Tuesday, July 30, 2019

EV's (That's Short for "Electric Vehicles")

Lately, all of a sudden, I've been paying a lot more attention to the cars around me. Specifically, I've been looking for EV's, electrical vehicles. For years, I'd already been spotting Toyota Priuses, which are gasoline, electric hybrids, because of their distinctive body shape. But besides the Priuses, there are more hybrids and pure EV's around me than I had thought.

This afternoon I saw a Tesla Model 3 in a parking lot nearby. I've been looking at so many Teslas online lately that this one looked familiar from a long way away, and I came up for a close look, and sure enough. It surprised me that I was right, because none of the Teslas -- to my way of thinking -- is nearly as distinctive-looking as, say, a Prius. Many Tesla fans would denounce me for this opinion, because to them, Teslas are distinctive-looking and very uniquely beautiful. And who am I to try to minimize their joy in beauty. Lately, I've seen either several Tesla Model S's, or the same Model S several times. The Model S is a rather expensive model which Tesla first started selling in 2012. The Model 3

is a less expensive model which went on sale in 2017, and which will surely soon surpass all of the other Tesla models, going back to 2008, in number of units sold, if it hasn't already. (As of the end of 2018, combined sales of all other Tesla models added up to almost 400,000 units.) One of the Model S's zoomed past me very quickly on the right, accomplishing being ahead of me instead on behind me when the road narrowed down to single-lane single-file. I was startled, and yelled out the window, "Was that really necessary?!" Yes, I still sometimes yell at other drivers. But I'm trying to stop once and for all. I don't road rage as much as I used to.

Since I've been looking at the rear fender of every single car I walk past lately, I've been seeing the green badge on the back of many Fords which says "EcoBoost." I've been having a hard time finding concrete information about EcoBoost, information such as: is there actually anything ecological about EcoBoost, or is the name just a cynical ploy on Ford's part to make buyers think they're being green?

I saw a BMW i8, a very high-end, very sporty hybrid, and spoke to its owner, but soon got the impression that many strangers talked to him about his car and he was tired of it, so I left him alone.

A Tesla driver might be more green, in his personal transportation carbon footprint, than an ICE (internal-combustion engine) driver. If the Tesla driver gets his electricity from solar or wind, then there's no maybe about it. A Nissan Leaf driver might have a smaller carbon footprint than the Tesla driver. Someone who has no car and takes the bus might be greener still, especially if the local buses are green. There are other factors besides whether you drive a car and what kind of car you drive, such as how many miles per year you drive. And airline travel is very dirty, ship travel too, although some ships are much cleaner than others. Many ships are hybrids now. So are many trains. And of course, many trains have been all-electric for a very, very long time. And transportation is only a fraction of the current total hydrocarbon usage. So, I'm just saying: if you drive a Prius or a Tesla: Thank you. But don't forget that there are also many other things you can do, or not do, to help us all survive our own activity.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Elon Musk: Not MY Hero

Let's start with those patents which Tesla allegedly "released" in 2014, in order, supposedly, to stimulate others to build electric vehicles. For the good of the whole planet, dontcha know.

But if you read the fine print, the release of the patents is stipulated to be for the use of companies who are "not competing" with Tesla. How exactly are you supposed to build electric vehicles at all and not compete with Tesla? The release also stipulates that other companies who use Tesla's patents must be "operating in good faith." What "operating in good faith" is, is not more precisely defined.

But perhaps the biggest whopper in the patent release is that any company which uses a Tesla patent must agree not to sue Tesla -- not just in matters related to these patents, but not to sue them at all, over anything.

This is truly diabolical: if you use any of Tesla's patents, Tesla can sue you if they deem you to be competing with them -- and just let me know if you know how it's possible to build an electric vehicle and not compete with Tesla -- or operating in bad faith, and you can't sue them for anything at all. Not even a counter-suit in response to a frivolous lawsuit. To me, the conventional arrangement where you just pay the patent owner an agreed-upon price to use their patent, and then just move on from there with no further restrictions, looks a lot more attractive. I don't see how this so-called "release" of patents does anything but restrict and discourage the making of electric vehicles by other companies.

And, to make the diabolical nature of it all quite complete, Musk was able to sell this "release" of patents to his adoring fans and customers, and for the most part to the general public as well, as an act of phenomenal generosity, as just one more example of how he is better than other CEO's. Morally better.

In reality, the "release" of the patents is one more example of how Musk is worse than other CEO's. It's one more piece of evidence of his extreme tendency toward control.

Teslas are good cars, but Tesla owners have to wait extremely long times to get the cars repaired, because authorized Tesla repair centers are few and far between. Tesla doesn't want to sell parts to do-it-yourselfers who work on the cars themselves -- the way all other car manufacturers have done for a century and a third now -- because they make less money that way. They want your money when you buy a Tesla, and more of your money every time you have it repaired -- and even more of your money every time you charge up at one of those Teslas Superchargers where only Teslas can charge up, and Teslas can't use other superchargers without an adapter. Does having an entire network of charging stations which only Teslas can use encourage the growth of the entire electric-vehicle sector? Of course not, it does exactly the opposite. And to top that off and make it perfectly diabolical, they've somehow managed to convince the Tesla fans that the non-compatibility in charging stations is 100% the fault of other electric vehicle manufacturers. Tesla TRIED to work with the other companies on the charging stations, the fans insist, and the other companies all refused.

Did you notice how all of the other companies had no difficulty making chargers that were compatible with everybody except Tesla? And did you notice how none of the other companies had patented charging technology which other companies were free to use, but only if they agreed that the company with the charging technology could sue them for anything, and they couldn't sue that company for anything?

Back in the early 80's, when it was Beta vs VHS, did Sony keep making Betas and get its customers to blame all the other video-cassette manufacturers for the fact that there were two incompatible formats? No, Sony started making VHS cassettes and didn't complain. Why? Because Sony isn't as evil as Tesla.

It's the lying that's evil: the narrative which Tesla sells (just like the narrative which Apple sells), which says that this company is morally superior to all of the others, when in fact their management is a bit sleazier.

Successfully selling the lies means that the company's fans will constantly make excuses for the company.

And this brings us to the lie that Elon Musk IS Tesla, that The Man and The Company are one and the same. Well, Tesla fans may say: Elon founded the company. No, as a matter of fact he didn't. He joined the company after Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning founded it, then won a lawsuit giving him the legal right to call himself a founder -- the legal right to lie. This guy's good. Good at being evil -- and then forced out the actual founders.

The fans will say, but Musk made the company what it is. If by "what it is" you mean "a company which drives other electric vehicles builders out of business and then blames others for there being so few other electric vehicles," then I would tend to agree. But that's not what the fans mean. They mean that Tesla automobiles are so good because Musk designed them. Did he? Or is he really good at taking the credit for the work of other people, thousands of other people who've worked long hours for low pay and done brilliant work at Tesla and then let Musk convince them that he'd done it, not them? I don't know for sure, but I find the story where Musk takes the credit much more believable than the one where Musk actually makes the brilliant cars.

Which brings us to the money. Tesla stockholders haven't gotten any dividends yet, while Musk has been paid billions by the company. If I were a Tesla stockholder, I'd be pretty steamed about that, and calling for Musk to be dumped and replaced with a CEO who could be bought for a measly $30 million a year or so. But I can't even penetrate the denial of these fans and stockholders, who insist that Musk makes $150,000 a year or less. They focus on Musk's salary and somehow manage to ignore his bonuses. Sometimes, if the bonuses are brought up, they point out that Musk invested tens of millions of dollars in Tesla and saved the company. They're engaging in the logical fallacy called post hoc ergo propter hoc: the company has survived after Musk joined it, and the fans say that the company has survived because Musk joined it. Except that they're usually also in denial about the fact that he joined the company, as opposed to founding it. Not to mention being in denial about how investing tens of millions of dollars once, and then getting billions of dollars of return per year on that investment is pretty sharp even by the sleazy standards of billionaires.

And finally, as many of you no doubt have already noticed, I refuse to call him Elon. To me, he's Musk. Calling him Elon would imply that I regarded him as my friend, my buddy, and, as you may have noticed, I don't. I don't think he's my friend, and I don't think he's yours either. I think he's pretending to care about the environment in order to prop up a lie about him being a hero and a wonderful human being.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Non-Discussions About Early Christianity.

A friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to a story about the Gospel of Jesus' Wife,

and it happened again: another one of those exchanges which you can hardly call a "discussion," because many of the participants weren't listening to each other at all, just asserting their competing erroneous versions of the history of Christianity. The usual suspects were there: the assertion that Jesus was a rabbi (perhaps true, perhaps not) and that all rabbis 2000 years ago were married -- not true. In fact, there were entire Jewish sects who were celibate, such as the Essenes, who are well-known today primarily because of their similarities to Christians. A lot of people in these non-discussions really seem to think that Christians invented religious celibacy. Can they say "Vestal Virgins"? The Vestal Virgins was the priestesses in one of the oldest and most revered religious cults in ancient Rome, a cult hundreds of years older than Christianity, and just one example of religions older than Christianity who have a revered place for celibacy.

I've only been hearing the claim that all ancient rabbis were married for a couple of years -- can it be that the claim is no older than that? Where did it come from? Perhaps from discussions of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife? People who wished this little scrap of forgery to be an authentic description of Jesus, perhaps they adopted the belief that all ancient rabbis were married because it bolsters their belief that Jesus was married, which they believe because they wish it to be true?

The assertion that the Bible as we know it was a creation of the Council of Nicea. This time, the Council of Nicea was described as a gathering of Jewish clergy under a pagan Emperor, and that the Bible as we know it was created there.

I can't remember hearing somebody claim, before this, that the participants of the Council of Nicea were Jewish. The Council took place in AD 325, and the division between Christian and Jew was already long-established and very hostile by then. And Constantine was at least partly Christian at the time. And the Bible was neither written, in whole nor in part, at the Council, nor was it even discussed whether this or that biblical book was to be regarded as canonical or heretical. The main thing the Council of Nicea accomplished was to adopt the Nicene Creed, which was favorable for the Christians who eventually came to be called Orthodox and Catholic, and was another nail in the coffin of the Christian movement known as Arianism, which has nothing more than a coincidental similarity in spelling to do with Aryans, who, before the Nazis, were no more and no less than Iranians. I couldn't tell you whether "Aryan" or "Iranian" is closer to the pronunciation of the corresponding word in Persian, which is also called Farsi, which is the language of Iran.

So anyway, after making just a couple of comments in this discussion on Facebook, I realized that nobody in that discussion -- or at most very few of them -- was the slightest bit interested in being corrected about anything. One of the exceptions is my friend, the one who posted the link which started the whole non-discussion. My friend doesn't always assume he's right. You can talk to him. That's one of the reasons he's my friend. Others, however, in this discussion and in countless other discussions about Christianity...

So what do you do, what do you do, when a whole bunch of people are wrong, objectively wrong about concrete, demonstrable facts, and they want to stay that way?

That's not a rhetorical question. If anyone has any suggestions, I'd be very grateful to hear them.

In my case, instead of continuing to comment there, I came here and wrote this post.

Jerome's Vulgate is a beautiful piece of writing. That has nothing to do with the rest of this post.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Great Struggle Underway in Hollywood

Right now, as we speak, a titanic struggle is underway in La-La-Land:

It's Marvel Comics superheroes against... blue thingies (I've never seen Avatar) in a fight for something which actually means very little! (More on that below.)

Right now -- on the 14th of July, at 11:12AM Eastern Standard Time in the US -- Box Office Mojo shows that Avengers: Endgame is $13.4 million behind Avatar in all-time world-wide box-office. The studio that does the Avengers movies has announced that the home video versions of Avengers: Endgame will be released on July 31. Avengers: Endgame has 17 days left to do what long seemed to be impossible for any movie to do: topple Avatar from the #1 spot on the all-time world-wide box-office list.

Worldwide box office is what they call box office from all over the world. You might think they mean the same thing when they say international box office, but they don't: international box office is worldwide box office minus domestic box office, which is the US & Canada. And as I mentioned above, it means very little.

Not in terms of billions of dollars: billions of dollars mean a lot, of course. But in terms of which movie is the most successful of all time, it means very little. It's ridiculous. And yet it makes my heart race because, don't you see, it's all I have!

Avengers: Endgame may be ending its theatrical run on July 31 -- or then again: maybe it's ending its run in the domestic market only, in the US and Canada, and continuing to show in cinemas in many other parts of the world. I just don't know! -- but it's only beginning to make money. For in addition to box office revenues, there are the monies from home video: DVD, Blu-Ray, digital, streaming and who knows what all else, I'm old and I still haven't figured out Blu-Ray. Can you play DVD's and Blu-Ray's on the same equipment? I have a deep fear that you cannot, but I just don't know! I'm so old that I'm very proud of myself for having been able to take that screenshot of the Box Office Mojo page and leave a copy of it in this post! Can you imagine being that old and out of touch?!

But, old as I am, I still know this: after home video comes pay-per-view, and then premium cable, and then basic cable, and then -- is there still broadcast TV? Anyway: and there's also merchandising.

And it seems reasonable to me to assume that Scarlett Johansson has at least a 2% cut in all of that. And that the worldwide box office will be less than half of the money which Avengers: Endgame eventually will make in the next 3 or 4 years. Which would make Ms Johansson's cut over $110 million!

But dontcha see, I'm just guessing about all of this, except for the box office figures! Why do they make the box office figures public, when every other single piece of financial information is sort of confidential? ("Sort of" because now and then some of the other information will leak or even be released on purpose, but don't hold yr breath about it happening in any given case!)

So, as I was saying: Avengers: Endgame has 17 days to get $13.4 more in world wide box office, to topple Avatar from the #1 spot. The meaningless, but still very, very exciting #1 spot! Unless it has more than 17 days because it's still running in cinemas in other countries.

Will 17 days be enough? I just don't know! It will be close! Follow the link above, the chart is updated several times a week! The suspense is killing me! This is ridiculous! It might just be because I'm autistic and numbers can affect me in irrational ways! Maybe Stan Lee is looking down from Heaven and smiling! (Why wouldn't he smile, Heck, he probably could've BOUGHT Heaven!)

PS, 23 July 2019: The epic struggle is over, Endgame passed Avatar a couple of days ago:

Saturday, July 13, 2019

My Latin Novel

I've completed 2 novels: the first one, short enough that perhaps I should call it a novella instead of a novel, is entitled Salvation and is about Pontius Pilate and Jesus. In my version of the story, Pilate and Jesus are friends, and a lot of other details are different from the traditional story.

My second novel is entitled The Independents. It's about the friendship which develops between a very successful Hollywood movie director, one of Amurrka's most highly-acclaimed poets, who at the beginning of the story is becoming homeless, not for the first time (this is my sarcastic comment on haw badly Amurrka treats its poets. Seriously, in a whole long list of other countries, poets have it better than they do in the US), and a former Mafioso who doesn't want to be thug anymore, and is on the run from his former associates, and some other people.

I've started quite a few other novels, including 2 which I started writing on this blog: a novel about angels, and a novel about 2 autistic men in London in 1900.

And then, there's my Latin novel, the novel I want to write in Latin, but I'm not sure whether I'll ever be fluent enough in Latin to do it right. I've been thinking about this one since long before I first heard of Capti by Stephen Berard, published in 2011, still the only novel I know written originally in Latin which has been published more recently than the 18th century. (Berard has promised that Capti is just the 1st of 7 novels he will write in Latin -- how long must we wait for the next one?!)

This novel will start with a preface, in Latin, by a member of a Native American tribe from the southwestern US, which is noted for having produced many first-rate Classical scholars. The preface is written by the editor of the text which comprises the bulk of the novel. The editor notes that it's not surprising that his troop is rather adept at the Latin language, because it has been their native language for 1000 years. Very few academics outside of the tribe believe that they have been reading, writing and speaking Latin for 1000 years, but it is the truth, and the text which comprises the bulk of this volume is further evidence that it is true: it is the text of a recently-re-discovered manuscript which had been lost for a very long time, which contains a copy of the journal of the man who taught the tribe to read, write and speak Latin 1000 years ago. In the late 10th century, the author of this journal was a restless young European nobleman. He was restless in great part because he had read the Latin Classics, which depicted an ancient Roman society in which people could follow any religion they liked, or any combination of religions, or no religion whatsoever; whereas, in 10th-century, the young nobleman and everyone he knew was either a Christian, or pretending to be, because otherwise, they would be tortured and killed quite horribly.

At the beginning of the journal, the nobleman writes about how he has heard that there are non-Christians far to the north in Europe. He packs up a trunk with manuscripts of all of the Latin Classics known to him and heads north. He has many colorful and dangerous adventures. Everywhere he goes, he tries to teach Latin to whomever he meets who isn't already fluent in the language, and he has copies made of the Classical texts and urges his students to make still more copies and spread knowledge of the wonderful literature of ancient Rome.

For the most part, he finds few people who are interested in the training he offers. At times it is very difficult for him to keep possession of his treasure, the trunk full of Classical manuscripts. But he keeps it.

After teaching Latin to a few pagan Vikings and not having much hope of further spreading interest in his cause, he hears about an upcoming voyage. The Vikings have discovered a strange, non-European land, far across the bitterly-cold ocean to the west. He manages to get himself aboard a ship going to those strange lands. When the Vikings abandon their settlement in the strange Western land and sail back to Scandanavia, our narrator stays, and travels west with his trunk full of treasure, full of manuscripts. After many further travels and many more adventures, managing to find an individual or 2 here and there who are interested in the tesching he is offering, finally, in the area which present-day Arizona, he finds an entire tribe who are eager to meet him, who have heard of him, and who want to learn to read and write and speak Latin. And there he spends a long happy time, among a people who copy all of the Classical manuscripts, and master Latin with a joyous eagerness, so much so that, while the European nobleman, although no longer young at all, is still alive, they have adopted Latin as their new first language.

And that's my Latin novel. Or should I swell with hubris and over-ambition at my advanced age and the not-very-advanced stage of my skills in Latin, and nevertheless refer to it as my first Latin novel?

Friday, July 12, 2019

Classicists and the General Public

A few days ago, I was observing, not for the first time, an online discussion by non-Classicists of Ridley Scott's Academy Award-winning movie Gladiator.

"Are you not entertained?" Scott's fictitious Maximus shouts. The general public shouts back, "Yes!" while those who have studied even a little bit of Roman history clutch our heads in dismay and groan "No!" but are unheard. We're groaning and clutching our heads, not because the masses are entertained, but because they're all praising Gladiator's supposed historical accuracy, while describing themselves as "history buffs."

I thought about jumping into the discussion and pointing out the long list of glaring inaccuracies and absurdities in Gladiator, and how they are not merely matters of detail, but give a spectacularly inaccurate overall impression of the Roman Empire in the late 2nd century. I thought about pointing out that the general public is quite simply wrong in thinking that Gladiator towers above other sandal epics in historical accuracy.

I've jumped into these discussions before, when the topic is Gladiator, when it's the fate of the ancient library at Alexandria, and when it's something else. And one thing which has struck me every time is the near-complete indifference of the general public to everything which I, and professional Classicists who know more than I, have to say about ancient topics. With few exceptions, the general public have already decided on a version of history which is convenient for them, and have no desire for experts to tamper with their version of things.

This last time, I ended up just turning away, without contributing a word to this particular online discussion. Was I right to do so? Was I right in thinking, this time, quite differently than I have thought in the past, that all I would do was to unnecessarily annoy people who were enjoying themselves? I'm not asking these questions rhetorically. I rarely pose rhetorical questions. I'm asking because I don't know and would greatly appreciate the opportunity to learn the views of anyone else who's considered the same questions: what to do, when one comes across a group of people who believe that Commodus was slain in the Colosseum by Maximus, thus returning the Republic to Rome? Or that Constantine and the Pope wrote the Bible at the Council of Nicea? Or that there are thousands of surviving written documents composed in Jerusalem during Jesus' supposed lifetime, none of which mention Him?

What to do, in short, when confronted with people who have a mistaken view of certain historical topics, and who are not the slightest bit interested in being corrected? Be a Sisyphus and roll that boulder of our knowledge of the sources uphill with all out might? Let the general public believe whatever they like, ignore them and concentrate on discussing things with our fellow ivory tower-dwellers? Something else? I repeat: I'm not asking any of these questions rhetorically, I'd really like to learn the opinions of other who've pondered such things.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

We Are Not All Descendants of Charlemagne, or Nefertiti

I've been looking and looking for someone who has refuted the notion that all Europeans are descended from Charlemagne,

or that all living humans are descended from Nefertiri. To my great frustration, I can't find anyone pointing out that this is nonsense. Once again, I must do everything myself.

And I don't have any training whatsoever in biology. But I think I don't need any, because I have much more than enough knowledge of history.

First of all, what does "all Europeans" mean, scientifically? It means nothing. How can you precisely determine who is and who is not a European? You can't. Ditto for African, Asian, Native American and so forth.

Secondly, the assertion that we all share ancestors who lived as little as 4000 years ago drastically, massively underestimate the amount of isolation, xenophobia and, consequently, inbreeding among many human groups. I'm referring to people in remote villages who drive off any and all furrners just as well as they possibly can, but also, for instance, the European royal family, and yes, it is one, horribly inbred family, and has been for many centuries. Not "every European" is descended from Charlemagne, but every European monarch -- a group which can be precisely defined -- is descended from Charlemagne, and every European monarch for centuries has been. Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, is a radical departure from royal custom, and an extremely healthy expansion of that bottlenecked gene pool.

Now let's take the matter of geographical isolation. This really ought to be enough to let everyone see that the assertions that all living human beings share ancestors when you go back less than 5000 years, are badly mistaken.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present Exhibit A: the Western Hemisphere. Yes, genetic blending of the Eastern and Western Hemispheres has been going on for -- over 500 years. Is that enough to guarantee that every single living human being shares an ancestor less than 5000 years old? No. There may be some tribes in the Amazon which people from other parts of the world haven't found yet. There certainly were as few as several decades ago. Several decades is not enough to have gotten all of them into the mix, genetically.

Exhibit B: Australia. Stumbled across by Captain Cook in 1770. Have 249 years been enough to guarantee that there is no-one of unmixed Aborigine heritage left alive? No!

Like I said, it frustrates me greatly that I need to do this, that there aren't actual geneticists everywhere you look pointing out such elementary things with the proper scientific jargon. It's very frustrating that it has to be me, completely lacking the apprpriate vocabulary, grunting things like "Amazon forest tribes! Australia, goddamit! There's no such thing as Europeans or Asians! Aaaaaarrrgghh!"

Monday, July 8, 2019

Reasons For Optimism About the Climate

There's no pressing need to convince people that the Earth is round, not flat. There actually are a few people who still believe it's flat, and Lord knows, they're hard to reason with, since they're very stupid -- but their numbers have become so few that they barely matter any more.

Similarly, the general public is become better educated about the climate, and the effect of human activity upon the climate. Soon, there may be no more real need to debate climate change deniers anymore, since we will be able to easily out-vote them. It's becoming more and more unusual for someone to flat-out deny that global warming is happening. People who used to deny it are now saying that, yes, the Earth is getting warmer, but that humans aren't causing it. And people who used to say that are now saying that th dang environmentalists don't know how to fix it and are just making things worse. And people who used to say that have shut up and started buying electricity generated from solar and wind, and even driving electric cars, because it's cheaper. Because of good old fashioned greed. Boy, wouldn't it be ironic if Gordon Gekko was right about greed all along?

I'm not going that far -- but: environmentally-friendly human behavior is becoming more widespread, for a variety of reasons, including greed. What just a few decades ago was called the environmental movement, and was regarded by many as fringe lunacy, is now mainstream, and growing fast, and getting laughed at less and less often.

This video is delightful:

Yes, it focuses on a list of 10 commonly-given reasons for not buying an electric car, soundly debunking all 10, but in the process it gives a lot of information about much more broad topics of green power and green technology. And it's also very witty and fun to watch.

I'm feeling optimistic about the climate today, because there are so many different ways in which human behavior is changing, each one helping the climate: more and more people are buying electric vehicles instead of vehicles with internal-combustion engines. More and more people are ceasing to drive at all: instead, they take the train or the bus or they walk or bike. And if they really, really need a car, there's cabs and Uber and Lyft, and soon there will be robot cars. Yes, robot cars. Yes, soon. Google it if you don't believe me. And most, or, probably, all of those robot cars will be electric, and will get their juice from solar and wind and other green sources.

And the price of electricity from solar and wind and those other green sources is already lower than the price of electricity from coal or gas in many places, and it just keeps getting less expensive as the green technology becomes more large scale and more efficient. And coal and gas and oil and gasoline are not getting cheaper.

And rooftop gardens keep popping up in cities, and forests keep getting planted along the edges of deserts, turning the deserts green.

And more and more people stop using plastic water bottles, and start using re-usable cloth shopping bags.

And paying attention to the behavior of individual corporations and politicians, and shopping and voting accordingly. And so forth and so on. So many different reasons to be optimistic. They add up.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

The Origin of Latin Literature

It seems that by around 700 BC, both the Greeks and the Romans had alphabets. But whereas in Greece written literature began to flourish very soon after the adoption of an alphabet, we know of very little writing in Latin from before 300 BC -- so little that it is is tempting to see these oldest examples of written Latin as freak occurrences rather than as parts of a pattern: A few words scratched here and there into a stone or a piece of pottery or jewelry.

Then, after 300 BC, Latin writing suddenly confronts us in a torrent, in tomb inscriptions, on public signs, on coins. And, all of a sudden, in the 3rd century and the early second, Latin literature is there: Livius Andronicus, Naevius, Plautus, Ennius, and many others of their time are either preserved in whole works or fragments, or their memory is preserved by the praise of later authors.

So why, after having possessed knowledge of an alphabet for so many centuries, did the Romans wait so long before beginning to make what we would consider customary use of it?

Perhaps that is the wrong question, an anachronistic question, assuming that people from an earlier time would think of things a certain way merely because that's the way we think of them. Perhaps the question is, how, why and when did it first occur to someone to make such use of written Latin language? Perhaps the Romans were confronted with written Greek and written Etruscan, and thought of writing as something which belonged to those languages.

Much the same way that, many centuries later in Western Europe, writing was thought of as something which was done in Latin -- and, far away, by exotic, legendary people, in incomprehensible Greek, and perhaps, even farther away than that, in one or two other languages -- and not in vernaculars, until it occurred to someone that it could also be done in French, and German, and Castilian. The earlier writing in Anglo-Saxon, and, in one, isolated instance, in Gothic, could be seen from this vantage as aberrations, like the isolated instances of written Latin between 700 and 300 BC.

Perhaps more appropriate questions are: why did it occur to the Greeks so early after being introduced to the alphabet, to make such vigorous and extensive use of it? And why, around 300 BC, did it suddenly occur to the Romans to begin writing in Latin? Perhaps we should think of these beginnings not as matter of fact occurrences to be taken for granted, but as extraordinary, brilliant mental breakthroughs.

Was this sudden change in Roman behavior part of a broader reaction to the tremendously disruptive deeds of Alexander the Great and his regional successors?

In any case, it seems quite clear that even after the Romans did begin to write actual literature in Latin, they thought of writing as something Greek. Their imitation of Greek genres, motives, plots, myths and so forth makes this obvious.

Another interesting question is -- perhaps scholars have already extensively explored it, I don't know -- for how long before 300 BC, and in what numbers, had Romans been reading Greek literature?

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Welcome to Tesla Service Hell

Another great video from the YouTube channel Rich Rebuilds. Here Rich vents some frustration at Tesla because Tesla won't help a non-authorized repairman, such as himself, to make repairs, the way every other car company does.

In this video, Rich says (I'm paraphrasing), if you treat your customers the way Tesla treats theirs, they're going to buy another brand.

That would be true if people were rational, but we aren't rational. Not completely. And most people, not even mostly. If people were rational, Apple wouldn't have sold hundreds of millions of computers -- or is it billions by now? -- for twice as much money as PC's that go twice as fast. Tesla buyers and Apple buyers put up with all sorts of crap from their cult leaders that they would never tolerate from any other companies. I hope that changes someday, but I don't see any sign of it changing soon. Apple's been selling overpriced crap for 40 years, but they're not about to go out of business. McDonald's is still going strong, speaking of popular overpriced crap sold by a long-term successful company. And aside from all of the service BS, Tesla's products are actually extremely good, so already they've got a big leg up on business titans like Apple and McDonald's.

I shouted at the screen at one point in this video, when Rich was talking about how it's ecologically sound for him and other repair people to fix up damaged Tesla's, and asks rhetorically, isn't being ecologically sound what Tesla is all about? I shouted at the screen: "No, it's not! It's all about making a billionaire much, much more rich!"

Tesla presents itself as being all about ecological soundness and saving the Earth. That's part of the reason they have such a blindly devoted following.

The thing is, though: you don't have to treat your customers like crap in order to be ecologically sound. In fact, that part of Tesla's way of doing things, when you add it all up, may not be very green.