Essay  Comments Off on Home
Jan 202017
Excerpt from What’s Wrong with the World  GK Chesterton, 1910

This excerpt was published in the fabulous Lapham’s Quarterly, Winter, 2017


But of all the modern notions generated by mere wealth the worst is this: the notion that domesticity is dull and tame. Inside the home (they say) is dead decorum and routine; outside is adventure and variety. This is indeed a rich man’s opinion. The rich man knows that his own house moves on vast and soundless wheels of wealth, is run by regiments of servants, by a swift and silent ritual. On the other hand, every sort of vagabondage of romance is open to him in the streets outside. He has plenty of money and can afford to be a tramp. His wildest adventure will end in a restaurant, while the yokel’s tamest adventure may end in a police-court. If he smashes a window he can pay for it; if he smashes a man he can pension him. He can (like the millionaire in the story) buy an hotel to get a glass of gin. And because he, the luxurious man, dictates the tone of nearly all “advanced” and “progressive” thought, we have almost forgotten what a home really means to the overwhelming millions of mankind.

For the truth is, that to the moderately poor the home is the only place of liberty. Nay, it is the only place of anarchy. It is the only spot on the earth where a man can alter arrangements suddenly, make an experiment or indulge in a whim. Everywhere else he goes he must accept the strict rules of the shop, inn, club, or museum that he happens to enter. He can eat his meals on the floor in his own house if he likes. I often do it myself; it gives a curious, childish, poetic, picnic feeling. There would be considerable trouble if I tried to do it in an A.B.C. tea-shop. A man can wear a dressing gown and slippers in his house; while I am sure that this would not be permitted at the Savoy, though I never actually tested the point. If you go to a restaurant you must drink some of the wines on the wine list, all of them if you insist, but certainly some of them. But if you have a house and garden you can try to make hollyhock tea or convolvulus wine if you like. For a plain, hard-working man the home is not the one tame place in the world of adventure. It is the one wild place in the world of rules and set tasks. The home is the one place where he can put the carpet on the ceiling or the slates on the floor if he wants to. When a man spends every night staggering from bar to bar or from music-hall to music-hall, we say that he is living an irregular life. But he is not; he is living a highly regular life, under the dull, and often oppressive, laws of such places. Some times he is not allowed even to sit down in the bars; and frequently he is not allowed to sing in the music-halls. Hotels may be defined as places where you are forced to dress; and theaters may be defined as places where you are forbidden to smoke. A man can only picnic at home.

Now I take, as I have said, this small human omnipotence, this possession of a definite cell or chamber of liberty, as the working model for the present inquiry. Whether we can give every English man a free home of his own or not, at least we should desire it; and he desires it. For the moment we speak of what he wants, not of what he expects to get. He wants, far instance, a separate house; he does not want a semi-detached house. He may be forced in the commercial race to share one wall with another man. Similarly he might be forced in a three-legged race to share one leg with another man; but it is not so that he pictures himself in his dreams of elegance and liberty. Again, he does not desire a flat. He can eat and sleep and praise God in a flat; he can eat and sleep and praise God in a railway train. But a railway train is not a house, because it is a house on wheels. And a flat is not a house, because it is a house on stilts. An idea of earthy contact and foundation, as well as an idea of separation and independence, is a part of this instructive human picture.

I take, then, this one institution as a test. As every normal man desires a woman, and children born of a woman, every normal man desires a house of his own to put them into. He does not merely want a roof above him and a chair below him; he wants an objective and visible kingdom; a fire at which he can cook what food he likes, a door he can open to what friends he chooses. This is the normal appetite of men; I do not say there are not exceptions. There may be saints above the need and philanthropists below it. Opalstein, now he is a duke, may have got used to more than this; and when he was a convict may have got used to less. But the normality of the thing is enormous. To give nearly everybody ordinary houses would please nearly everybody; that is what I assert without apology.

 Posted by at 11:31 pm


 Essay  Comments Off on Lost
Dec 132014

For some reason I have been thinking how I miss the Occupy Wall Street movement. They had trenchant humor

corporations are people

and righteous indignation
shit is

And terrific graphics

take the square

direct action


And where are the movies? Where is the romantic comedy about the two people pictured above? Where is Shia LaBeouf as the cynical police sergeant awakening to what’s really going on? Where is Paul Giamati as a city bureaucrat trying to cope? Where’s Peter Sarsgaard  as a protest leader? Where’s Amy Adams doing whatever she wants? Sound check,  film makers!

By the way, I googled the phrase “shit is fucked up and bullshit” to find the image above. The images page for that search is just great.

 Posted by at 6:58 pm


 Essay, Movies  Comments Off on Existentialism
Dec 072014

Speaking of ingenious knaves, fraudulent, avaricious, and altogether of bad character, whose whole house is in as bad repute as he himself, here is a clip from what I think is Woody Allen’s best movie. The last line of the alien is as good a summary of Camus’ position in  “The Myth of Sisyphus” as I can think of.

[DISCLAIMER: Woody Allen is a truly detestable person, not less so for being a genius film maker. Don’t go to his movies until they are at the  Crest.]

Stardust Memories – Woody Allen – alien scene – YouTube.

The alien’s comment about his early films is oracular.

 Posted by at 6:33 pm

Sisyphus had it coming

 Essay  Comments Off on Sisyphus had it coming
Dec 072014



Sisyphus is the inspiration for many New Yorker cartoons, here is my favorite.

He is also the star of Albert Camus most Important Work, in my opinion, “The Myth of Sisyphus” . This book inspired my personal strategy for not going nuts. “One must imagine Sisyphus happy” said Camus.

So, I want to think well of him. The image of Sisyphus is that he is personifies the human condition, the situation of the working man, and so on. We tend to think of his as a regular guy, a working stiff who just can’t catch a break. Well, not so much. In the Greek myths, Sisyphus is an asshole.

According to Diodorus Siculus VI, “Sisyphus, we are told, excelled all other men in knavery and ingenuity”.

And not the good kind of knavery, like, say, Odysseus (a shirttail relative of Sisyphus). Here are some excerpts from Bullfinch’s Mythology:

As king of Corinth he promoted navigation and commerce, but was fraudulent, avaricious, and altogether of bad character, and his whole house was in as bad repute as he himself.

The special reasons for this punishment are not the same in all authors; some say that it was because he had betrayed the designs of the gods (Serv. ad Aen. vi. 616 ; Schol. ad Horn. 11. i. 180, vi. 153), others because he attacked travellers, and killed them with a huge block of stone.

[O]ther traditions relate that Sisyphus lived in enmity with his brother Salmoneus, and consulted the oracle how he might get rid of him. Apollo answered, that if he begot sons by Tyro, the wife of his brother, they would avenge him. Sisyphus indeed became the father of two sons by Tyro, but the mother killed them immediately after their birth. Sisyphus took cruel vengeance on her, and was punished for it in the lower world (Hygin. Fab. 60).

Clever as well, in a story similar to one told about Hercules and Atlas (another shirttail relative), Hades was sent to put Sisyphus in chains but Sisyphus tricked him and Hades was the one who ended up in cuffs.

Worst of all Sisyphus bragged about his cleverness and defeat of the gods. bad move. Never goes down well.

 Posted by at 4:54 am


 Essay, Legal Stuff, Religion, Turkey  Comments Off on Ephesus
Apr 282014
20140428_113924This was the largest theater in Ionia, the part of ancient Greece that was in Turkey.  Paul the apostle had a gig here that did not go well.As a change of pace, Paul was chased out of town by an angry mob of pagans rather than of Jews. It seems he violated the precept set out best by Guido the killer pimp in the movie “Risky Business” (played by the great Joe Pantiolano): in uncertain times never fuck with another man’s livelihood. Here is Pauls account, from Acts. (I have a long book report on Acts of the Apostles here .)
19:23 About that time there arose no small stir concerning the Way. 19:24 For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen, 19:25 whom he gathered together, with the workmen of like occupation, and said, “Sirs, you know that by this business we have our wealth. 19:26 You see and hear, that not at Ephesus alone, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are no gods, that are made with hands. 19:27 Not only is there danger that this our trade come into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be counted as nothing, and her majesty destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worships.”

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19:28 When they heard this they were filled with anger, and cried out, saying, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 19:29 The whole city was filled with confusion, and they rushed with one accord into the theater, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul’s companions in travel. 19:30 When Paul wanted to enter in to the people, the disciples didn’t allow him. 19:31 Certain also of the Asiarchs, being his friends, sent to him and begged him not to venture into the theater. 19:32 Some therefore cried one thing, and some another, for the assembly was in confusion. Most of them didn’t know why they had come together. 19:33 They brought Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. Alexander beckoned with his hand, and would have made a defense to the people. 19:34 But when they perceived that he was a Jew, all with one voice for a time of about two hours cried out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
19:35 When the town clerk had quieted the multitude, he said, “You men of Ephesus, what man is there who doesn’t know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great goddess Artemis, and of the image which fell down from Zeus? 19:36 Seeing then that these things can’t be denied, you ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rash. 19:37 For you have brought these men here, who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess. 19:38 If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen who are with him have a matter against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them press charges against one another. 19:39 But if you seek anything about other matters, it will be settled in the regular assembly. 19:40For indeed we are in danger of being accused concerning this day’s riot, there being no cause. Concerning it, we wouldn’t be able to give an account of this commotion.” 19:41 When he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly.
20:1 After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, took leave of them, and departed to go into Macedonia.

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 Posted by at 5:35 am

Frank Underwood is Richard III

 Essay  Comments Off on Frank Underwood is Richard III
Feb 252014

This is cut and pasted from this site, entire post highly recommended

The Villain We Love to Hate
Watching Shakespeare’s character lie, manipulate, and murder his way to the English throne is a lot like watching the Grinch steal Christmas or Sue Sylvester humiliate the Glee Club: we know we’re witnessing the actions of an unapologetic villain, but we just can’t help but be enthralled and even amused by it.

This is partly because he’s smart, suave, and politically savvy. He also has quite a sense of humor. It’s a sick sense of humor, sure, but it can be pretty compelling. (When the hired murderers promise to make Clarence suffer, Richard quips “I like you lads”.)  More important, Richard also has a habit of confiding in his audience, making us his confidants. This has the effect of drawing us in and making us complicit in his evil schemes.

Richard and the “Vice” Figure Tradition
Richard is considered a throwback to the stock character of “Vice,” a common figure in medieval morality plays. The “Vice” character is basically a personification of evil and/or an agent of the devil who spends most of his time trying to corrupt mankind. Vice figures would often address the audience directly and would sometimes run around in the audience heckling people. This character can be a lot of fun but is also pretty one-dimensional. Vice doesn’t have any psychological motives – he’s just pure, concentrated evil, kind of like a Decepticon Transformer.

Obviously Shakespeare had all of this in mind when he created his villain. Richard is unapologetically wicked and is even accused of being an agent of the devil. … Richard even refers to himself as a “Vice” when he describes his actions:

Thus, like the formal Vice, Iniquity,
I moralize two meanings in one word.

Although Richard definitely has some roots in the Vice tradition, his character is a lot more complex than the flat, stock figure from the old morality plays. Whereas Vice figures have no psychological motives, we can argue that Richard does. In his opening speech, he tells us that he’s aware of his physical deformities and feels insecure, inadequate, and isolated. In other words, Richard’s got psychological depth from the very beginning of the play.

P.S. Shakespeare’s character Iago (Othello) also has some roots in the old Vice figure tradition.

 Posted by at 10:49 pm


 Essay, Religion  Comments Off on Acts
Jan 252014

I’ve been reading Acts of the Apostles. I read somewhere that this is the only source on the first 50 or so years of the Jesus Movement. I use that term because the book itself marks the time and spot where the term “Christian” was coined. Antioch or Corinth, I forget.
One thing I notice is that they take a lot of boats. Every episode begins with someone making landfall, doing stuff, then taking passage someplace else, sometimes one step ahead of an angry mob. These were merchant vessels, of course. I wonder what they were like and what the travel times were. I always wondered where these guys got enough money to support all this travel. I think I figured that out.
The book begins pretty much the day after the Resurrection. In this telling, the Jews killed Jesus. Pilate found no fault in him, after all. Jesus does not do much. he hangs out being Risen and therefore the Messiah, but there are no memorable parables or confrontations. Throughout the book the main point the Jesus people make is “He rose from the dead so he is the Messiah”. That’s the pitch. And they say over and over that he revealed himself to Mankind; Mankind being, well, his followers. They make no claim that anyone outside the movement ever witnessed the risen Jesus.
Now, I have always wondered about the healing ministry of Jesus. That term healing ministry is one I got from a documentary about evangelical faith healers in the US in the 20th century, “Marjoe”. And, like Oral Roberts and the early Billy Graham and legions of “put you hand on the radio” tinhorn preachers, Jesus was a faith healer. Assuming Jesus existed, its seems the most likely explanation for his after-crucifixion popularity was that he was a really good preacher. These days, by which I mean the last 500 years or so, not a lot is made of Jesus’ career as a faith healer, beyond a couple of the more impressive miracles, which are treated as anecdotes.
In the first sections of Acts, we follow Jesus’ protegee, Peter, for a while, and it is plain that Peter has taken over the ministry. He goes around healing people, including raising one person from the dead. Always, just as the faith healers in the modern era, saying he has no special power, it is in Jesus name that people are healed. The healings got Peter big crowds to whom he could deliver the Big Message: Jesus rose, so he is the Messiah and by believing in Jesus your sins can be forgiven, all of this was foretold in scripture, there is an afterlife, and these are the end times. Better get right with God, time is running out.
Entirely absent from the book is any component of Jesus’ message: nothing about not casting the first stone, loving enemies, accepting sinners, turning the other cheek, visiting the imprisoned, the meek/mourning/poor in spirit/peacemakers  inheriting anything, or any of the stuff that by my lights make the New Testament worth reading. No virgin birth, no voices from the sky proclaiming fatherhood.  No glowing doves. Nothing against money changers, for sure.

 I think a likely explanation for this is that Acts is the last book of the Bible, but was the first New Testament book to be actually written down. The propagandists had not yet made up all those stories about Jesus. Or maybe more precisely, had not yet re-purposed Greek, Roman and Egyptian legends that were already floating around to the Jesus movement.  Also there are a lot of explicit references to prophecy in the New Testament. For example, Jesus riding an ass into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, refers back to Zechariah 9:9, saith the internet. Much of the action between the Apostles and the various Jewish communities in Acts involves the Apostles wanting to sit down with the scholars and prove their case for Jesus by reference to prophetic scripture. Again, just like evangelists to the present day. Jesus was of the house of David, as foretold, and so on. For the most part they failed to convince the rabbis, and the book is pretty harsh to the Jews as a result. Acts is not all that specific about the references, and the NT fixes this in a way that remained, it seems, unconvincing to the rabbis.

The financing of the Jesus movement is well explained, as it was not in the New Testament. The arrangement was: you get converted, you sell everything you have and lay it at the feet of the apostles (they use that phrase repeatedly) and you join the commune. Not that different from the Rajneeshees. And it makes sense, because Jesus, the Messiah, will be right back, he is just giving the Jews time to get their shit together. The end is near so we do not need land and possessions or money. There is one incident where a particular couple, Ananias and Sapphira, sold everything, but held some back for themselves when they went to lay it at Peter’s feet. Peter gave them a hard stare and they dropped dead on the spot, first one and then later the other.

The Death of Ananias, by Raphael

No indication that he asked himself, “What would Jesus do?”  Except, probably he did think about that. Given that this is how the ministry was conducted right off the bat, it seems likely that this was the blueprint created by Jesus before his death. If Jesus was Billy Graham, Peter was Jim Jones.

The worship services were very tent revival type affairs. The samples of Peter and Paul’s oratory are pretty well crafted, and one can just about hear the evangelical cadences (“Ju-ee-zus sa-yez..ah!”). The Holy Spirit would come upon the people, they would be swept up in ecstatic prayer, they would roll about speaking in tongues. Lots of complaints from the neighbors, especially among the Jews. The Gentiles ate it up. Women were plainly full participants in the services, not very Jewish, but very Roman.
So, whether the apostles were honest believers or not, they conducted themselves pretty much exactly like the shitheels of today who bilk vulnerable people out of their life savings with nutty, emotional religious appeals. As proof here is an incontrovertible fact: the world did not end.
Absent also from Acts is the suggestion that Jesus was God. Makes sense, the traditional notion of the Messiah was never that he would be God incarnate, I don’t think. The Holy Spirit makes many appearances, but is never referred to as a deity, or even necessarily as a specific actor like, say, a particular archangel. As I read it the term is more like the Irish  “craic”, the good energy generated by the people in the room. The early Christians had very good craic.

Jesus was, according to Acts the Son of God, but he was not God, the Son. The dominant religion of the day, paganism, had lots and lots of sons of gods, so that was anything but a tough sell. Here’s a list.

 Posted by at 11:09 am

Gerald Emil Kosh

 Essay  Comments Off on Gerald Emil Kosh
Jul 142012

This is a true footnote character from history. I’m reading google news and there is a story about a potential war between China and other countries over ownership of the ecologically sensitive, oil-rich South China Sea and it mentions a battle between South Vietnam and China in 1974, just after the US had cut and run from Vietnam but before the North won the war. Thats interesting, so I look it up on Wikipedia, and there is Gerald Emil Kosh.  That is an unusual name so I was able to track down a lot of weird stuff. Kissinger talked to the Chinese, the government later denied he was an employee, his military record is listed ambiguously. He went on to live a quiet life, and this incident was not mentioned in his obit. His name got tossed out to Obama by a South Vietnamese dead-ender waving the bloody shirt. To this day he is on E-bay and possibly Facebook.

The Battle of the Paracel Islands was a military engagement fought between the naval forces of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) in the Paracel Islands on January 19, 1974.
A potential diplomatic crisis was averted when China quietly released an American prisoner taken during the battle. Gerald Emil Kosh, 27, was a former US Army captain captured with the Vietnamese on Pattle Island. He was described as a “regional liaison officer” for the US Embassy, Saigon, on assignment with the South Vietnamese Navy. China released him from custody on January 31 without comment. Kosh is sometimes described as having been a civilian employee of the Pentagon at this time.[10] He died around 2002 at the age of

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Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976 Volume XVIII, China, 1973–1976, Document 66. Memorandum of Conversation1
Washington, January 23, 1974, 6:15–6:45 p.m.
[Secretary Kissinger]  there are only two points I wanted to make with respect to the Paracel Islands issue.2 The South Vietnamese government is making a number of representations to international organizations, to SEATO as well as to the United Nations. We wanted to let you know we do not associate ourselves with those representations. We are concerned, however, about the prisoners, and we noted that your government has indicated that the prisoners will be released at an appropriate time. We wanted to urge that this appropriate time be very soon, especially as there is an American included in that group. And that would certainly defuse the situation as far as the United States is concerned. That’s really all I wanted to say about that issue.
(To Mr. Hummel) Or is there more, Art?
Mr. Hummel: For domestic political reasons we would like to say that we have been in touch about this American.

Ambassador Han [of the PRC]: …
As for when the prisoners will be released, our statement said that at an appropriate time they will be released. It was the Foreign Ministry statement.
But as a personal observation, I would just like to express surprise that there should be an American citizen at that particular area at that particular time.
Ambassador Han: With regard to Mr. Hummel’s suggestion whether to publicize this to the media would this be quickly, right away?
The Secretary [Kissinger]: We can wait. What do you want? You report to Peking. Not having said anything up to now, we can survive another 24 hours. We can take the heat. We will give it until Friday morning,3 but the more quickly you can let us know, the better. Eventually, we will have to say that we have talked to you.
Ambassador Han: After we have reported to the government, we will see what the reply is.
Mr. Hummel: All we have in mind is to say that we have talked, not to make the other points that the Secretary raised.
The Secretary: We will wait until Friday. We can give you until Friday a.m. to see whether you get an answer. We have been accused of so many things, we can be accused of neglecting an American interest for a day.

Lawrence Journal-World – Jan 29, 1974




B Company 3/12 4th Infantry
Gerald Emil Kosh, 56, died Sunday.
He was born Oct. 25, 1946, in Philadelphia. An Army veteran of the Vietnam War, he was a journeyman wireman, a 17-year resident of Las Vegas and a member of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 357.
He is survived by his wife, Susan; daughter, Jennifer; and son, Jonathan, all of Las Vegas; brother, Gabe of Blue Bell, Pa.; and sister, Arlene McElree of Lafayette Hill, Pa.
Visitation will be from 3 to 7 p.m. today at Palm Mortuary-Eastern, with services at 10 a.m. Wednesday at St. Anne’s Catholic Church. Graveside services will follow at noon at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery.


January 14, 2011
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President,
 We are writing to ask you to halt or postpone the welcoming ceremony and the state dinner for the People’s Republic of China (“PRC”) president Hu Jintao on January 19, 2011 during his visit to the United States.
January 19 is the anniversary of the Chinese invasion of the Paracel Islands which had belonged to the Republic of Vietnam, an ally of the United States then.  After the fall of Saigon, China established control over the Paracel Islands.
Please do not forget the fact that on January 19, 1974, Chinese forces had also captured an American, Captain Gerald Emil Kosh, during the battle for the Paracel Islands.

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 Posted by at 9:11 am