LET'S TRY ANOTHER TACK. I'm part of a fairly recent influx of poor people into an otherwise affluent town. Lots of Mexicans, lots of poor white video game nerds who move here to work at the oversized computer store (do you have Fry's in your neck of the woods? It's like a Radio Shack the size of Costco). This overlap of wealth and privation has created one of nature's perfect marvels: A Goodwill store in a rich neighborhood. An inexpensive trove of treasures donated by the guilty well-off. Valuable old toys and games, kitchen equipment whose only defect is being 20 years out of fashion, designer clothes never worn with the department store tags still attached donated because it wasn't worth the hassle to drive all the way down to the boutique and try to return a measly thousand-dollar sweater without the gift receipt that the maid threw away by mistake.
But I go for the books. Not to tell tales out of school, but if the selection at the Goodwills in seedy neighborhoods is any indication, the poor only ever read John Grisham, Stephen King, Harequinn romances, the Left Behind series, and the Alcoholics Anonymous blue book. Night and day from my Goodwill. In the last month alone I've scored The I Ching Workbook, the brilliant 7 Events That Made America America, A Brief History of Time (revised 10th anniversary edition, whut whuuuuut), twocollections of Camile Paglia essays from the 90s, and the Max Weber classic The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. All for about 3 bucks a piece. Also found a copy of The Case For Mars, a book I've wanted to read for a while, but I had to leave it on the shelf. They don't call me poor for nothing.
Out of that haul, the real prize is a tome called Cultural Literacy. The title's a little misleading. I thought I was getting an encyclopedia of cultural literacy. Or even an introduction to cultural literacy. What it is, is a case for cultural literacy. Preaching to the choir, in my case. The author's argument could be summed up in a sentence: Kids need to know about the world they came from. Maybe that's not a no-brainer for everyone else like it is for us.
The book redeems itself with its appendix, a big list of "what every American needs to know." Stuff from history, science, pop culture, The Bible, all fields of human thought and endeavor. A sample page:
I bought it with an eye towards googling and wikipedia-ing the entries in my spare time. Autodidact for the win.
On the way home, I worried at a nagging sense of familiarity, the way one worries at a cold sore with one's tongue. Couldn't shake the feeling I'd bought something like this before. I was through the door when it hit me: THE BOOMER BIBLE! Best book of the last century. That little thing. In particular, Cultural Literacy's index reminded mo of the discussions on the ancient Boomer Bible forum about the coyness of the Intercolumn Reference. There's a couple opportunities when the ICR could have unified the text of TBB in a big index-- but it suddenly goes silent. TBB wants to be understood, but she’s not the kind of girl who puts out on the first date. In the author’s blunt, immortal phrase, “work is required to get what you want.” That theme underlies almost everything he’s written. You want something? Figure out how to get it. Do the work it takes to learn.
Well, with the advent of the internet, learning has never taken less work. I don’t even have to walk the two blocks to my local library anymore. From the comfort of my own butt, the whole of history is open to me. With a few keystrokes, I can learn just about anything that ever happened.
Realizing all this, I was going to take Literacy’s index to Wikipedia and start typing. But September’s dust-up over God and history still looms in my mind. When he issued his 50-state challenge, I stalled out at around 37. Something from Psayings 5, maybe.
I’ve decided to make a game of it. Starting with the lengthy list of years from Psayings 5Y (to contrast, the Cultural Literacy index only lists about 7 dates), I’m going to see how well I know the dates I should. When I know the date, I’ll gloat, as is my right. When I don’t know the date, it’s off to Wikipedia’s handy year entries to see if I know history well enough to guess the important event.
Here goes nothin’.
Verse 1 In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Was that the same year he discovered America? Or was that 1493? He just set sail in 1492, right? Nope, hang on, incoming memory... He discovers America in October of 1492. Looking it up to see if I’m right... Yep. Nailed it. School wasn't a total waste after all!
3. 1776. That's funny. I remember not knowing most of the years in Psayings 5Y when I first read it (except for verse 35 of course). Maybe I didn’t recognize years when spelled out. 1776: Declaration of Independence signed.
You know what's cool about America? Besides a lot of things? We date the birth of our country from the start of the Revolutionary War. Not the end. We became independent the moment we declared it, by God. Britain just took an extra 7 years to convince. Yes, I had to look up when the Revolutionary War ended.
4. 1812. More low-hanging fruit: The War of 1812. Could I tell you when the war started if the year wasn't right in the name? Doubt it.
Something I didn't know: The War of 1812 lasted until 1815. Kind of misleading, right? A war's called the War of 1812, you expect it to be over and done inside the specified 12 month span. We don't call the Revolutionary War "the War of 1776," do we? Lasted way past '76! Maybe the name's a decent historical marker for a war that was about a lot of little things instead of one big thing.
What must that have been like? The old mother country invades and burns the capital barely three decades after the Revolution. How fragile our experiment with freedom must have seemed. Did the second coming of the British feel like history reasserting itself to the young nation? I can imagine the editorial cartoons of the day: A giant, open yoke coming across the ocean, balanced on the Royal Naval fleet. Dave the Dad calls it "a kind of strange and stupid war," but I bet we fought like hell.
5. 1860. Hmm. The Civil War was 1861 to 1865. 1860 was... secession of South Carolina? Gotta look it up.
Let's see... wow, 1860 was a busy year. "June 30 – The historic debate about evolution is held at the Oxford University Museum." That's probably not it. Nov 6, Lincoln wins presidential election? Could be. Lincoln's a big deal in TBB.
Hey, I was right after all: "December 20 – South Carolina becomes the first state to secede from the United States Union." That’s the state that still flies the goddamn Stars and Bars over their capitol, right? I'm conflicted about that. On the one hand, it ticks the NAACP off, and I'm all for that. Maybe once upon a time the National Association for the Advancement of Colored (racist!) People was a force for good, but lately any action whatsoever they take is to batter their legacy. The organization that once crusaded against segregation and lynching now fearlessly leads the charge against racist greeting card companies that try to hide their racism behind a lot of fancy talk about "astronomical phenomena" and "science." To paraphrase Proverbs, opposing the modern NAACP on any issue, no matter what, is the beginning of wisdom.
On the other hand, it's the Stars and Bars. I don't care that half the Americans in my income bracket try to make it a symbol of rebelious individualism. It's the banner of slavery! Once upon a time, large swaths of Americans were so committed to keeping their slaves that they quit the country! That was evil, period, and should be revilled accordingly. Imagine if disgruntled Germans started flying the swastika from their pickups. "No, we don't hate the Jews or anything like that. We hate the European Union, and the swastika is from a time when Germany really stood up to the world, you know? It represents defiance and civic pride now. Not so much the other, nastier stuff." Would that just fine and dandy?
6. 1914. Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. Start of WWI.
In Asia, a chap named Shen Kuo "receives a post in the capital China." Good for him. I doubt Shen Kuo is on Dave's radar. Maybe it's the Granada massacre? "A Muslim mob storms the royal palace in Granada, crucifies Jewish vizier Joseph ibn Naghrela and massacres most of the Jewish population of the city." Damn, dude. Good thing those psychopaths didn't make it out of the Middle Ages!
Wait, here it is: "Conquest of England"! I bet that didn't happen very often. The wiki entry has a timeline of events, and some of the events have names and everything. Looks like it spanned the whole year-- BATTLE OF HASTINGS! I've heard of that once! Those words in that order, at least.
Fun fact: The Wikipedia contributor who wrote this-- Often erroneously labeled "the last successful invasion of Great Britain", it was in fact the last successful conquest of Great Britain (the last successful invasion of Great Britain in general – by the Dutch in 1688 – was upon invitation by Parliament to overthrow King James II of England)-- is an asshole.
Have to bookmark this page. There's a thousand-year gap in my mental chronology of the world where I've scribbled "Kings, knights, swords, crusades, bad science, no bathing" in parentheses.
9. 1215. Magna Carta. The reform seems meager to modern eyes-- now the king AND rich people have rights!-- but it was a huge deal at the time. The idea that the law be something other than the king's whim, that it be something objective, led to every good innovation in government since.
10. 1640. Pre-enlightenment, so again I have no clue.
Charles I, that’s something. That’s a name I know. Summoned the Short Parliament in April... but that can’t be notable enough. Ditto for the Long Parliament in November. (I’d heard of the Long, but not the Short. That’s kinda funny)
Aha: Treaty of Ripon. Scotland makes off like bandits. That’s gotta be a favorite historical event of R.F. Laird.
TOMORROW: Part Two.
Friday, November 18, 2011
Tim Tebow, The
Eagles & the end of everything...
All six of NFLN's
coach and player experts told us this couldn't happen. It did.
DESPAIR. I did the big post Monday because I wanted a few
days off to
think. Then it gets difficult knowing how to jump back in. Why I rely
on serendicity so much. Eduardo had this to say when he grew tired of
Who’s up for a topic change? If anybody
else watched that Jets/Broncos game last night (it was unwatchable by
itself, but I had it on in the background as I surfed the web and wrote
an email to Apotheosis explaining why I thought the movie Priest was
more amusing than unbearable), it encapsulated the entire Tebow
Tebow didn’t look so good. He flat out missed wide open receivers in
crucial 3rd down situations. Other times it looked like he was trying
to peg them in dodgeball instead of passing to them. Here’s the thing,
though: Mark Sanchez was even worse. In fact, Sanchez has been bad for
longer than Tebow, but is there a legion of dedicated Sanchez haters?
Not that I know of. Instead, he’s been doing Verizon & Pepsi
Yeah, granted, Tebow can be annoying. And the Broncos can’t keep
winning on the last minute Tebow TD scramble, which I still can’t
believe is catching teams by surprise (I mean…really??). At some point
he will have to start throwing the ball accurately to be successful, so
if he’s taking the past few games as some sort of sign that he can
survive by running, he is setting himself up for a massive fall. But
still, I can’t see hating the kid. If I were a Jets fan I would be
hating Sanchez a lot more than Tebow right now.
What he left out was the magic he was reporting on. The Tebow Magic. An
almost cartoon hero, looking lousy for the whole game, then suddenly
doing everything right to win at the end. Even people who are rooting
for him are embarrassed by it. How can it be? How is it possible to
have a talent for nothing but winning?
I was already thinking about it when I saw Eduardo's comment. Because
in Philadelphia, we are facing the exact opposite situation: a whole
team of great talent that keeps finding a way to lose late. The Eagles
roll up yardage, points, and spectacular highlight plays, then collapse
in a heap when it really counts.
I think both these phenomena are related to what I've been struggling
with of late. (I concede Penn
State was a kind of last straw... the one
that broke this camel's back.
The past is still alive in the present, and if some part of the past
you trusted is corrupt, where does that leave you? Gasping.)
Why is the whole world falling so completely apart right now, so that
the news is just sickeningingly awful every day, and not enough people appear to see it to take any
decisive position against it? Obama is so utterly the worst president
of not only my lifetime, but my parents' lifetime, including even FDR,
that every even-toned discussion of how he might yet win reelection
fills me with a sensation approaching panic. Polls showing the race
close are like getting stabbed by glass.
There's way too much evidence to cite. He has set not just the poor
against the rich, but the middle and upper middle classes against the
rich, endorsed the "Occupy Wall Street" shibboleth of the 99 percent
against the 1 percent. And the mainstream media endorse him in that
idiotic characterization, so that polls for a long time indicated that
ordinary Americans preferred incoherent, lice-ridden squatters -- with
no political platitudes not plagiarized from expressly marxist 1960s
SDS mimeographs -- to the Tea Partiers who asked, politely, and
amazingly hygienically, for less government control of their lives. In
the United States of America.
The Republicans keep calling him a socialist, but he's more national
socialist -- i.e., fascist -- than marxist. The party with the closest
links to the financial epicenter of the country is the Democrats, not
the Republicans. Why Solyndra gets the sweetheart deal, why Goldman
Sachs provides more money -- and White House functionaries -- to Obama
than to the evil conservatives the dim-witted 'Occupy' thugs are so
anxious to do in.
Why I keep saying -- and no one ever listens -- that the crisis facing
us is not about hunger for money but the thirst for power. Last night,
on Fox News's four-to-one against libs show The Five, a conservative insisted
on describing the Penn Sate mess as being about greed. It's not. The
people who run government, universities, and the media don't care about
prosperity at all. They want to be vindicated in their belief that
they're smarter than all us flyover fools, and more than anything, they
want the power to tell us what to believe, who to believe in, how to live, how to bring up our children
(uh, as theirs, or their
compliant drones), and how to go gently into the good night of
Sometimes, the devil really is in the details. You have the mayor of
New York, a billionaire, who cites freedom of speech when he's
approving a mosque nobody wants at Ground Zero but who refuses to
tolerate religious representation at the tenth anniversary of September
11. He cites freedom of speech again when he refuses to crack down on
dope-smoking 'Occupy' protesters who are incapable of any kind of
articulate speech while he insists on regulating the tobacco, caloric
and salt intake of the law-abiding citizens of his city. He just wants
to be in charge, to be our daddy and mommy by turns, until we are only children waving pennants for sports teams.
What they all want. And they don't care about prosperity for the real 99 percent. Especially Obama.
They just want credit for pretending to care about people they
demonstrably don't give a shit about.
Obama won't approve drilling for domestic oil or natural gas. Jobs? He
won't approve a pipeline that would create what? Jobs. He pushes a
government control bill that is guaranteed to raise health insurance
premiums and lies about the fact that everyone's premiums will go up
and many will have to give up plans he insisted they wouldn't? Does he
care? No. He blames it all on his predecessor and the rich. Also why
his whole approach to tax policy for stimulus is to pay the wages of
teachers, cops, and firemen and perpetuate unemployment indefinitely
rather than turn the much larger private economy loose to do the 'evil'
American thing of creating new economic opportunities where bureaucrats
typically see none.
Europe is financially imploding. Even the dumbest of the mainstream
media used to know that if the United States catches an economic cold,
Europe catches economic pneumonia. Now Europe has something worse than
pneumonia, and the only remaining mechanism for reining in the
world-bankrupting federal spending levels in the U.S. is an
extra-congressional committee of octogenarians who are empowered only
to trim a fraction of the automatic growth of a U.S. budget that hasn't
existed in legislative reality since Obama became president.Try to find
a description of the European debt crisis that places the blame for
Euro-tuberculosis on American pneumonia. Good luck.
Foreign affairs? Oil prices spiking, rising, scaring? Obama doing
nothing -- absolutely nothing other than bland talk -- about Iran's
nuclear intentions. Withdrawing completely from Iraq. Promising to flee
Afghanistan soon, if not sooner. He chooses to kill bin Laden, Awlaki,
etc, rather than capture them because his political buttboy
attorney-general is committed to trying them in New York City if
they're captured alive, and the alternative of a mlitary tribunal in
Guantanamo would be even more embarrassing. And maybe we'll be able to
get rid of Israel too. Who doesn't want that in the American liberal
community? Lousy goddammed Jews. Except for the ones who insist on
helping us every step of the way. (They'll get something for their help
in the end....)
Am I boring you? Back to first questions. What do Tebow and the Eagles
have to do with this mess?
So, this morning, I heard two different sets of analyses. Maybe they
were close to the truth because the facts are so stark, I don't know. A
quarterback I know doesn't think Tebow has what it takes shook his head
and said (something to the effect of), "You can't underestimate the
power of belief. If he's really able to convince them they can win,
that's an incredibly potent force in sports."
Conversely, I heard from multiple analysts who still believe the Eagles
might yet be a force to be reckoned with this season (none of them from
Philadelphia), I heard (and I'm just summarizing), "When bad things
start to happen, you can start to look for the bad things, and then
I'm sure you all want a bottom line. I refrained from watching news
coverage of the 'Occupy' nonsense that was happening yesterday. I
watched a SyFy
movie instead. All about the moon about to collide with
the earth. Lady Laird makes fun of me for watching these movies. I
enjoy them because we always escape Armageddon at the end. Totally
unlike what we see on the History,
Discovery, and Science channels.
They actually can't wait for the end of the human race.
Which is where I come down on the whole subject. Since World War I, the
so-called intellectuals have been rooting for the end of the world as
we know it. They believe they killed God and the proof they seek is
that we disappear into nonentity and meaninglessness. Which makes them
Simple as that.
Why do you suppose they have battled so hard and furiously against the
idea of American Exceptionalism when the actual history is so
decisively against them? The American Revolution is responsible for all
the freedom in what we call the western world. Directly. Muscularly
(given WWI and WWII and the Cold War). They want to die. They want us
to die. To this end, they have conquered the educational institutions
and the media, they have turned truth into lies (post-modernism), and
they have created a phony ideal of a green world that if it had ever
existed would not contain Gizeh, Athens, Pompeii,
York. Where most of them live or
wish they did. Their fantasy is that we all live naked on the banks
of the Amazon drinking bad beer made from capsum bark. While listening
to John Lennon on our iPods.
Buying it? Not me.
But I'm buying the bigger point. Which is that the world is at a
crossroads. The propagandists have succeeded in convincing something
like a majority to give up. (William O'Blivion is looking forward to
the breakup of the United States.)
The resisting minority have not perceived the extent of the danger.
They believe that most people still believe. They are in error about
that. Something cracked in the body politic after the end of the Cold
War. They haven't caught up. The end of the Cold War thawed out the
worst emotion of all -- Thanatos. They
still think they are raising
their children to participate in something like a continuum from the
past. Wrong. The continuum was fatally sabotaged long long ago.
Why I am so, so unhappy. Death is advancing on everything we hold dear.
Our children have to be raised not as good citizens but implacable
I'm too old to understand all the implications of my own statement. But
it's making me close to catatonic.
I took down a post earlier in the week. I should explain. I apologize.
But cover-ups go way way back. The roots of the "Occupy' movement go
all the way back to my own adolescence in 1969, when a third of the
student body walked out of Saturday Chapel at Mercersburg
was, perhaps, the moment when the Boomer
Bible was born. I tried to go back. Thomas Wolfe famously said,
"You can't go home again." He was mistaken. You can go home again. I have. You just
can't go back in time.
Everyone who was alive then has his own version of what happened, and
almost nobody else remembers anything that could be called truth. There
is only the myth of what happened.
So I spoke to old teachers and younger relatives of those who were, in
fact, present. I was trying to understand how institutions remember
things that changed their histories for good or ill. The answer? They
don't. It's all a continuous present that ejects the past like shit
from a goose.
Why do I trust my memory? I committed an historic event. I published an
"Extra" of the school's award winning newspaper. I got it published in
48 hours. I documented what was said at the all-school meeting after
the walkout, I solicited pro and con articles from members of the
faculty, and I wrote an editorial. The only thing I don't remember is
my editorial, except that I was opposed to what had happened.
What did my research disclose? Nobody knows anything about the event
itself anymore, even though my Extra still sits in the annals of the
paper, on record and accessible.. My favorite teacher doesn't want to
know about the relevance of that moment to 'Occupy Wall Street' because
it conflicts with what he wants to remember about his own liberal
tenure. And the youngsters have been taught to remember that only my graduating class -- 1970 -- is
somehow mysteriously bitter about their alma mater.
What does any of this have to do with Penn State or the state of the
world? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Except I'm still stubbornly thinking about Tebow. And this:
Including the moments when he learned that turkeys
live quite alertly and consciously in the present... and the moment
when his last turkey
friend suddenly, savagely, attacked him as a male rival.
The human plus? We get to think about it. If we can.
We can't go
back, but we live not to die but to live.
Are we alive? Or dead like those others? Your call.
Monday, November 14, 2011
there gold in them thar spills?
THE BEST HAVE THEIR WEAK MOMENTS. I read all the comments but I
can't respond to all of them. That would be folly. The good ones need
no particular remark unless they start a new line of thinking. The bad
ones are usually self-evident unless they illustrate a pattern of some
kind or are so absurd as to need calling out. But if you want your
comments replied to, I can give you some guidelines. 1) Be brilliantly
original or provocative. Or
2) Demonstrate that you haven't read what I've written, 3) Be
nonresponsive to what I've written while pretending to respond, 4)
Ignore what I've written to pursue your own personal agenda, or 5)
Cherrypick what I've written to register some great gotcha that bores
everybody but you.
I've made no secret in the last week or two that I'm disgusted with
things in general, but that hasn't deterred stratagems 2) through 5).
Which is your right, of course. And some of you have been valued
commenters in the past. Like William O'Blivion, who has many erudite
thoughts -- but not this week. Case in point. He replied to my
post about how dumb conservatives are being thus:
A slap at my dismissal of Herman Cain, sure. Fine. Never mind that
Harry Truman was anything but an amateur. He was a skilled Washington
politician who got lots of attention for pursuing war profiteers when
he was in the House of Representatives. Yes, he was a haberdasher at
one time and never earned a college degree. Not quite the same thing as
never having held any kind
of elective office. But that was just the opening salvo. The
bottom line here is the bottom line: "Not even Reagan was a Reagan."
Uh, yeah. He was. Mr. O'Blivion is wallowing in his own despair and
wants us to wallow with him. Disgust is not despair. In fact, it's the
opposite. He's welcome to his own agenda, but I write my posts. Comments should be
written too, not splattered across the Internet.
There's also Pittsburgh Guy -- uh, Bud -- all bent out of shape because
KDKA broadcast a football game on the radio in the 1920s and the Wiki
entry I quoted
about the University of Pennslvania claimed that laurel for Penn. Which
justified a slander only half mitigated by one of those opaque Internet
Never mind what the post was about. Meaning the worst scandal in the history of
amateur sports. Or that I wrote an actual -- if wry -- love
letter to Pittsburgh a week or so ago.
Pittsburgh is a fine fine city. Like so many American cities are.
Unique in history, architecture, cultural riches (Pippa has already
studied Faberge treaures at the Frick), neighborhoods, and ethnic
identity. I love this country. Wherever you go, there is beauty, stores
of knowledge and art, and the people make you welcome and proud to be
American. Even in the appalling moral cesspool that is the headquarters
of Stiller (Steeler) fans.
Wrenching the whole discussion into a back alley nobody cares about is
its own reward. Cherrypicking is
its own reward, however off topic, distracting, and dull.
Yes, I'm grousing. William O and Bud will understand that I'm just
teasing them. Commenters are entitled to commit most of the sins I've
enumerated. But Sins 2) and 3) actually piss me off. Which brings me to
SkinnyDevil. He's a Paulista. Initially he was befuddled by this
Then he collected himself and (non)responded to what he didn't like.
I admit it. This whole post is about sneaking up on SkinnyDevil, who
has his own blog and seems to think the weight he's throwing around is
somehow equal to InstaPunk's. Wrong. He commits the cardinal sins that
make Lord Laird mad. He hasn't read what I've actually written, which
answers the questions he triumphantly asks, and he is nonresponsive to
the central point of the post he presumes to be superior to.
"You are well aware that Iran poses no
direct threat to the US."
The weakest argument in the world is presuming that your own lame
assumptions bind the person you're disagreeing with the same way they
bind you. ("You are well aware that if I shoot your brother I haven't
harmed you in any way.") I
despise Ron Paul's foreign policy precisely because it doesn't
conprehend that events in the world -- such as the annihilation of
Israel -- would also be crippling assaults on the United States. Not
perceiving that fundamental point is the stated reason for my
detestation of Ron Paul. Why I -- in the text of my post -- call him
"not a politician" but "a cult leader." So SkinnyDevil can't or doesn't
read. Which is my problem with all Paulistas.
"Which brings us back to why you would
take issue with Paul when every candidate on the stage with him agrees
with much of what he says..."
Read what I fucking wrote: "The plan
is published as a spreadsheet, with no description of how any
transition is to be accomplished. The problem I've always had
libertarians. We're right. Who gives a shit about what happens when we
finally take charge?" [Boldface added
after the fact because it's apparently necessary for some of the tools
in the audience.]
If Gingrich says he wants to do away with various federal
departments, I know that he
knows it requires more than the stroke of a pen and a crazy grandma
smile of jubilation. Which makes him vastly different from the
congressman who could guest star as the villain of the week on Criminal Minds without raising an
What part of that don't you
Disgust, Part 2
The Mark Twain
hope that, like Mark Twain, a hundred years from now people will see my work and say, "Wow, that is
actually pretty racist."
1998 – Richard Pryor
1999 – Jonathan Winters
2000 – Carl Reiner
2001 – Whoopi Goldberg
2002 – Bob Newhart
2003 – Lily Tomlin
2004 – Lorne Michaels
2005 – Steve Martin
2006 – Neil Simon
2007 – Billy Crystal
2008 – George Carlin
2009 – Bill Cosby
2010 – Tina Fey
2011 – Will Ferrell
Disgust. Mark Twain was not a standup comic or movie actor or producer.
Hemingway said of him, "All modern American literature comes from one
book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry
Finn." (Except that there was also Edgar Allan Poe.) He was a writer. Here's a reminder from a
lovely and still affecting souffle called Innocents Abroad, which none of
the winners could duplicate or even aspire to. So what else is new? As
Keith Richards says, "90 percent of everything is crap." MT is an
exception. Behold the American voice:
They pronounce it 'Pom-pay-e.' I always
had an idea that you went down into Pompeii with torches, by the way of
damp, dark stairways, just as you do in silver mines, and traversed
gloomy tunnels with lava overhead and something on either hand like
dilapidated prisons gouged out of the solid earth, that faintly
resembled houses. But you do nothing of the kind. Fully one-half of the
buried city, perhaps, is completely exhumed and thrown open freely to
the light of day; and there stand the long rows of solidly-built brick
houses (roofless) just as they stood eighteen hundred years ago, hot
with the flaming sun; and there lie their floors, clean-swept, and not
a bright fragment tarnished or wanting of the labored mosaics that
pictured them with the beasts, and birds, and flowers which we copy in
perishable carpets to-day; and there are the Venuses, and Bacchuses,
and Adonises, making love and getting drunk in many-hued frescoes on
the walls of saloon and bed-chamber; and there are the narrow streets
and narrower sidewalks, paved with flags of good hard lava, the one
deeply rutted with the chariot-wheels, and the other with the passing
feet of the Pompeiians of by-gone centuries; and there are the
bake-shops, the temples, the halls of justice, the baths, the
theatres—all clean-scraped and neat, and suggesting nothing of the
nature of a silver mine away down in the bowels of the earth. The
broken pillars lying about, the doorless doorways and the crumbled tops
of the wilderness of walls, were wonderfully suggestive of the "burnt
district" in one of our cities, and if there had been any charred
timbers, shattered windows, heaps of debris, and general blackness and
smokiness about the place, the resemblance would have been perfect. But
no—the sun shines as brightly down on old Pompeii to-day as it did when
Christ was born in Bethlehem, and its streets are cleaner a hundred
times than ever Pompeiian saw them in her prime. I know whereof I
speak—for in the great, chief thoroughfares (Merchant Street and the
Street of Fortune) have I not seen with my own eyes how for two hundred
years at least the pavements were not repaired! —how ruts five and even
ten inches deep were worn into the thick flagstones by the chariot
wheels of generations of swindled tax-payers? And do I not know by
these signs that Street Commissioners of Pompeii never attended to
their business, and that if they never mended the pavements they never
cleaned them? And, besides, is it not the inborn nature of Street
Commissioners to avoid their duty whenever they get a chance? I wish I
knew the name of the last one that held office in Pompeii so that I
could give him a blast. I speak with feeling on this subject, because I
caught my foot in one of those ruts, and the sadness that came over me
when I saw the first poor skeleton, with ashes and lava sticking to it,
was tempered by the reflection that may be that party was the Street
Then we lounged through many and many a sumptuous private mansion which
we could not have entered without a formal invitation in
incomprehensible Latin, in the olden time, when the owners lived
there—and we probably wouldn't have got it. These people built their
houses a good deal alike. The floors were laid in fanciful figures
wrought in mosaics of many-colored marbles. At the threshold your eyes
fall upon a Latin sentence of welcome, sometimes, or a picture of a
dog, with the legend "Beware of the Dog," and sometimes a picture of a
bear or a faun with no inscription at all. Then you enter a sort of
vestibule, where they used to keep the hat-rack, I suppose; next a room
with a large marble basin in the midst and the pipes of a fountain; on
either side are bedrooms; beyond the fountain is a reception-room, then
a little garden, dining-room, and so forth and so on. The floors were
all mosaic, the walls were stuccoed, or frescoed, or ornamented with
bas-reliefs, and here and there were statues, large and small, and
little fish-pools, and cascades of sparkling water that sprang from
secret places in the colonnade of handsome pillars that surrounded the
court, and kept the flower-beds fresh and the air cool....
It was a quaint and curious pastime, wandering through this old silent
city of the dead—lounging through utterly deserted streets where
thousands and thousands of human beings once bought and sold, and
walked and rode, and made the place resound with the noise and
confusion of traffic and pleasure. They were not lazy. They hurried in
those days. We had evidence of that. There was a temple on one corner,
and it was a shorter cut to go between the columns of that temple from
one street to the other than to go around—and behold that pathway had
been worn deep into the heavy flagstone floor of the building by
generations of time-saving feet! They would not go around when it was
quicker to go through. We do that way in our cities.
Everywhere, you see things that make you wonder how old these old
houses were before the night of destruction came—things, too, which
bring back those long dead inhabitants and place them living before
your eyes. For instance: The steps (two feet thick lava blocks) that
lead up out of the school, and the same kind of steps that lead up into
the dress circle of the principal theatre, are almost worn through! For
ages the boys hurried out of that school, and for ages their parents
hurried into that theatre, and the nervous feet that have been dust and
ashes for eighteen centuries have left their record for us to read
And so I turned away and went through shop after shop and store after
store, far down the long street of the merchants, and called for the
wares of Rome and the East, but the tradesmen were gone, the marts were
silent, and nothing was left but the broken jars all set in cement of
cinders and ashes....
In a bakeshop... the exhumers of Pompeii found nice, well baked loaves
which the baker had not found time to remove from the ovens the last
time he left his shop, because circumstances compelled him to leave in
such a hurry.
In one house (the only building in Pompeii which no woman is now
allowed to enter) were the small rooms and short beds of solid masonry,
just as they were in the old times, and on the walls were pictures
which looked almost as fresh as if they were painted yesterday, but
which no pen could have the hardihood to describe; and here and there
were Latin inscriptions—obscene scintillations of wit, scratched by
hands that possibly were uplifted to Heaven for succor in the midst of
a driving storm of fire before the night was done.
In one of the principal streets was a ponderous stone tank, and a
waterspout that supplied it, and where the tired, heated toilers from
the Campagna used to rest their right hands when they bent over to put
their lips to the spout, the thick stone was worn down to a broad
groove an inch or two deep. Think of the countless thousands of hands
that had pressed that spot in the ages that are gone, to so reduce a
stone that is as hard as iron!
They had a great public bulletin board in Pompeii—a place where
announcements for gladiatorial combats, elections, and such things,
were posted—not on perishable paper, but carved in enduring stone. One
lady, who, I take it, was rich and well brought up, advertised a
dwelling or so to rent, with baths and all the modern improvements, and
several hundred shops, stipulating that the dwellings should not be put
to immoral purposes....
In one of these long Pompeiian halls the skeleton of a man was found,
with ten pieces of gold in one hand and a large key in the other. He
had seized his money and started toward the door, but the fiery tempest
caught him at the very threshold, and he sank down and died. One more
minute of precious time would have saved him. I saw the skeletons of a
man, a woman, and two young girls. The woman had her hands spread wide
apart, as if in mortal terror, and I imagined I could still trace upon
her shapeless face something of the expression of wild despair that
distorted it when the heavens rained fire in these streets, so many
ages ago. The girls and the man lay with their faces upon their arms,
as if they had tried to shield them from the enveloping cinders. In one
apartment eighteen skeletons were found, all in sitting postures, and
blackened places on the walls still mark their shapes and show their
attitudes, like shadows. One of them, a woman, still wore upon her
skeleton throat a necklace, with her name engraved upon it—JULIE DI
But perhaps the most poetical thing Pompeii has yielded to modern
research, was that grand figure of a Roman soldier, clad in complete
armor; who, true to his duty, true to his proud name of a soldier of
Rome, and full of the stern courage which had given to that name its
glory, stood to his post by the city gate, erect and unflinching, till
the hell that raged around him burned out the dauntless spirit it could
We came out from under the solemn mysteries of this city of the
Venerable Past—this city which perished, with all its old ways and its
quaint old fashions about it, remote centuries ago, when the Disciples
were preaching the new religion, which is as old as the hills to us
now—and went dreaming among the trees that grow over acres and acres of
its still buried streets and squares, till a shrill whistle and the cry
of "All aboard—last train for Naples!" woke me up and reminded me that
I belonged in the nineteenth century, and was not a dusty mummy, caked
with ashes and cinders, eighteen hundred years old. The transition was
startling. The idea of a railroad train actually running to old dead
Pompeii, and whistling irreverently, and calling for passengers in the
most bustling and business-like way, was as strange a. thing as one
could imagine, and as unpoetical and disagreeable as it was
uh, yeah. Like I said. He was a writer,
not a comic. Or the racist of Tina's ignorant imaginings. Here's the
bed he died in.
Imagine having sex with Tina Fey in
that bed. Can't? My point exactly.
I'm betting if he were still in it he'd raise himself up and cuss a
blue streak against the shallow nothings who have been lent his name as
an honor they feel free to dishonor.
. I went to a lot of games when I was a
student, and in those days the Patriots also played at Harvard Stadium
on Sundays (yeah, I'm that old.) I saw Joe Namath subjected to the
gentlest sack any NFL quarterback has ever received. They owed him.
But here's the funny thing. I never bought anything that said Harvard
on it. I never bought a Harvard tee-shirt, sweatshirt, or class ring. I
was so used to the squiggly-eyed look people gave you when they asked
you where you went to college and you said "Harvard" that I just never
went there. How many times can you hear people say "Hah-vid" and laugh as if it's the
first time you heard the joke? Pahk
the cah in the Hahvid Yahd? Fine. Go for it. Enjoy yourself.
Then I got married for the final time a few years ago. I introduced my
bride to the fun of college football, which she had never cared about
and suddenly fell in love with. We got Rutgers season tickets. And, as
if by magic, I suddenly started getting all this Harvard stuff as
presents from my wife. Tee-shirts advertising their frequent Ivy
football championships, an official Harvard sweatshirt (my first one ever, at the age of 57), a
long-sleeved gray jersey that felt almost discreet and another bright
crimson one that boasted of the team Ryan Fitzpatrick led to the title.
And my wife had a tee-shirt that contained the coats of arms of all the
Harvard houses on the back. Presents for the female kids and grandkids
turned out to be Harvard things, some of them involving glitter.
I was embarrassed. Sometimes I'd change my shirt before a family
gathering or a trip to the hardware store. I always disliked people who
wanted Harvard to be the first thing strangers knew about them. As
well, who needs more snobs?
You know what, though? This week, I'm finally proud. Especially of
Harvard football. Harvard Stadium has 40,000 seats, usually half-empty
except for the Yale game. Franklin Field, Penn's home, has 60,000
seats, usually two-thirds empty when Harvard is playing there, and
we've been there twice for that with abysmal results. The last time I
actually had to apologize to the guests we'd invited to the dismal
performance of Harvard -- it was the single worst, dullest college
football game I've ever seen. Why I picked up the whole tab at the
fabulous Ralph's Italian restaurant in South Philly.
I'm not apologetic now, though. I'm proud. Finally proud. With one week
to go in the season, Harvard has clinched its 14th Ivy football title
out of the last 56 years. It doesn't even matter what happens against
Yale next week, except that Yale's quarterback should definitely attend
his Rhodes Scholarship interview in Atlanta rather than play a
meaningless rivalry game.
Which is why I'm proud at
this point. Big time football has just
exploded in a nuclear firestorm. The Ivy League ("The Ancient Eight" as
one of my tee-shirts has it) has been, after all these years,
vindicated. Harvard football players aren't physics majors and
classics scholars. They tend to live with other jocks in Kirkand House.
On the whole, they're dumber than the rest, but some of them still make
the NFL, which they do NOT turn their noses up at. But, but, but...
are definitely, absolutely amateurs. They do not go to bowl games,
there are no challenges or replays at Ivy games, and every one of us
roots for Columbia to win at least one game every year, because they
are the smallest undergrad population and we don't want them to become
Yesterday I had to run an errand that encompassed two states. I put on
a 2006 Harvard football championship tee-shirt. I was just hoping
would make a sleighting remark, so I could say we play football cleanly
as a sport. Unlike some schools we could mention.
No one did.
I mean, who cares about Ivy League football? Let's be real here.
But we did help invent the game. Does that count for anything...?
uh, No. So be it. And I'm busting my buttons over it, for the first
in 40 years. Go figure.
We win. Or, rather, I win. Who out there has a wife like mine, who always knows what's important way ahead of time? I tell you, it makes me humble.
Dexter Season Five
shows get worse and gutter out... I tell the truth about such things.
. I promised myself I would do four posts
today. I concede I'm
getting tired after just three. But the Lady and I have been watching
Dexter Season 5 in our usual fashion -- all at once -- and I have to
have a confession to make.
Maybe I was burned out by watching the end of the Harry Potter saga.
Deadliest Hallows XIX showed up in the queue on Friday, so we watched
it. Okay. Best of the whole 45-movie saga. I can admit that. Who among
you can say I'm not fair about all matters not pertaining to the
Rolling Stones? See?
But then there were the On Demand continuations of CSI New York, NCIS, and Not CSI Somewhere, USA, and I have
to tell you there's such a thing as series burnout. Too much of a good
thing is still too much of a good thing, and there's no way I wouldn't
tell the truth to my faithful readers about such a thing.
Which is why I have to report that Dexter Season 5 is absolutely the
best ever. They've changed the show without changing the show. How
Michael Anthony Hall doesn't automatically win the Emmy for most killer
TV performance every year is far beyond my poor powers of film
I can't say much without risking spoilers, so I won't say much. Just
watch. Especially if you're a Christian. Oops. I said too much. What I
meant to say was, watch especially if you're a homicidal heretic with a
grudge against the world. Except that...
Something I never ever thought would happen. Dexter making me cry. With
him, for him, by him being
He does that. Lady Laird left home half an hour early this morning to
mail the DVD
so we could get the last epsiode ASAP.
I think I can stop writing now. Four posts. All done. Except one thing:
Harris? Fuck you. Dexter would know what to do with you, and being
an NFL fullback wouldn't make a particle of difference. He's a, well,