“Donald Trump, Traitor to his Class” by Ross Douthat: Point of Support

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I was sufficiently moved by how well Douthat’s article to write a response.

I am offended, firstly, by the people who dismiss Trump’s candidacy without really thinking about it–even given that people I know and care about hold this position… and Donald Trump is a safety-vest-colored douche-bag who will empirically never be president.

[Note: when I use the word douche-bag as an insult what I mean is that the douche is an unnecessary product invented by male doctors to make women feel bad about themselves; any man who tries to make women feel bad about themselves out of ignorance and/or profit-motive is a douche-bag–is logically the same as the douche-bag.]

In this country, voting is a zero-sum game. Voting for Trump, even in a poll, means not voting for someone else. So why aren’t they voting for someone else? Why is it that Conservative Americans are throwing their lot in with Trump instead of the upstanding, thoughtful citizens obscured by the breadth of his bling? Grave and decisive and ingenious politicians like Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush… yeah. Who knew you could be a lame duck without winning the election first?

Trump has said repeatedly that he’s funded all of their campaigns. So the choice is between:

a) someone who takes money from, and is thus beholden to, others and is secretive about it as well as about other things.

b) someone who gives money to others and is thus beholden to nobody (that’s obviously not true but it’s close enough for now) and is open about that and other things.

Am I saying Trump is honest? Hell no. He won’t give you a straight answer about how much money he has. Because still the most important thing to him is to protect his “brand.” So we take all of his comments or all of the parts of his comments that serve to inflate his brand; we take them and we crumple them up ad we throw them in the corner with Ted Cruz’s promise that ‘net neutrality’ is the ‘obamacare of the internet.’

Then we pass a damn amendment reforming campaign finance because that is the spawning bed which birthed the Trump dragon. We all know this.  More to the point, Republicans should want campaign finance more than anyone, particularly moral conservatives. Why? Because a viable political party is necessarily a platform of compromise between various disagreeing parties. And as the Republican party is currently constituted, (along the same lines the Democratic party was constituted in the 1850s) white people from the south have to agree with northern industrialists as to what candidate to back. And what kind of candidate is capable of pleasing both of these constituencies? He’d have to be a monster… or an erasable white-board… or both. And when you try to combine credible presidential candidacy (long resume, experience, public recognition) with a willingness to enforce the Christian Right’s moral rectitude in matters of social policy and also the willingness to enforce Wall Street’s moral and fiscal permissiveness in matters of financial policy you get… Mitt Romney. And Jeb Bush. And a wagonload of other useless candidates who will never win a general election. The consumers, because they are polling in favor of Trump, are apparently too stupid to exist; they are nevertheless smart enough to see the Jindal and Christie and Bush 2.5 candidacies as warmed over pot-stickers dressed up in a coat and tie.

If campaign finance laws were fixed, social conservatives would not need to ally themselves with fiscal venality to produce these chimera-candidates who, rightly seen for the monsters they are, are polling at zero while Trump is receiving ovations for shouting anti-immigration slurs all the way home to his latest Eastern-European mail-order bride.

I’m not saying I want to see a credible socially conservative candidate. I’m saying I want to see campaign finance reform. And if I were a liberal of any consequence, I would want to partner with any social conservatives of consequence in this lonely point of mutual self-interest. Yup. I would definitely… um… douthat.

All the best.

Dealing with insurance

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Nothing makes people run away faster than telling them you’re going to talk about insurance. Well. Nobody reads my blog anyway so here goes a joke/rant that I came up with. The joke/rant explains its own premise so I’ll delay no further:

I receive a letter from my insurance company saying that they’re not going to reimburse me for a doctor’s visit because one of the codes on my claim-form was off.

The correct number was, let’s say 111.1 and I put 111.10

If you know anything about science or math you will know that the two are numerically identical. There is no difference in value between the two. They are exactly the same number, the difference being that in one you are being reminded that zeros go on after we stop writing a number.

It’s interesting to pause and think that you could write the number

6

this way

6.00000000000000000

No problem. Calculators do that sort of thing all the time and calculators are never wrong.

Never.

Well. Calculators sometimes get things wrong. There’s a bug in the programming of a calculator that the manufacturers can’t or won’t fix called “The person using this calculator is an imbecile.” They claim a patch for the bug is in beta but they are not optimistic.

(says the guy who screwed up his insurance forms)

Anyway: I spent hours redoing the insurance forms and when I was done writing

111.1

I wanted to make sure they saw that I didn’t put a zero next to it

111.10

So i made sure to circle the spot where I didn’t put a zero.

I know it’s a lame joke.

B B King

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I don’t have a lot to say about B B King but I’d like to draw your attention to a song I heard him sing on the Radio. Here are the lyrics:

Me and my woman keep falling out

Let me tell you what it was all about:

She wants to sell my monkey

[audience: sell my monkey]

She wants to sell my monkey

[sell my monkey]

She wants to sell mymonkey

But, that’ll never do.

It used to be hers but she gave it to me

Why she wanna sell im I just can’t see

[Chorus]

I have to stay at home both day and night

Can’t let that woman out of my sight.

[Chorus]

Then vamp on:

She wants to sell my monkey

But that’ll never do.

Followed by bitchin’ guitar solo. Also preceded by bitchin guitar solo.

I can’t even enumerate the reasons I love this song. But let me try. The main thing is that he takes this ridiculous song seriously. He sang it in that same grind-it-out style he does his serious numbers. He accompanied it with the same dance-hall bounce as the sadder numbers. Was he making fun of himself? Was he showing off that with his voice and his guitar and his band he can make even the most ridiculous lyrics into a good piece? I practically wet the seat of the car laughing when I heard this song come on the radio. Remember radios?

Anyway: See for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXhlr2vShfQ

I’m pretty sure that was the whole of that awesome song. The article I read in the NYTimes mentioned his sharecropper upbringing, his pained expressions, his ‘soaring’ guitar, his influence. But what about his sesame street? What about goofy BB King? Just because he’s dead doesn’t mean he can’t still make people laugh.

Words. Specifically nationalities. Specifically Catholic ones.

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It occurred to me that anyone I’ve heard describe themselves as Irish and Catholic does so in one breath: “I’m Irish-Catholic.” There are also French-Catholics, Polish-Catholics, and just plain Catholics (the latter category seems to cover Germany, Austro-Hungarian-area, Spain, Latin America, and pretty much the rest of the world). here’s what i think it means:

 

“I’m French Catholic.” Translation: I do not give a fuck.

“…Irish Catholic”: I still give a fuck.

“Polish Catholic”: You did not know that I even had a fuck to give. Well let me assure you…

Germany, Austro-Hungarian Area: “I’m Catholic.” Translation. I live in a place that used to belong to a country that used to own the whole fucking planet. Now all i got is a vaguely misty feeling when I go in the corner of the kirche to pray for my mother’s gout. Fuck all of you.

Latin America, Africa, the rest of the world: “I’m Catholic.” Translation: My ancestors and I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. But you wouldn’t believe the shit we can get away with now that we’re the majority of Catholics. Like you should have heard the Vodoun Chanting that one of the guys was talking about in the front pew. Bishop Dominique barely gave him a stern look because he donated the baptismal font/shrine to Hecate.

For the record: I mean no offense by any of this. Despite the frequent foul language and irreverence I mean all of this anthropologically. Despite not being a catholic myself I would like to thank you guys for Mozart, Verdi, Michelangelo, and for finally being dears and cleaning shit up under this new pope who seems like an alright bloke. Who am I kidding? nobody’s going to read this.

 

“Do you have a book?”

During hurricane Irene, I was living in a boarding house near Stony Brook I called The Castle Despair. I named it after its driveway which I called The Precipice of Despair (straight drops onto major roads are bad, urban planners! bad!). It was an apt title though, coming to represent the general malaise of the place: poor cleaning, pots in the sink, smell, and two students, a guy and a lady, from separate parts of China, who had taken to having loud orgasms at four a.m. and singing beautifully together… while they were showering.

They moved out after a year.

In one of their respective rooms, right next to mine, there moved in a slim Korean fellow who had played the housing lottery and lost and was training to be an engineer. We got along great by not really talking to each other, except to belt out the usual pleasantries when our paths accidentally crossed.

Come the Hurricane. All of our power went out, fortunately only for a few days.

Alex or Andrew or whatever his name was came knocking on my door and said: “Do you have a book I could borrow?” What he was asking–it took me a moment to realize–was: “do you have a book.” His room had the usual textbooks but I had never seen a room that lacked the beloved well-thumbed paperbacks. Science guys tended all the more so to have books of great imagination and scope–not just the usual combination of trashy and literary science fiction. A friend of mine who was as much an engineer as anyone I have ever met (he has since jumped ship to the law) had the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe, a rather strange book about folk-religious practices in Haiti and Louisiana, and a memoir by a Christian man who had taught English in a Hasidic yeshiva, among a dozen or so other secular volumes. He also had the entire Talmud in very small books, a Bible, etc.

But not to have books–to have a book–at all? With my new-found age and wiliness, something I did not have at the time to quite the same extent, I would think to myself: I can make him read anything I want! Psychedelia from John Gardner; disturbing quasi-erotica from Laclos; the Complete Works of Shakespeare; the Iliad. For some reason I found myself giving him the Best American Comics, selected and edited by Chris Ware. I figured: go easy on the kid; he’s used to pictures.

He brought it back a couple days later, having read the whole thing. “These… are not what I expected,” he said. “They’re not like regular comics.”

“Did you like them?” I responded.

For the life of me I cannot remember his answer. Note to self: be less self-involved.

Footnote: for the longest time I have been thinking about the possibility that technology is constantly setting us back. We now have electronic ways to entertain ourselves; but they fail during power outages, they are liable to copyright laws in frightening and unforeseen ways; they force us into a state of complacency that is the antithesis of real fun. I don’t say this as someone who turns up his nose and sniffs at the idea of using a computer for amusement. I say it as someone who does so entirely too much and nevertheless, each time, think: at what cost? Feh. downer.

Achilles, two perspectives

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I’ve been thinking a lot about emotional imbalance lately as I try to work through mine; we all have them but I have been reaching some serious moments both good and bad.

One of my favorite books (next to the Bible, tied with the Once and Future King and King Lear) is the Iliad. So it stands to reason that I return time and again to history’s greatest literary asshole, Achilles. Think back to your favorite bad-ass friend-betraying, shit-not-giving characters. Think back to the (probably apocryphal) story of Nero fiddling while Rome burns. Almost certainly based on the scene of Achilles playing the lyre in his tent while the Trojans lay siege to the Greek ships and menace them with fire.

If you don’t have the details of the Trojan war (as set down by Homer) fresh in mind, they are these: about a year before the end of the Trojan war, Agamemnon must return his latest conquest, the captive girl Chryseis, to her father in order to stop a plague visited by Apollo. In revenge on Achilles who championed the effort to make him return the girl, Agamemnon takes the insubordinate’s latest conquest, a girl named Briseis, who, according to really slender evidence in the text, may actually have liked Achilles and regretted the change of scenery. Dick move. Fine. But Achilles, his honor bruised, spends the next 15 books (out of a total 24) sitting in his ship, eating, drinking, feasting, crying, making love (once he gets his lady back) and just generally saying “Do you miss me now, assholes?” to Agamemnon and the rest while “Manslaughtering Hektor” takes the battle from the walls of Troy all the way back to the fortified trench surrounding the Greek ships. With death to all nearly certain, Achilles, by now completely aware he is in the wrong but unwilling still to relent, sends Patroklos in disguise to make Greek and Trojan alike think that the greatest fighter has returned and thus to turn the tide of the battle. The ploy works. For about ten minutes. Hektor (never one to shirk his duty, unlike some) engages Achilles in battle and kills him, only to find out that he has killed Patroklos. As a gesture of remorse, Hektor strips the armor of Achilles off Patroklos and presumes to wear it.

Achilles is now mad. We thought he was mad before but ho-lee fuck.

He gets a new set of armor beaten into shape by Hephaestus himself and, having put it on (here there is a lengthy digression where they describe the images worked into the front of the shield) Achilles goes to war. Boy does he. Despite the fact that he has sat out the last 15 or so books like Fantine in the Les Miserables musical, he still racks up a higher kill total than anyone else and comes damn near to murdering one of the rivers that flows by the city of Troy. Yes. He’s so pissed at the Trojans he fights their river. This mad dash for the walls of Troy culminates in a duel between Hektor and Achilles which Achilles wins, with some help from Athena.

Done, right? Anger sated?

Achilles then proceeds to run a hole through Hektor’s ankles (foreshadowing!) tie a rope through the hole, and drag Hektor around behind his chariot a lot. really a lot. He also halts fighting for a while to institute funeral games for Patroklos. There is a truly ironic moment where we see Achilles abstaining from participation in any of the races and contests (all of which he would win balanced on one foot while scratching his nose with one hand) and instead gives generous gifts to the winners of the contests. But after the contests are over, he still awakens in the middle of the night to drag the corpse of Hektor around Patroklos’ funeral pyre a few more times, tied behind his chariot.

Things get so bad that Priam, the aged king of Troy, under cover of darkness, makes his way into Achilles’ tent and pleads for the return of the corpse and for leave to take 12 days to ceremonialize the funeral. Achilles, his death almost upon him, has a moment of weakness that is really a moment of strength and allows himself to connect to Priam on a human level. The funeral games go on as planned; we know that the death of Achilles, followed by the return of Philoctetes, followed by the strategy of the Trojan horse, are all around the corner; but they are left that way as the poem ends abruptly with the funeral for Hektor which is really the funeral for Troy.

What I was struck by in rekindling my interest in this poem recently is how different are the emphases explored by some of the scholars responsible for writing introductions to these books. Take the example of two, Stanley Lombardo whose translation of the Iliad came out in the last decade, and Bernard Knox, whose introduction to Robert Fagles’ translation of the Iliad came out just under two decades ago.

Lombardo emphasizes the exceptional insights of Achilles. Achilles, he says, is able to see beyond the conflict between Greek and Trojan and is able to see his whole life in terms of the great dilemma introduced in book 9: because he is the son of the goddess Thetis, he is privy to the information that truly all humans must wrestle with on some level: he may either live a long life in anonymity or he may burn up in a blaze of glory at a very young age. Thetis calls him “Shortest lived of all men”– 17 or 18 when he signs up for the war, which puts him at 27 or 28 when he dies.

What hooey, Achilles, realizes (according to Lombardo). If he has chosen honor in exchange for longevity and Agamemnon slights him by taking away the possessions which are the mark of esteme from a superior officer, what does he have left? He may as well return to the original plan of trying to live for as long as possible. Or he might at any rate keep himself out of battle in order to show how great his glory and honor are that the rest of the Greek army would (and does) fall apart without him, even despite being guarded by a dozen well-known heroes–Agamemnon, Menelaus, Odysseus, the two Ajaxes, Idomeneus, Diomedes…

But his abstention from battle; his unwillingness to follow orders allows space for the question to be asked: why are we fighting? In a way, Achilles, the paragon of the warrior, is in fact the paragon also of the jester (a role normally reserved for wily Odysseus) in that he breaks rules and thus provokes his fellow man to a greater level of inquiry into and understanding of the nature and justice of those rules. Again: we know why Menelaus is fighting: bitch stepped out. And we know why his older brother Agamemnon is fighting: he gets the most toys and the most honor. But the rest? Their only hope is to receive a share of the spoils commensurate with the glory they win on the field of battle. Achilles, by abstaining from battle, is telling Agamemnon that the glory is more important than the tangible representative; that moreover his heart was just barely in the war to begin with. Lombardo’s take seems to be that our Achilles, the greatest warrior of his age (by a lot; like really a lot) is defined by his refusal to fight and by his ability to question why there should be a fight.

Seen this way, the story is national: Achilles, by his actions, is able to cast new light on broad political issues: the nature of war itself. Mind: this is the emphasis of Lombardo’s introduction. Obviously there are other factors at work in the poem and obviously Lombardo knows this.

Take Fagles, then. Fagles emphasizes the fact that, of the many epithets used to fill out a line– “Achilles of the swift feet,” “Odysseus of the many ideas/schemes/ways/twists-and-turns (it varies among translators),” “Menelaus/Idomeneus, etc of the Great War Cry,” “White armed Hera/Athena/Briseis”… there are a few that pertain only to a particular hero. And one of those is “godlike Achilles.” Helen, who abandons her home and her child to serve a whim, is also godlike. The designation isn’t really a compliment. Achilles, because he wants revenge on Agamemnon, is responsible for the deaths of hundreds, even thousands, of his fellow-soldiers. When Homer calls Achilles ‘godlike,’ he means that Achilles combines the power to do harm with the willingness to do it.

Achilles may be tough and powerful and vital to the war effort but he is also narcissistic and must have everything his way (cf. Ted Williams, Vladimir Horowitz, Alex Rodriguez, various Hollywood actors and actresses, most politicians, even the ones the war effort, any effort, would be better off without). As such, his defining moment is not when he walks out on his friends, dooming them to slaughter; nor when he allows Patroklos to enter battle and in doing so tacitly admits that his ennui is just not as deep as that of the gods and maybe he should change his behavior to reflect that discrepancy; nor when he flies into a rage and kills and desecrates Hektor. His defining moment comes when he is about to give Hektor’s body back to Priam and, deciding to wash the body before giving it back, resolves to do so in private rather than let Priam see the full damage done to the body.

Seem like a nice gesture?

He does it because he worries that Priam will lose control and start growing tiresome and that Achilles will be overcome by anger and kill Priam. Yes. Kill a seventy-some year old man because he is bothered by that man complaining about what a state of spoliation his dead son is in.

Not such a nice gesture.

And yet that is what Achilles has to work with. He cannot really curb his anger yet and he will not live long enough to learn to do so. But he can limit its chances for escape; he can know himself well enough to rein it in. Moreover, he can empathize with an enemy enough (as before he could not with a friend) to realize that Priam is having an emotional moment that trumps the one Achilles is having and Achilles needs to back off.

It’s not full-on sunshine–this modicum of enlightenment Achilles achieves before death. But it is the red glow of dawn. It is the first step.

Fagles emphasizes not the national implications but the personal.

Two views; two emphases. One quite sympathetic: a soldier saying: what does it all mean? One less sympathetic: a narcissist who takes weeks, even years, to realize: there are other people in this world. With feelings.

Both are true. The one who only looks out for himself; who wants more than anyone else can give; will nonetheless be able to find flaws in the rest of society that are legitimate and important. The thing about being a narcissist is that when you’re all alone in that way, you can see what everyone else is doing and you’re not shy about making suggestions–even good ones. Trouble is, nobody is listening. 2800 years after Homer; 3200 years after Achilles, war remains frustratingly popular. So does narcissism.

Tevye the Dairyman will save the world, one Ruble at a time

In class today I taught “If I were Rothschild” by the great Sholom Aleichem–one of those writers everyone knows and nobody reads; or nobody reads carefully. I actually like the play Fiddler on the Roof… but I resent that it turned the precision and calibration of Tevye’s satire into a big, campy okey-doke that glances over the real contributions of the character in favor of a bland cheerfulness.

The story “If I were Rothschild” is a dramatic monologue, like all the Tevye stories, in which he explains his idiotic but delightful solutions to life’s most basic problems. Indeed, the central premise of the Tevye character seems to be that of a bumbling peasant from rural Ukraine, that is to say, precisely who Sholom Aleichem would have been if he hadn’t gotten his ass the hell out of the rural Ukrainian town of his birth.

Tevye’s first answer to the question of what he would do if he were Rothschild is: he would ensure that his wife have a three-ruble coin of a Thursday night so she would have what to cook for Shabbos the next day. My students passed over that thought until I pulled them back to it: that Tevye’s idea of thinking like a billionaire is to make sure his wife as a basic amount of grocery money so they do not starve. His next great achievement will be to buy his house ‘from cellar to chimney’–all three rooms! And marry off his daughters with dowries. That’s it.

What has just happened is actually rather extraordinary and is one of the great insights into Tevye’s character as well as into Sholom Aleichem’s literary genius: Tevye only sees what is in front of his nose. He has no imagination whatsoever. One could even call him selfish; self-centered. All he can think about is what he knows and he does not know nor want to know much. But if he is self-centered, he is just as much centered in what one might call a philosophical or Buddhist sense. He has achieved a kind of poor man’s nirvana in which he is connected with the world and content in it precisely because he is present only in his immediate surroundings and relationships.

If the story had stopped there it would be a bit of a leap to say as much as I have. But watch where he goes next. Still he has no imagination; still he can concentrate only on what is before him. But he is a milkman: he is thorough. For the reason he wants to own his own house and satisfy his wife’s nagging is: so he may have time to study and take in pupils (never mind that he does not know anything; like some deranged Socrates, Tevye is wise precisely because he does not know that he knows nothing). But pupils: his happiness requires relationships around town. So he begins to think about the town.

A new roof for the synagogue and for the bath-house, a hospital, a shelter for the destitute. From a scant few paragraphs of nonsense–wherein he imagines that it will be the height of wealthy generosity to bestow on his wife a three-ruble note so that she can buy raw ingredients to chop and bake and smoke and pickle for Shabbos, he has arrived at what most would recognize as sense: after all, has not many a rich man looked around his own town or city and seen to some improvements along these lines? And all for the common welfare.

But Tevye cannot stop talking, lest he die; so he begins to think about what might constitute the ‘common welfare’ and naturally casts his gaze outward to the Jews of surrounding towns and distant countries. Free education is the word of the day; and indeed when our own leaders have meetings, pointless though they may be, that does seem to be the order in which things beg to be thought of: making sure nobody starves (though they do); making sure infrastructure is maintained (though it isn’t); making sure insufficient education doesn’t doom the shocking majority to a perpetual infancy of the mind (though… well…). The story does not end here; if it did, it would be a pleasant romp showing that even a mental midget like Tevye can follow the logic of Marxist politics, building education on a solid basis of economic and social stability.

But then things take a turn; for Tevye realizes (again, taking one step at a time; again seeing the one thing right before his nose; but again, by dint of his very plodding mental exertions, enabling his nose to extend a great distance away) that the sorts of stability he is looking for will not be possible, for Jews at any rate, certainly for European Jews (and if the news is accurate, this is still the case) if periodic threats of violence threaten to upend Jewish society. And yet that is not how he phrases it; rather he is interested in removing the means–want, deprivation, political unrest–that caused the Cossacks and Poles to bring fire to Jewish settlements in the first place. Ever the positive.

But if for Jews, why not for the world? I think the subtext here as elsewhere is that Jews are not safe as long as it is possible for government upheaval to bring to power ‘a pharaoh who did not know Joseph,’ as it were. Such examples fill the history books and, for a man of Ukrainian birth would be especially near at hand.

But again: if it is for his good and the good of his brethren and sistren he does not let on; the more selfish motivation could persist side-by-side with another likelihood: that pondering the safety of his own peoples has raised in him a concomitant sympathy for other peoples; after all, he has solved the problems of his own people. Why stop there?

So he declares that he will use his money to stop war by giving countries what they really want: money. If people have more money they will not need to start wars.

An extraordinary thing has happened here in the space of a story that may be shorter than this blog-post has gotten to be. We have gone from the nonsense of a poor unimaginative person to the sense of a rich philanthropist-man-about-town to the Utopian, salvific nonsense of a Thomas More or Erasmus or Baal Shem Tov.

The subtle shift from the mundane to the all-encompassing is all the more accomplished for it being ‘from the mouths of babes.’ Why, I asked my students, do the rich and powerful of the world not do what Tevye, foolish as he is, claims he would do? There were varying answers but they boiled down to: self interest. We should hope to be as smart as Tevye if it means the bombs can be melted down into tractor-pulls and man can take an online course in war no more.

Talking Shop with a Satellitesmith

I met a fellow at a wedding the other day and he introduced himself as an engineer who helps build satellites for Boeing. Very cool. As an English PhD student one would not expect I would have the wherewithal for a long, involved, interesting conversation with someone from that walk of life but, as I told him, I wrote my first seminar paper on Galileo. Specifically on his sense of humor. Curiosity piqued, he asked me to explain a bit, which I did; the contents of those anecdotes I may save for a future blog-post. But where things got interesting was: later in the course of the reception, after the dinner plates had been cleared, he asked me if it was true that, as Galileo stood on the scaffold, so to speak, to recant the hypothesis that the sun revolves around the earth, he said under his breath “but it really does” or some such.

What fascinated me about this quotation of an anecdote, I did not realize until later, was the volumes is peaks on what we want our heroes to be. Not content with Galileo being one of the greatest minds of his age; one of the greatest minds of all time; one of the greatest combinations of theoretical and applied scientific inquiry… What did he want Galileo to be but a hero? Or rather: a friend.We want to look at Galileo’s support of the Catholic church over and above his support of philosophical inquiry and say that it was not genuine somehow. There is a kind of loneliness in being forced to cope with the alternative.

But before that, what I first said to this man, this engineer, this interlocutor, was that it would be extremely difficult to determine if such an anecdote were real because it was so obviously polemical in its implications. That the more interesting aspect of that story is why it was told at all.

It is indeed difficult to come to terms with the possibility that your hero does not share certain values with you; does not share certain loyalties with you; would not like you if you met. That is a lonely thought. But perhaps it is lonelier still to require of our heroes that they also be our saints; and to require of our saints that they be like us–or like our best selves. That way lies narcissism.

Too often we ask our stories to confirm us in our beliefs rather than helping us find our way to new beliefs or to newer, better versions of beliefs.