De Bello Judaica

•June 16, 2013 • Leave a Comment

De Bello Judaica

The most expensive thing I could find in the rare books room at Powell’s Books (the Burnside location): a copy of Josephus’ De Bello Judaica from Verona, dating to 1480. Pretty much one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

The second most expensive book I saw was a signed first edition copy of Stephen King’s “The Stand,” oddly enough. $8,000 less than this one, though.


Bar Shitzvah

•June 11, 2013 • Leave a Comment

In spite of our culture’s somewhat arbitrary choice of age 18 as signifying maturity, there are a lot of ‘growing up’ moments in one’s life, most of which generally fall into two categories. There are those that life kind of pushes upon you just by virtue of the passage of time, turning 18/21, graduating high school/college, marriage/children, retirement, etc. Maturation moments in the second category generally don’t happen as commonly as those in the first, can occur at any age, and generally have to be earned through some moment of hardship or frustration. Put simply, you experience something difficult or psychologically instructive that grants you a certain savvy about similar situations. Somebody who gets into financial trouble will probably come out of their bankruptcy quite a bit wiser about money. Somebody who gets into a bad relationship situation might learn a thing or two about placing too much trust in others.

That in mind, it’s come to me recently that 99.99999(etc.)% of everything in politics and the media is just complete grade A, weapons-grade, 100-percent-free-of-impurities bullshit. It feels like a pretty big epiphanous growing up moment. I mean, I’m sure anybody reading this is saying “no shit Sherlock” right now, having a good chuckle at my previous naivete. But bear with me. This is going somewhere.

It didn’t used to be this bad. Admittedly during the Bush years I was a bit younger and less attuned to the bullshit than I am now, but I swear the flow didn’t used to be quite so constant. I know that’s just something people say about the past, but it really seems true in this case. I went through a somewhat lengthy period where following politics was a fairly frequent and time-consuming hobby. I suppose I was probably going through that whole undergraduate “just discovered Chomsky and realizes just how consistently a majority of the world is getting fucked over on a regular basis and thinks he is going to be the one who changes it” phase that undergraduates tend to have. Some dopey part of me thought that keeping up on this stuff was part of being a responsible citizen. Such was my interest that I thought I might want to run for office at some point. I subscribed to the Economist and the New York Times, read political blogs more or less daily. Sure, people said crazy bullshit things, but it was rare enough that it was more amusing than anything. That’s completely changed lately. The crazy isn’t making me laugh anymore; it’s just making me shake  my head. It’s gone well past funny and deep into the realm of upsetting. I roll my eyes like a teenager a lot these days; the only difference between me and a teenager is that I roll my eyes at people who deserve it.

Granted, the Clinton years drove the right wing a little batty (Vince Foster, the sexy time witch hunt, etc., etc.), but I wasn’t really paying attention back then. They were relatively normal during the Bush years, the earliest moments of my political awareness. Sure we were running torture prisons and starting wars for no discernible reason and losing a few billion dollars in the desert and accelerating the Banana-Republicification of our economy into hyperdrive, but you got the sense that there was at least some rudimentary basic level of civics 101 competence. You at least got the sense that for all the horrible shit they were doing, they at least meant to do it. The Bush presidency may have been an abject disaster perpetrated by greedy, amoral people, but those greedy amoral people at least seemed to be tethered to some recognizable model of reality.

Sweet lord almighty, has that ever changed. If the Clinton presidency drove conservatives off the rails, the Obama Presidency has driven them off the rails into a tree where they exploded Wiley E. Coyote-style. And I just can’t bother with it anymore. I’m not sure which particular thing was the last straw on the camel’s back, but I suspect a good deal of it has to do with the loud, proud  tea party congressmen. There can no longer be any doubt that these people will go down as by far the worst elected officials in this country’s history. Worse, the media will give them cover as if this is just business as usual and everything they say deserves to be taken seriously. Never has this been clearer since 2009 than it is right now. Watching these people – particularly conservatives/republicans who supported Bush – try to pretend the country as a whole didn’t rubber-stamp the current surveillance regime in the great collective freakout of late 2001/early 2002 is just more bullshit than I can handle. Watching them try to hang this on Obama, I’m not sure if I should be annoyed with them or feel sorry for them for being such transparent hypocrites.

So, no mas. That’s pretty much it for me, at least until the Republicans are Bob Dole’s party again and no longer Sarah Palin’s. I’m not asking for a conservative party that believes everything liberals believe, I’m just asking for a conservative party that isn’t aggressively anti-knowledge.

I used to debate online for hours at a time, but I don’t expect I’ll be doing that anymore. I’ll just vote, maybe watch Bill Maher and Maddow and Colbert here and there, maybe read the Times very occasionally and otherwise just ignore the whole lot of it. People who pretend a president whose cabinet is stocked with Wall Street bankers and career Washingtonites is some kind of Kenyan commie anti-imperial Islamofascist/socialist (or whatever the holy mother of fuck it is this week) are not people you can debate with.  If you keep insisting a horse is a unicorn, there isn’t much distance one can go from there.

I’m glad there are people documenting and keeping up on and trying to defeat at the ballot box the Ted Cruzes and Michelle Bachmanns of the world, I’m glad there are people who follow the circus relatively closely, but I just don’t  have the stomach for it anymore. There is too much right with the world – great books and great movies and great food and interesting college classes music and hikes and photography and writing and on and on and on – to care too much beyond just voting your beliefs when the time comes. I’m at the point where I’d almost prefer not to know the first thing about what somebody believes about politics. There are a lot of people who believe all the Obama conspiracy stuff who I like a great deal personally, and it’s dumb to have something like politics – which we all have the barest ability to affect at any level of government – get in the way of any personal relationship. Obviously the way we run the government matters a lot in how society behaves and operates, but as far as how much effect I or any other private citizen has, people take this shit way too goddamned seriously. It has a lot in common with celebrity news, in that way. Maybe it’s no coincidence that Bill O’Reilly used to host Inside Edition.

Of course, having said all this, I expect I’ll write 3,000 words tomorrow about how Darrell Issa and Ted Cruz went through Obama’s garbage and found a half-eaten falafel, proving at last that he’s a Muslim and also the falafel was cold so global warming is teh hoax. But until then, former political junkie, signing the fuck off.

What is this ‘free time’ of which you speak?

•June 6, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I had forgotten just how exhausting academic writing could be, in the few years since I’ve had to do it. It’s fun and kind of rewarding, in a way, synthesizing the information from maybe 20,000 pages of books, encyclopedia entries and primary sources down into a 30-page paper. But that also means you can spend days working on one paragraph, checking and re-checking your sources, making sure literally every word is doing the job you need it to do. Writing ancient history this often comes down to hedging your bets with just the right weasel word – ‘could have,’ ‘seems to suggest,’ and so forth. This paper needs a lot of work in the next three days, but it’s close enough. I do remember this much from being an undergrad – at some point you’re just relieved to be done and whatever you’re working on is good enough.

Nice to have nothing left this term but a bit of editing. Take it away George:

Pilgrim of a Thousand Faces: A Mythological Interpretation of the Itinerarium Burdigalense

As one of only a handful of such documents surviving from antiquity, the Itinerarium Burdigalense has been the subject of a great deal of study and research. Charting the route of an anonymous pilgrim from Roman Burdigala (modern day Bordeaux) to Jerusalem and then the return journey as far as Mediolanum (modern day Milan), the Bordeaux Itinerary is the earliest surviving non-scriptural Christian travel record, heightening its importance to the study of early pilgrimage. Dating to the years 333-334, the ItBurg allows the reader an opportunity to move through ancient space but also provides a valuable glimpse into a particular moment in time, scant years after Constantine’s conversion, in the midst of the Christianization of Roman Europe. The Bordeaux pilgrim belonged to a society situated between two chief cultural influences (i.e. Paganism and Christianity) and the ItBurg likewise belongs to two different traditions: the spare list form of the itinerarium, and the more expansive and descriptive periegesis. The combination of these two literary traditions brings an element of mythology to the document, locating its anonymous author – and by extension its reader – in the protagonist’s role. The Itinerarium Burdigalense is as literary as it is geographic, its geographic elements serving to further a literary function.

Continue reading ‘What is this ‘free time’ of which you speak?’

Made it Ma, Top of the World

•May 30, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I’m not sure I could adequately describe the feeling of getting a positive review of your writing from a total stranger. It’s not that I think my friends and family are lying when they say they liked the book, far from it. It’s more that a book reviewer who doesn’t know you from Adam has absolutely no reason whatsoever to spare your feelings. If they think it is one-star dreck, there is nothing at all stopping them from saying so. Seriously, read Big Al’s site, when they think something sucks they aren’t shy (you should read it anyway, because it’s a cool site).

I’d like to be able to say that someday I’ll overcome my writerly insecurities and stop being surprised when somebody says they enjoyed something I wrote, but I think if I said that it’d be a lie. No matter how far the writing pursuit ends up taking me, I doubt very much it’s something of which I could ever tire.

The Long Con

•May 28, 2013 • 4 Comments

A very dear friend – a man with whom I disagree on almost every existing political issue, thus a person who fills me with gratitude that we don’t define ourselves by our politics – posted something online a week or so ago which got me to thinking. I’d been meaning to get to it before now, but Ancient Roman itineraries and the Crusader State of Antioch have been devouring nearly all of my waking hours not already dedicated to work or enjoying that sliver of sunshine which we learn not to squander here in little old Portland, Oregon. But here I am with a half-hour or so to kill and, at last, the inability to do anything productive on any of the various projects competing for whatever remains of my never-impressive attention span. So if it’s now or never, it may as well be now.

Continue reading ‘The Long Con’

Be afraid, be very afraid

•May 20, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Because Texas is a gigantic state, and has an enormous amount of sway over the character and quality of our nation’s textbooks:

Nye was in town to participate in McLennan Community College’s Distinguished Lecture Series. He gave two lectures on such unfunny and adult topics as global warming, Mars exploration, and energy consumption.

But nothing got people as riled as when he brought up Genesis 1:16, which reads: “God made two great lights — the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.”

The lesser light, he pointed out, is not a light at all, but only a reflector.

At this point, several people in the audience stormed out in fury. One woman yelled “We believe in God!” and left with three children…


When the effects of climate change are obvious (even more readily obvious than they are now), this woman will claim it’s a punishment from God for allowing gay marriage and abortion. 

Hulk Hogan/The Situation 2016

•May 16, 2013 • Leave a Comment

This is quite possibly my favorite piece of academic trolling in the long and illustrious history of academic trolling. 

It’s been said many times, but it’s always worth repeating: Ninety percent of modern American conservatism is just about feeling like big tuff manly men. As an explanatory model for the winger psyche, it’s hard to find one better.