The Divine Comedy (canto II): Rings of Hell

Cartography and cosmology merge and mingle in Dante's Divine Comedy; not to mention allegory, mythology, social critique and farce. The story begins on the eve of Good Friday in 1300, Dante himself is led through the various quarters and precincts of The Inferno by Virgil. The Divine Comedy is both a poetic look at the medieval christian view of heaven and hell, as well as a heavily veiled commentary on the politicians and power brokers of the world circa 1300-1350. It has also been suggested that Dante was depressed, to use our contemporary diagnosis, perhaps even suicidal. The writing of the Divine Comedy was then a literary journey of his own soul back to the light of the divine. Or he was hoping for a screenplay adaptation with up front points.

Hell was apparently found inside the earth and comes divided into nine rings and believe it or not-an antechamber! Sort of a pre-hell. There reside those cherubs who took no sides in the Rebellion of Angels (you remember the revolt against God led by Satan). Apparently, there were a fair number of angels who chose to wait out the conflict to see who won; this is never a good strategy in an allegorical war, in fact, it is the one way to get screwed no matter who wins. So these wishy-washy angels hang out just across the river from hell with the souls of humans who did nothing noteworthy in their lives and have neither good nor evil marks on their personal tabula rasa.

Sin it seems is punished metaphorically in or near the Inferno. The punishment is real, assuming you buy the entire cosmology here but the particular slings and arrows are apportioned by infraction and carry their own significance. In the anteroom of hell, for instance, the hesitant angels and ethical couch potatoes are stung my hornets and wasps which serve as metaphors for the sting of their consciences. It's poetry remember.

Following the waiting room of hell, we encounter another well known image, the river Acheron (not the river Styx that's another waterway of the Inferno) and the boatman Charon to carry the damned to hell or in this case the tourist Dante and his dead poet Virgil. Charon puts up a fiery fuss over taking a live human into hell, but Virgil utters some words of wisdom ("This is not the human you are looking for...) and they are allowed to be ferried cross the mersey or some such.

Next, the first actual ring of hell: Limbo.

Temporarily Out of Service

Due to circumstances beyond our control and a deluge of tryptophan. The Circles of Hell, particularly the one concerning gluttony, will be delayed one more day. Tune in tomorrow when MSG swollen fingers will attempt to return to issues of portent and blah-blah-blah.

And now Wii Frisbee golf and then second breakfast.
art credit: M. Cammer-turkey carcass, charcoal and carbon black on paper


Before moving on to a dissertation on Dante's Rings of Hell, as promised in my last post. I thought I would take a moment to reflect on the season, which for me thus far has meant a bit of driving between relatives homes and planning a variety of holiday meals, including of course...
Snopes or not, Benjamin Franklin did propose the turkey as the national bird of the USA.
Surfing the web can uncover the results of someone else's many wasted hours.
Damn good looking bird, you have to admit. For my vegan readers I refer to the turkey above, for the rest of us--the one below.
Wishing all of you in the U.S. a happy turkey day and pointing out that a word is just a word but context is everything!

The Divine Comedy (canto I)

This post is not a reflection on my life, the presidency of Barack Obama, the state of humanity nor the entropy of the universe. Tis only that once again I have noticed the influx of a certain metaphor into my consciousness; mere happenstance? synchronicity? who knows? However, in the past week or so I have encountered references far outside any explanatory statistical relevance to Dante, the Rings of Hell, Purgatorio and the Divine Comedy. At some point the light bulb went on and I wondered just what I still knew or had long forgotten about this masterwork of 12th century poet Dante Alighieri.

So I danced around the interwebs first focused on the dauntingly inviting "Rings of Hell" and then onto the complete work of The Divine Comedy and Dante himself. Time to share some of what I uncovered. I'm not really sure how far I am will pursue this line of inquiry, we certainly are going to wander through the nine rings of hell, whether we get to seven to ten levels of Purgatory or ultimately to Paradise, well stay tuned.

Let's begin with some general story notes and observations. The Divine Comedy is presented in three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. Basically, those translate to hell, purgatory and heaven. There are many more contemporary literary and social references to The Inferno then there are to either Purgatorio or Paradiso, which has got to say something about our collective darker side. I know I was first drawn to the whole Rings of Hell imagery. Purgatory is so, well, intermediary; sort of a spirtual cul de sac. Paradiso, on the other hand, just never came up in my initial cerebral percolation. Where the hell is some good old fashioned ecstasy when you need it!

(Sorry. I bit distracted there for a moment. Self reflection don't ya know. Meanwhile, back in Hades...)

Speaking of the infamous Rings. Dante viewed hell as a series of ever more vehement levels of sin, depravity and punishment. You will see when we explore those circles in detail that his reflection of medieval european sensibilities was not so far from those that vex our humanoid morality today. Some things just never change, despite the best efforts of the sane and the profane.

Before encountering The Inferno, I would point out that Dante lived roughly seven hundred years ago (approx. 1265-1321), therefore a great deal of what we think we know about him comes from later exegesis of his life and work. Mind you the first biography of Dante was written some two hundred years after his death, so all of what we think we know is influenced by historical writing and commentary. Dante was a poet and scholar of the late Medieval period but our first full biography of his life was written two centuries later in the near full flower of the Renaissance. That being said, an additional five hundred years have not diminished the impact of The Divine Comedy still considered the poetic masterwork of Italian literature. How many "great" authors of today will we be reading in 2709?

One final introductory mote of interest. Dante called his original work Comedy (Commedia), the 'Divine' was not appended until nearly two hundred years after his death. While it would appear on the surface that a major work constructed on the prevailing ecclesiastical themes of heaven and hell would be considered a religious work; in fact, Dante was using the religious metaphor to criticize and ridicule the political and religious figures of his time. The veil of the heaven-purgatory-hell imagery was both a literary vehicle as well as some social protection from the slings and excommunicatory arrows of his satirical targets.

Next time: a few Rings of Hell

Condoms & Condom Devices

The picture above is of a 'device', which is apparently used to assist in the application of a condom. Also apparently this task has become more difficult in recent times or perhaps this is just another indication that indeed men's brains do function poorly when blood is diverted for other purposes. In either case, anyone with a Y chromosome will take one look at that 'device' and offer a less than polite no thank you. But first looks can be deceiving.

Earlier this year I was at a medical equipment, paraphernalia, gimmick convention in Las Vegas where these items were being demonstrated. No, it was not a live demo but they did use anatomically correct and variously sized dildoes. Since then I have had this information in my "future posts" file. Today is the day.

The device is marketed under the brand name Pronto and was named The Most Beautiful Object in a 2007 South African Design competition. This from the product literature:

The applicator allows a condom to be put on easily and rapidly. The user holds the device with the thumb and forefinger of both hands, pulling the condom down over the penis in a single rapid movement.

Yes, there is a video demonstration, which might actually change the mind of any quick draws out there.

And for the purposes of keeping this blog within the bounds of public service educational content as opposed to prurient interest.

Condom - a thin sheath, usually of rubber, worn over the penis during sexual intercourse to prevent conception or sexually transmitted disease.

Synonyms: French letter, contraceptive, johnny, prophylactic, protection, raincoat, rubber, safe, sheath.

The additional picture is just an additional picture I had in my photo folder and bears no connection to the Pronto condom device, but its a cool picture.

[Update: Pronto condoms are now marketed at 4 sec condoms but remain unavailable in the U.S. because of a high level of demand and several nasty plastic pinching incidents.]
Photo credits: archives

Paranoia Strikes Deep

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
-Buffalo Springfield

For What It's Worth is the song by Messrs. Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay, Jim Messina and perhaps Dewey Martin and/or Bruce Palmer depending on the version you listen to and who was caught up in the last drug bust.

Just a small digression, when Buffalo Springfield broke up after about two years of revolving bass players and the aforementioned drug busts---Stephen Still hooked up with Graham Nash of the Hollies and David Crosby from the Byrds and formed a little band, they took in Neil Young and played some music. Jim Messina and Richie Furay hooked up to form Poco. Jim Messina eventually teamed up with Kenny Loggins.

Meanwhile back at the topic of this here post: Paranoia Strikes Deep. That was the tagline for a Nov. 9 opinion piece in the NYTimes. The paranoia is either that the Republican Party has or will be taken over by the extremist right wing. Whether this has or hasn't happened yet depends on just how left or right you already are and (here comes the point) how paranoid you are about such a possibility. The article can be summarized with it's last two lines:

"The point is that the takeover of the Republican Party by the irrational right is no laughing matter. Something unprecedented is happening here--and it's very bad for America."

In case you missed it, the lines from Buffalo Springfield are:

Something's happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear. There's a man with a gun over there, telling me I got to beware.

The problem is that you can't tell if the guy with the gun is an extreme conservative, a paranoid libertarian or a fearful liberal who has decided to defend his turf. That it ain't exactly clear is why paranoia strikes deep.
photo credit: ethiosun.com

Compelled by Technology

Rats in a technological maze. Jumping to the ring, buzz and tone of the newest toy. What has become of free will, of personal responsibility, of turning off the damn machines?

Three examples of technology over humanity from this past week:

Exemplar #1: I am visiting with relatives. A teenage cousin or second cousin or grand cousin (us non-breeders can't keep track of how diluted the blood lines get), anyway the teenage relative is leaving the house and her mother says: "Remember texting while driving is unsafe." To which the young adult replies: "I'll try to remember."

Now I was good with that line of conversation ending right there, like I said, this is not a close relative, so I would not be expected to attend the funeral. But an aunt or some other meddling relative piped up and said: "She doesn't actually text while driving, does she?" Followed by: "we are trying to break her of the habit" then "what are you an idiot, take the phone away" and "what if she has a flat tire on a country road". You know this entire argument or perhaps have seen it on Dr. Phil. In fact, this incident would not even have made my techno-crappy list if the under-verbal-assault mother had not eventually turned to me and asked: "Don't you think there is a lot of ridiculous over reaction in this conversation?"

I would point out again that I had refrained to this moment from offering an opinion and that the mother did ask me a direct question. To which I replied: "I think it all depends on what is more important, a cell phone text message or your child's life."

We didn't stay for lunch.

Exemplar #2

Another friend I visited was doing paperwork for her job as a clinical social worker. She was trying to get 'just one more' case entered before we went out to dinner and was sputtering about 'new pages of redundant information'. It seems that the old two page form is now a new four page form and in her opinion, the added pages really don't ask for any new information.

I suggested that perhaps the redundancy was because not everyone was as conscientious about patient documenting as she was. Perhaps the new pages were to provide more opportunities for information to be expressed and that she was not expected to complete every line and every box for every case or every client.

She said she would have a talk with the IT person at the office. To which I suggested that the IT person only implemented the added pages as part of a software program and that the decision to collect additional information was not made at the IT level. That got some murmured response about techies always wanting more data and I decided to let it drop in favor of a pleasant dining experience.

A few days later, it was reported that the tech did indeed respond to the inquiry by saying: "I don't write the pages, I just type the code." Please don't blame the techie, they are just following orders.

Exemplar #3: Yesterday I sent a copy of that travel map over there in the right side of this here blog to a bunch of friends. Some had asked where I was or where I was going next. So I made a google map and sent it along. Within a few minutes I got two messages that said basically the same:

Good 2 hear from U. Reply later. via Blackberry

First, it is unnecessary to reply to any communication sent by non-work related email. No one should ever be offended when private email goes unacknowledged. In particular, there is no need to tell me that you don't have time to reply now, but you will later. I would have figured that out when you did, in fact, reply later. And I am not impressed that you took time out of your busy day to tap a message into your blackberry and I even think slightly less of you that you even have a blackberry. But I still love you.

Many years ago a good friend and long time email buddy sent me an email with the subject line: FYINRIN, which he explained meant 'For Your Information, No Reply is Necessary.' We have remained great email friends for many, many years precisely because we have this understanding.

So to all my readers, thank you for stopping by to read through the random firings of my synapses. Be assured that dropping by my humble blog involves no commitment on your part, I write without expectations and FYP&ENRIE-UIIC.

For Your Pleasure & Enjoyment, No Response is Expected - Unless It Includes Chocolate


That's right! Sarah Palin's book.

OK, first I just want all I my liberal friends to know that I am really enjoying your reaction to that dust jacket being on my blog. To my many conservative friends, no I have not drunk the kool-aid and no, I am not going to trash the queen of the moment, Ms. Palin. Although I guess by calling her Ms. I have already insulted some right-wing, crypto-fascist dogma. But enough about politics.

Please notice that I have not linked to the book with my Amazon Associates account, even I understand the thirty pieces of silver possibilities here. Sarah Palin's book is not yet available for shipping, wipe the drool off your reading glasses Richard, it ships November 17th.

So why am I writing about a book many of my friends would not even handle for fear of contamination?

Well, first of all it is already a best-seller, meaning lots and lots of folks have pre-ordered it. Not surprising you say. Well a little investigative reporting might reveal a hidden reason for its popularity. Amazon.com sells a lot of books, all at a discount. It's what all the online sites do. For example, Check-Raising the Devil is listed at $24.95 and sells on Amazon for $16.47; that is the near standard 1/3 off.

Going Rogue lists at $28.99 and has sold on various online sites and in brick and mortar stores for somewhere in the $15-$16 range. Right now if you go to Amazon. com, you will see that Going Rogue is the first book advertised for sale. Today's price --- $4.97!

Yes, folks there is no better way to becoming a best seller then to sell your book for less than than it costs to print it. Trust me, Amazon is not using this brilliant tome of political literature as a loss leader, they are buying it for a lot less than five bucks. So good old almost-VP Palin will not be donating a lot of her royalties to the local Planned Parenthood for indigent, indigenous Inuits.

By the way, the title of her book actually has nothing to do with the word rogue, which has mostly negative connotations. Whether or not the true origin of the title says anything at all about Sarah Palin or not is, well... you decide.

This is the sited source for the chosen title:

With 10 days to go until election day, long brewing tension between Sarah Palin and key aides to John McCain has become so intense, it is spilling out into the public.
Several McCain advisers have suggested to news media they have become increasingly frustrated with what one aide described as Palin “going rogue” recently, while a Palin associate says she is simply trying to “bust free” of what she believes was a mishandled roll-out that damaged her.
McCain sources point to several incidents where Palin has gone off message, and privately wonder if they were deliberate. A McCain source tells Fox News 'she appears to now be looking out for herself more than the McCain campaign.'
Maybe they meant to call it--Going Rouge?

Writing Inspiration

At least half of all writing involves just sitting and staring into space. Letting your brain out to hunt down ideas, bringing them back all warm and bloody between its teeth. - Warren Ellis

I consider myself a master of sitting and staring into space. I also have graduate training which includes wandering in the woods, vegetating on the veranda and a certificate in morning meditation disguised as sleeping in. Ideas come to me in all of these and many other places, however, I have yet to sink my metaphorical fangs into a single one of them. No, my process is more welcoming. I tend to nurture a new idea, giving it a proverbial saucer of milk.

I don't like to take notes unless the idea comes to me as I drift off at night. All writers abhor the thought of waking in the morning with no chance of recalling what the Pulitzer idea was they had the night before. But unless I am about to commune with Morpheus, I prefer to wander a bit, perhaps take a walk or at least pace about a snow bound house and let a new idea percolate and flourish.

Some new ideas are just scenes that may be part of a story yet undiscovered. All I really need is some time to lock the key pieces into memory where it can await the rest of the story from which it has prematurely erupted. There are times when a day or two later, I check my mental, paper or cyber notes to find what I have is not a scene from a story but, in fact, a blog post. Something like this one today.

Pondering Warren Ellis' rapine writing habits, I wonder if I might add a touch of the carnivore to my sitting and staring routine. Gives a whole new perspective to the practice of vegetating. Perhaps the tone and tenor is different when one ravages an idea.
photo credit: archives

Check Critiquing the Devil

I have been a published book author for six months today. Recently I have begun to sense a theme in the negative aspects of our reviews. Now I must say that the majority of the reviews for Check Raising the Devil have been positive, at times glowingly positive. What has interested me is that what negative comments we have received all seem to focus on one critical decision we made the first day we met with Mike to see if we all could, would or should collaborate on the project.

We decided as a group (Mike, his manager, Amy and me) that the book would be written in the first person. I was the lone dissenter but gave in to the overwhelming desires of the others to have the book be completely in Mike's voice. In the last few months I have gotten my wish while writing the screenplay; movies are third person vehicles and I have gotten to write and say the things that did not make it into the book.

But back to the criticism, rather than summarize; I will give you the essence of the critique from the most articulate expression we have found. This is from the Journal of Gambling Issues.

Being written by Matusow and his co-authors, Amy Calistri and Tim Lavalli, the books's first-person narrative is riddled with colloquialisms and crude language. Based on my familiarity with Matusow's conversational style from radio shows, sound clips, and television appearances, the prose captures his voice well. Although it is authentic, it is also distracting at times; it seems that the book compromises good writing for the genuine portrayal of Matusow's propensity to insert curse works unnecessarily into every other sentence.

Guilty! But as this reviewer points out, it was an artistic decision and one that we agreed to live with. By the way, Mike does not unnecessarily insert anything into his conversation, he simply speaks, as do we all. In retrospect, do I regret not winning the first-person argument back on day one? No, I do not. Our format did indeed tell Mike's story in his own voice. We struggled to find that voice and to stay in that voice for the entire book. A few internet babble-heads have actually questioned why Mike needed co-authors, when clearly we just "wrote down what he said." We would like to thank those cyber wonks for probably the best compliments Amy and I have received on the book. If the reader doesn't notice our input, then we did our job to perfection.

Well I feel better now. I think I will go read the NYTimes Sunday Book Review and find that one caustic, withering piece they always have each week. I do love blood mixed with newsprint.
photo credit: TribuneNewsPhotos

Gay Maine

I know a lot of my liberal friends are distraught over the latest vote on gay marriage. The citizens of Maine, in an unusually high turnout for a minor election, voted against homosexual unions in that state this Tuesday past. What I would like to say to both my liberal and conservative friends and readers is that this matters not at all in the greater scheme of things.

Allow me to expound.

In nearly all two-sided arguments there are four positions. Your position (+), their position (-), your position from their point of view (-), their position from their point of view (+) and, of course, the mirror image if you are them and they is you. As the graphic below illustrates.

In the case of gay marriage, those positions are approximately:
A. Marriage is a right that should be available to all persons regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, number of limbs or facial warts.
B. Marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman only; despite the fact that over 50% of marriages piss on this sacred bond in the foam of divorce.
C. You are godless, soulless heathens who seek to destroy the very fabric of the nation; somehow that fabric is not freedom, but is in fact marriage.
D. You are close-minded bigots, who couldn't handle freedom if it came gift wrapped and delivered on a rainbow bus.

I believe I have captured the essence of the various positions. But as I said before, it doesn't matter. Why you ask?

Every state in the nation, yes even Arkansas and Mississippi will eventually vote to legalize gay marriage. Every single one. What? Why? How?

Well folks, I hope this doesn't come as a shock to all you breeders out there, but you have birthed and raised a generation of children who are not bigots. They don't care who is gay or straight or even who is black, yellow, white or brown. While they may still believe that heterosexual marriage is sacred, they don't believe they should impose those beliefs on others. Yes, even you right-wing fascists are donating sperm and ovum to children who actually believe in liberty and justice for all.

I know, I know that kid down the street is just as big a red-neck as his daddy; but he is a member of a dwindling minority. The attitudes on gay marriage will change as these children become voters and express their will that basically adheres to a policy that they should not legislatively impose their will on others. And don't look now but many of those kids are already eighteen and they are registered to vote.

Now I realize that I have once again slammed social conservatives here, by defaming them with words like bigot and red-neck; I have also defamed Mississippi and Arkansas, when it was Maine which prompted today's rant. So allow me to balance the scale.

You liberals, particularly you gay liberals. You are now going to point out that this change will be too late for you. You want to be married now. Actually what you really want is to have the societal recognition of your union and the accrued benefits of marriage. But! I do not have those rights available to me. You see I am a single-American. I chose not to marry, so I will never receive the tax advantages, health care benefits and other social protections of a married person.

But wait you say! I at least have the choice, as a heterosexual single-American I could get married. False logic! Freedom of choice should not give rise to specialized freedoms available only to those who make the politically or socially correct choice. Certainly I think you should have the right to marry but stop your whining about inequality unless or until you tell me that you will renounce the unequal benefits that arise to marriage persons. Go ahead and marry the person of your hearts choosing but renounce the elevated status that marriage gives you over those who make a different choice. You understand the words "different choice" right? The words are: with liberty and justice for all. It doesn't say marriage makes you special or privileged.

We are all equal and free when there are no more down-trodden minorities but also when no group is a privileged minority.
photo credit: glca.com

Writin' 'Bout Writin'

That is actually a very recent quote from an opinion piece in the NYTimes by Olivia Judson. I like the way she writes, although recently I have been reading books and articles with styles I do not care for. It seems that like John Cage music there are some disconnected writing modes that really ring some reader's cerebral chimes. I am discovering that reading the discordant makes it oh so much easier to analyze the style if not the attraction. Right now I am plowing through Neil Stephenson's Cryptonomicon with it's over 1100 pages. Back when I was working in the cyber-reality, I enjoyed the darkness of his virtual world in Snow Crash, but his herky-jerky story line in this work is distracting. Yet, I persevere because I am trying to master the craft of reading a work I truly admire without getting lost in the author's world.

I want to see beneath the fiction and discover the structure that allows a reader to fall so deeply into the created world. I have read the Mars Trilogy at least three times trying to follow the seamless character transitions. I strive to some day be able to read Blake and understand how his hallucinations can become mine. Until then I will scribble away at my several nascent books and articles, hoping they will someday emerge into the light of public scrutiny and paint worlds yet unseen for my readers.

A Mix and Match Rant

Two items cross my path in the last forty-eight. Hmm, perhaps it was their paths that crossed. Whatever, I have been putting in a clump of hours on the Matusow screenplay and in that light I was interested in an article link sent to me by three separate friends. The title is: No I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script. If you are considering a screenplay, novel, short story or even a blog; I cordially invite you to read it. To my friends, buddies, pals and family members who will be getting our screenplay in a few weeks, thanks in advance and if you read this psot, maybe please thank-you also read the article.

Item two is a quotation from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig:

There is an evil tendency underlying all our technology - the tendency to do what is reasonable even when it isn't any good.

Now I'm no Luddite, my life has been dramatically changed by the personal computer and the internet. But all great advances have a dark underbelly. OK, most of them do; I haven't done an exhaustive list. And it is not just reasonable outcomes that can fail to be accretive to the good of humanity. There are simply less than satisfactory non-accomplishments that abound because of our really big technocracy. The primary culprit in today's rant is writing. Sure start a blog, write every day or twice a year; good for you, get it out, say it, write. But that does not make you a writer.

As the article says: "It rarely takes more than a page to recognize that you're in the presence of someone who can write, but it only takes a sentence to know you're dealing with someone who can't. By the way, here's a simple way to find out if you're a writer. If you disagree with that statement, you're not a writer. Because, you see, writers are also readers."

Mind you I say this as an apprentice writer. No not a writer yet, despite having a book and a couple of hundred articles on poker out there plus several fiction pieces floating about the interwebs. But I am an aspiring, apprentice writer. Nasty (unpublished) comments I get on this blog regularly remind me of my shortcomings, real or imagined by my faithful if cranky readers.
photo credit: FlickrPhotos