November is Gone Update (plus some d*mn virus math)

A. The level of idiocy remains at critical levels. It’s looking likely that about 220,000 ‘excess’ deaths will take place in 2020, of which about 150-170K might be attributable to the damn virus. Back in April and May, I didn’t think 100k was likely; now, I don’t know if it’s possible to back out the deleterious effects of the lockdowns with any accuracy. It is clear that about 50,000 ‘excess’ deaths (and counting) are not directly caused by the virus, but it’s harder, conceptually, to show they are caused by the lockdowns. The anecdotal evidence is strong, as is my bias to believe it – therefore, I’m exercising caution.

What the CDC data shows is significant upticks in deaths attributed to stress and panic related causes, such as suicide and heart attacks. It would take a massive independent audit, however, to show how many such cases show up in the COVID numbers. We know that sickly old people do in fact have their deaths speeded up by stress and loneliness, which the lockdowns have ratcheted up to inhuman levels.

So, as of now, it’s pretty clear that there are not 250,000 COVID deaths, or whatever count is being bandied about at the moment. At most, there could be about 170,000 COVID deaths, max (the 220K ‘excess’ deaths minus the 50K non-COVID ‘excess’ deaths). Of course, one could cook up a theory that the lockdowns saved lives that would have been lost to non-COVID deaths, such that the net – 250,000 COVID deaths minus the ‘saved’ (from flu? Colds? Traffic accidents?) gives us the 220,000 ‘excess’ deaths the CDC’s data shows. Far-fetched doesn’t begin to describe such a theory. That won’t stop people from proposing it.

The plan is to take a detailed look at the final or near final numbers from the CDC in January, and back into some totals. Without that audit, there’s no good way to really sift out the effects of the lockdown versus the virus. I expect the excess deaths – which are merely the difference between the CDC’s estimated weekly deaths and actual deaths as counted by death certificated submitted to the CDC (with a lot of small, often pointless, and needlessly complex adjustments) – to stay right about 220K, or perhaps even drop some, as some of the sickly elderly who might have hung on until Christmas in a normal year are already dead.

The overall story remains the same: the original forecasts and model used to gin up the panic, put together by the non-scientist, non-medical finance guy and operative Ferguson, have proven wildly inaccurate. Real world experience has confirmed what I, and everybody else who took an intelligent look at the original numbers out of Wuhan, the Diamond Princess, Italy, etc., noted: the overall real-world fatality rate was nothing like the 2-4% Case Fatality Rate range typically reported. The real infection fatality rate – the number of interest – couldn’t be over about 0.25%, and is probably lower. This virus is no more deadly than a bad flu – the 1969 and 1958 flus were worse; 2018 was almost as bad. The 2017 pre-COVID planning literature, prepared by the same CDC that’s helped create the panic, did not propose lockdowns or mask for scenarios an order of magnitude worse than this – the theoretical benefits of lockdowns and masks do not offset real costs.

The CDC data, at least, the reporting of it, is already being monkeyed with. As William Briggs noted, the weekly fatality graph used to go back many years, but now only goes back a year. This is suspicious, as a glance at the longer-term pattern made it clear that, while 2020 was shaping up to be a bad year, it wasn’t significantly worse than many preceding years, and that the pattern of more deaths in the winter and fewer in the summer was playing out exactly in 2020 – that what one would expect to see, based on history, without lockdowns and masks is exactly what one did see with them. My confidence that any numbers that can be used to expose the fraud will remain available has thus decreased.

But we’ll see.

UPDATE: Seems someone has already done what I proposed above.

As seen on Clarissa’s blog

What this chart shows are the breakdowns between attributed COVID deaths and *excess* (as defined above) deaths from all other causes. You get this by looking at the details for each category the CDC tracks. They forecast, based on history, population growth & aging + some really minor adjustments, is of how many death there ought to be in each category. Here’s my comment from Clarissa’s blog post:

Last I checked, CDC shows 220K excess deaths total so far this year. If the attribution of every excess death shown here to the lockdown is roughly true – seems likely & reasonable – then there are fewer than 100K total deaths caused by COVID, rather than deaths where COVID appears anywhere on the death cert, which is the way you get that 240K number, as you noted. Even that 100K number is almost certainly high, as the bulk of COVID deaths – between 60-70% – were nursing home patients & other very sick elderly people, who had a median life expectancy of about 6 months even if they didn’t catch the virus. Over time, these slightly premature deaths would (if the lockdowns ended) show up as lower deaths in the corresponding age bands over the next year. But the lockdowns, and the deaths they cause, mask this effect.

Also, could you please post the source link? I know it’s on the picture, but tiny, I can’t quite make it out. Eyes are getting old. Thanks.

So, if these calculations are correct, and barring some unlikely and counterintuitive offsetting effects somewhere in here (somehow, many thousands of lives were saved from non-COVID death by COVID, lockdowns, and masks) the total death toll from COVID is under 100K; the total excluding very sick elderly people is maybe 30-40K. Most of that 30-40K seems to have had multiple pre-existing conditions.

Thus, as the CDC correctly believed right up until they stopped believing it around April, 2020, lockdowns do more harm than good. Lockdowns kill people, and, unlike routine airborne respiratory viruses like COVID, lockdowns are completely preventable and don’t run their course within a few months.

B. I want to do something, but I don’t know what. I’m praying harder than I ever have for God’s mercy on our country, because if we get what we deserve based on our sins, the Great Leap Forward will look like a picnic. I’d like to do something to put our little infant sociopath of a governor in his place. But I don’t even know how to fly a helicopter. (That’s hyperbole for your spy bots.)

Lord, remember your promise of mercy. For if you remember our sins, Lord, who could stand? For the sake of the Sorrowful Passion of your Son, have mercy on us and the whole world! Amen.

Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy!

Holy Mother Mary, Queen of the Angels, pray for us!

St. Joseph, Terror of Demons, pray for us!

St. Michael, Prince of the Heavenly Host, defend us in battle!

C. About a week ago, started learning the 2nd movement of the Moonlight Sonata, the one everybody forgets is even there, as the 1st and 3rd movements are epic. Been working on a dozen or so pieces from the Well Tempered Clavier and on the Sonata Pathetique for years now, and have years to go at this rate, and I needed a break.

Almost got it down, as it’s very short and repetitive. Here’s someone who really can play it:

I find it very beautiful and fun.

D. Bunch of good stuff happening on the family side, but I’m sworn to silence for now.

E. I need to remind myself that I’m one of the most blessed and happy people I know, great marriage, wonderful kids, nice home in a beautiful state, lots of friends. Thank you, Almighty Father, giver of all good gifts.

Flash Fiction: Black Friday

Kyle surveyed the smoldering wreckage of the Kohl’s from the roof of the Wingstop across the parking lot next to the freeway. Except for two middle aged women down by what had been the mall’s high-end appliance store, the crowd had moved on. Those two were trying to move a large Vulcan range by tipping it onto a couple skateboards, probably abandoned by an earlier wave of more mobile looters. They weren’t having much luck.

They’re making some common but mistaken assumptions, thought Kyle. Let’s say, contrary to all appearances, the two ladies get the range home. Then what? How long do they think the gas and power will keep flowing? Or do they imagine they can list it on eBay, pick up some easy cash? Like the web is going to stay up, the banks stay open, the shipping companies remain, waiting to take orders from randos? Who will pay them in what, exactly?

The last straw was Reality’s refusal to bring about the Apocalypse. Several centuries of millennialist fervor has to go somewhere, and came to take any number of odd shapes, like the water in a balloon being squeezed. Heaven and earth, with remarkable indifference, showed no sign of passing away. We’d been promised 4 Horsemen, workers of the world casting off chains, or at least some ice caps melting. Something, some sort of comeuppance. But nope.

Commercial Roofing in Pittsburgh - Roof Solutions

The children of the Puritans became the children of Marx, the environ-mental-cases, the Deconstructionists; fervor and zeal undiminished, their spirit flowed into all the isms pouring forth from the world’s fevered imaginations.

The dogmas of the abstracted are infinitely flexible. But zeal for their father’s demise consumes them, under whatever liturgical trappings this week’s catechism dictates.

The women gave up and disappeared. Kyle noticed a team of people, looking suspiciously organized, doing something at the power poles. Two men and a woman stood watch at the pole’s base, while one or two others clambered up, cut some wires, and smashed some equipment. Hard to figure what they were doing, but looting wasn’t it.

Suddenly, a grimy face appeared over the low parapet of the Wingstop’s roof. Kyle took a step back, and watched an older but fit-looking man heave himself onto the roof without taking his eyes off him. Kyle showed him his palms in an instinctive ‘I’m no threat’ gesture, but the man had evidently reached the same conclusion.

“Kid, I’ve got a couple things to take care of here, then I’m gone. We’ll just keep our distance until I’m done. Capisce?”

“Sure, no problem.”

The man, in grey coveralls, nodded, looked around, and headed over to one of two surveillance cameras set on the corners of the roof. He pulled out a prybar, ripped the camera off its moorings, then smashed it with a couple brutal swings. For good measure, he yanked the wires out. With a glance at Kyle, he went to other camera in the opposite corner, and treated it as poorly as the first.

“So, no appetited for looting? Just want to watch the world burn?” The man was now focused on a satellite dish and what might be a cell phone base station atop a large rectangular box – air conditioning unit? Kyle didn’t know – in the center of the roof.

“What’s the point? If it needs power, can’t use it. If it don’t, it’ll probably still be there tomorrow.”

“Hmmm,” grunted Coveralls, who then pulled himself up atop the box, and went to work on the equipment perched there.

“So, what are you doing?”

Coveralls didn’t turn from his work. “Oh, establishing a perimeter. Something like that.” He then stopped, and turned to Kyle. “Kid, gotta admit I’m impressed. Not one in a 100 of your contemporaries seem to understand that little obvious point you just made. They imagine they are going to burn the world down, and then settle in for some serious MMO action to celebrate on all the nice equipment they lifted.”

Kyle nodded. “I’m trying to figure out how not to get murdered, first, and how not to starve to death, second.”

Coveralls yanked the wires out of the satellite dish, then pulled on the ends still in the conduit on the roof until he’d ripped out several yards of wiring. Satisfied, he dropped back down on the roof and faced Kyle.

“You have a better handle on things.” He stared into Kyle’s face. “I’m going to trust you.”

Kyle wasn’t sure he wanted to be trusted, but he didn’t see a way out at the moment. “OK.”

“Do you have a cell phone or tablet on you?”

“Both, in my bag.” Kyle pointed to a daypack up against the parapet on the other end of the roof.

Coveralls nodded toward the far side of the air conditioning unit. Kyle followed until it was between the two of them and his pack.

“What we need to be secure against is electronic surveillance. You, or at least your phone and tablet, are a glowing dot on somebody’s screen right now.”

A whistle cut Coveralls short. The team working on the power poles was scrambling for cover. A forklift, ‘Dick’s Sporting Goods’ stenciled on its side, came rolling into the lot below, carrying a large metal box topped by a black hemisphere bristling with tubes and wires, setting it down in the middle. The forklift then hurried back to the wreckage of the mall. Kyle watched, transfixed.

Coveralls grabbed Kyle’s arm. “We need to get down and out of sight. NOW!” He yanked Kyle over to the ladder, leapt over the parapet and slid down to the pavement. Kyle had to climb. “10 seconds!” someone shouted. Coveralls kicked in the Wingstop door (the looters had used the shattered windows) and dragged Kyle in, shoving him to the floor.

Kyle could see a Tesla drive up. Where its hood should have been was a shiny metal tube, pointing upwards at about 45 degrees. .The driver ditched the car, and was sprinting toward them. A buzzing sound, like a 40 pound bee, grew louder.

A black drone the size of a gurney swung into view, and strafed vainly at the driver as he dove into the Wingstop. The drone exploded; then a flash and the sound of thunder hit them. The Tesla rocked.

“Got the bastard!” shouted the driver, sprawled amidst the shards of safety glass covering the floor. “Oh, hi, Bob.”

“Afternoon, Juaquin.” He motioned to Kyle. “This is, ah…”


“Hack’s in?” Bob asked Juaquin.


Bob and Juaquin fell silent at the sound of a swarm of 10 pound bees. The black hemisphere spun into action. As the swarm of smaller drones came into view, a high pitched mechanical whine could be heard over the drones. The hemisphere flashed and spun, and each drone fell from the sky in smoldering ruin.

“Nice!” said Bob.

“As far as the network knows, those drones just took us all out. They even have footage.” Juaquin smiled. “And, in a few minutes minutes from now and a few miles from here, they all get shot down. As far as the network knows, anyway.”

“Good work.” Bob had stood up, and now lifted Kyle to his feet.

“What – what was that?” he sputtered.

“Tesla batteries can power a small railgun.”

“Mileage sucks.”

“Yea, two shot, max, and then you gotta plug her in.”

“Autotargeting was awesome, Juaquin! Old Betsy Blaster just – wow!”

“It helps to have their positional data off the network. All I did was make the tiny allowances for movement during lag. Fish in a barrel.”

“Not everybody in the government is a fascist creep.”

“Only most of them.”

“Yea, well, only takes a few. We are so deep in their systems, they can’t spit without us calculating wind direction and splatter radius.”

Bob tuned to Kyle. “Betsy’s got a liquid sulfur battery. Fast and hot. Powers little pea shooter particle beams. Good enough to smoke smaller drones.”

Juaquin was dusting safety glass fragments off his coveralls. “We gotta get out of here.” The two men started towards the door.

Bob stopped, and turned towards Kyle like he’d just remembered he was there. “So, ah, … “


“Kyle, right. About trying to improve your chances of not starving to death. Maybe we can work something out, maybe even up your chances of not getting murdered. A little, anyway.”

Upon Second Thought…

This one is for my Christian and especially Catholic readers. I may have come off as too pessimistic and almost despairing. That’s not the right attitude here., via Wikipedia.

There are legions of angels, flaming swords drawn, ready to fight this fight, which is clearly not of flesh and blood. God, in His infinite mercy and wisdom, does not expect us fragile, weak humans to stand alone against demonic forces – humility, let alone sanity, demands we seek help.

Blessed Be the Host of the King of Heaven, a Russian icon from the 1550s, via Wikipedia

There’s help. We have to ask, and get out of the way, and do whatever small part we are called upon to do.

After first asking Our Father to remember His promise of mercy, the promise he made to Abraham and we, his children, forever, and beg Him not to remember our sins -for who could stand? – we can then ask for the help of those beings which were given by God the task of protecting us.

First and foremost, that would be Mary, Queen of the Angels, their holy commander and the one, after only Christ Himself, most feared by Satan.

How to Crush a Serpent – TTC
That would be Mary’s foot pinning the serpent’s head, with, I think, Jesus’s foot on top to finish the job.

My son looked over my shoulder as I looked for images, he liked this one a lot:

More teamwork.

Next up would be my patron, St. Joseph, given the job of protecting Christ and His Mother:

St. Joseph, Terror of Demons.

He followed orders, did what he was told to do: take Mary into his home, flee to Egypt from Herod with her and her Child, return with them to the Holy Land once safe, then spend the rest of his life providing and caring for them.

And the Gospels do not record a single word he said. He is called Terror of Demons: what could be more terrifying than a guy with Jesus in his arms and Mary at his side?

St. Joseph, Terror of Demons
©Cecilia Lawrence
May 16th 2019
11×14 inches
My apologies to the artist for using without permission, too good to pass up. You can find/purchase prints here: I’m putting one on my wish list.

Therefore, I resolve to keep this image in mind:

God has sent His legions to protect and defend us; Mary, their Queen, with St. Joseph on her right and St. Michael on her left, leading countless legions of angels, flaming swords drawn, as they descend to save us from the clearly diabolical situation we find ourselves.

And we must be humble, keep our focus, and follow orders. The first order: pray without ceasing.

Lord, have mercy!

Christ, have mercy!

Lord, have mercy!

Beloved Mother Mary, whose humble ‘Yes’ brought Emmanuel, God Among Us, Queen of the Angels, Crusher of the serpents head, lead your legions to save us!

St. Joseph, Terror of Demons, defend and protect us! Pray that we have the grace to follow your holy example, and be humble, brave, and obedient to God’s word to us.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, cast into Hell Satan, and all evil spirits that prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls!


Updates: Trivia and Apocalypses

1) Where to begin? Let’s get this off my chest: I never thought I’d outlive the Republic. Yea, yea, I know – it can be argued any res publica here was moldering in the grave before the Civil War, as it can be argued that living under a mafia is the normal state of civilization – those same Romans who gave us the idea of a republic in the first place did. But there were some of those early Americans who really did love and fight to preserve liberty, and there really was a persistent strain of public responsibility among the imperial patricians. In both those places, separated by 2,000 years, private people voluntarily, even enthusiastically, performed public works, works that promoted and preserved a Republic.

Now? As tempting as it is to blame the schools, which have have been allowed for the last 150 years to teach mindless compliance to authority as *the* one, indispensable lesson, it’s worse than that. I come at this from the science angle, because, weirdo that I am, that was the part of the school library I first turned over in 4th grade. I learned very little science in any specialized or technical sense (still haven’t), but enough basics and enough of how it was supposed to work that, with the exception of my physics teacher in high school, I didn’t run into a more scientifically literate person than the guy in the mirror until college – maybe. This is not a point of pride, but rather terrifying: a bright little kid could learn more science by 5th grade than virtually ANY ADULT IN HIS WORLD. Vivid memories of trying to straighten out my 5th grade teacher about a basic error in what she was teaching about astronomy – and nothing but eye rolls and exasperation from everyone in the room. Sure, I was as obnoxious as you’re imagining, but the lesson *I* got: nobody cares.

The point is not the near-universal ignorance of science among, sadly, even many people with science degrees. It’s that people don’t care. Not that they don’t care about science, they don’t care about the truth of anything. My life-lesson: having people reject what I’m saying AND reject the notion that they could simply look it up themselves -why would they do that? What they want to know is what is believed, or at least taught, by the authority figures of their tribe.They want to comply and have their status as good little members of the tribe confirmed. That’s all that matters.

Truth? What is that?

2) This excellent essay by Ed Fesser suggests a point I’d missed (well, many points – he’s a very smart guy): that, under Kuhn’s notion of normal science, a ‘normal scientist,’ if you will, doesn’t actually need to understand much, if any, science. In the process of expounding his theory of scientific revolutions, Kuhn defines normal science as the ongoing process of working out the implications of the dominant theories, not challenging those theories. Over time, the ragged edges between theory and reality grow, and become harder to ignore or dismiss. Somebody, definitionally not doing normal science, eventually proposes a new theory – a new ‘paradigm’ – that addresses those ragged edges.

To be successful, any new theory must be useful in understanding all the findings and developments made under the old normal science as well as the problems that the new theory was devised to address. Someone is acting in the role of the ‘real’ scientist to develop the new theory, not merely following the established paths of his specialty. He must work with fundamental scientific principles, not merely the rules of the normal science he is seeking to replace.

A normal scientist is, first and inescapably, a technician in his specialty. It is not a requirement that he also be a scientist in the specific sense used above. If I’m splicing genes, say, or smashing protons, I need to know how to do those very specialized activities. If I also understand how science itself works, that’s gravy, and frankly unnecessary to the job at hand – normal science.

On the flip side, it is possible to have a good grasp on how science works without knowing any of the details in any particular field.

Thus: having a Master’s or PhD and 20 years of experience in a science, even a hard science, is not a guarantee that such a person is, in fact, a scientist. As Feynman points out in his often referenced Cal Tech graduation address, science education doesn’t actually address the radical honesty needed to be a scientist, but just assumes and hopes the student picks it up from the environment. This is evidently a vain hope.

And this says nothing about whatever science might underlie the so-called soft, or, more honestly, pseudo, sciences. Nor the guild-craft that is medicine.

Walking among us commoners, schooled as we are for 12 or more years in obedience and following the orders of the authority figures, are lab coat clad legions of technicians and posers making pronouncements on science, about which they know nothing, more likely than not. And we swallow it whole, and pat ourselves on the back for how much we f—- love Science!

August Landmesser, the man who folded his arms.
Man not wearing a mask. Yea, yea, over dramatic – for the moment.

3) The thought of an amateur historian:

Germany in 1930 had an elite industrial base in the north, and more rural areas in the south. The north was strongly Protestant. The leading citizens embraced what is historically the second-to-last phase of Protestantism: mysticism (next comes nihilism, towards which the most enlightened had already made good progress) The south was more traditionally religious, and more Catholic.

So: who, generally, supported the Nazis?

  • the Press
  • academia
  • professional classes
  • petty government officials
  • the North, big cities, elites

Who opposed them?

  • the military (although on grounds less ideological, more the mere distaste of men of honor and tradition for punks.)
  • rural populations
  • conventionally religious people
  • the South, rural areas, the many

In general, of course, nothing is this simple.

Not what you’ve heard? Wonder why.

4) Practical question: how long before mere association with people with traditional Christian beliefs gets you blacklisted? Arrested? How soon does the active denunciation of Christian beliefs become a job requirement?

Think I’m kidding? Exaggerating? Really? Already, college jobs are off limits, unless you check a few of the woman/person of color/foreigner/sodomite/etc. boxes. Then, if you are, say, Orthodox, you can get a ‘colorful primitive beliefs’ pass for now, where your beliefs are seen as charming and harmless.

30 years ago, a newly-hire Stanford prof joked to me that he was his department’s token straight white Christian male. Because he was.

30 years ago. That would be only a decade into the period of complete conquest of the machinery of university control by the woke. Now? You’re kidding me.

So, already, I doubt you could get hired, or, if hired, last very long at the big tech companies if you refused to cave to the propaganda enforced by the diversity crowd.

5) These days, I find myself not sleeping well, and doing random physical things to get my mind off this stuff. For a pathetic example:

To top it all off, the camera on my old iPhone is not cooperating these days. ‘Blurry’ seems to be the default setting, and it doesn’t want to stay in focus if it deigns to do so.

Long time readers with alarming recall and attention to detail may remember us taking down an old walnut tree in out front yard maybe 7? 8? years ago. A local urban lumber guy retrieved the wood, and gave me back a stack of 7′ x 11″ 5/4 flitches, which have been stickered in the garage ever since.

So I dragged a few out. Mostly, hopelessly warped and bowed. So I grabbed a straight edge, tried to find areas where the wood was roughly straight and true, and cut them out. I ended up with the largest pieces something like 3′ x 8″, and whole bunch of hopeless little scraps. A cousin of my wife has a planer and jointer, so he helped my try to flatten a few pieces.

It was not very satisfying. The wood is gorgeous to look at, but next to impossible to do much with. I took a little piece and made the towel rack above. Not the epic pieces of furniture I had hoped to make. Better than burning it in the pizza oven, I guess.

Trees getting trimmed, garden getting cleaned up, I even cleaned and organized the tool shed. Probably ought to flip the compost. After an hour or two trying to work, my thoughts drive me to do – anything else.

6) Sure I’ve told this story before: At 15, I checked out a record from the Whittier Public Library – Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic doing Beethoven’s 5th. Why? Because I’d heard very little classical music, heard that the 5th was on everybody’s list of great classical music, and I wanted to check it out.

So I set up the stereo speakers about 4′ apart on the floor, put a pillow between them, threw on the vinyl, and laid down to give it a listen.

And didn’t take it off the turntable for days. Over and over again – couldn’t get enough. Renewed it. Listened some more, to the point that, for the rest of my life, I could go someplace quiet, and replay that version in my head, note for note.

Until a couple days ago, when I tried to calm my sleepless self with this old trick, and couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get 10 bars in before it got messed up. I hope this is just stress. I’m of the crowd that would trade just about any amount of physical problems for a clear head. But I am very, very distracted these days.

7) Reminder to self: what the Enemy wants is for us to be miserable, freaked out, despairing. He wants our lives destroyed. I hereby resolve: to go to battle with no regard to the likeliness of success – with a smile on my face, a song in my heart, and a prayer on my lips.

8) Final thought: in Perelandra, Ransom tries to protect Venus’s unfallen Eve from the relentless temptations of the devil possessing another Englishman. He reluctantly concludes, after days of argument and trying to run interference, that it was hopeless to treat the devil as if he were also an English don. So he, out of shape middle aged pasty white guy, just goes after him physically, fight to the death.

Oracle of the Lord.

In Further Praise of Gilgamesh

Read this ancient epic with a bunch of 8th graders, in a slightly scrubbed version as discussed here. We read the first half 2 weeks ago, and the second half last week.

Gilgamesh, Enkidu, lions, and some cuneiform text.. Or so I’m told by Wikipedia.

I had to share with these very bright kids the wisdom of one Robert Bart, a tutor (professor) at St. John’s College: Great books are not children’s books. He was saying this to a bunch of 18 year olds (I being one at the time. Printing had been invented, just barely). I have been fortunate enough to have had the chance to reread much of the Great Books in the intervening years, and can confirm: while you have to start somewhere, there’s a reason Aristotle recommended (but, of course, did not follow) that one delays the study of philosophy until age 50. Same goes for epics and classics of all sorts. Get a lifetime under your belt, and the Odyssey, Oedipus Rex, the Book of Job, Dante, and all the others are a LOT different experience.

The kids were universally disappointed with the way Gilgamesh ended. I tried to tell them that, at +/- 13 years old, grasping how life looks to an old man is going to be – difficult. I, on the other hand, was almost brought to tears.

Both the solemnity and wackiness of the adventures are taken up several notches after Enkidu dies on Tablet 5. The mythic pair of wild man (Enkidu) and over-civilized man (Gilgamesh) took on classic forces of nature and heaven, defeating the monster guarding the forest with the help of the gods, then killing the Bull of Heaven sent as vengeance. The pair shook, as it were, a manly and even kingly fist at the eternal forces – and so had to pay the price. The wild man loves civilization, but must die for city living to continue. The civilized man has lost what he most loved, that aspect of manhood that provided the test and vigor to his life. After inordinate morning – the body of Enkidu is allowed to corrupt well past its bury-by date so that Gilgamesh can mourn over it -he is willing to abandon the city so as not to suffer the same fate as his friend. He seeks the secret of immortality from the one man – Babylonian Noah, Utnapishtim – to whom the gods have granted it. He lives now forever on the other side of the Waters of Death.

On his journey, he confronts nature at its wildest and most beautiful – a pride of lions – and slays them all, and wears a skin as a cloak. The skin of the king of beasts merely hides a civilized man trying to escape, without passing on to him any of Nature’s native power or glory.

He must pass through darkness, after getting past the scorpion men, a bizarre human/creature blend who bar his way at first, then let him pass. Twelve leagues of the deepest darkness later, he passes through the Garden of the Gods.

When he reaches the coast, the theme of women/bread/wine as the gateway to civilization first encountered with the literal seduction of Enkidu by Shamhat followed by the wild man’s introduction to the signature victuals of civilization – fruit of the earth and vine, the work of human hands. Gilgamesh, however, does not encounter the beautiful and brave temple prostitute, but rather a giant barmaid – Siduri, who flees from the wasted wreck that mourning and hardship have made of Gilgamesh. She eventually warms to him, serves him some very civilized food – and tells him to give up on seeking immortality, and instead seize the day. He should return home, get married, and raise some kids.

Unlike Enkidu, Gilgamesh doesn’t need the comfort of women to civilize him, but rather their wisdom. Which he promptly rejects. He wants to know how to get across the Waters of Death. He’s passing out through the gateway of civilization – wine, women, and song, as it were – and into the afterlife, or at least trying to.

Siduri directs him to the Sumerian Charon, Urshanabi the Ferryman. Gilgamesh finds him painting his boat on the shore, and attacks the ferry, as if it needed to be defeated.

The boat is death, it is what happens to souls at the end of life. By attacking and damaging the boat, he makes his quest to cross over the Waters of Death much more difficult. Gilgamesh has destroyed the magic that guides and propels the soul from this life to eternity.

After crossing the Waters of Death to Paradise Shore, Gilgamesh meets Utnapishtim and his wife, who are languid: what’s the hurry when one gets to live forever? He tells our hero he gained immortality after saving creation from the great flood. The creator god Enlil found people too noisy, and decided to drown them and all creatures right out. Through the machinations of a lesser god, Utnapishtim is instructed to turn his house into a huge square ark and thus saves creation. Eternal life is his (and his wife’s) reward. He repeats the advise Gilgamesh has repeatedly received on his journey: accept your mortal lot, go get married and father some children.

There’s an adventure where Gilgamesh retrieves and then loses a seaweed that grants youth to 100 o0ld men, but that’s a lost consolation prize. The message to him from beings natural, unnatural, and supernatural remains: it is your lot to die. Do great and memorable things, marry and father children – that’s the best you can do.

Gilgamesh returns to Uruk a different man. He finds the people have done just fine without him, and realizes their dread of his wars and building projects. He softens some. He does marry, and his first child completes his transformation into a truly civilized man.

A great story. A perfect example of what I was trying to get across to the kids: myths are how a people explain the world and themselves to themselves. The Sumerians had carved out a handful of towns and cities in a land that could be both generous and harsh. Nature could and routinely did wipe out what they had so painstakingly built, flooding and washing away their farms and villages. Further, they were surrounded by wilder peoples who wanted what they had. Finally, death was always there, ready to take you without warning.

Gilgamesh must deal with all these issues, and answer what it is that makes a man civilized.

(Aside: as long as I can remember, I’ve pronounced – in my head, because who says such words aloud? – ‘cuneiform’ “CUE-neh-form.” Now I hear, on some of the videos I’ve watched prepping for this class, ‘coo-NAY-eh-form’. To MAY to, to MAH to. I think I like my way better, but, while I sometimes argue (tongue in cheek, mostly) for multiple orthodox orthographies, using Chaucer as my hero, not sure I want to do the same for pronunciation. Communication being the goal and all.)