Thursday, February 28, 2019

Ancient Texts and the Question of Being Right, or Helpful

I'd rather be right and helpful all of the time, but I just don't know whether that's possible. On the one hand, there is the vast amount of very important subjects about which I know little or nothing, and about which anything I'd have to say is likely as not to be incorrect.

On the other hand, there is the little amount that I know, which doesn't seem to be of use to any but a small number of people who probably already know most or all of it anyway.

Let's jump right into the example of religion.

Just now, for about the thousandth time, I heard someone point out that Jesus never said anything against lgbt's. Which, as far as I know, is correct: Jesus says nothing in the New Testament about LGBT's, and I don't know of any statements by him on the subject in any apocryphal writings either.

And, not for the first time, I suppressed the urge to point out that he's not recorded as saying anything in favor of LGTBT's either, and that he lived in a society which definitely was homophobic, so that his total silence on the issue could more logically be construed as homophobia than not. I suppressed the urge to say these things because, in the discussion today where someone pointed out Jesus' silence on the issue, my remark about the context of that silence would be more helpful to today's homophobes than to those championing LGBT rights, and I am definitely among the latter.

Some say that Christianity is simply different from Judaism when it comes to gay rights. My honest response to that is that Christianity was almost unanimously homophobic until, a few decades ago, many Christians suddenly made a U-turn on the issue, perhaps a majority of Christians, but not, as far as I can see, before a similar proportion of Jews made a similar U-turn. But, frankly, it seems to me that both most Christians and most Jews would rather that I just shut up about the histories of their various religions. To me, it's history. To them, it's religion. Not the same thing at all.

I think it's great to read texts which are thousands of years old, but when I do, I'm constantly reminded of how progress has been made in various areas in the thousands of years since those texts were written. I feel quite free to point out this progress in reference to pre-Christian Latin texts, but when it comes to speaking openly about the Bible, Old or New Testament, all of a sudden, people get quite touchy.

And the New Atheist approach to this sort of thing, summed up as "Oh, you're offended? So fucking what?" doesn't work for me. I don't go around throwing people's lunch on the floor, and I don't want to go around doing the verbal equivalent of that, either. I would like my remarks to be productive, and not just for two or three people who already think pretty much exactly the same way I do. Lately, the memory of those posters in a couple of classrooms when I was a schoolboy, posters which said: "Be not simply good. Be good for something." -- the memory of those posters has suddenly become much more poignant -- I don't know whether poignant is the right word but it's as close as I can come. It's as if I'm beginning to learn something which is already very widely known.

What this entire post may boil down to is that, at the age of 57, I may finally have stumbled across the reasons for, and the usefulness of, that subject, which is older than the Bible, known as rhetoric, one of the subjects I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Rhetoric, I believe, has to do with having a desired effect with one's words, as opposed to just ruthlessly blathering away with the full and unfocused force of one's erudition.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Is Anything Bernie's Fault?

When I got up this morning, my watch had stopped. It's a Seiko 5. This is my Seiko 5:

There are many like it, but this one is mine. Without me, my Seiko 5 is useless. Without my Seiko 5, I am useless. It's an automatic with no hand-wind option. Apparently I didn't wave it around enough last night.

Later this morning my best Facebook friend and I quarreled about Bernie Sanders, and he blocked me. (My friend blocked me, that is. Not Bernie Sanders.) I blame this on Bernie Sanders. (The blocking, that is. I have no direct evidence, AS YET, that Bernie Sanders sabotaged my watch. But I woulodn't put it past him, and until I have conclusive proof to the contrary, I think I'll imply that it's his fault.) I blocked my friend for a period of time once. I do not recall when or why, but it must have been in 2016, and it must've been over Bernie.

My friend doesn't blame Bernie -- for ANYTHING. That's one of the things we argue about. I blame Bernie for all kinds of things. First and foremost, I blame him for Trump getting elected, because Bernie sowed division within the Democratic Party. I don't blame my best Facebook friend for blocking me -- I BLAME BERNIE. If Michael Corleone gets run over in traffic -- I WILL BLAME BERNIE.

Bernie is now, ironically, in many ways in the same position as Hillary was four years ago: he's the front-runner for the Democratic Party's Presidential nomination, and a lot of Democrats hate him. Like Hillary back then, Bernie now has to unify the party. Good luck with that, asshole! His campaign slogan appears to be: "Not Me -- Us." This would seem to indicate that he realizes that party unity is one of the problems he will face, and that he doesn't realize that the best thing he could do for party unity is not run. I do not see him realizing such a thing in a million years, so we (Democrats. REAL Democrats) have got to crush him early. None of this being nice to him like Democrats did in 2016, hoping that he would eventually return the favor.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Luther and the 95 Theses

For a long time, people generally pictured Luther hammering his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenburg on October 31, 1517, to have been a sensation, something like:

"What's this?! Someone's hammering something to the church door! Let's rush over and read it!"

and then a few hours later, Lutherism was in full swing.

Then, in certain circles, a correction began to spread: there was nothing unusual about nailing invitations to public debate to the front door of a church; furthermore, Luther's 95 theses were written in Latin, which meant that an immediate public uproar was unlikely.

I have a lot of German, Austrian and Swiss-German friends on Facebook, and in the German-speaking world Luther is HUGE, sort of like a combination of Shakespeare, Joan of Arc and George Washington. And so in 2017, when all of Central Europe was lavishly celebrating the 500th anniversary of Luther nailing his theses to the church door, another narrative began to spread in certain circles: Luther may not ever have nailed anything to any church door. Now, we who read the news in German were told, it seemed that what happened on the 31st of October, 1517, was that Luther sent a letter to the Archbishop of Mainz, and another letter to the Bishop of Magdeburg, and included a copy of the 95 theses with each letter.

It seems that the earliest mention anyone can find of the famous theses-nailing was written in 1547 by Philipp Melanchthon. Melanchthon was not in Wittenberg in 1517.

This doesn't seem to me to prove that the nailing never happened. Can I prove that it did? Not in the slightest.

As far as Lutherism getting into full swing, that seems to have happened after the 95 theses were translated from Latin to German, printed, and distributed across Germany. How fast this translation, printing and distribution happened, and how much it was Luther consciously making himself into a superstar, and how much him reluctantly following the urging of his friends in making the translation, and then the printing and distribution happening completely without his knowledge, let alone his consent, or how much it was somewhere in the middle, I don't know. Luther's later behavior seems to me like that of someone who had no problem at all with being a superstar, but I don't really know how exactly he went from humble monk and professor to one of the most famous people of his time in Europe.

I do know that many very popular tales posing as history are untrue.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Draft Hillary 2020?

Just thinking out loud here. Sure, it's a little bit nuts, but the world is a little bit nuts, and since about 5 hours ago, the 2020 Democratic primary campaign has been officially nuts.

In politics, I think, if your opponent is going to accuse you of something, if it's something you'd had the slightest inclination toward doing anyway -- you should do it. Why waste those accusations on things you're not really doing? Bernie's supporters will accuse Democrats of treating him unfairly this time around -- it's what they do. It's who they are. What would be more unfair to Bernie than Hillary one more time.

Further: I don't think anything in life is fair, and I think it's particularly silly for a US Presidential candidate to whine about unfairness. I think if a Presidential candidate whines the way Bernie does, it's practically every citizen's patriotic duty to mock and abuse him or her for it.

Give Bernie something to whine about: bring back Hillary, and hammer away at Bernie about how much he (his supporters mostly, but by unfair implication he) sounds like Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter when he (they) go on and on about Hillary and the Democratic Party and the Deep State and so forth. Put him and his supporters on the defensive, force them to explain just exactly how their portrayal of Hillary and Democratic establishment is any different from that of the the tinfoil-hat right-wing fringe.

We were fair with Bernie once. He doesn't deserve it twice, he really doesn't.

Say No to Bernie Now -- Avoid the Rush

The LAST thing this country needs is another old, grumpy, sexist man in the White House who comes from a lilywhite community, goes easy on gun nuts and has a pathological hatred of the Democratic Party, the Clintons and liberals in general.

The Democratic Party made the mistake last time of going way too easy on Bernie, and in return he fucked us and helped elect Trump. Let's not make the same mistake twice. We need to be crystal-clear, this time around, that there are going to be 2 Presidential campaigns: the first one to get Bernie out of the way, and then against Trump or whomever else the Republicans nominate. Let's get the first fight over and done with as soon as possible.

We already get way too much hatred and psychotic conspiracy theory against the Democratic Party from the right. We don't need a whole bunch more of it from someone pretending to be a part of the party.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Vaguely Humorous

"Yes -- successfully."

That's an entire diary entry by a character played by Michael Palin in "Monty Python's Flying Circus." I can think of 2 things to which it may have referred.

"Yr gonna hurt somebody with those."

That's what Andy Garcia's character says to Bridget Fonda's in The Godfather, Part III, when they first meet.

For nearly 3 decades I've been wondering which of 2 sets of things Andy might have been referring to -- and today I just thought of a 3rd which may be much more likely than the other 2.

I don't want to ask Palin, or the people who made Godfather III, what was done successfully, or what Bridget was gonna hurt somebody with -- and by the same token, I feel that I would be doing you, my readers, a disservice, if I told you what my guesses were. To me, that would be missing the point of what made those moments brilliant. These are two prime examples of letting the audience do some of the work. At both of those moments, I laughed right away, and then immediately asked myself whether I had misunderstood what was said, and I've been enjoying both moments for decades precisely because I can't figure them out. I don't know whether there are a lot of moments of this type of humour.

And even if in one or both of those moments, the creators knew exactly what was being implied, and it didn't occur to them that the statements could sound ambiguous -- even if that is the case, it's better, more entertaining, my way.

Maybe this is all not entirely unrelated to why those painters wouldn't explain their paintings to me.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Dream Log: Uptight Movie-Star Detectives

Last night I dreamed I was working with Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint. They were not in the roles of the young wizards they played in the Harry Potter movies --

-- but all four of us were playing fictional roles in a movie. We were playing detectives. However, it was one of those dreams in which it wasn't really clear whether we were acting, or if we really were solving crimes.

The other three certainly didn't seem to be as wealthy as they are in real life from the Harry Potter movies. For example, we had about a dozen pairs of socks and briefs to split up between the 4 of us, and these socks and briefs were going to have to last us a long time, and there seemed to be a lot of unspoken tension about whether they were being split up fairly. For example, these socks and briefs were not new, and there was some tension about whether one or two of us might get unfairly many holes in our allotment of socks and briefs.

There also seemed to be some unspoken tension about my being an equal in the group of detectives although I'm 25 to 30 years older than the other 3.

A lot of unspoken tension in general. Some examples were: we were operating out of a ratty old van which needed repairs -- who was going to pay for the repairs? Who was going to go out and chase the bad guys, and who was going to wait at home base -- that is, in the van? Did I get to take less risk of beingt hurt or killed because I was old? Who was going to go get coffee? Who was going to go around to all of our homes to drop off the socks and briefs and pick up badly-needed cold-weather gear?

We were so caught up in a million little issues that we never actually got around to investigating any crime.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Great Big Guy, Day 1001

I wrote "Great Big Guy" in the title of this post instead of "Great Big Fat Guy." Does this mean I no longer consider myself to be a fat guy? No. It means I'm no longer sure whether or not I'm fat, or whether or not I was fat when I wrote all of those Great Big Fat Guy posts.

Of course, whether or not someone is fat is a very subjective call -- and, of course, these days a lot of people think it simply isn't cool to call yourself or anyone else fat, but I'm going to just plow right ahead in spite of such people. It's a subjective call. Myla Dalbesio

has often been referred to as a "plus-size" model, which I think is cuckoo-bananas. Recently, like since a week ago maybe, I've become aware of some widespread anger at the fact that some call her plus-size. I have no idea whether this anger may have been widespread long before I became aware of it.

Let's take another case: Brian Shaw, one of the world's leading competitors in strongman competitions:

Some would call Shaw, 6 foot 8 and over 400 lbs, a great big fat guy, some would not. I would not.

But when it comes to myself, I just don't know. And for most of my life, I haven't known how I've looked. Maybe I have some sort of self-image problem similar to those people who literally starve to death because they think they're fat. Except I'm definitely not starving to death: my weight has stayed around 300 lbs for quite a few years now. Now, there's are some men who are 6 foot 3 like me and weigh 300 pounds and compete in strongman competitions, and there are some who have the same height and weight and are in very bad shape.

I exercise every day. I take the stairs instead of the elevator unless I have absolutely no choice. But do I look like one of the guys in one of Brian's Shaw's regular gyms, or more like a walking heart attack? I really don't know.

But, for example, 3 weeks ago today, I went to the emergency room with what was probably a panic attack, and one of the ambulance guys was talking to me and asking about my routine lately, and it came up that the day before, I had been doing crunches, and I did 75 before I stopped counting. One of the ambulance guys, a young slender guy who looked to be in excellent health, mentioned that that was more crunches than he had done the day before.

Given that I exercise every day, there may just be a chance that I look like someone who exercises every day, and has for a very, very long time, since I have, even though my cardio is not always off the charts.

Did I mention I'm 57 freakin' years old? Maybe I can give myself a break more often, and worry about this sort of thing less often. Maybe just relaxing in general is the sort of thing a guy who suffers from panic attacks should look into. Enjoy life more, judge myself less. Wacky stuff like that.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Goethe, an Idealized Classical World, and Italy

Goethe traveled to Italy in the late 1780's, and published a book about the trip, Italienische Reise, 30 years later. The following is based on that book -- to be more precise, the 1976 Insel Teschenbuch Verlag edition of the Italiensiche Reise, it 175, with 40 drawings Goethe made during the trip, and an afterword by Christoph Michel.

Like many other Germans in the 18th century, the young Goethe loved Italy without ever having been there. What they loved above all was the art, architecture and literature that had come from the Classical world, as well as the Italian Renaissance, which, like them, had been in love with antiquity. Like all lovers, they idealized the object of their love -- I do not mean that as a negative comment, not in the slightest.

Kant is famous for never having traveled far from his home in Koenigsburg. Goethe traveled a bit more, but for 57 years, from 1775 until his death in 1832, he was an employee of the city-state of Weimar, and was expected to stay in the city for the most part. He held still there, while people traveled from near and far to visit him. In his older days, he received his visitors, very much like a prince. In 1786, at age 37, he slipped away and traveled to Italy, apparently because he was afraid that if he had asked permission for the trip, he wouldn't have gotten it -- was that true? Or did Goethe slip away, in the middle of the night, all alone, to make this already dramatic excursion even more dramatic?

He wanted to read Tacitus in the city of Rome. He wanted to inspect the remains of buildings designed by the ancient architect Vitruvius, and the Renaissance buildings made in northern Italy by the Renaissance architect Palladio, who for Goethe resurrected the spirit of Vitruvius. He wanted to find in Italy an earthly paradise where people's spirits were more wisely and joyfully oriented than in Germany. And he says in the Italienische Reise that he found this paradise. The title page just before the first chapter carries the subtitle "Auch ich in Arkadien!" which is German found "et in arcadia ego."

Goethe's interests were wide-ranging, to say the least. Besides literature, philosophy and the arts, he became quite learned in natural sciences including botany and geology. His interest in these last two are on display in the Italienische Reise. Frankly, I understand almost nothing of Goethe's scientific remarks, apart from a few witticisms, such as when he says that a certain region's soil is rich in the ideal ingredients for smooth roads, which is very fortunate, because the region is very ugly, and one wants to be away from it as soon as possible.

From my point of view, the most dramatic parts of the book to do with geology are those in which Goethe makes daily trips from Naples to the lip of the then-active Vesuvius -- not because I understand any of Goethe's geological remarks about the volcano and its lava, but because he daily, and very enthusiastically, exposed himself to such danger, the very thought of which horrifies me. Goethe's friend Herder seems to have had a similar horror of such behavior, accompanying Goethe only on his first walk up the side of the volcano, and on that day returning to the city earlier than Goethe.

Goethe mentions Pliny the Elder once in the book, but not anything about the manner of Pliny's death.

Goethe's loving examination of Italy went from the figurative heights of its intellectual and artistic achievements, quite literally down into the soil. For him, it was perfectly natural to include an inspection of the plants and the soil of any place in which he found himself, as natural as it was to treat the people he found in Italy as the cousins of Caesar and Vergil.

As with any truly great book, it would be senseless to try to condense the Italienische Reise: it is already condensed. There are no superfluous words in it. Goethe travels south as far as Sicily, and then returns home to Weimar. Everywhere he goes, he is received and celebrated as the author of Werther. All through the trip, he works on Torquato Tasso. He meets many of his German friends. The Prince of Weimar has, of course, forgiven him for having sneaked away in the night like a thief. He spends more time in Rome than in any other place. He observes peasants, princes, artists, bishops, visits museums, theatres, operas, palaces, ruins and one huge and very active volcano. He learns a great deal. A reader of his book will learn a great deal -- although, I wonder whether there has ever been a reader who has understood everything Goethe wrote.