Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Dream Log: James Franco in Big-Time Community Theatre

I dreamed I was participating in a theatre project in Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan led by James Franco:

The project was being held in a theatre in a public high school. Mr Franco's participation, and the thronging level of activity, made it seem like big-time theatre. The peeling paint on the walls, and the dark overly-done lacquer on the wood -- the stage, the seats, the doors, the trim -- and the generally-run down appearance of the place, plus the fact that it seemed that just about anyone who showed up could participate, made it seem like community theatre. The place was run down, but the stage was big, and the house was big, with hundreds of comfortably-large seats.

This was a 14-day project, 7 days a week for 2 weeks, starting on a Monday and ending on a Sunday. The idea was to have 7 days of preparation followed by 7 different shows on consecutive nights. one of the points of the project was to demonstrate that theatre done on a tight schedule could still be good.

Mr Franco was going to give a lecture in the evening on 6 of the first seven days: Monday, and then Wednesday through Sunday. He was also going to direct 6 of the 7 shows: again, Monday and Wednesday through Sunday. Another person was going to give the Tuesday lecture and direct the Tuesday show. A group of us were sitting in the house on the afternoon of the first Monday, when Franco, to my great surprise, pointed at me and said that I was going to be that other person.

I felt utterly unprepared. Mr Franco got up onto the stage to give the first lecture. I was hoping to get a lot of ideas for my lecture from his lecture, but he was speaking into a microphone which seemed to be malfunctioning, and, sitting in the back of the house, I couldn't understand what he was saying. I kept hoping that someone would fix the microphone, or yell out that they couldn't hear, but the entire lecture went on like that for an hour and a half.

Mr Franco was thronged after the lecture, so that there was no chance that I could huddle with him and ask for help with my own lecture. I was just able to call out to him and ask when I should show up the next day, and he called back, "6 o'clock."

At first I thought he'd meant 6 AM, but -- somehow -- it became clear that he'd meant 6 PM. Nevertheless, I figured I had better not leave the theatre at all, but work overnight and hope to be prepared somehow.

But early in the morning, I realized that if my brother, mother, father and I went out to a certain Volkswagen dealership in suburban New Jersey, I would be able, with their help, to use the machinery in the dealership's garage to make 100 clones of John Goodman:

and 100 clones of Anna Kendrick:

and that these clones would be a great help in getting this job done.

On the way to the Volkswagen dealership, my brother, mother and father all made fun of me and my theatrical ambitions, saying that I was being ridiculous by still beating this dead horse at my age. When we got to the dealership, they played keep-away with the doors to the showroom.

My brother said that Volkswagen were cheap junk and that the average sticker price inside that showroom, for a brand-new VW, was probably around $6200 dollars. I said that he was mis-informed, and that no sticker price in that showroom was anywhere near as low as $6200. He unlocked the door, grinning, confident he was right, but of course he was wrong. There was no sticker price as low as twice $6200, and one was more than 10 times $6200. Impressed by my business savvy, he agreed to help me in the garage, and very soon we had built 100 flawless clones of John Goodman and 100 flawless clones of Anna Kendrick. I was able to get all 200 clones into vehicles on the dealer's lot, and we drove back into the city and were at the theatre before noon.

I just basically let the clones take over for me. One of the clones of John Goodman gave my lecture that evening. The following Tuesday one of the Anna Kendrick clones directed my play. All 200 of the clones were very helpful, onstage and behind the scenes, with all 7 plays, not just mine.

I was thronged with accolades. I told James Franco that I didn't think I deserved so much credit. He replied, "Hey, you brought the clones. You definitely deserve some credit."

Then I woke up.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Dream Log: Dilapidated Manhattan

Last night I dreamed I was in Manhattan. I lived in Manhattan for a few years in the 1990's, and both before and since, I've often dreamed I was there -- sometimes in a place which actually looked and felt like Manhattan (assuming that Manhattan still looks and feels like it did in 1997, the last time I was there. I know that many huge buildings have gone up since then and that there are other changes like the elevated walkway they call the High Line, but it's hard for me to believe that the place would be unrecognizable to me), sometimes not. For example, in some of these dreams there have been phantasmagorical skyscraper-scapes which exist nowhere in the real world. More than once, I dreamed that Central Park was much bigger than it really is, and had the look of a rural area, with dirt roads and telephone poles and an isolated one-story house here and there.

In my dream I covered, on foot, a large part of Lower Manhattan. In real life, Lower Manhattan:

or midtown Manhattan:

may still have the greatest concentration of very tall buildings any where on Earth, although several Chinese cities have been catching up quickly. The buildings are taller in midtown and Lower Manhattan than elsewhere in NYC because the bedrock is deeper there, and the foundations of these skyscrapers have to go very deep underground to ensure that the building will remain stable.

In my dream last night, it was the present day and I was in Lower Manhattan, but all the buildings in sight were one or two stories, and most of them looked like they were falling apart. A few of the roads were gravel, the rest were dirt. The area seemed to be mostly residential and was crowded with people.

My brother and I and several other men were moving into a small one-story house. We were excited to have found such a place at a rent we could afford between us all, on my brother's salary and the other men's as successful stockbrokers and my earnings as a successful sculptor. (In real life I am not a sculptor and my brother is not a stockbroker.) Each of us had a small room to himself, and we shared a small living room, a small bathroom and a small kitchen. The stockbrokers had to get wheeling racks such as are found in New York's Garment District:

to hold their many business suits, because there were no closets in the house.

There was a little strip of woods across the dirt road from the row of small crumbling houses which included the one we had rented. I moved in more quickly than the others, having fewer possessions, and then I went for a walk in the woods. I saw sparrows and robins and squirrels there.

Speaking of stockbrokers, there was no sign of the New York Stock Exchange building in my dream, just as there was no sign of the many skyscrapers in Lower Manhattan irl.

On the morning after we moved into the house, my brother and I went to have our passports updated. We stood in a long line beside a chain-link fence, waiting to get into the passport office, which was a tiny shack, barely a booth. It was cold enough outside that we could see our breath.

Their was only room enough inside the shack for one person at a time to see the one city employee who worked there. When it was my turn, the man working in the passport office enlarged my passport photo so that it now took up an entire page in my passport. He also added a white laminated page which fit over the front cover of my passport and informed people in red-white and-blue letters that I was disabled.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Dream Log: Surprise Birthday Party

I dreamed that I was in a restaurant kitchen attempting to prepare a meal of many small dishes for about 20 people, some of whom I recognized, some not. I have never done anything remotely like this, and in the dream I was very worried that I would screw it up. In addition to a full kitchen and wait staff under my command, there was a woman in the kitchen helping me. She seemed to be a full-fledged gourmet chef, but she also seemed to have decided not to help me too much: her help amounted to a few words of encouragement or advice every now and then. It seemed to amount to what people call, for some reason, "moral" support.

After we had been in the kitchen for quite a while, after the guests had been seated for quite a while, we still had not served any food, and I felt completely confused, and I was sure that complete disaster was much more likely than not. Then the chef-like woman reminded me that I had put notes to myself all over the kitchen: all I needed to do was to find them. And sure enough: I found the notes, put them all in order, barked out commands to the staff, and very soon, the guests were being fed which apparently was passing for haute cuisine. 20 small plates later, some of them were on their feet and shouting, "Chef! Chef!" I stepped into the dining room, and all of the guests stood up and applauded, I was patted on the back and shoulders and complimented, everyone seemed very happy about the whole situation.

Then someone shouted "Happy Birthday!" and some others started shouting "Happy Birthday!" too, and eventually I realized that they were shouting it at me. I had forgotten it was my birthday. Some of the guests hustled me outside, and some more people were out there waiting on the sidewalk and shouting birthday wishes at me. We all piled into some waiting vehicles and drove off. Eventually I gathered that we were going to a Pearl Jam concert.

We pulled up in front of arena on a university campus, 10,000 seats or so by the looks of it. But it was closed. No sign of a concert. Someone, consulting GPS, called out, "It's behind this building!" We went around the arena and found a theatre which looked as if it might have around 2000 seats, but it was closed, too. After a moment of confusion, the person with the GPS device said, "It's behind this building!" We walked around the theatre and found a smaller theatre with its entrance lights on and signs announcing a Pearl Jam concert.

Inside, there were perhaps as many as 200 seats. Some people were on an unraised stage setting up the band's equipment. I assumed there were Pearl Jam and some roadies. One of them was Eddie Vedder, and he's the only member of Pearl Jam I would've recognized by sight. I thought it was impressively down-to-Earth of the band to be out there with the roadies and the crowd, and not making a big deal of it. It matched with what I'd heard about them being unpretentious.

One of my friends at the concert was Craig Robinson:

Irl I've never met Mr Robinson. He pointed to a coat-check area where a graduation gown and cap were hanging, and said that they were going to make me wear them. I said I didn't want to. He grinned and said, "We'll MAKE you." He seemed pretty determined about it, and gradually I began to think that the easiest thing to do might be to just put them on.

Another friend of mine pulled our tickets out of his pocket. I was surprised by this because I had gotten the tickets for our whole group, more than a dozen people. (When I'd gotten the tickets I hadn't noticed that the concert was on my birthday.) My friend just shrugged and said that I would've forgotten them.

The tickets had been at my home in a locked drawer to which I'd assumed no-one else had access. I didn't ask my friend how he'd gotten the tickets.

Eddie Vedder, tuning an acoustic guitar, called out, "Where's Steve Bollinger?" Several people pointed at me. Several people shouted to the effect that I preferred to be called Steven. "My bad, Steven," Mr Vedder said.

"No big deal, Mr Vedder," I replied.

"I prefer 'Eddie'."

"Okay, Eddie."

"You got a favorite Pearl Jam song?"

"I got a lot of them. Hard to think of just one. I like 'Alive,' and 'Wishlist'..." and around then I woke up.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Stephen Greenblatt and New Atheism

It took me a while, but I finally noticed the link between a recent source of aggravation, Stephen Greenblatt

and his profoundly misinformative and hugely popular book The Swerve,

and that earlier source of annoyance, those avid consumers and champions of misinformation, the New Atheists.

I had separated myself from the New Atheists. It was amazingly easy to do: I simply stopped seeking them out, and, to my amazement and immense relief, I rarely came across any of them any more. There was a whole big wonderful world out there which was almost entirely free of them. Almost.

New Atheists are atheists who believe that religion is the source of most or actually all of the world's problems, and who constantly talk and write about religion in this vein while being very careful never to learn anything about it. The classic example is Richard Dawkins, who is constantly going on and on about how Islam is the greatest threat to the world, and has never read the Koran and never will and is freakin' proud of it. New Atheists are constantly discussing a fictitious story about early Christianity and the creation of the Bible, while being very careful never to read more than a dozen or so verses of the Bible specially selected for their awfulness, or to learn anything about the ancient Mediterranean world in which Christianity and the Bible first arose. They live in an echo chamber, only "learning" about the ancient Mediterranean world from each other, distrusting any and all actual experts.

I don't know whether Stephen Greenblatt is a New Atheist or has even heard of New Atheism, but how could New Atheists not love Stephen Greenblatt and his book The Swerve, which is so full of inaccurately hostile denunciations of Christianity?

I don't mind denunciations of Christianity -- I've written a few myself -- but I greatly prefer those which are factually accurate. Like this one, a positively furious book-length denunciation of Christianty which cuts much deeper than any New Atheists have dreamed of doing, although it is much less clumsily broad than their attacks: Der Antichrist,

written by Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche had been appointed a full professor of Classics at the University of Basel at the astonishingly young age of 24. He was very well-versed in the literature of the ancient world in which Christianity and the Bible arose. At age 44, writing Der Antichrist, Nietzsche referred often to the New Testament in the original ancient Greek, although he found the Greek New Testament to be very badly-written, and reading it to be a very unpleasant experience. Nietzsche never was interested in taking the easy path, or so his writings make it seem. He was a scrupulous author, concerned, to a very unusual degree, that the things he wrote made sense. He wanted to make sure that his book about Christianity contained no inaccurately hostile denunciations, only accurate ones.

Nietzsche wrote Der Antichrist in 1888, an extraordinarily productive year for him as a writer. (Was he hurrying because he felt the end of his sanity approaching?) This one book was written between the 3rd and the 30th of September, and then he went right on to other things, until the 3rd day of January, 1889, when he went suddenly, thoroughly and permanently insane, perhaps from the effects of a decades-old case of syphilis overpowering his brain at last. Or perhaps he went mad from exasperation at so many people who spoke and wrote on the topics he cared about, without bothering to be well-informed. Like the many people who've been glad to discuss Nietzsche with me, who've never read anything Nietzsche wrote. (What on Earth did they suppose they were discussing?) Like Greenblatt and the New Atheists, so eager to discuss things like Medieval monasteries and atheist philosophy, and so determined not to learn about them. What do they actually imagine they're talking about?

And what should I do about it? Simply avoiding New Atheism certainly has been comfortable. But maybe, ultimately, as thoroughly atheist as I am, I can't be completely comfortable just sitting back and watching religious forms of stupidity be replaced by equally stupid atheist ones. Maybe, as sweetly tempting as it is, I'm just not as Epicurean as that.

Gee, I hope this doesn't drive me completely and permanently mad.

Friday, May 4, 2018

If I Had $18 Billion --

-- it would be good for other people, too. Not just me.

I've mentioned before on this blog that if I were suddenly to receive $18 billion somehow, it would be good for me. And I believe that. I know, I've heard the horror stories about people who've won the Powerball jackpot, and 3 years later they're broke and more miserable than ever. But I think I could handle huge sudden wealth.

If I suddenly received $18 billion somehow, I would be a nice guy -- let me re-phrase that: I am a nice guy, and I don't think sudden immense wealth would change that.

Paying for 100% of the cost of converting 1000 houses to solar power would barely put a dent into $18 billion. That'd be like a couple days' worth of dividends. But if each one of those 1000 houses was owned and resided in by low-income people, so low that they might be at risk of losing the house, switching to solar could make a huge difference to them. Several hundred dollars a month is a huge difference to some people.

In addition to converting those 1000 houses, I could easily afford to buy a lot of advertising space to publicize what I was doing, and to challenge other billionaires to try to top it. I think maybe some billionaires have a sense of competition and don't like to be out-done by other billionaires, so maybe a few of them would take up my challenge, and transform the lives of many more low-income people.

(Also, it would result in cleaner air and fewer greenhouse gasses.)

I could point out in those advertisements that what I did, converting 1000 houses, cost much less than funding an America's Cup racing yacht for one year.

Some of the billionaires would probably cheat because, c'mon -- they're billionaires -- and do things like put huge solar arrays onto properties which they themselves own, as opposed to the homes of people in danger of losing their homes. And then they'd claim that they had outdone me because they'd installed more electrical capacity than I had. Which in one respect would be bullshit. But in another respect, a billionaire would have paid for a lot of solar installation, so from the climate's perspective it would still be a win.

I could also give huge contributions to other forms of sustainable power and environmentally-minded projects, and to education, and the arts, and education, and education.

Education is important, and lately, in the US, it's been getting shafted. One of the reasons for that is because the current President loves stupid people, because you have to be stupid to support the current President.

And I could have my own AM radio station, a news station with a heavy emphasis on news about the climate and things to do about it, and another heavy emphasis on politics. Have you listened to AM radio lately? Do you realize how easy it would be to out-shine most of my competition?

I'm just saying, this is not just all about me and my greed for $18 billion.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Michelle Wolf and Chris Matthews

Like many of you, I'm disgusted by the expressions of disgust at Michelle Wolf's stand-up comedy routine at the latest White House Correspondents' Dinner. You'd expect Republicans to complain, but even some Democrats didn't get it. Like Chris Matthews. My God, does he ever not get it! Michelle wasn't making fun of Sarah Huckabee's appearance, the way Trump makes fun of women's appearance. Michelle was complaining about how Ms Huckabee lies non-stop, something which journalists like Matthews should do much more often, since Ms Huckabee is the spokesperson for the head of state and Commander-in-Chief of the US, and since Matthews hosts an hour-long show every day whose supposed purpose is to inform the public about what's going on in American politics.

It'd be one thing if Matthews lectured others about decorum and was decorous himself. But nooooo. One night he ends his show by calling Ms Wolf a disgrace, and the very next night he plays a game with his guests, saying something like "idiot" or "moron" or "dumb as shit" and seeing which guest can guess which Trump staffer called Trump that. I guess he'll claim that HE wasn't saying those things about Trump. HE was only QUOTING other people. Michelle Wolf and Chris Matthews both criticize the Trump administration very harshly; some differences are that Michelle is much funnier while doing so, and Matthews doesn't admit that he's doing it, in the name of that insane, utterly counter-productive game known as "objective journalism." Objectivity doesn't exist. Werner Heisenberg PROVED that 80 years ago. "Objective journalism" is just one giant step away from journalists being as clear and informative as they could be. Such clarity about politics is extremely important right now, and, as usual, we're getting it from comedians, plus a very few journalists.

When will Matthews finally retire so he can devote all of his time and energy to his favorite cause: plugging the latest book he wrote about the Kennedys? (To be clear: I'm not saying that people shouldn't read about the Kennedys, or that there was/is no greatness in them. I'm not saying that at all. I am, however, snarkily suggesting that that there may be better sources of information about the Kennedys than fatuous old bores like Chris Matthews.)

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Ancient References to the Lost Books of Livy

Livy, born 53 BC, died AD 17, wrote a history of Rome in 142 books. (These books were shorter than what we generally think of as books. Think books of the Bible instead. Back then, the term referred to the amount of writing which fit into a scroll.)

Of those 142 books, 35 have survived to our day: books 1-10 and 21-45. But we know a lot about what was written in the other 107 books: there is an anonymous 4th-century abridgment of 140 of the 142 books (136 & 137 are missing) referred to as the periochae of Livy. Altogether the periochae are about as long as one of Livy's books. Another anonymous abridgment, of books 37-40 (still extant in the entire form) and 48-55 (lost) was found at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt, and published in volume IV of the Oxyrhynchus Papryri in 1904. In addition, Julius Obsequens, who probably lived in the 3rd century AD, compiled a book of prodigies, or, as we might say, of wonders -- droughts, storms, ecplipses, swarms of bees, unexplained things seen in the sky, etc -- taken from Livy's history.

Also, the works of history written by Aurelius Victor, Florus and Eutropius consist to a great degree of abridgments of Livy.

In addition, there are fragments of Livy: a 1000-word passage from book 91 found in a 5-th century palimpsest of a manuscript in the Vatican library in the 18th century; a piece of parchment containing a few words from book 11, written in the 5th century, found in the Fayum in Egypt in the 1980's.

Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, in a famous letter from AD 401, says that his household is busily editing the whole of Livy's work.

And then there are the fragments which are the subject of this post: quotes from or other references to the lost books of Livy in the works of other authors, from the 1st to the 6th century AD. I have been able to identify the following references. Perhaps there are more. Perhaps some of these are spurious. In addition to these, I have found numerous references to the lost books in scholia (notes written inn the margins of manuscripts), for which I have as yet been able to determine neither an author not a date.

Servius, in the commentary on Vergil he wrote in the 4th century, refers to Livy's books 12, 13, 16, 19, 94, 99, 116, and 6 times to book 136.

Priscian, a 6th-century grammarian, refers to books 14, 17, 56, 112 (twice), and to 113, 118 and 136.

Censorius, a 3rd-century grammarian, refers to books 19 and 49.

Plutarch, in works written in Greek which cover some of the same ground as Livy, refers to books 77, 98 (twice), 111 and 116.

Valerius Maximus refers to book 18.

Augustine of Hippo refers to books 77 and 78.

Frontinus (c30-104) in his book on military strategy, refers to books 91 and 97.

Bishop Agrocius of Sens (5th cent) refers to book 102.

Josephus refers to book 102 in Antiquities of the Jews.

Serenus Sammonicus (d 212), in his book Res reconditae, refers to book 103.

Tacitus refers to book 105.

Jordanus (active mid-6th century) refers to book 105.)

Orosius (375 -- after 418) refers twice to book 109.

Appian refers to book 114.

Jerome refers to book 114.

Seneca refers to book 116 and 3 times to book 136.

Pliny the Elder refers twice to book 136.

Pope Gelasius refers to book 136 in AD 496.

Nonius Marcellus, writing in the 4th or 5th century, refers twice to book 136.

Quintilian refers twice to book 136.

The number of late citations by authors with connections to Africa is striking. (Pope Gelasius, for example, was a Berber.)