kyra Phillips hosted the show and interviewed all 6 of the featured atheists, and a few other atheists, and some more people.

Richard Dawkins didn't get much airtime, which means he said relatively little on the show with which I disagree. Phillips referred to Dawkins at one point as "the father of atheism," which certainly made me wince, as other people must have winced who were hoping that the show would comment at least a little on the history of atheism, which, believe it or not, Dawkins did not actually invent. Dawkins said that he got a "warm feeling" from the Church of England, and that "nobody" in the Church of England "really believes any of it." Which of course is bullshit, the sort of bullshit we're getting used to hearing from Dawkins. And of course, in the eyes of many present-day atheists, Dawkins actually is something like "the father of atheism," a figure of such immense unearned respect that any and every stupid thing he says is treated like received wisdom. I had been wondering just exactly why some English twits it has been my misfortune to meet insist that Christianity is dead and gone and over with in England; the answer may be just as simple as the explanation of why so any people think that the bible was written by Bronze Age goat herders and that most Muslims support terrorism: Dawkins said so. I know that Rowan Williams, head of the Church of England until 2002, said while in office that he didn't believe in God. I've also noticed how strenuously Williams has backpedaled from that position since he said it, which he hardly would have needed to have done had not so many theist members of the C of E become so very angry at him for saying such a thing. I've also wondered just exactly how much William's public statement of disbelief had to do with his ceasing to be head of the Church of England in 2002.

One of the atheists on the show, I think it may have been Silverman, said that "skeptic," "freethinker" and other terms mean nothing more or less than "atheist," and that atheists who call themselves skeptics or freethinkers instead of atheists are "lying." I almost agree with that. I would say that they're atheists who are still partway in the closet. Very interestingly, Dawkins said that the term "atheist" has acquired so many negative connotations that it may be necessary to come up with another term for us. If he has the faintest clue that he is directly responsible for a large part of those negative connotations, he gave no sign of it on the CNN show. I don't think that we need to replace the term "atheist." I think that a lot of the current stigma attaching to the label will go away if we can get to a state of affairs where no one will find it odd that a person is an atheist, and thinks that almost everything said about religion and atheism by Dawkins, or Sam Harris or PZ Myers, is idiotic -- including, for example, this recent statement by Dawkins that the term "atheist" might have to be replaced. Unfortunately, Richard the Great, if not in fact the father of atheism, is currently still its King.

Definitely the most heart-wrenching parts of the CNN show were from the interview with the parents of the student in the South: while he runs an Ask an Atheist program at the local university, his parents remain fundamentalists who are convinced that their son is going to Hell. It's not a matter of debate, they say: Scripture says that anyone who rejects Christ is going to Hell. I wonder if these people eat pork, or shellfish, or beef cooked with dairy products. It's not a matter of debate that Scripture says those things and a whole long list of other harmless things are abominations.

Jerry Dewitt lives in Louisiana and used to be an evangelical pastor; now he leads atheist church services. As he says, his church now is just like his church was then except that he leaves out Jesus. At one point in his sermon he actually said, "Can I get a 'Darwin'?!" Res ipse loquitur. Dewitt strikes me as a bit of a -- a smooth-talking, self-serving snake-oil salesman, very much indeed like an evangelical pastor.

Silverman: billboards crudely, unkindly mocking religion, and campaigns to take the 10 Commandments off of courthouse walls. He heads the largest atheist organization in the US, and this is what they accomplish. No competing with churches, synagogues and mosques in terms of relief for the poor, or for that matter with more progressive religious institutions in fighting for social justice. No, nothing like that can be addressed as long as "IN GOD WE TRUST" is still on our money. What a bunch of worse-than-useless assholes. Determined to sink to the level of the worst of the theists, cause -- "Hey, they started it!"

As I said, I don't remember the name of the atheist Harvard Divinity School student featured on the show. But I do remember shots of her sitting next to Greg Epstein, Harvard's Humanist Chaplain. And the student has recently been appointed to some sort of Assistant Chaplain office.

And then there's the anonymous clergyman in the atheist closet.

A whole bunch of atheists on this show who still want to be clergy people of some kind or other. If someone had just come from Mars and watched this show, he or she might get the impression that "atheist" is a kind of preacher. I really don't think that that's representative of most atheists. I don't think most of us miss church or temple so much that we want to form some weird atheist version of it. Although I do applaud Epstein's expressed sentiment of unity and acceptance for Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Christians, atheists and etc, his championing of tolerance for people of all beliefs or lack of beliefs. I just don't see the need for atheists to retain so very many of the trappings of religion.

The Harvard Divinity School student may end up actually knowing a lot about religion, studying it full-time as she is. And knowledge is a good thing. Knowledge is what separates the marvelous, awe-inspiring biologist Richard Dawkins

from the zany, out-of-touch crackpot and horrible islamophobic bigot Richard Dawkins.

As for the clergyman who's secretly an atheist, and all the other people who are secretly atheists, I see no need to pretty it up or tone it down: I've got no sympathy for you. Not for closet atheists in the US, whining about your anguish and isolation while you perpetuate the institutions and customs which you claim are oppressing you. In plain fact, you are oppressing those of us who are out. And you want me to feel sorry for you? In some other countries being an atheist can actually be dangerous, but in the US, if you actually want to do something for atheists, you need to come out. And that includes calling yourself an atheist and not some synonym like a skeptic or a freethinker.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Science And Western Philosophy

In what follows, as in my blog generally, the term "philosophy" refers to Western philosophy. This is not because I have anything against philosophy from China or India or the indigenous cultures of the Western Hemisphere or from anywhere else on the planet; on the contrary, it's merely because I know so little about non-Western philosophy.

Every now and then someone who knows a bit about physics or biology or geology and remarkably little about a lot of other things will answer the question "What is philosophy?" by saying that philosophy was what very weakly and incompletely plugged a few gaps in things before Francis Bacon formulated the scientific method and the Scientific Revolution got underway, and add with a condescending smirk that of course this answer doesn't sit well with philosophers. And of course he or she (usually he) is right, that answer does not sit well with philosophers. Or with anybody who actually knows what philosophy is, or knows that the scientific method actually was used now and then -- by philosophers -- for thousands of years before Francis Bacon formulated it.

Western philosophy is the pre-Socratics, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and their pals, and Russell, Wittgenstein, Sartre, Rorty, Sloterdijk and their pals, and all the people in between who studied Plato and Aristotle and the people in between up until their own time, however you want to describe them, and whatever their attitude toward their illustrious predecessors was.

Within Western philosophy, up until and including Galileo and Francis Bacon, the terms "philosopher" and "scientist" mean pretty much the same thing, and since then, by and large, with a few exceptions, philosophers have tended to know a shitload more about science than scientists have known about philosophy. People generally these days have a healthy appreciation of and respect for science, and philosophers are very rarely an exception to this rule. It's a shame that some prominent scientists don't know jack about philosophy, or history, or art or literature or music or psychology, and yet publicly hold forth on their special area of ignorance as if they had a clue. That's really a shame.

I am notorious for my unwillingness to describe philosophy any more exactly than by saying that it's been what has been written by those people known as philosophers: the pre-Socratics, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Zeno, Boethius, Roger Bacon, William of Occam, Machiavelli, Copernicus, Francis Bacon, Pascal, Hobbes, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Fichte, Marx, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Russell, Sarte -- you know, all those guys plus the handful of gals which they, unfortunately very misogynistic, very many of them, have let into their club. What it is is what those people have done, however you choose to describe it. I don't define it any more exactly than that because I happen to think that that is exactly what it is. If you have something intelligent to say about Plato and Hume, because you've actually read and understood them, there's a good chance you could reasonably be called a philosopher. If you can't, because you haven't, then chances are you can't be. Just as I think that a religion is that group of people who identify as belonging to that religion, and not a set of beliefs, so I think that philosophy is the above-described group of people, and not something they all have in common which can be abstractly described in several dozen words or less. Philosophers, including the famous ones, have been brilliant and stupid, gregarious and misanthropic, nationalistic and enemies of cultural boundaries, polyglots and bigoted haters of all but one language (although more usually polyglots), world travelers and agoraphobes, sometimes not misogynistic at all, sometimes women, and so on and so forth. As we all know, "philosopher" means "lover of wisdom," but it's not as if there's anything close to a consensus among philosophers about what actually is and isn't wise, or who's wise and who's a fool.

I suppose I actually can think of one characteristic which philosophers generally share, just one: we like to read the works of other philosophers, even the ones we disagree with intensely. We read the latter so as more soundly to refute them and overturn the influence of their folly. It's not as if we're doing it for the money.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Fun Facts About This Blog

1) I published my first post about Michael Paulkovich on the 29th of September, 2014, and my first post about Justin Bieber on the 19th of March, 2015. In the first 48 hours after they were published, the post on Michael Paulkovich received more than 100 times as many pageviews as the post on Justin Bieber.

2) On the 28th of March, 2011, I made an experiment to see if I could get more traffic on the blog by pandering to mass tastes than by doing what I usually do, with a post entitled Cute Baby Animal Pictures! whose texts begins: "In this post I'm going to pander to mass tastes." and after that consists mostly of baby-talk, like: "Widgiewidgiewidgiewidgie! Who's a pwecious liddle fing? Who's my liddle pwecious?" interspersed among 6 photos of baby animals, 4 of which have disappeared. The photos were linked from the web rather than uploaded by me.

"Cute Baby Animal Pictures!" has received about 40 times as many pageviews as the average Wrong Monkey post, second all-time on this blog only to my aforementioned first post on Michael Paulkovich. It continues to be one of The Wrong Monkey's most popular posts week-in and week-out, despite the missing photos. But it was the only such attempt I have made to pander to mass tastes. This blog's lowered potential commercial success has been literature's gain -- or it has been literature's loss if you prefer to look at it that way. I'm just glad you're reading my blog, I'm not going to try to tell you what to think of it.

3) One of The Wrong Monkey's all-time most popular posts has been the ironically-entitled Why I Stopped Reading The Watch Snob, and I have no idea why so many people have viewed it. Nobody has commented on it, so I've gotten no clues that way about what's aroused people's interest. I haven't been able to find it linked anywhere. I repeat, this post is ironically-titled. I haven't stopped reading The Watch Snob, I think it's a good column, I actually learn things by reading it. Also, it's witty. Also, as I've mentioned on that post, The Watch Snob and The Wrong Monkey sound like a pair of super-villains teamed up to thwart Batman & Robin.

But I don't know why people are reading that post. For all I know, the Watch Snob's online presence might be popular beyond my wildest imagination, and people find my post just by mistake. For all I know, people who dislike the Watch Snob surf to my post thinking I'm a kindred spirit. Sorry about that, if that's the case.

4) I'd very much like it if each and every one of you would talk me up for the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature. That's a stone-cold fact: I'd appreciate it very much indeed! Especially if you happen to know -- or be -- extremely-influential people in the worlds of publishing and literature. I want that Prize, I want it bad. That's a fact. You know how Roger Daltrey sings on "Magic Bus," "I waaaant it, I waaaant it, I waaaant it[...]" That's how I feel, it's how I am all the time. Fame? I waaaant it. Fortune? I waaaaant it. That Prize? I waaaaant it. A date with Reese Witherspoon, if she's single? I waaaaant it. A platinum Daytona with an ice-blue dial? Why yes, thank you, in fact I'll take two of those! Yeah. Yeah! I want a whole bunch of all of that! Desire makes me strong and improves my posture.

5) In "Him With His Foot In His Mouth" by Saul Bellow, the title character and narrator, who realizes that on many occasions in his life he has been more candid than was either prudent or kind, says to one character whom he hopes will give his university a grant, who at a banquet has been telling him for hours on end about all of the money she has given to artists and other deserving people, when she mentions that she plans to write her memoirs, asks her: "Do you plan to use a typewriter or an adding machine?" and says to a family member attempting to involve him in a court case which he regards as nothing better than rank extortion, and who says to him, the narrator, the artsy, literate one in the rough-and-tumble family: "You're the one with the words" -- Ah say Ah say this one wit his foot in his mout, this artsy one, he replies: "And you're the whore with nine cunts!" But it's a fact that Bellow wrote this high-minded piece of frankness after he'd published several huge bestsellers AND won that great big Nobel Prize -- the very same one. That's a fact. So if his ghost or his fans want to look down their noses at me for wanting a whole bunch of stuff they can, pardon my French but they can all go sit on it!!! That's a fact, that's exactly what they can do! ("Him With His Foot In His Mouth" is a great story, the title story of a great volume of stories. I don't know what to do with the fact that such a beautiful writer let himself be politically seduced by the neocon Mephistofeles.)

On Tuesday, March 24, At 9PM Eastern Time, CNN Will Air A Show About Atheists

In some circles I travel in, the title of this blog post contains no new information. The people in these circles are all atheists, and they have all known about this upcoming special report on atheism for some time already, and they all are besides themselves waiting for Tuesday evening to hurry up and arrive and they can see the show and love it or hate it, as the case may be. Love it for acknowledging that atheists exist and aren't monsters, hate it for inadequately representing the particular kind of atheist they are, or what have you.

If they show atheists who, like me, deplore the actions of the New Atheists/movement atheists, the movement atheists will be furious -- but whatever, they're always furious. It's tiresome.

If they devote some time to me and my blog, and if as a result I become rich and famous, well, that'll be really neat. (Wouldn't hurt a bit with Nobel Prize campaign either.) I'm not holding my breath about this, because snippets of interviews with Dawkins and others done for the show have already been circulating for a while, and they haven't interviewed me. If they want to interview me: every reader's comment on this blog is moderated before being published. If CNN wants to contact me they can leave a comment with their contact info, nobody else will see the contact info. (If they want to be absolutely super-careful they can write "PERSONAL" at the top of the message, but that really would be overkill.)

I don't think they're going to mention me.

It's clear that they're going to look at some New Atheists/movement atheists. The question uppermost in my mind is if and to what extent they will cover atheists who, like my own wonderful self, are at odds with the New Atheists and don't want them to be thought of as representing us. New Atheists seem often to think of themselves as synonymous with atheism in general. It really would be too bad if this misconception were to spread beyond the New Atheists.

CNN Special Report: Atheists

What I Like (Art) And Dislike (Theology) About Religions (Plural)

Generally speaking, I dislike the religions least with which I am least familiar. I'm not saying there are no differences between religions, because there certainly are, but the more I learn about a religion, the more depressingly obvious its similarities with other religions become. The religion I disrespect the least at the moment is Sikhism. I know almost nothing about it. Almost everything I do know about it comes from one TV show hosted by Anthony Bourdain and another one hosted by Michael Palin, in which they take part in a festival held at Sikhism's Golden Palace. Looked pretty cool on TV.

I can often enjoy religious art if there isn't anybody in my face pushing theological nonsense on me. (And for the bazillionth time, you Buddhists: Buddhism is a religion, your nonsense is religious, and please keep it outta my face! Thank you, namaste!) I love Byzantine mosaics. If you're ever in Venice, you should step inside St Mark's, and if you're ever in Ravenna you should step inside St Vitale's, and look at the mosaics. Probably you'll love the mosaics, cause probably you're not dead inside. I guarantee that going to those churches and looking at the mosaics will not be a waste of your time, because probably you'll love the mosaics, which are made of glass, not stone, and are lit from sunlight shining through them. If you don't like either the 12th-century mosaics in St Mark's or the 6th-century mosaics in St Vitale's, if you really are that dead inside, then you'll know that you don't like any mosaics anywhere and never will, and you'll never have to waste one more moment of your life looking at or thinking about mosaics.

You're welcome. It's a pleasure and an honor for me to educate the public like this. And it will be even more of an honor and privilege, and I will be able to do it even more effectively, if you can imagine such a thing -- I know right?! -- when I win the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature, so, c'mon now, talk me up! Let's do this! Thank you.

I am somewhat familiar with ancient Greek and Roman literature, which constantly makes reference to the Graeco-Roman pagan religion, but I don't know if I can honestly say that I'm familiar with that religion. Ancient Greek and Latin are inaccurately referred to as dead languages, because many people still read and even write them. They're not dead, and they're not going to die soon. Besides those fluent in those languages, millions of people, maybe hundreds of millions, are familiar enough with stories from Classical Greek and Latin that they could name half a dozen Graeco-Roman deities off the top of their heads. Hollywood keeps making blockbuster movies based on those ancient stories. You know why? Because they're great stories, that's why!

Still, I think it's fair to say that Graeco-Roman pagan religion is dead. We still have stories from that religion all around us. What we do not have is active adherents of that religion telling us in all seriousness that we must practice that religion for our own good. I don't know how seriously that religion was taken by most Greeks and Romans before Christianity killed it. Certainly, some people took it all very seriously and literally. But I suspect that even in the ancient Graeco-Roman world, many people didn't take it seriously, and that as time went by it was taken less and less seriously, and that this made it much easier to enjoy. Yes, animals were sacrificed to numerous Graeco-Roman deities, including many deceased and living Roman Emperors, right up until the time when the Christians forbad it, and tore down the temples where the sacrifices were many and the deities praised. But how many of the people attending these pagan festivities took it all literally, and for how many of them was it primarily a good time and a chance to meet people?

We can say at the very least that the pagans allowed people to say that they thought there was nothing at all supernatural going on and that nothing in religion could be taken literally by any serious person. People said and wrote such things and weren't punished for it. When the Christians took over people were killed for casting doubt on Christian teachings, doubts which often were to do with very minor differences in doctrine and didn't come anywhere close to open atheism -- and they continued to be killed for such dissent until the early 19th century. This killing for religious dissent was one of the things Napoleon wanted to erase from Europe, and actually did erase. Napoleon wasn't anything like the thoroughly, shallowly egotistical monster which traditional monarchist propaganda somehow still very often succeeds in portraying him to have been.

Before Christianity took over, there surely were a few pagan zealots who could be as tiresome as the zealots of any other religion. And in long-remote times (and occasionally not as remote as the Greeks and Romans themselves liked to believe, see Frazer's Golden Bough),

say, earlier than 500 BC in Rome and 700 BC in Greece, the zealous believers and priests had wielded gruesome power and it was all very, very serious indeed. But by 400 BC some Greek philosophers were openly doubting the existence of any and all supernatural things, and by AD 0 Greeks and Romans were joking about such things, and if anybody was upset enough to want to kill such mockers, they certainly didn't have the power to do so. Mocking Rome's political authority was a different matter altogether, of course, but religion, all religion, religion per se and any and all belief in the supernatural, could be openly doubted without Rome feeling that it besmirched her political authority. Supposedly the Emperor Vespasian joked as he was dying in AD 79, "“Vae, puto deus fio” ("Uh-oh, I think I'm becoming a god.") The point is not whether or not Vespasian actually said something like that, and also not whether any Popes ever said similarly blasphemous things -- I suspect that a few of them have -- but that an anecdote indicating that an Emperor who was worshiped as a deity had thought that religion was nonsense became public in the ancient Graeco-Roman world without anyone at all appearing to have gone all to pieces upon hearing it, whereas a similar anecdote about an irreligious Pope would have caused quite an uproar indeed.

To me, this seems to indicate that the ancient Romans took religion much less seriously, and to me, that's close to saying that very many of them didn't believe in religion or the supernatural at all. Of course, here as always and everywhere, we can only guess what others truly believe. We can only infer from their actions and statements as to their beliefs.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The 1st Edition Of The Encyclopaedia Britannica, Published In 3 Volumes From 1768 to 1771

There is no article in the 1st edition whose title begins with "OTTOMAN." Nor with "OSMAN." There is no article entitled "AMERICA." I had expected detailed descriptions of things like the Ottoman Empire and the American colonies from the perspective of well educated mid-18th-century Englishmen, and perhaps Englishwomen too. Like the Ottoman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire still existed in 1771. Not only is there no information on the Holy Roman Empire, apart from a couple dozen words under "GERMANY" -- "a large empire in Europe" -- there is actually no info about the ancient Roman Empire either.

This encyclopaedia, published in Edinburgh by Colin Macfarquhar, Andrew Bell and William Smellie, is exceedingly short on information to do with proper nouns: histories of countries, biographies of individual people and so forth. One great exception is to be found in the article "MAHOMETANS" (which means "MUSLIMS"), which is 17 pages long, more than half of which concerns the biography of Muhammed.

But there is no article named "CHARLES," neither one to do with any English king nor with Charlemagne. Published early in the reign of the 3rd English King named George, it contains no article on any monarch named George.

And most of the articles which are there about countries or people are somewhat infuriating because they're so brief as to be just about completely useless. Look up such and such a city, and this encyclopaedia informs you that it's a city in such and such a country. Would you be looking up that city in an encyclopaedia if you didn't already know that? This encyclopaedia often also includes a place's lattitude and longitude, whoop-dee-friggity-frick.

On the other hand, there are many articles which are very long. "ANATOMY" and "CHEMISTRY" receive over 100 pages each. There's a very long article on navigation. There's a decent-sized article entitled "CANIS" on dogs, a longer one called "EQUIS" on horses, and a still longer one entitled "FARRIERY" on the treatment of diseases of horses. Farriery covers 40 pages.

That makes sense when you think about the importance of horses in a world which still contained no trains or steamships. "NAVIGATION" is a very long article. While the absence of details on persons and states is frustrating, the instructional material on "the useful arts and sciences" is vast. One has the impression that the authors wanted their readers, after having read a longer article such as "SURGERY" or "SHORT-HAND WRITING," to be ready to practice what they had just read about.

The several maps of the continents go a certain way toward making up for the deficiencies in the articles about places complained about above. And the article "GEOGRAPHY," in which those maps are to be found, reminds you again about the lack of things like railroads, which take you to a certain place when you buy a ticket: the article is designed for someone who might want to go to, say, from Edinburgh to Morocco, and is going to have to navigate his way there himself. I suppose, considering things lacking in 1771 which travelers sometimes take for granted today, the latitude and longitude given in every extremely-brief article about a place, make a lot of sense after all. You packed your encyclopaedia into your wagon along with your compass and -- I don't even know what they're called: your other instruments of navigation -- and you set off, master of your own destiny, prepared to heal your horses if they got sick and saw off your own leg if it became gangrous, set off to see the world. This 1st edition of the Britannica, as I gradually become accustomed to it, infuriates me less, and in fact does what I wanted it to do: helps me more fully imagine Europe in 1771.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

I (Intentionally) Listened To Justin Bieber For The 1st time Today, And He Sounds A Lot Better Than --

-- Steppenwolf, Peter, Paul & Mary, Miley Cyrus, Madonna, Molly Hatchett, Foghat, Free and Bad Company, Robert Plant, Kylie Minogue, BJ Thomas, John (Cougar) Mellencamp, Roberta Flack, Elvis Presley, Pat Boone, Bing Crosby, Foreigner, Olivia Newton-John, Wild Cherry, Grand Funk Railroad, One Direction, Quiet Riot, Chubby Checker, Duran Duran, The Archies, The Monkees, Paula Abdul, the 5th Dimension, Ace of Base, Kenny Rogers, Whitney Houston, Poison, Tommy Edwards, Johnny Mathis, Alice Cooper, Tony Orlando & Dawn, Nickleback, Irene Cara, Survivor, Bryan Adams, Jewel, Debby Boone and a lot of other recording artists who have had huge hits with records that sound really, really bad. Not merely mediocre, but brutally offensive to the human ear. Sonic crimes. Noise pollution. Sickening.

Let me make it clear what I'm saying: "Baby" and some other records by the Biebster, which I intentionally listened to for the first time today (I'd already heard snippets of "Baby" as background music somewhere on the tube, without knowing who the artist was), sound MUCH better than THE BEST of the crappy records made by ANYBODY I just listed off. And that list was just off the top of my head.

If I had included all the recording artists whose WORST huge hit records sound much worse than "Baby" (which is really catchy and nice), I would have had to list the Beatles ("Hey Jude" plus a lot more crap from McCarthy, but "Hey Jude" is just unbelievably awful), the Rolling Stones ("Angie"), the Pretenders ("Don't Get Me Wrong"), Paul McCartney & Wings (At least half of their hit singles. At least half. Paul, John carried you), Lionel Richie ("Hello," "Endless Love" and others both with the Commodores and solo), Michael Jackson (Remember when people were claiming that Michael was making Quincy Jones sound great, and not the other way around?) and a lot of others who sound good part of the time.

So if you're compiling a list of the millions or billions of Bieber h8ers, please make sure my name's not on there. His stuff reminds of what we used to call "bubblegum" back in the 1970's. I should say: it reminds me of some of the better bubblegum. A lot of it was crap, but on the other hand, "Go All The Way" by the Raspberries still sounds good to me 40 years later.

Also, understand, this is just about the music, and not about whether I think they're nice people (Like Peter, Paul & Mary, who've raised bazillions of dollars for good causes in endless benefit concerts), or if they've made videos which are good with the sound off (like Madonna and Miley Cyrus and Kylie Minogue). After finally listening to Bieber's music, finally trying to find out for myself what all the fuss is about amongst all those people who think he's so awful, I have to conclude that the fuss has never been about the music, because his music isn't all that bad at all, and a lot of the biggest hit records have always been just excruciatingly awful.

So anyway. I hope the young man gets his shit together and has a long and productive career. And all you h8ers: l8er!

PS: Okay: "No More Mr Nice Guy" by Alice Cooper is a really good record. You know how good it is? So good that for a lot of years I assumed that it was a record by The Who, and when I found out it was by Alice Cooper I was amazed, and I still am. That good. Take away that one single and Alice belongs on that list 100%. But "No More Mr Nice Guy" kicks ass.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Editions Of The Greek New Testament And Other Ancient Texts

If I counted correctly, the editors of the 27th edition of this version of the Greek New Testament, known as the 27th edition of the Nestle-Aland,

consulted 586 Greek New Testament manuscripts, of which at least 291 were made before AD 800, and at least 35 before 300. It's "at least" because several of those manuscripts are dated 8th or 9th century, and several are dated around 300, or 3rd or 4th century. There are thousands of other Greek New Testaments available to scholars, but these editors -- Erwin Nestle, Barbara and Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo Martini and Bruce Metzger -- were satisfied with these 586. However, in addition to the Greek manuscripts, they also looked at 62 Latin New Testament manuscripts, at least 44 of those older than AD 800. The current location and catalog number of each of those 586 Greek and 62 Latin manuscripts is given, so that you can look them up or find photos of them, and look at exactly what the editors were looking at when they prepared this edition. They also consulted editions (that is, printed versions) of the New Testament in Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Georgian, Gothic, Ethiopian and Old Church Slavonic.

And in the lists of these sources they have assigned a symbol to each one -- for example, p40, 2298 and d -- and in the so-called "critical apparatus" (I love that term), which is the strange stuff at the bottom of each page below the main text, they indicate which part of their text is supported by p40, or 2298, and so on -- and also indicate which manuscripts contain some other version of the text which they consider significant. (p40 comes from a fairly standardized list of New Testament papyri, from p1 into the p120's and still counting. I assume that 2298 is from some list of other New Testament manuscripts running into I don't know how many thousands. If I knew where that entire list was I'd tell you. I bet Bart Ehrman knows.)

And the editors of series like Oxford Classical Texts

or the Bibliotheca Scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana (that's Latin for Teubner's Library of Greek and Roman Works)

do the same in each volume: provide a list of all the manuscripts and other sources they have consulted in preparing their texts, with a symbol for each one (Usually each symbol is a capitol letter because usually less than 26 manuscripts are used for a given text. But in cases of authors like Vergil or Terrence, editors might run out of capital letters, and also use small letters, and/or Greek letters, and/or numbers or abbreviated words or what have you.), and then at the bottom of each page they indicate which sources have the same text as the one they've chosen, and indicate other versions, which they consider significant, from other sources. In addition to these major variations, the Nestle-Aland provides dozens of pages' worth of minor variations at the end of the volume. In the Oxford Classical Texts and the Teubneriana and other editions of ancient works, such as this edition of the New Testament, the editors typically describe the manuscripts they've used, and in a case like this where there are more existing manuscripts besides the ones used, they'll give their reasons for using these ones and not those, and so forth.

They show their work when editing Sallust or the Bible, is what I'm getting at. It's usually not the same guys editing the Classics and the Bible, but the techniques are similar. Classics or the Bible, it's known as scholarly editing. And so while you or I might reasonably disagree with what Bruce Metzger said about how it's certain that Jesus existed, if we're going to criticize what he said about Biblical manuscripts and how the text of the Bible changed over the centuries, we better come correct, cause he was all up in it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Some Manuscripts Of The Vulgate

There's the Codex Amiatinus,

which contains the entire Vulgate version of the Old and New Testaments, and is generally considered the Mac Daddy of all manuscripts of the complete Vulgate. It was made in Northumbria in the 8th century. As you might have guessed from the photo, however, complete Bibles in olden days could be rather bulky. They didn't slip easily into one's pocket. Some devout Bible readers liked to carry around volumes containing only a few books of the Bible, or maybe just one, as in the case of Psalters, volumes containing the Psalms. Here's a page from the 14th-century Lutrell Psalter:

The Stockholm Codex Aureus:

contains the 4 Gospels and was made in the 8th century in Southumbria.

And finally, here's a page from the St Albans Psalter,

so named because it was made either at or for St Albans Abbey in the 12th century.

So, why did I make this blog post? To share some pretty pictures, for one thing. And also to take a break from some people trying to tell me that the Bible wasn't written until about AD 800, and that Constantine coined the name Jesus in AD 450, and stuff like that. The kind of people I sometimes think about converting to Orthodox Christianity just to spite. The 4th edition of the Weber-Greyson edition of the Vulgate,

not the latest edition, cites over 100 manuscripts, that is: the text of that edition was compiled on the basis of those manuscripts, over 80 of which were made before 800. Plus over a dozen printed editions.

Over and over, I hear wildly ahistorical claims. Over and over I ask, Where the rude euphemism did you get that?! I rarely get an answer.

Monday, March 16, 2015


If you've been reading my blog and so far been unimpressed by my praise of learning languages besides one's native language, perhaps you will become intrigued when I tell you that learning a language is a lot like learning to play a musical instrument. There are a few lucky geniuses who can master many musical instruments or many languages with ease. For most people, however, certainly including me, studying music and studying languages involves a lot of excruciatingly hard work, especially at first. But if you persist long enough in studying music or a language, eventually you will achieve some measure of mastery, and achieving even a little of that is wonderful and thrilling in a way which is very difficult or impossible to explain to someone who hasn't. So if you can play an instrument, or several instruments, believe me: the rewards of studying a languages, or languages, are comparable.

The term "barbarian" was coined by some ancient Greek who didn't speak any languages other than Greek, wasn't interested in learning any more languages, and didn't listen very carefully to anyone speaking anything other than Greek, because the original definition of a barbarian was someone who didn't speak Greek, but did speak some other language which sounded like "buh-buh-buh," and there is no language that's all b's. When Rome conquered regions from present-day Greece to Egypt to Syria in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, some of which had spoken Greek for over 1000 years and others of which had been conquered by Alexander, the Latin language didn't spread into the eastern part of Rome's dominions, as Latin had become dominant in all of the western regions; the Greeks who were the majority population in some of those areas and the ruling class in the rest kept right on speaking and writing in Greek, and a great number of Romans acquired Greek as a 2nd language. Politically, Rome had conquered Greece, but culturally, Greece conquered Rome.

Paradoxically, the Greeks acquired the disadvantage of monolingualism from this cultural dominance. From the 17th to the early 20th century, French culture dominated Europe, resulting in a similar paradoxical disadvantage for French people: many more English and American people spoke both English and French, many more Germans spoke both German and French, many more Russians spoke both Russian and French, etc, than the number of Frenchmen and -women who spoke French and anything else. And today, the US is the political and cultural leader of the world, resulting in the paradoxical disadvantage for the US and other English-speaking lands of a paucity of people who speak anything other than English, compared to the numbers of, for example, French people who speak both French and English, or the number of Mexicans who speak both Spanish and English, if not an indigenous language and Spanish and English. A century ago it was still considered quite wise for Americans traveling to most other parts of the world to learn at least a little French before they traveled, and ideally much more than a little. Today, not so much.

This paradoxical benefit of being conquered culturally is very real. But as I mentioned above, I don't know any way of telling you how great that benefit is if you don't learn other languages and see for yourself. In the meantime all I can think of to do is to urge you to believe me when I tell you that the benefit is immense.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Notre Dame Men's Basketball Has Never Won A Postseason Tournament [PS: NOT UNTIL THEY WON THE 2015 ACC TOURNAMENT, THAT IS!!! GO IRISH!!! BARKBARKBARKBARKBARK!!!!!]

They've been in 33 NCAA's, gone to the final four once. They've been in 11 NIT's, gone to 4 NIT final games, lost all 4. They were an independent, non-conference team until 1995, which meant no postseason conference tourneys. Since then they've completed 18 Big East tourneys and one ACC tournament without a championship. Tonight, in their 2nd ACC tournament, they're going to play for the championship against North Carolina. ND is the #3 seed and North Carolina is #5, but they're going to play in Greensboro, less than an hour's drive from North Carolina's campus in Interstate 40, giving Carolina a pretty heavy home-court advantage.

It should be a good game.

Why aren't more people talking about how this could be Notre Dame's first ever men's basketball postseason tourney championship? Maybe Notre Dame fans (I'm one) see this more sharply than most others, because, c'mon: the Fighting Irish have 11 national championships in football, 4 in co-ed fencing, 3 in men's fencing, 3 in women's soccer, 2 in men's tennis, and 1 each in women's fencing, men's cross country, men's golf, men's soccer and women's basketball. If you're a Notre Dame team, you're kinda supposed to win a national championship at least every now and then. I'm sure it's rarely said to their faces in exactly those terms, but the men's basketball team and the baseball (one final 4) and hockey (2 final fours) teams have all got to feel that expectation at least now and then. Notre Dame's athletic department is simply not like sports at other schools.

Notre Dame even has 2 men's basketball championships from before the time that there was a post-season basketball tourney. They were the champs because they were rated #1 by the sportswriters at the end of the season.

That's not quite the same as winning a tourney, though.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Daydreaming About Extremely Expensive Watches

Lately I've been looking at pictures of expensive mechanical (that is: wind-up, no battery) watches and daydreaming about being rich enough to afford one. Just today I was looking at some of these pictures, looking at the ways some of these watches have of showing the time in more than 1 time zone at once. Looking at these pictures on my laptop.

And it occurred to me that a mechanical, no-electricity computer wouldn't be able to do very much. At all. Certainly wouldn't be able to show me pictures of watches costing more than I've ever made in a year. Gross. And my laptop, about as simple as new ones come, can show me the time in all time zones, and that's just a teeny-tiny part of a small fraction of what it can do. And then it occurred to me: the most advanced current mechanical computers: that's more or less what extremely-expensive watches are. Plus a lot of gold or platinum in many cases.

As regular readers of this blog know: I'm a pocket watch enthusiast. Not particularly interested in putting a watch on my wrist. I have an automatic (self-winding, no battery) Timex that I bought at a yard sale for 2 bucks, and I've occasionally worn that on my wrist, but never for as long as a day all day long. It's just uncomfortable to me. I don't know whether this is a neurological issue related to my autism. I also don't wear rings.

Not very long ago, all the extra features which often come with expensive watches, like multiple dials and stopwatches and whatnot, didn't interest me much. I just wanted big Arabic numerals, 12 of them on one dial and no Roman numerals or dashes or dots referring to numbers, and of course I wanted extremely accurate and precise and durable and rugged timekeeping. Basically, I wanted a Hamilton 992B,

but as far as I know, no 992B's have been made in the past 45 years. I started researching expensive new pocket watches, and I haven't been able to find many new high-end ones. Patek Philippe offers a couple of gold pocket watches in the $30,000 - $40,000 price range, and Bell & Ross

makes a few that sell for around $2000-$4000, and other than that, I don't know of any really good new pocket watches. The selection of good new ones, as far as I know, isn't vast. There is a vast selection of other new pocket watches, and in the case of some of those I'm not at all sure how well they're made, and in the cases of many others, I'm quite sure that they're cheap crap. It seems that there is this thing called steampunk, whose adherents often carry hideous-looking cheap wind-up watches which are meant to evoke the Victorian ("steam-powered") era. They don't evoke it for me. Generally speaking, watches which were actually made in the Victorian era look much better to me, and a lot of them are still running and keep better time than a lot of this new stuff. Anyway, because of steampunk and maybe because of other factors too, suddenly there are many new wind-up pocket watches for sale, some in the grotesque steampunk style and some which much more closely resemble regular watches. Some have a few superficial resemblances in appearance to things like the 992B, but they gain or lose more than 30 seconds a day. (That's not good. Less than 30 seconds every 6 months, when we spring forward or fall back, would be more like it.)

I must underscore that I'm not really well-informed about all of the new inexpensive ($10 to $500 dollars or so, that's not a typo, it's 10 with 1 zero) watches. I don't know whether there is inexpensive quality stuff somewhere in there amongst the dreck. One can only hope. [PS, 2017: Among other quality low-priced watches, there is the Seiko 5, widely regarded as the most watch per dollar or Euro that a person can get these days.]

Back to me daydreaming about being rich and able to afford a top-notch new gold or platinum watch.

Since there are so few high-end new pocket watches, I've been looking at high-end wristwatches. And I've actually begun to grow intrigued by all the fancy stuff which didn't appeal to me not long ago. Fancy stuff referred to as "complications" by the makers of extremely-expensive watches. Lately, to my own surprise, the complications and offbeat designs have begun to intrigue me. Accuracy, precision and reliability continue to be what I want most, but I'm changing to an attitude where I might actually like some complications too.

And more recently than that it occurred to me that just because a big heavy gold or platinum wristwatch has a band, it doesn't mean that I would have to wear it on my wrist instead of carrying it in my pocket. Of course I could carry a big heavy hunk of precious metal and precision horology in my pocket if I felt like it, even if it came with a big glorious heavy precious-metal band usually used to wear it on one's wrist.

If I could afford such a thing, that is. So let's keep talking me up for that Nobel Prize, everyone, shall we? Thank you! You know, once I'm a Nobel Prize winner, and able to actually buy a gold Omega watch (or platinum? Does Omega make platinum watches? I'm having trouble finding them if they do), I might not have to buy one. Because of the Tom Petty Ab.So.Lute.Ly Backwards Law of Microeconomics, winning a Nobel Prize might actually make me rich and famous enough that Omega would give me a new gold or platinum watch.

And wouldn't that be cool beans with awesome sauce.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Let's Get Serious And Get Me the 2015 Nobel Prize For Literature

For one thing, it would be a resounding slap in the face of the Tom Petty Law of Microeconomics, which is: It's Ab-So-Lute-Ly Backwards. This law occurred to Tom in the 1980's after he and the Heartbreakers had become superstars, and Nike, having noticed that several of the bandmembers seemed to favor their shoes, invited them to some Nike warehouse in order to give them all the free shoes and other Nike items they wanted. The band chose so much stuff that it wasn't clear at first exactly how they were going to be physically able to haul it all away, until some bright Nike employee went and fetched some huge beautiful supple leather Nike bags which were also given to them free, and it was about then when it occurred to Tom that It Was All Backwards, because it had not been too long before that when the band had been so poor that one free pair of shoes for just one of them would have made a significant positive impact on their economic outlook, but back then nobody was giving them free stuff, cause the world doesn't just go around handing free stuff to poor people cause if it did how would they stay poor?! and now they could easily have afforded to buy all of the shoes and book and shirts and jackets and other Nike clothes they were being given, and even those magnificent huge leather bags (the bags seem to have really impressed Tom), but it was all just a fraction of the free stuff they were getting because they were rich and famous, and the rich and famous get tons of SWAG ("Stuff We All Get") because It's. All. Backwards.

Because It's All Backwards, The Nobel Prize with its seven-figure cash component is generally given to writers who are massively successful, who already have massive book deals, some even huger film deals as well, and therefore don't actually need the cash component of the Nobel.

Well, I actually do. (Of course, Microeconomic Backwardness being what it is, as soon as I win the 2015 Nobel for Literature, the publicity will lead directly to book deals and other sources of income and Stuff so that very very soon, I won't need those seven figures Because. It's All. Bass. Ackwards. I am not immune to the Bassackwardness.)

One other thing may be bothering some of you: wondering whether I actually write well enough to deserve the 2015 Nobel. It's okay, you don't have to be afraid to admit this to me if that's what you're thinking. It doesn't upset or surprise me. You probably aren't familiar with all of the schmucks who've won this thing. Go read some Eyvind Johnson, Harry Martinson, Heinrich Boell, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Frans Eemil Sillanpää, Pearl Buck, Erik Axel Karlfeldt, Sigrid Undset, Karl Adolph Gjellerup, Henrik Pontoppidan, Carl Gustaf Verner von Heidenstam, Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf and Bjørnstjerne Martinus Bjørnson, and then come back here and try to look me in the eye and tell me they all wrote better than I do. (Heads up: you won't be able to do it, because it's a dirty, dirty lie.)

Don't get me wrong: most of the Nobel laureates for literature are great writers. But clearly, greatness is not the only qualification for the prize. And even it were: c'mon. I'm pretty good.

And so to business: I don't know exactly who all of the regular readers of this blog are. It's possible that among you are enough Nobel laureates for literature and others responsible for awarding the prize that this is already a done deal, in which case: I sincerely thank you in advance.

But there is the possibility that few of those people read this blog regularly, in which case, you, my other readers, must bring it to their attention. Mention whenever and wherever you can that I'm a wonderful writer and that I should get the Nobel this year.

I realize that, even after all of the excellent points I've made in this post, some of you probably still think I'm silly, and are laughing. So -- tell people that. That's a perfectly acceptable recommendation, in my opinion: "Oh, this idiot, what he writes is just so absurd that it makes me laugh and laugh, and shake with laughter with tears pouring down both cheeks, laughter which consumes and relaxes me until I feel as if I'd had a wonderful long full-body massage." That's a positive statement, it will encourage others to read me, and among those others will be some with enough taste that they'll want to mention to still others that I deserve the Nobel, and so on and so forth. It's all good, Homestyle! Don't think that your contribution to this worthy campaign is too small! It's not! We must all pull together on this rope.

I can offer one more incentive: imagine being part of a campaign which results in a Nobel laureate whose Nobel Lecture, in its entirety, will be the following:

thnk yu verr much pleez

It will be the best-known, best-loved, most-often-cited Nobel Lecture of all time.

(Hemingway -- ha! Please. He's a joke! "He kissed her hard. She pulled away, whispered 'You b-st-rd' and held him tight again. Over her shoulder he looked at the Seine." Okay, I'm out. I can't write that badly on purpose for longer than 3 short sentences without collapsing in a heap of laughter.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Stuff Which Is Depressing Me Today

Okay, one thing has been watching people applaud Sam Harris for saying that soon computers will be able to tell us what is right and wrong. Right for whom? Wrong in what way? you might well ask immediately, and immediately you'd already be over Harris' head. But the really depressing part is that millions of people think that Harris is a genius.

Back in 1982 Donald Fagen, lead vocalist of Steely Dan, released a solo album entitled The Nightfly,

which was a big hit and still seems to be selling pretty briskly decades later, wow. One of the singles from The Nightfly was "I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World)," an hilariously sarcastic satire of visions of a beautiful future, visions which made the rounds of American popular culture in the 1950's. The lyrics lampoon predictions of, among other things,

"Just machines to make big decisions/Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision"

Well, here we are 60 years past the starry-eyed mid-50's and an entire Jesus past Fagen lampooning some of that "simpler" time's silliest ideas. It's 2015. Millions of people oohing and ahhhing at Sam Harris seriously proposing some of the very same stuff, not to mention some cover versions of "I.G.Y." by gospel groups and such who appear to be playing it straight, force me to ask myself: How many people ever got that Fagen was joking? and: Are a bunch of morons eventually going to put morality computers in place and force everyone to live by their dictates?

Besides that bone-chilling dystopian nightmare, another thing that's got me down today is that a fake news story -- or perhaps a sincere but stupid and mistaken news story -- made the rounds, saying that millions of Saudis had rejected their faith and thrown their Korans into sewers, and that some people believed it and applauded it. Believed that millions of people could have that significant of a change in mind without their having been any sign of it in yesterday's news, and then applauded millions of books being (they thought) thrown into sewers.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Damage Isolationism Does

Back in the early 70's the Detroit carmakers were grinding out junk, crap on wheels: gigantic things with soft balloons for tires which guzzled gas and couldn't take corners much more nimbly than trains. Then there was the 1973 oil crisis, and much larger numbers of Americans bought Japanese and European cars because they used much less fuel, and the word finally got around to such an extent in the US that foreign cars were better, that the Detroit carmakers were forced to compete. At some point, Ford's official motto became "Quality is Job 1." That might still be their official motto for all I know. Before 1973, quality may have been Job 14 or so. Not that GM, Chrysler or AMC were any better in this respect. They were all able to get away with this because too few American car buyers knew enough about Japanese and European cars to know what they were missing. (In 1973 the Korean auto industry was still in its very early stages.)

How long will it take for word to get around in the US amongst people either agree with the stated goals of the Green Party or actually throw their votes away by voting Green that proportional representation in other countries means that the Greens and socialists and so forth actually take part in governing, that a vote for such parties is a real vote and not merely a protest? Because of proportional representation? How close to 100% will the total of Denmark's energy which is generated by wind, solar and other green technologies have to get before Americans become quite rightly envious of this aspect of Denmark and realize what chumps we've been to put up with oil companies and their mostly-Republican minions?

Or maybe the question is: what sort of a crisis will it take for enough Americans to look around and see what other countries are doing in terms of political representation and and green energy to make a difference in the way the US runs its government and generates its energy, the way it took the 1973 oil crisis for enough Americans to take a look at cars made outside the US to change the way American cars were made? I hope that's not the question.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Big And Little Ideas

I'm an idiot. I'm not being modest, I really am. Undoubtedly, some of you are muttering to yourselves, "We KNOW you're not just being modest," but in case some of you are reading along who need more convincing, I will give you 2 very striking examples of my idiocy: in the first case, I ran out of scotch tape. This lack of tape was very inconvenient on quite a few occasions, I was annoyed by this lack of scotch tape for years, literally for years, before it suddenly occurred to me that it was within my financial means to go to a store and buy more scotch tape. Years. I'm not exaggerating. I really am that stupid. The second example: where I live there are 2 different spaces, each one lit by a single light bulb. One of these spaces was too bright when you turned on the light, the other not bright enough, and this too went on for years, it went on until today, when it occurred to me that there was a solution even simpler than the solution to the tape problem, a solution which required no money and no trip to a store. And so about a half hour ago a third light bulb went on over my head -- a very dim blub, certainly, but finally I switched those 2 light bulbs, and already the improvement in the quality of my life has been immense.

So you see, when I tell you I'm an idiot I'm not joking. And yet, there are some things I'm smarter about than average. I've scored very high on IQ tests, and the uselessness of IQ tests is demonstrated not only by their not having caught the idiocy demonstrated by my problems with things light tape and light bulbs, but also by the fact that they wouldn't have given anybody a clue about the following.

I'm good when it come to grasping certain realities having to do with macroeconomics and politics. For example, when I read in Trotsky's history of the Russian Revolution

that events in political revolutions are directed not by changes in political classes but by sudden psychological changes within political groups which had already formed before the revolution, I was very pleased, not because I read an idea which was new to me, but because I was relieved to know that someone else besides me had had that insight, and wrote it down in a book which many people have read. For example, when I first saw Zipcars, I was relieved to see that someone was realizing the idea of car-sharing which had occurred to me as a child in the 1960's, the first time I saw a large city with huge parking lots absolutely full of cars going nowhere, lots surrounded by streets clogged with cars going slow.

I'm not as smart as Trotsky. I got the thing with the psychology of classes before I read Trotsky, but I'm 53 years old and I haven't actually done much of anything. By the time Trotsky was 53 he had published many books and articles, helped overthrow the Romanovs, been the 2nd most powerful man in the Soviet Union for several years, then been toppled from power and eventually exiled by Stalin but still remained one of the world's most influential political writers. I saw the situation with cars in cities but was never able to do anything about it. Right now I'm able to see more clearly than many Americans can the benefits which proportional representation would bring to our country, but I don't seem to be able to communicate those benefits very well, or to convince very many people at all about much of anything. Or to get the attention of the publishers or literary agents who would be able to put my writing before the eyes of large numbers of people who would like it and find it useful.


Sunday, March 8, 2015

"Bible Hunters" With Dr Jeffrey Rose

I'd rather be writing about a TV series having to do with the manuscripts of Livy, but, of course, there are no such TV series. I suppose I will have to make that series myself. So spread the word about me and talk me up so that I can win that Nobel Prize and have the clout to host TV series on previously-obscure topics which deserve broader audiences, k thnx.

This series is okay, not nearly as dumb as some other TV shows covering the same ground, namely, the discovery of early (6th century and older) manuscripts of the Bible, and of manuscripts of New Testament apocrypha. The host and narrator, Dr Jeffrey Rose, is an archaeologist, and his approach is to follow in the footsteps of some of the 19th and 20th century scholars who made major discoveries of manuscripts -- on one occasion going so far to pay homage to his predecessors and re-create their experience as to ride on a camel with Bedouin guides from Cairo to St Catherine's monastery at the foot of Mt Sinai, where the famous 4th century Codex Sinaiticus was found by the scholar Constantin von Tischendorf in 1844, and where many other significant Biblical manuscripts have been found since. Besides the camel ride, Dr Rose's journey's to various Egyptian locations are mostly portrayed by shots of him riding various motorcycles. Larry Hurtado has written 2 excellent blog posts about this series, and in his post on Part 1 he asks the very good question:

Quite why the presenter was filmed motorcycling around places in Egypt, I can’t say. Couldn’t he have simply ridden in the car with the camera-guy . . . who was filming him riding a motorcycle??

I can only hope that it was, as Dr Hurtado surmises, a guy in a car, if not an entire film crew in a van, and not something dangerous like a cameraman filming from the back seat of a 2nd motorcycle, or something even more dangerous, like a cameraman riding a motorcycle solo and filming at the same time. Most likely, of course, it was a cameraman in a car or a whole crew in a van.

And who filmed Dr Rose and his Bedouin guides on their camels -- a lone cameraman on a camel? I'm picturing something much more like a van with a film crew and a well-stocked fridge, just in case Dr Rose -- or the Bedouins, for that matter -- preferred a sandwich or a TV dinner to the bread which the Bedouins cooked on hot rocks and which Rose exclaimed was delicious and "cooked to perfection!" I know that I'm old and out of touch and that technological development keeps racing along, but the images and sound on the road trips were impressive. If a lone camera did that, then I want a camera like that.

Why so many documentaries continue to cling to the practice of presenting the illusion of the intrepid host exploring the world all alone, and cut out any interaction with the camera person and/or crew, I don't know. They should stop. It's as corny as laugh tracks on sitcoms. Wake up and smell the 21st century, documentarians: we're on to you!

Other than that run-of-the-mill technical documentary stuff, "Bible Hunters" is refreshingly free of the huge wince-inducing historical and technical errors of which the typical shows on these texts from the so-called "History Channel" are jam-packed, and of which even most shows from PBS or the BBC or the Smithsonian Channel have a few. ("Bible Hunters" first appeared on the BBC a few years ago, and now it's appearing in the US on the Smithsonian Channel -- in the same form in which it appeared on the BBC, with nothing cut out or added? Good question. I have no idea.)

[PS, 6 June 2016: There is one fairly serious error repeatedly committed by Rose on this show: he often says "text" when he should be saying "manuscript." A text is a series of words, whatever form they are recorded in. For example, "Mary had a little lamb" is exactly the same text whether it is spoken aloud, written on paper or carved into stone. Dr Rose refers to people discovering texts when they discovered manuscripts. If it's a manuscript of the Gospel of Matthew, then the text is already known. A discovery of a text occurs when some previously-unknown collection of words is discovered. And the date of the text is when it was first composed, which, in the case of Biblical and apocryphal texts, has always been different than the date of the manuscript. So for example Rose makes the mistake of referring to "a six-century text" when he should have said " six-century manuscript of a second-century text," if the manuscript is a copy of something first written in the 2nd century. Other than "text' and "manuscript, I didn't notice any technical errors in the show.]

In his post on Part 2 of the series (as it appeared on the BBC), Dr Hurtado says:

I have to say that I found it strange that some really crucial (arguably more important) manuscripts finds were totally ignored.

I agree that it's arguable that Rose left some of the most important manuscripts out of the program. But the series is only a few hours long, and with a series like that, choices have to be made about which finds to include and how long to dwell upon each one. Clearly, Rose loves Egypt. "Bible Hunters" confines itself to Biblical manuscript discoveries made in Egypt (which are huge in the scheme of all such discoveries, to be fair to Rose). If you're curious about the important manuscripts which were left out by the show, by all means follow the link to Dr Hurtado's blog, he gives you a very good overview.

And of course, once again -- if you're into non-Christian ancient literature, you're left totally out in the cold by this series, just as you're left out in the cold by every other series on the great finds of Biblical manuscripts. Dr Rose's show covers Oxyrhynchus, both by commenting on Bernard Pyne Grenfell and Arthur Surridge Hunt and the huge amount of papyrus fragments they found there,

and also with footage of Rose interviewing Dr Dirk Obbink, the current head of the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus Project, and Obbink showing Rose around the still-active Oxyrhynchus dig sites -- but the show doesn't contain as much as a half-dozen words about the non-Biblical texts found at Oxyrhychus, which have turned the world of Classical Greek studies upside down, and also had a not inconsiderable impact on the world of Classical Latin, and also included priceless treasures for those interested in everyday life in Ptolomaic and Roman Egypt: personal letters, legal documents, shopping lists and so forth -- things which had been almost entirely lacking from the sources available to historians before Grenfell and Hunt thought to look through the ancient trash heaps at Oxyrhynchus. Rose shows the libraries of Egyptian monasteries, but doesn't mention any of the Classical texts in those libraries -- and most of the Classical Greek and Latin literature we have today comes from manuscripts made in Christian monasteries.

And this show says almost exactly squat about all of the Old Testament manuscripts in all of the places Rose goes. Again, that's pretty typical about TV shows about ancient manuscripts: it's pretty much all about Jeebus.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Here's An Atheist Strategy: BE A MENSCH

I for one am actually tired of people assuming I'm an asshole as soon as they learn I'm as atheist. I am an asshole, but I'm not an asshole because I'm an atheist.

And what good does it possibly do us to be dicks in the name of atheism?

What am I talking about? you may be wondering. Well for instance:

“It's now very common to hear people say, 'I'm rather offended by that.' As if that gives them certain rights. It's actually nothing more... than a whine. 'I find that offensive.' It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. 'I am offended by that.' Well, so fucking what." -- Stephen Fry

Well, I would love to sit down with Stephen Fry and talk about that or whatever else he'd like to talk about, I think he's very wonderful in very many ways. I don't think that the quote above was the most brilliant think he ever wrote or said. Not even in the top 5,000. And it disturbs me how many atheists quote that as if it were the pinnacle of Fry's brilliant career.

It irks me how many atheists brag about how unpleasant they are to Jehovah's Witnesses and other religious people who knock on their door. Some of them have begun an undeclared contest (For all I know the competition may actually have been explicitly declared in some circles, but I haven't actually seen that yet.) to see who can be the most unpleasant in such situations. Some of them can think of nothing to do vis a vis religion but verbally abuse it and waste everybody's time in court having the Ten Commandments removed from public places and/or gaining permission to add gruesome atheist billboards and would-be artworks to the public world.

Conversely, it pleases me that I am far from the only one to whom it has occurred that there may actually be something to gain for the cause of atheism and of tolerance for those with different worldviews in being known as an atheist and being nice -- like Stephen Fry is, though you wouldn't know it if you only know him from the... (I'm being nice now, the whole point of this goddam post is being nice.) ...the people who only quote that one... thing from him.