Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Church of the Brethren

I was born in 1961, and I grew up in a small, conservative town in rural Indiana. First thing in the morning in every classroom in our school, everyone would stand up and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

That is, almost everyone. At the time -- I'm an atheist now -- my family's religion, the Church of the Brethren, part of an offshot of Lutheranism known as Pietism, said that we weren't supposed to carry guns, not even if we were drafted into the military. The Bible says that Jesus told his followers to turn the other cheek. In the Church of the Brethren, we interpreted this as an instruction to be strictly pacifistic. And we weren't supposed to swear on a Bible, not even if we were witnesses in court.

And our denomination also said that we weren't supposed to sing the Star-Spangled Banner or recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Nor were we supposed to rise to our feet while others did so. So every day at school, first thing in the morning, everybody else in my classroom rose to their feet and recited the Pledge of Allegiance, while I stayed seated and said nothing. At sporting events, almost everyone sang the national anthem, but those who attended our church stayed seated and didn't sing. If we had to testify in court, we didn't swear to tell the truth, and we didn't touch the Bible. We simply promised to tell the truth.

The thing is, I don't remember anyone ever giving me a hard time about any of this. Sometimes people were curious and asked me why I did this or that differently, and we talked about. But I never got into an argument with anyone about: I expalined how we did things in our church, and that was fine with them. No one ever called me a son of a bitch over it. No one ever stood outside of our little white-painted church carrying picket signs. No one ever called us un-American. We weren't jailed for contempt of court because we behaved differently in court. In the earliest days of the US, people of our denomination sometimes got into trouble for being conscientious objectors to military service, but by the early 19th century, that got straightened out too: we had explained the reasons for our behavior to the United States, and the United States has accepted those reasons ever since, and instead of joining the military, young men from our church would work in military hospitals or do construction work in postwar areas which needed to be rebuilt.

People listened to the reasons for our behavior and accepted them. And conversely, we never accused others of being wicked or un-Christian, because they had different beliefs and did a few things differently than we did. Because when you get right down to cases, very few people are as bigoted, unreasonable or downright dense as our current President.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Some Surprising Things About Certain Watches

Let's start with the Swiss luxury watchmaker Bovet, which manufactures a variety of watches which can be converted from wristwatches with leather straps to tabletop clocks to pocket watches on chains, and back again to the wristwatches,

all in a matter of seconds, with no tools, easy as can be, just by pushing some buttons and pulling some levers. These watches by Bovet are interesting to me because I like pocket watches, and the world is not exactly swimming in new high-quality pocket watches these days. (New cheap crap pocket watches: there you got more to choose from. I think maybe because of steampunk, but I'm not sure. How much do I know about steampunk? If I weren't into pocket watches, I might still have never even heard the word "steampunk," that's how much.)

If I had one of these Bovets, maybe I would be surprised to learn that I actually occasionally preferred to use the wristwatch- or tabletop clock-configuration. But it would be a surprise if I ever owned a Bovet, because the only ones I've eve seen cost 5 or 6 figures.

I've finally broken free of The Watch Snob's disdain for watches from Panerai, and allowed myself to covet them unreservedly, although I can't afford them either. Today I came across a review of the Panerai PAM 560,

And was quite surprised to see that this beautiful thing, with a MSRP closer to 10 grand than 5, doesn't have a second hand.

Then I looked at pictures of a lot of Panerais and was surprised to see that many of them have no second hands.

Then I thought about that for a while, and had to come to the surprising conclusion -- surprising to me. It may not surprise you at all -- that many very expensive watches from some of the most top-end of top-end brands don't have second hands. For example, take another look at that Bovet higher up on the page: do you see a second hand anywhere? I don't. I see an hour hand and a minute hand, are they're both on a very tiny dial. It seems that with this model, Bovet's biggest concern about the dial was that it not interfere with looking at the movement -- what you and I might be more accustomed to referring to as "the guts." And the guts are lovely to look at, no doubt.

Something that surprises me even more about that Panerai: it's got an 8-day power reserve, but no power reserve indicator. I've seen pictures of the back of the watch, it's not there either. This is a hand-wind watch, not an automatic -- is the owner supposed to remember how many days ago he or she wound it?

That Bovet, with the tiny dial and no second hand: I'm sure it's accurate to within a few seconds a months, that's what that pretty movement is there for. But it's seems to me that you'd have to own it for a year or so, and pay very close attention, to know for sure if it really was that accurate. But many of us have to re-set our watches every 6 months to change between Standard Time and Daylight Savings Time -- clearly, some people are prepared to pay huge amounts of money for watches, huge in part because they are extremely high-accuracy and high-precision instruments, and are content not to be able to check that accuracy.

Well, glass houses and stones: there's no need to have any kind of watch at all these days.

Now we come to a watch which I could actually afford, if I saved up for a while: the Swatch Sistem51 Irony:

Swatch is the Swiss watch brand known for making inexpensive and disposable quartz watches with plastic cases. Disposable, because the plastic cases are sealed shut so they can't be opened up for repairs.

A few years ago, Swatch introduced the Sistem51, a mechanical watch. I first heard about the Sistem51 a couple of days ago. 51 is the number of parts in the watch, a very low number of parts. Some very expensive watches (see for example Bovet, above) have as many parts as possible, are complicated for the sake of being complicated. Indeed, the French word "Complication" is part of the name of some of the most expensive watches offered by various companies. But you can go the other way, too, and see how much a watch can do with how few parts. The Seiko 5, for example, has become a legend because of its simple, and tremendously reliable, design. I've been trying to find out exactly how many parts a Seiko 5 has. I'm sure various models of the 5 have different numbers of parts. I'm pretty sure none has as few as 51.

The first Swatch51's came with plastic cases which were sealed shut: not made to be repaired, just like other products from Swatch. But then I learned to my surprise about the Sistem51 Irony, released just a couple of years ago: these are watches with metal cases which open up for maintenance. Swatch is making concessions to watch fanciers who like permanence.

At first I thought they were called Irony because it was ironic that Swatch was going in this direction. But having thought about it some more, I'm now almost entirely sure that it's because, instead of the usual Swatch plastic cases, the Ironies have metal cases. Steel cases. Steel with iron in it. Huh? Get it? Iron. The cases are iron-y. Iron-y -- huh?! Huh?! Get it?

I'm mostly interested in the Sistem51 Irony at this point because some people who seem to know watches well seem tremendously excited about it. It's like smoke and fire: their excitement is there, like smoke, which means that maybe someday I, too, will be excited about it -- like catching fire. There is a lot of excitement about the fact that the Sistem51 is entirely assembled by robots. I was surprised to learn that it is (or was? I don't know) the very first watch with no hand-assembly. Experts seem to regard the Sistem512 design as revolutionary. They think it could lead to huge, huge steps forward in watch design. (Has it already? I don't know.)

So, okay, I'll keep an eye on it.

I've read two different head-to-head reviews comparing the Swatch Sistem51 Irony to the Seiko 5. They're both about the same price. The Irony is slightly more expensive. Both reviews concluded that the Seiko 5, generally regarded as the best deal in the world of watches, is slightly better than the Irony -- but only slightly. They both suggested that if a person was really into watches and wanted to have more than one, but was poor, they might want both the Seiko 5 and the Irony.

I'm not going to get an Irony right away. Unless someone gives one to me.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Dream Log: Ancestral Home

I dreamed that my brother and I were spending some time together at our ancestral home. The house kept changing size and shape, and in any of its permutations didn't closely resemble any place my brother and I ever actually lived, and in any case, our family has moved so often that no one place could be called our ancestral home.

At the beginning of the dream it was night, and my brother and I were walking through alleys filled with snow turning into slush, toward the family home, a small house painted white. The house's back door was on the alley. In the alley was a small mobile-home trailer. The trailer was empty of people, its door was open, it had several steps leading up from ground level, and on every step was a cigarette butt. Seeing the cigarette butts made me angry: nobody in our family smoked (not in the dream, anyway), and the butts made me think that my mother had once again been kind to someone who'd abused her kindness.

When my brother and I went into the house it was suddenly, much larger, with some individual rooms bigger than the small house we had approached from the alley. I started singing the Beatles' song "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," singing the lyrics and scatting between the sung lines to sound like the piano or Eric Clapton's guitar on the record. I thought I sounded pretty good, and became absorbed in this music-making.

Then I noticed that there was a third person in the house, a young woman wearing torn blue jeans and a denim jacket and colorful scarves. My brother was being very attentive to her, giving her various things she needed, and then politely but firmly showing her to the front door and closing the door behind her. Then he turned on me: he was angry, because I had been singing loudly and had left the front door wide open, a combination which had attracted the young woman and might have drawn more strangers to just come up and walk in.

I walked through some other rooms which appeared to be bedrooms -- enormous bedrooms. These rooms were full of books, on shelves and in piles on the floor. I came to a room which appeared to me my bedroom -- I wasn't entirely sure -- and in which very tall piles of books swayed precariously. Leopold von Ranke's book Die Paepste in the 1953 Duenndruck edition from K F Koehler was laying open on top of some stacks which were the height of a standing desk. (Die Paepste is a history of the Papacy, focusing on the time since the Protestant Reformation, first published in the 1830's. Duenndruck -- literally, "thin press" -- is a German which refers to books with very thin pages, which makes it possible to keep very long books relatively small. Books with Duenndruck are heavier than conventional books of the same size. In the realm of English-language publishing, many Bibles have this sort of very thin pages. I don't know any English term which is equivalent to Duenndruck. This K F Koehler edition of Die Paepste is a little over 1400 pages long, about the same as some editions of the King James Bible.)

In another room, my brother and I were looking out into our enormous backyard. Our house was no tiny and longer crowded on all sides by other tiny houses. Now it wasn't winter any more, but early autumn. The yard was enclosed by a wooden fence. Some pink flowers on vines were spilling over the fence from our neighbor's backyard into ours. I said that they looked like roses. My brother informed my that they weren't roses. He told me their name, but I've forgotten the name. Some of the buds were still tightly rolled and were the size of small roses, and others were wide open and floppy and as big as bushel baskets. I was slightly anxious about what sorts of insects might be in and around those big flowers.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

More Paulkovich Yet Again

Michael Paulkovich has published a new edition of his book No Meek Messiah. Actually, it appears that the new edition came out some time ago, and I didn't notice, in part because the new edition or editions -- I'm not sure how many editions there have been altogether -- has or have a completely different title: Beyond the Crusades. According to the publisher of the new version, American Atheist Press,

"It includes an exhaustively researched 19-page appendix that provides
citations for the controversial 126 'Silent Historians' of Chapter 49
and serves to rebut critics who erroneously claimed that some of the
writers on the list were not applicable or even pre-Jesus."

Well. I guess that shuts me up, once and for all. Seriously, though, I'm torn between a morbid curiosity on the one hand about just how Paulkovich has doubled down here, and on the other hand, profound, cringing embarrassment for him.

Does the change in title make sense? I have no way of knowing: I haven't read the book in any of its editions. I haven't read the article which was excerpted from it in Skeptical Inquiry either. Paulkovich has accused me of not reading that article, and he may have accused me of not having read his book either. In either case he would be correct. All I have addressed is Paulkovich's list of 126 names of people he calls "the silent historians," 126 people who, he claims, should have been expected to have mentioned Jesus if He had existed.

There are very many good books in the world, far more than any one person could ever hope to read. I have to have some incentive to read any particular book. Sometimes a page is enough to convince me that a certain book is not for me. In the case of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, one sentence was enough. In the case of No Meek Messiah and/or Beyond the Crusades, those 126 names were much more than enough. And I have tried to make the case that they ought to be enough to convince any reasonable person that Paulkovich is talking -- through his hat, as people used to say in quainter times. I have tried, and I have been very disappointed to have to come to the conclusion that most people who care a bit one way about Paulkovich either already knew what I was talking about -- just a few cases, these. Academics in one of the "relevant fields," mostly -- or they wouldn't really investigate the list of 126 names at all, trying to find out who, Paulkovich or I or perhaps neither, knew what he was talking about when referring to those 126 people, but were quite content to assume that Paulkovich was full of it if they were convinced that Jesus existed, or that I was full of it if they had their doubts that Jesus ever existed.

More nuanced positions, such as having doubts that Jesus existed but still thinking that Paulkovich was full of it, or being certain that Jesus existed but still thinking that I am full of it, seem to be represented by as few as 1 1/2 people: I am not certain Jesus existed, and Tim O'Neill may or may not think I am full of it. I don't want to speak for Tim on this point. See his comments under the very earliest article in the first link in this post.

There is one thing I find quite remarkable about the new edition or editions of Paulkovich's book, the edition or editions entitled Beyond the Crusades: Robert M Price, one of the most famous of all contemporary mythicists, who probably served as a college professor "in the relevant fields" longer than any other mythicist in the US if not the world -- Ah say Ah Say Robert M Price has written a Foreword for the new edition or editions. Whether this is a new low for Price, or just more of the same, I am not familiar enough with his work to say. Or maybe my wondering about that merely shows that I am terribly naive to assume that professors who write Forewords for books tend to read those books first.

Neglected Geniuses

Hey, here's a group that discusses the history of the Roman and Byzantine state. "...from 753 BC to AD 1475." Oh. No. No, no, no, no. The link to the group shows a picture which they say is of Constantius II's entry into Rome in AD 357. Constantius II did visit Rome in 357. But when was this picture made? I'm guessing 19th or 20th century. I'm also guessing that I could find out more quickly when and by whom the picture was made by researching it myself than by asking the members of the group, and that my asking would probably mostly have the effect of annoying them.

Hey, look at this: Vinča symbols. Never heard of them? Me neither, before yesterday. And yet these people (not the same people as in the previous paragraph) are saying they're a writing system going back to -- 5300 BC? And that there's a bias among academics who study early writing against paying any attention to them? Oh dear. Actual academics simply don't behave that way. They don't cover up plausible discoveries which would "rock the boat." They're boat rockers. The key word there was "plausible."

How many people are there who think that they are geniuses and that their genius is neglected, for every neglected genius? I don't have an actual number for you, but it's a lot.

And Albert Einstein was not a neglected genius: he started publishing papers in the Annalen der Physik, the pre-eminent academic publication on physics at the time, around his 22nd birthday, in 1901, four years before his most famous group of papers were published in the same journal. In 1905, not only were those papers published, but Einstein also received a PhD from the University of Zurich. Although he was working in a patent office at the time, not taking courses at the university or anything like that. He got the Nobel Prize when he was 42 or 43. (He was chosen to receive it in 1921 but it wasn't awarded to him until the next year.) That is not neglect by the academic establishment. That is not by any stretch of the imagination neglect. That is almost as far from being rejected by the academic mainstream as anyone could ever be. Yes, there were people who rejected Einstein's findings, many laypeople outside the field of physics and just a handful within, but they would not have rejected his findings if he hadn't been a rock star within his field. Because they probably never would have heard of him, for one thing, and they would have had no reason to get so upset about his being, in their mistaken opinions, completely, absurdly wrong about space and time and matter and energy. People who are completely, absurdly wrong are a dime a dozen in every walk of life. Someone you think is completely, absurdly wrong, but most of the rest of the world thinks they're a genius -- that's different. That can be very annoying.

I imagine it would be all the more annoying if the annoyed person felt him- or herself to be a neglected genius.

The ones who thought that they were unrecognized geniuses were the ones who vehemently rejected Einstein's ideas. And they weren't geniuses. The geniuses understood Einstein and were blown away. Leading directly to the previously-mentioned condition of him not being neglected in the slightest, but wildly celebrated and one of the two or three most famous people in the world.

Monday, September 18, 2017


Ein starker Geist diskutiert Ideen.
Ein durchschnittlicher Geist diskutiert Ereignisse.
Ein schwacher Geist diskutiert Leute.

Steven Bollinger Sokrates redet dummes Zeug und Platoniker duerfen mich gern fuer schwachgeistig halten. Wenn jemand maechtig ist, wie ein Regierungschef oder ein Philosoph der das Denken eines grossen Teils der Welt seit ueber 2000 Jahren stark beeinfluesst, dann SOLLEN die Leute ueber ihn reden. Nicht zu tun waere verantwortungslos.
· Reply · 11 mins · Edited

Steven Bollinger Noch etwas faellt mir ein:

"Ein starker Geist diskutiert Ideen.
Ein durchschnittlicher Geist diskutiert Ereignisse.
Ein schwacher Geist diskutiert Leute."

Sokrates redet da ueber Leute. Sah er selbst nicht ein, dass er das tat?
· Reply · 12 mins

Steven Bollinger Und, was mir als erstes einfaellen muesste: ist das wirklich ein Zitat von Sokrates? Facebook wimmelt von falsch zugeordneten Zitaten.
· Reply · 9 mins

Steven Bollinger Nicht Sokrates, sondern Henry Thomas Buckle. Ich bitte Sokrates um Entschuldigung. Quote Investigator.

· Reply · Remove Preview · Just now

Schafft ab! (Eliminate it!)

Yay! At 8:27 AM today I had already blocked my first Facebook user of the day! (Not counting a German sexbox offering friendship which I had already marked as spam.) He was replying to my comment about Felix Philipp Ingold's call in the Neuer Zuercher Zeitung to eliminate the juries which award literary prizes -- "Schafft die Juries ab!" I had said that it was not clear to me me whether Ingold wanted to replace the juries with, or if he was calling for literary prizes themselves to be eliminated, or if he was just there to complain.

This Facebook user wrote that he who wants to misunderstand or twist something will do so, ignored my very specific description of what was unclear to me, and asked me just exactly what was unclear to me.

He who wants to be nothing but unhelpful, antagonistic and annoying will be so. And will often secretly consider himself to be a genius.

By the way, no one else has answered my comment at all. I can only assume that they're all too busy doing important work, or that, although it's as clear as can be that Ingold doesn't want these juries as they are, no-one knows any better than I do what he actually does want.

While checking the NZZ website to make sure I spelled Ingold's name correctly, I saw a link to a piece by Peter Sloterdijk on the upcoming German election. One certainly wouldn't have learned that Sloterdijk is a philosopher from this piece he dashed off for the NZZ, in which he claims that Angela Merkel has such a chloroform-effect, putting all who see or hear her soundly asleep, that the Germans need mnemonic devices to remind them of when the upcoming election is. It's this coming Sunday, 24 September 2017. Contrary to Sloterdijk's claim, I didn't have to look the date up, nor have I remembered it with the aid of mnemonic devices.

There seems to be a widespread "eliminate it!"-mood among German intellectuals. Ingold wants to eliminate the juries which award literary prizes. Other want to remove curators from art galleries and museums. Sloterdijk wants to eliminate Merkel's ability to put everyone into a deep sleep. (Clearly he can't eliminate it: poor thing, he can't even describe it convincingly.)

Yes, there is a great (from certain perspectives) mood of "Schafft ab!" ("Eliminate it!") Right on. But what will we replace the juries, or the curators, or Merkel, with? These complaints might be more convincing to me if I had the slightest idea what is being suggested as a replacement in each case. But I'm not even sure that such suggestions are being made.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Update on My Seiko 5

This is my Seiko 5, photographed today:

There are many like it, but this one is mine.

Actually, it's a little bit less like most than it used to be. I showed photographs of it on this blog with its original khaki-green canvas strap; then in between straps; then with the black leather strap I put on it because the original strap was just slightly to short to fit my wrist.

But I decided I'd rather carry it in my pocket than wear it on my wrist, and that photo above shows how it is now: no strap, and also no push-pins. Removing the push-pins, which I did a week or two ago, lets me feel the bevels -- not bezels: bevels -- underneath where the push-pins were. I didn't even see the bevels before I removed the push-pins. They feel nice. Removing the push-pins has definitely enhanced the aesthetic experience of the watch for me.

And there's also no plastic film on the back anymore. Just like new cell phones, some new watches these days come with plastic film covering the glassy parts. I took the film off of the front, but it took me 9 months, until today, to realize that I'd left the film on the back window. I had thought that there was a little imperfection in the window, a little bubble in the glass, barely visible, near the edge where it sez "7S26." But no, what I thought was a bubble in the glass was a bubble in the plastic film. The film I didn't even realize was still there until today.

I have mixed feelings: yes, I had thought that there a small imperfection, a bubble, in the glass of the back window. But I had gradually come to sort of like that bubble. It made my Seiko 5 different than others.

But there never was any bubble in the glass at all. Now, with the plastic film removed, I can't find any imperfections anywhere on the watch.

(I got this thing for $54.19, including delivery & state sales tax, from Amazon. Which is simply ridiculous. I almost feel guilty having this much watch for that little money. Seiko cares about quality.)

(Yeah, and it's still keeping pretty good time.)

(Prices for Seiko 5's on Amazon have gone up slightly in the last 9 months. Well, actually, the prices go up and down and up and down, and at any given moment, 4 Seiko 5's with canvas straps which are identical except for color will usually have 4 different prices. Why? I don't know.)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Amanda, I Wanna Be Yr Panda


I wanna be yr paaaaaan -- da.

Oh. Uh.


A big silly bear of a man ta

Make you laugh with my clumsiness and snugglin


It could be grand -- uh

If I were yr panda


This guy rilly wants to be yr panda

A great big silly harmless guy to rub yr feet n be real sweet n cook you uh treat n dance with his feet

N give you his heeeearrrrt


He rilly rilly rilly rilly rilly rilly wants to be yr panda)


Won't you put yr hand -- uh

In mine

Yr so fine n I just

Gotta be yr panda!


I'm making my staaaaand -- uh

Out. on. the. sand. of. the. beach.

I. will. stroll. with. youunderthemoon


My love isn't canned -uh

It's fresh and genuine


I'd love to be yr panda


I think you understand -- uh


Ooh I gotsa be yr panda


But I'll never demand -- uh

A thing cause I want ya to be happy and free


Pleez pleez pleez pleez lemme be yr panda


Monday, September 11, 2017

Have Watches Become Art?

In roughly chronological order:

Oscar Wilde published The Picture of Dorian Gray, with a Preface which ends with the flat statement: "All art is quite useless."

I was born.

The 4th edition of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, volume 2, was published. It contains the Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray on pp 1681-82. It does not contain any more of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

I was required several times in school and college to read works by Oscar Wilde, including, more than once, The Picture of Dorian Gray, including its Preface, with whose conclusion I disagreed. For most of my life I quite disliked Wilde.

I got a copy of the 5th edition, of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, for a college class. It's much shorter than the combined 2 volumes of the unabridged version. I have no idea whether it contains the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray. I still own but I can't find it at the moment.

Quartz watches -- watches powered by batteries or some other electrical source, such as light converted to electricity -- reached the point where they kept much better time than mechanical watches -- watches powered by springs -- at a much lower cost.

I saw the movie An Ideal Husband, based on Wilde's play of the same name. It has been filmed at least 4 times: I saw the 1999 version, directed by Oliver Parker, starring Jeremy Northam, Rupert Everett, Julianne Moore, Minnie Driver and Cate Blanchett. I saw it several years after 1999, on TV, primarily because of Ms Blanchett, about whom I am daffy. Ms Blanchett is particularly adorable in this film. But I liked more than Ms Blanchett, I liked the entire film very much, definitely including those words written by Mr Wilde. I instantly went from being a loather of Wilde to being a huge fan. I re-read the Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray and began to seriously wonder whether art is indeed useless. I have not stopped thinking about it. At the present I would agree, if we stipulate that Wilde was being somewhat ironic when he wrote that. Art is not useful in the same way as other things. I agree with Nietzsche that art makes life bearable, which means that it is extremely useful indeed; but still, it is not useful in the same way as other things.

I got the 4th edition of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, volume 2, either free because some place like a university library was giving it away, or for a dollar or so at a thrift shop, I don't remember. I've only got volume 2.

The Coen brothers' film version of Carmac McCarthy's novel No Country For Old Men was released in 2007. The film is set in 1980. The character portrayed by Josh Brolin carries a wrist watch in his pocket. If the film is historically accurate in this detail, it is a mechanical watch. The title of the movie and novel comes from a line in the poem "Sailing to Byzantium" by William Butler Yeats. Like Wilde, Yeats was born in Ireland. Wilde moved to England, where he ingratiated himself with the upper classes. Yeats stayed in Ireland and supported the fight for independence from England.

I began to become fascinated by watches. Mostly by pocket watches at first;

but the more I learn about watches, the more my interest is captured by wrist watches rather than pocket watches, because watches -- mechanical watches. I couldn't tell you much about quartz watches -- keep becoming more sophisticated and precise and interesting, even as they become farther and farther away from being necessary or practical. There are still some mechanical pocket watches being produced today, but as far as I can see, most of them are presented as objects of nostalgia, designed to remind people of bygone eras when most watches were pocket watches, rather than to closely resemble the most modern products of the watchmaker's -- art.

Ha! Right there I said "art." I was never drawn to pocket watches because I'm nostalgic. I like them because I'd rather carry a watch in my pocket than wear it on my wrist, and pocket watches are designed to be carried that way. But almost all of the really interesting stuff in watchmaking is going on in mechanical wrist watches. Which, as good as they are getting, are still much more expensive than quartz watches which keep better time.

But let's face it, very few if any people actually need quartz watches either, what with all of the online devices which keep even better time, which almost all of us use to one extent or another.

And then, earlier today, my interest in watches, which I freely admit serve no practical use, and are only good for fascinating people and making them feel good, clanged together with Wilde's statement that all art is quite useless. And I said to myself, "Hey -- does that mean that watches have become art, or are becoming art?!"

And then I rushed over here to tell you all about it -- first checking the 4th edition of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, volume 2, to make sure that I got the quote by Wilde right.

PS, 11 Sep 2017: I found it, the version of The Norton Anthology of English Literature which I got for use an an undergrad. And once again we see how faulty is my memory: it is not called the shorter edition, but the Major Authors Edition. And it is not the 5th edition, but the 3rd. And Wilde is not in it AT ALL. It judges 31 English authors, from the author of Beowulf to Auden, to be Major. But not Wilde. Well, as we know, these things are not only quite useless, but also completely subjective.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

SPOILER ALERT: The Ends of Twin Peaks: The Return and Game of Thrones, Season 7

I mean it: spoiler alert. You should watch both of these fine series before reading further.

Well, for one thing, obviously, the 2 series are very different: "Game of Thrones" means to please a broad public, and succeeds, while "Twin Peaks: The Return" may be made to please just David Lynch, and if it also pleases someone else, so much the better. I'm guessing about Lynch's intentions vis a vis his audience; but there's no denying that "Twin Peaks: The Return" is difficult to understand. And the final part of the final episode is a real head-scratcher. I won't say that the ending is the most difficult head-scratcher in the series. I mean, I'm not going to pretend that I can actually explain the Black Lodge to you. Or the various dopplegaengers. Or the part with atomic bombs and strange humanoid creatures in episode 8 which just went on and on and on.

Maybe it's a mistake even to want to explain a show like this. Most of us are able to enjoy music without a lot of explanation about what it means. Maybe a lot of Lynch's work should be approached in the same way, without needing to be explained. Speaking of music, before I, despite what I just said, try to explain the end of the last episode, let me just point out how magnificent the music is in Twin Peaks: The Return, both the theme music and the acts which perform at the roadhouse. And of the latter, let me just say that I found Rebekah Del Rio's performance of "No Stars" at the end of episode 10 to be one of the most wonderful things I've ever heard. Ever. Up there with a really good performance of the 2nd movement of Beethoven 14th piano sonata or Pachelbel's canon. That one song alone much more than made up, for me, for how much episode 8 aggravated me. And the theme music was part of what made one of the nicest moments in the history of show biz: the moment in episode 16 when the real Agent Cooper, having just recently woke up, smiles and says, "I am the FBI." Admit it, that moment gave you chills. (In a good way.)

Now to try to explain the ending of episode 18, the last episode, the final moment of "Twin Peaks" ever, unless Lynch makes some more "Twin Peaks," and I have no idea whether he will or not: Cooper takes Laura Palmer to the house she lived in until she was murdered in 1990, the people who live there now have never heard of her family, Cooper asks what year it is, Laura screams, the end.

It seems to me that mistreatment of women by men is an important theme in "Twin Peaks." The plot of the original series in the early 90's is set in motion by Laura's murder and Cooper's investigation of it. Episode 15 of the 2017 series ends with a small woman wearing thick glasses being thrown out of a booth in the roadhouse by two very large men. She crawls on the floor for a while and then screams, a scream not unlike Laura's scream at the end of the whole series. In episode 18, the last episode, when 3 men in Judy's harass a waitress, Cooper shoots one of them in the foot, badly injures another and seems quite ready to shoot the 3rd one if necessary. Then, at Laura's apartment (Okay: she's not named Laura now, she's named Carrie. I can't explain that.), Cooper sees a man sitting in a chair. The man is dead, he's been shot in the head, and Cooper doesn't even say a word about the dead man. The mistreatment of women has become so established as a theme of the show that it's as if Cooper simply assumes that Laura/Carrie shot the man, and that she had a perfectly good reason for doing so.

And there are many other instances in the series of men treating women badly. And when Cooper goes back in time to the night Laura was murdered to rescue her, Laura is with James, one of the relatively few decent men in the show who are kind to women. Laura loves James, she says so, she screams it, but she also seems quite frustrated with him. Maybe that's because he can't protect her. And maybe Laura/Carrie screams at the end of the whole series because she is beginning to suspect that Cooper, another decent man, might not to be much good as a protector, seeing as how he's driven her all the way across the country to this strange place and doesn't even know what year it is. And there are many other instances in the series of women being drawn to bad men, while being loved by men who are good, but, unfortunately, ineffectual. Maybe there's a message here to good men: get up off your asses and fight for things that are right, like women being treated nicely.

Plus, Cooper has taken her back to the place where she was murdered. Maybe it reminds Laura/Carrie that she's Laura and that she was killed here, so maybe that's why the big scream. The subtitle of the 2017 is "The Return." Agent Cooper's entire purpose since he woke up has been to save Laura, but maybe he completely, monumentally failed, because all he did was return Laura/Carrie to the scene of a horror she was fleeing.

I don't know whether I've explained anything.

With "Game of Thrones," I don't have to explain anything. You just need to watch the whole series to get the story and characters, and if you're confused about something, 47 billion people have watched it, so just ask one of us. I just wanted to say that the very end of Season 7, where the dragon which the Night King has killed and resurrected as one of his undead army, spews blue fire which destroys the wall -- that scene, with its combination of story and acting and special effects and music, is one of the most amazing, rousing things I've ever seen on any TV or movie screen, and needs no explaining. Much like the way that the Knights of the Veil arrived and joined the Battle of the Bastards in last year's season 6. Just wow.

So which series do I like better, the artsy "Twin Peaks: The Return" or the pop "Game of Thrones"? That question is impossible to answer because the 2 shows are so entirely different. I like them both.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Waiting For the Republicans to Decide They've Had Enough of Trump

I'm a Barry Bonds fan. (I know, I know. But he played baseball well.) His last season was 2007. Around 2009 I stopped kidding myself about his use of banned substances. To this very day, there are quite a number of people -- mostly from the SF area -- who believe that Bonds never broke any rules. So I guess I can kind of imagine what it's like to be a Republican who still supports Trump although he damn well knows better. What I'm saying is that I know something about what it's like to be deeply in denial.

And let's not forget those Republicans who are completely, 100% against Trump. On the news-talk programs, all along, some of the most emphatic and uninhibited of Trump's detractor's have been Republican's, calling him sick, crazy, a disgrace, etc, even more than the Democrats do. The only problem is that not one of those particularly-uninhibited Republicans is, as far as I know, currently holding public office. They're Republican strategists and former office holders and Glenn Beck, and so forth.

Trump Jr. Says He Wanted Russian Dirt to Determine Clinton’s ‘Fitness’ for Office, reads a headline from the New York Times about Donald Trump Jr's testimony before a Senate investigative committee today, about the meeting which he said was about a program for adopting orphans, before leaks proved that it was about Clinton.

Recently, according to leaks, Congressman Duncan Hunter, R-California, said of Trump: "He's an ---hole, but he's our ---hole." What makes Hunter's statement notable is that he was one of the first prominent Republicans to support Trump's campaign for President.

Oh, by the way: Congressman Hunter, a 2nd-generation Congressman, is currently under criminal investigation by the Justice Department It is alleged that his misappropriated tens of thousands of dollars' worth of campaign campaign contributions. Some of that misappropriation including somethat about giving a pet rabbit an airplane ride. I don't know if that means that Hunter bought the rabbit a seat instead of making it ride in the cargo hold as animals routinely do, or what. But whatever it was, it fell outside the laws governing what campaign contributions can and cannot be used for.

Anyway, this fine gentleman's statement about how Trump is an asshole may be a sign that even some of the hardcore baseball is starting to say, Yeah, I know, I know...

Remember, we don't need any of the hardcore base to get on board in order to remove Trump from office. We don't even need all of the Republicans. A few dozen Republican Congresspeople and and about 10 Republican Senators would do it. Or Trump's Cabinet in the case of the 25th Amendment.

Waiting, waiting, for that damn ship to sink. Waiting for you, Republicans. Waiting, waiting.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Burgers of the Foodies

I've never been to a Fatburger or an In-N-Out Burger. This is less surprising when you reflect that I have not been in California since... 1985?! Can that be? Yeah, I think that be. But lookit that: In-N-Out Burger recently opened a burger place about 5 miles away from me! So am I on the way there?

No. I've recently had burgers at 2 local spots which are legendary among burger snobs. In fact, both places have been featured on the Food Network and one even has a plaque given to it by Alton Brown saying that its mac-n-cheese is the best comfort food in the Yoo Ess Ay. And I really like that mac-n-cheese very much.

But I didn't really like the burgers much from either place. It's just me: both places have long lines of people waiting to get in much of the time, and a lot of the people in those like are there for burgers.

At the place that got the plaque from Alton, I saw on the menu that some of their patties were from grass-fed cattle and the rest were fed both grass and grain. I wanted all-grain but they didn't have any. Since then I've got it straight that foodies prefer grass-fed. I had that backwards at the time. On the same menu, after I ordered the most recent burger I've eaten there, I saw on their list of cheeses that they compared one of them to Gruyere. I love Gruyere. The cheese I got didn't really melt the way you want cheese to melt on a burger. I don't know how much of a difference that would've made in my enjoyment of the burger.

It's not even that I dislike burgers in general. For example: recently I saw in Kroger that I could get a box of frozen White Castle sliders. I got that box, and since then I've gotten several more. Get a box of those sliders with cheese, microwave a couple of 'em and put lots of ketchup on them, and I'm very happy.

Maybe I and foodies generally disagree about what is or isn't a good burger. It wouldn't be the only such disagreement, although I and foodies tend to agree generally about what is really nummers, like with the above-mentioned mac-n-cheese. Another one of the rare disagreements: there's the Parmesan cheese that comes grated in green cylinders, and then there's the much more expensive stuff which comes in pre-grated chunks and is actually from in or around Parma, Italy. Foodies greatly prefer the expensive stuff and say that the stuff in the green cylinders is nasty. (In Europe, only the stuff from Parma is allowed to be called Parmesan.) But I prefer the stuff in the green cylinders.

(Kroger's store brand Parmesan cheese comes in green cylinders which look very much like Kraft, which is more expensive. At Kroger's, I get the store brand. At other stores, I get the store brand, which usually comes in cylinders which aren't green. Except on the very rare case when Kraft is on sale so drastically that it's actually cheaper than the store brand. Kraft doesn't taste better than the store brands to me. I imagine factories with huge piles of grated Parmesan cheese, and part of one and the same pile goes into Kraft's cylinders and part goes into the general packages. Am I wrong?)

If and when I finally eat a Fatburger or an In-N-Out burger, will I think they're fantastic? Who knows. What about an Umami Burger? No idea. What about the burger from Father's Office which you can only get one way with no condiment options, with carmelized onions, bacon, Gruyere and blue cheese and arugula? I can respect a no-options policy if a chef feels really strongly about it, and I love all of those ingredients, but I don't know whether they would be enough to make me like a burger of the foodies.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Trump, and Capitalism's Reputation in the US

It appears that John Kelly may have had enough of Donald Trump already, after just 5 weeks as his Chief of Staff. Anonymous sources say that after a recent Trump meltdown directed at Kelly, Kelly told other White House staffers that he had never been spoken to that way in 35 years of service to the US, and that he didn't intend to put up with more of the same. So, that might mean that Kelly is about to resign, or that he's about to look Trump in the eye and tell him to shut his pie-hole. Which might get him fired.

Well, that's our Donald, isn't it? Just making friends wherever he goes. A lot of people are paying close attention to Trump's behavior as President, and asking themselves how in the world he managed to have a career as a businessman for so long before becoming President. I think that the answer may be that his career up until January of this year was as a pure capitalist.

Now, many people are capitalists, but few are pure capitalists, in the sense that making money is honestly the only thing they care about. Most of us care a lot about money, because we live in a capitalist system, which means that only those with a lot of money can afford to pay little attention to it -- and even those, if they pay little enough attention to it, may run out of it, meaning that they will be forced to pay as much attention to it as us poor schlubs.

The thing is, though, very few of us care only about money. We may care quite a lot about our friendships and relationships, or music, or animals, or painting, or food or wine or mechanical watches or sunsets or trees, or some combination of those things and/or many others, without consideration of financial ramifications. An expert on pino grigio or Mexican food may make a living through that expertise, but there's very little chance that they study the wine or the food only for the money. In fact, it's just about guaranteed that they love the food or the wine passionately and would spend a lot of time on it even if they lost money on it rather than making money. Many people, probably most people, aren't lucky enough to be able to make a living at something they love, but they still spend a lot of time and energy on things that don't earn them money. Friends and family are a very common example, and then there all the other things I just listed off, and many more. It's very rare to come across someone who really only cares about making money.

And yet, the only thing rewarded by capitalism is a focus on money and money alone. Capitalism is only concerned with quantity. Quality -- of life, or of anything else -- is not capitalism's concern. We think of our society as a capitalist society, and yet almost all of us spend a lot of time behaving in ways which are contrary to the principles of capitalism -- excuse me, I should say say: contrary to the principle of capitalism, because there's only one: get yours, and then got more, and then repeat, and never stop.

Anybody who has thought about this a lot, and realized that capitalism by itself comes very short of fulfilling all of our wishes and ambitions, is already to some degree a socialist, whether he or she suffers from the typical American ignorance of what socialism is and horror of the term "socialism," or not. I was thinking here about pino grigio and Mexican food because, on the Food Network and the Cooking Channel, I've been struck by one particular sort of bio among highly-regarded chefs: they used to work in finance, and they gave that up to make the plunge into trying to cook for a living. Those people are a clear example of rejecting capitalism for socialism, at least partially. If they were really all about money, they'd just go back to their former jobs, done. They've realized -- even if they haven't realized it consciously, because they're constantly bombarded by American pro-capitalist myths in advertising and many other places -- that there's much more to life than how big your stack is.

And then there are horrible assholes like Donald Trump, and the AIDS medication douchebag, who really, truly care about very little except getting theirs, and then getting more, and repeat. This makes them horrible people, and, at the same time, very efficient capitalists, just by virtue of being distracted by so very little else except getting theirs, and then getting some more, and then repeat. The AIDS medication douchebag is so repulsively smug, even as he has been convicted of fraud and awaits sentencing, because he knows that all he has done is what our society says you should do: get yours, etc. He doesn't realize to what extent our society -- in most cases subconsciously -- rejects capitalism, because we -- usually subconsciously -- realize that pure capitalism results in people like our current President and the AIDS medication douchebag. People whom we reject with horror.

And so, I would suggest that those who are flabbergasted by the fact that Trump was able to survive for so long as a businessman, before beginning his spectacular failure as a politician, think more about money and capitalism, think more about what they are, and how horribly overrated they are in the US, how we give capitalism and horrible capitalist douchebags far too much power.

At least read some Marx before continuing to react with horror to what you think Marxism and socialism is. At least get some clue about what it is you're reacting against. For about half of the 68 years of the Federal Republic of Germany so far, the Chancellor, the Bundeskanzler, the closest equivalent they have to the US President, has been a member of the Social Democratic Party, the SPD. The SPD is the oldest currently-active political party in Germany, going back under different names to the 1860's. Karl Marx was a member. The SPD isn't very different from the Democratic Party in the US. They're somewhat more conscious of the nature of capitalism.

Perhaps the horrible catastrophe of the Trump administration will cause Americans in general to become more conscious of such things, and more critical of capitalism on a conscious level.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Beware of People Telling You Watches Are a Good Investment

For example, Shreve & Co:

"For some, watches are purely functional. You look at them, the time is more-or-less correct, and you tuck it back under your sleeve."

That was 50 years ago. Today, those people don't have watches at all. If they need to know the time they look at their phones.

They go on to tell you that, judging from current auction activity, a high-quality watch, a watch which is much more than a timekeeper, could rise in value 30 to 40% over 10 years.

30 to 40% in 10 years, as a best-case scenario, is not a great investment. There are mutual funds that will just about guarantee that sort of return as a worst-case scenario.

Real estate is an investment. But fewer people care about watches than they did decades ago, whether as a purely functional timekeeper, or a neat gadget which is fun to have, or as a hand-crafted luxury item which is a thing of beauty, or any which way. And there's no indication that that trend is about to reverse, and that in the future more people will wear and/or collect watches. Fewer people being interested in watches in any way means fewer customers competing to buy them, which means that their prices are more liable to go down as they age, than up. And that's as true for a luxury watch you buy today, as for a cheap piece of junk.

You can rack your brains and study and study, and maybe you'll end up buying one of those watches which will rise 30 or 40% in the next 10 years. Or you can make a no-brainer decision on a mutual fund and beat 40% easy. Or you could buy a building or some land, take a risk and maybe some upkeep headaches as well, but there's a very good chance that you could clean up.

The only good reason to buy a watch is the voice in your headache that keeps screaming that you have to have it. Don't have such a voice in your head? Then don't let someone tell you watches are a good investment. If you do love watches, you should get the one you love -- not the one someone tells you is a good investment, and also not the one that someone else, who you're afraid is much cooler than you, tells you is the coolest one, but the one which you like the best.

Now, it's possible that your family have been manufacturing and selling fine watches for over 300 years, and that you know far more about watches than I could ever learn in 20 lifetimes, and that, besides watches themselves, knowledge of watch markets and booms and busts in those markets, and knowledge of the psychology of watch buyers, is in your very DNA. If all of that is true of you, then for you, quite possibly, watches, which you buy and hold onto for years or decades because you know their prices will skyrocket, could be a good investment. But if you're that person, you certainly didn't need the likes of me to tell you that for most people, a plan to amass wealth by buying Rolexes and Patek Phillippes, or antique watches of one brand or another, is just plain silly.

The Iohannidos of Corippus

The Iohannidos, or Song of John, of Flavius Cresconius Corippus, is unusual is several ways: an epic poem in Latin in the Vergilian style, celebrating the warlike deeds of a hero, it was written in the mid to late 6th century, almost 2 centuries after the last known ancient examples of Classical Latin. Based on its style, it must be considered Classical Latin; however, based on its date, it was composed well into the Medieval era. It was written in or around Carthage. Much else written in the same time and place has survived to our day; however, almost all of it is Christian theology, as different from the Iohannidos as can be. Most earlier Latin epics such as Vergil's Aeneid included copious references to the pagan gods. These are lacking in Corippus' poem. Some have pointed to this as evidence that Corippus was Christian. I'm not convinced. A pagan or an atheist in the 6th-century Roman Empire would have been taking a big risk by letting his true beliefs show.

The hero of the poem is John Troglita, a general who served under the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I during Justinian's short-lived reconquest of much of the former Western Roman Empire. John led a series of successful battles against nomadic peoples in northwestern Africa, including the Berbers. Corippus' poem follows these battles up until AD 548. Historians value it for its accuracy of detail, confirmed by comparison with writers contemporary to Corippus and by what we know of the modern-day Berbers.

It is unusual in being an account of Justinian's war written in Latin, as opposed to Greek.

Also, the way in which the text of the Iohannidos has been transmitted to us is unusual. It was known that Corippus had written such a poem; however, it was lost until the year 1814, when Cardinal Mazzucchelli, librarian of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, came across a 14th-century manuscript of it. Before this, another of Corripus' works was known: In laudem Iustini minoris (In Praise of the Younger Justin), which portrayed the death of Justinian I and the early part of the reign of his successor, Justin II. This work was published in the late 16th century from a 9th- or 10th-century manuscript. No one seems actually to have liked as a piece of writing by. It is, frankly, a rather disgusting piece of servile flattery. The hope to gain the favor of the powerful is clearly its entire object on the part of the author; nevertheless, it is very well -written, and, like the Johinnodos, it contain much information of interest to historians -- in this case, information about the 6th-century court at Constantinople and its manners ans customs. (And I suppose it's possible that the powerful men Corippus flattered in the poem actually enjoyed reading it.)

Having been the only known work by Corippus for a long while, the In laudem Iustini minoris in no way prepared readers for the great positive surprise of the Iohannidos, which is a great pleasure to read, with its polished style conveying a rousing tale of action and adventure with convincingly lifelike characters. People would want to read this poem even if it contained no historical interest at all. The great help it lends to historians is gravy. The great interest to scholars of Classical Latin, finding such a polished work so written so late after such things had been assumed to have died out, is gravy. Is it as good as Vergil? Well, no. But if you like Lucan's epic poem of the struggle between Julius Caesar and Pompey, you might very well like the Iohannidos just as much.

Oh, and one other unusual thing about the Iohannidos: the only edition of it published since the end of the 19th century of which I am aware was put out the Cambridge University Press in 1970, edited by J Diggle and FRD Goodyear. It is the only book of which I know, amongst those published by Cambridge, which is so recent and which is all in Latin, from the title page to the dedication to the Praefatio to the Index Historicus et Geographicus. So, yay!