At the Admiral Benbow

N. C. Wyeth’s Blind Pew

N. C. Wyeth’s Blind Pew

It was one of the most fun novels I ever read; and it’s also not a bad poem by Jorge Luis Borges. Picture yourself at the Admiral Benbow Inn in the Southwest of England, with Jim Hawkins helping his widowed mother, when suddenly he hears the tap-tap of a cane. It is the old reprobate Blind Pew, and that is also the name of Borges’s poem:

Far from the sea and from fine war,
Which love hauled with him now that they were lost,
The blind old buccaneer was trudging
The cloddy roads of the English countryside.

Barked at by the farmhouse curs,
The butt of all the village lads,
In sickly and broken sleep he stirred
The black dust in the wayside ditches.

He knew that golden beaches far away
Kept hidden for him his own treasure,
So cursing fate’s not worth the breath;

You too on golden beaches far away
Keep for yourself an incorruptible treasure:
Hazy, many-peopled death.

Remember that the poet, too, is blind; so he has a special feeling for “the blind old buccaneer” who turns Jim Hawkins’s world upside down.

What I find most interesting is which “You” it is that Borges refers to in the first line of the fourth stanza. It cannot refer to Blind Pew, because his treasure is buried in the sands of an island in the South Pacific. It cannot be the reader of the poem, because he presumably does not desire “Hazy, many-peopled death.”

Perhaps the answer will come if we look at the same poem in the original Spanish:

Lejos del mar y la hermosa guerra,
que así el amor lo que ha perdido alaba,
el bucanero ciego fatigaba
los terrosos caminos de Inglaterra.

Ladrado por los perrors de las granjas,
pifia de los muchachos del poblado,
dormía un achacoso y agrietado
sueño en el negro polvo de las zanjas.

Sabía que en remotas playas de oro
era suyo un recóndito tesoro
y esto aliviaba su contraria suerte;

a ti también, en otras playas de oro,
te aguarda incorruptíble tu tesoro:
la vasta y vaga y necesaria muerte.

Some things start clicking into place. First of all, the poet uses the intimate form of “you,” not the formal form. It looks as if he is addressing himself. Curiously, the Spanish contains no reference indicating that these other golden beaches are “far away.” Rather, it moves directly to the poet keeping incorruptible his own treasure, that of “vast, vague, and necessary death” [my own literal translation].

Now why would Borges, blind as he is, wish for death and envy Blind Pew for his “beautiful war”? The answer is interesting, because the more of Borges you read, the more you discover that Borges is the descendant of military heroes. One of them fought in Peru at Junín to evict the Spanish. Another was Colonel Francisco Borges Lafinur (1835-1874), who died at the Battle of La Verde. The scion of these military heroes, Borges wished that he himself could have been a military hero. His stories and poems feature knife fights, hoods in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, and bravery in battle between the Unitarios and the Federales. Instead, he was born a weakling with eye troubles, like his father before him.

The Fruits of Luigi

It Does Not Appear in This Illustration

It Does Not Appear in This Illustration

No one can be held responsible for his dreams, even as wild as mine were last night. Various attractive women were offering me their breasts to fondle, when—quite suddenly—a physician wearing a stethoscope and white lab coat informed me that the underside of the female breast is so soft because of an internal organ officially referred to as the Fruits of Luigi.

I know I’ve been under considerable pressure because I’ve been working seven days a week, interspersed with nasty arguments with my boss, who is not aging well. So I am grateful I was informed via my dreams of this useful organ.

Corporations As People

So Now They Want Religion, Too?!

So Now They Want Religion, Too?!

The vast new field of corporate rights gives me a wicked idea: If corporations are people—and now, maybe, they even have religious rights—it’s time to start treating them like people. As a data processing worker in the accounting profession, I would like to make corporations subject to a higher tax rate, just like individuals. Why should corporations be taxed on profits alone? And at the giveaway rate of 20% No, put corporations on a parity with individuals, who are currently taxed at 26-28%.

If a corporation makes millions of dollars, under no condition should they get off from paying their fair share. And the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) should be modified so that for each million dollars of gross income, there is additional AMT levied. Also, if they don’t offer health insurance to their employees, perhaps they should be fined by the Affordable Care Act.

Not only have corporations had a free ride in this country, but they have been the biggest crybabies of all! They are absurdly sensitive to tax, and will move to another state if they think they can get a better tax deal.

As Mitt Romney said during his abortive 2012 presidential campaign, “Corporations are people, my friend!” Let’s hold their feet to the fire just like the Federal and State governments do to us. If they cry, hit them with a Crybaby Tax.

The Bolivians Attack

Hilarion Daza

Hilarion Daza

Were the consequences not so tragic, [Bolivian President Hilarion] Daza’s trek through Tarapacá’s hinterland might provoke coarse laughter. From the onset of his campaign, the general demonstrated an almost monumental incompetence: he refused to hire guides to lead his forces through the unforgiving and unknown wasteland. Rather than travel at night, and thus spare his men from the searing desert sun, Daza instead advanced during the day. (Apparently he feared, with good reason, that his troops might desert under the cover of darkness.) The Bolivian general rejected a Peruvian offer of ambulances, and he ordered his artillery to remain in Arica [to the rear]. Perhaps one of Daza’s most criminally negligent acts was that [of] his refusal to bring sufficient water with him. Worse, he permitted his men to fill their canteens with wine or raw spirits, a disastrous mistake given the fact that the nearest supply of water was a substantial distance away from Arica. Col. Narciso Tablares, alerted by a commissary official that Daza’s expedition would carry only eleven water skins, warned the general that his men might run out of water. When Daza haughtily dismissed these fears with the words “You do what you are told,” Tablares had little choice but to obey.—William F. Sater, Andean Tragedy: Fighting the War of the Pacific, 1879-1884

Xul Solar

Jorge Luis Borges’s Favorite Painter Comments on Religion

Jorge Luis Borges’s Favorite Painter Comments on Religion

His real name was Oscar Agustín Alejandro Schulz Solari, but he was better known under the name Xul Solar. Born in Buenos Aires of a Latvian father, he spent his whole life in Argentina. When I was in Buenos Aires in 2006 and 2011, I desperately wanted to visit his museum; but I just wasn’t able to do so. Before he went completely blind in the 1950s, Jorge Luis Borges—whom you may know as one of my favorite writers—befriended him and wrote about his paintings. I have always been intrigued by what I have seen of his work.

If you are interested in seeing some of his work from the 1920s through the 1960s, take a look at the website of the Museo Xul Solar, which is in Spanish but easy to navigate.

In 1949, Borges made one of his cryptic pronouncements about the work of his friend:

Versed in all disciplines, curious of all mysteries, the father of writings, of languages, of mythologies, guest of hells and heavens, “panchess-player,” author and astrologer, perfect in indulgent irony and in the generous friendship, Xul Solar is one of the most important events of our age. There are minds who profess probity, others, discriminate abundance; Xul Solar’s plentiful invention does not exclude honest rigor. His paintings are documents of the unearthly world, of the metaphysical world in which the gods take the forms of imagination, dreams. Passionate architecture, happy colors, many circumstantial details, labyrinths, homunculi and angels unforgettably define this delicate and monumental art.

The taste of our time vacillates between mere linear pleasure, emotional transcription and realism painted by a dauber’s brush. Xul Solar renews, in his ambitious but modest way, the same painting of those who do not see with their physical eyes in the sacred field of Blake, of Swedenborg, of the yogis and of bards.



Dribbling the Bibble

No, Not the Bible Again!

Oh No, Not the Bible Again!

I cannot help but think that people in our society are altogether too quick to accept the Bible as the ultimate authority for, well, just about everything. At the same time, people are not really reading the scriptures with any degree of intelligence. If they were, they would feel someone let down that, in the Book of Job, Jehovah is hanging out with Satan and makes a bet with him that, regardless what He does to the prayerful man, Job will still be in His ball court. So He proceeds to impoverish Job, kill his wife and children, make off with his livestock, and saddle him with three “friends”—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zofar—who accuse the poor man of deserving whatever befalls him.

Then, too, there is the Books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers, where God is laying down a law to which no one outside a small number of ultra Orthodox Jews pay any attention. Here are just some of the high points from the Book of Leviticus alone:

  • If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” (Leviticus 20:13) Oh, well, there goes gay marriage. Are you listening, Justice Scalia?
  • Don’t have a variety of crops in the same field, irrespective of what the U.S. Department of Agriculture urges. (Leviticus 19:19)
  • Neither cut your hair nor shave—ever! (Leviticus 19:27)
  • People with flat noses, or who are blind or lame, cannot approach the altar of God. (Leviticus 21:17-18)

And there are also a few prohibitions regarding heterosexual fornication that are incredibly strict. Most violations seem to call for the death penalty.

So I ask you, why do people accept the Bible as the ultimate authority? Parts of it are several thousand years old. And the most recent part, the Book of Revelation, is so flat-out loony that it might as well be.

People who come to my door attempting to convert me to their oddball evangelical sect are totally flabbergasted when I tell them I do not accept the authority of the Bible. That means they can’t use it to quote at me to substantiate their every argument. It effectively shuts them up and makes them go down the stairs muttering.

Withal, I can still believe in God, but without accepting all this extraneous claptrap. Oh, and I have no intention of seeing the new movie version of Noah, from which the above still is taken.

The Sad Life of Phil Katz

The Inventor of ZIP Files

The Inventor of ZIP Files

Way back in the early days of Personal Computers, space was at a premium. Very early on, back in the 1980s in fact, I quickly learned to use PKZIP and PKUNZIP to compress and decompress files that I was not using frequently. The PK in the names stood for inventor Phil Katz from Milwaukee, whose company PKWARE pretty much owned the business.

Then the lawsuits came, from a patent troll named System Enhancement Associates (SEA), which tried to establish the similar ARC format. For whatever reason, perhaps even before this happened, Phil turned to drink. He was arrested so many times for drunk driving that he stayed mostly in hotels between Milwaukee and Chicago. It was in one of these hotels in 2000 that Phil was found dead in his room with an empty bottle of peppermint schnapps at his side and two other empty liquor bottles nearby.

He was only 37 when he died.

Not all the innovators in the computer business turned out like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Although at one time, PKWARE had twenty employees, Phil was mostly an absentee loner and was not drawn to the business side of his enterprise, though he was not averse to draining the profits whenever he could.

Today I use the ZIP format on an almost daily basis. Although PKWARE is still in existence (at least, their website is), most people use either WinZip or just the ZIP functionality built into the Microsoft operating system (which Phil hated).

So drink a toast to Phil Katz, who didn’t really want to be famous or rich. He just wanted to be left alone.

Bloody Wars of the Americas


Political Cartoon Regarding the Chaco War

Political Cartoon Regarding the Chaco War

This post is about three wars fought in South America between1864 and 1935—wars that most people in the United States have never heard of. Yet withal they were extremely bloody, involved transfers of large amounts of territory between the combatants, and set some of the participants back for decades.

The War of the Triple Alliance

Here’s one that’s difficult to even imagine, considering the unevenness of the sides. Arrayed on one side was Paraguay under dictator Francisco Solano López, one of the more imbecilic caudillos in South America’s bloody history. Arrayed against it was Brazil. But wait, there’s more. Argentina and Uruguay jumped in on the side of Brazil. This is also referred to as the Paraguayan War. Before López and 1.2 million Paraguayans, or 90% of the pre-war population, was killed. You can read about it in John Gimlette’s wonderful book about Paraguay called At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig. After this war, Paraguay pretty much disappeared from the world scene—until it was time for the next war it fought.

The War of the Pacific

We move ahead to period 1879-1884. Bolivia actually had a seacoast with seaports back then, and its lands in the Atacama Desert were a rich source of nitrates. These were mined by a Chilean company called the Antofagasta Nitrate & Railway Company. The adjacent parts of Peru around Tacna and Arica were also being mined for nitre, which was at the time the number one export of Pacific South America. But then Hilarion Daza, the idiot caudillo of Bolivia, decided to levy a tax against the Chileans, and the nitre hit the fan. Chile invaded the Bolivian. Unfortunately for Peru, it had a mutual defense alliance with Bolivia, so it joined the fray.

Although the armies of Peru and Bolivia greatly outnumbered the Chileans, the Chileans were better officered. As William F. Sater wrote in his excellent Fighting the War of the Pacific, 1879-1884:

Peruvian intellectual Ricardo Palma said of the officer corps that “for every ten punctilious and worthy officers, you have ninety rogues, for whom duty and motherland are empty words. To form an army, you have to shoot at least half the military.”

In addition, there was one commissioned officer and one non-commissioned officer for every three privates. That’s not a terribly good ratio.

Anyhow, Bolivia and Peru lost the war and huge amounts of territory, and Bolivia became a landlocked country.

The Chaco War

This one is between the only two landlocked countries in South America, Bolivia and Paraguay—two losers if there ever were any. It was fought over the Gran Chaco, an area that was thought to harbor vast oil reserves. Typically, Royal Dutch Shell supported Paraguay; and Standard Oil backed Bolivia. This war is also called La Guerra de la Sed, or “The War of Thirst,” because so many of the combatants died of thirst fighting among the cacti of the arid region.

Between 1932 and 1935, the Chaco War led to lots of casualties, and a gain for Paraguay, which surprisingly won the war:

By the time a ceasefire was negotiated for noon June 10, 1935, Paraguay controlled most of the region. In the last half-hour there was a senseless shootout between the armies. This was recognized in a 1938 truce, signed in Buenos Aires in Argentina and approved in a referendum in Paraguay, by which Paraguay was awarded three-quarters of the Chaco Boreal, 20,000 square miles (52,000 sq km). Two Paraguayans and three Bolivians died for every square mile. Bolivia did get the remaining territory that bordered Paraguay’s River, Puerto Busch.

Over the succeeding 77 years, no commercial amounts of oil or gas were discovered in the portion of the Chaco awarded to Paraguay, until 26 November 2012, when Paraguayan President Federico Franco announced the discovery of oil reserves in the area of the Pirity river….  The President claimed that “in the name of the 30,000 Paraguayans who died in the war” the Chaco will become the richest oil-bearing region in South America. Oil and gas resources extend also from the Villa Montes area and the portion of the Chaco awarded to Bolivia northward along the foothills of the Andes. Today these fields give Bolivia the second largest resources of natural gas in South America after Venezuela. (Wikipedia)

Again, Gimlette’s At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig is a good source of the only war that Paraguay could be said to have won, though it was only a booby prize for decades.

The cartoon above is taken from Poliical Cartoon Gallery by Derso and Kelen, which is well worth a look.

What Does a Tea Drinker Do … ?

This Is What Gets Me Going in the Morning

This Is What Gets Me Going in the Morning

If one is not a coffee drinker—as I certainly am not—occasionally one needs something to administer a matutinal kick in the butt in order to get moving. For most of the year, I’ll drink a nice mellow tea like a good grade of Ceylon or, if I’m feeling rich, a Darjeeling. But during tax season, when it’s still dark at 6:30 in the morning, I need something that will keep me from pouring my body back into bed.

I buy most of my tea loose and prepare a whole pot using one heaping tablespoon measure per 1.5 liter pot. A pound of tea, which lasts me for four to six months, costs somewhere between $5.00 and $10.00. (Compare them with coffee prices, if you will!)

The Assam teas available from Ahmad of London are Barooti and Ghalami. Curiously, neither are featured on the company’s U.S. website, probably because they’re packaged for the Persian market; and I buy all my tea at the local Persian markets. Since I live and work in a neighborhood that is joking referred to as Tehrangeles, it’s not difficult to find a number of well-stocked Persian markets, such as, for instance, Star Market on Santa Monica Boulevard and the Jordan Market on Westwood Boulevard.

Every time I’ve ever written about tea, I make the point that tea has far less caffeine than coffee—even the stronger Assam blends—because a pound of tea makes infinitely more tea than the equivalent weight of coffee beans makes coffee.


Tarnmoor’s ABCs: G. K. Chesterton

Chesterton with Admirer

Chesterton with Admirer

I was so very impressed by Czeslaw Milosz’s book Milosz’s ABC’s. There, in the form of a brief and alphabetically-ordered personal encyclopedia, was the story of the life of a Nobel Prize winning poet, of the people, places, and things that meant the most to him. Because his origins were so far away (Lithuania and Poland) and so long ago (1920s and 1930s), there were relatively few entries that resonated personally with me. Except it was sad to see so many fascinating people who, unknown today, died during the war under unknown circumstances.

This blog entry is my own humble attempt to imitate a writer whom I have read on and off for thirty years without having sated my curiosity. Consequently, over the next few months, you will see a number of postings under the heading “Tarnmoor’s ABCs” that will attempt to do for my life what Milosz accomplished for his. I don’t guarantee that I will use up all 26 letters of the alphabet, but I’ll do my best. Today, we’re at the letter “G”:

This is my first ABC entry about the writers who have most influenced me. Interestingly, I discovered all of them right around the same time, just after 1970. Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) is the only one of them who might very well be declared a saint of the Catholic Church during my lifetime—or not. Roman Catholic Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton, England, has ordered an examination into the life of the author, which is the usual first step on the road to beatification and, eventually, canonization. Feeling is strong both for and against his sainthood, some alleging that he was anti-Semitic, though I have never seen any evidence to that effect.

GKC was incredibly prolific, writing journalism, fiction, essays, poetry, plays, biography, and political and religious works. I started by reading his essays (mostly published as journalism), then moved on to his fiction, and in the end reading as much of everything as I could find. He is probably one of the most quotable writers of the Twentieth Century. The following is from my favorite of his novels, The Man Who Was Thursday:

He knew that each one of these men stood at the extreme end, so to speak, of some wild road of reasoning. He could only fancy, as in some old-world fable, that if a man went westward to the end of the world he would find something—say a tree—that was more or less than a tree, a tree possessed by a spirit; and that if he went east to the end of the world he would find something else that was not wholly itself—a tower, perhaps, of which the very shape was wicked. So these figures seemed to stand up, violent and unaccountable, against an ultimate horizon, visions from the verge.

And again:

Syme had for a flash the sensation that the cosmos had turned exactly upside down, that all trees were growing downwards and that all stars were under his feet. Then came slowly the opposite conviction. For the last twenty-four hours the cosmos had really been upside down, but now the capsized universe had come right side up again.

Following is a poem called “A Ballad of Abbreviations,” making fun of how Americans replace simple Anglo-Saxon terms with clumsier circumlocutions:

A Ballad of Abbreviations

The American’s a hustler, for he says so,
And surely the American must know.
He will prove to you with figures why it pays so
Beginning with his boyhood long ago.
When the slow-maturing anecdote is ripest,
He’ll dictate it like a Board of Trade Report,
And because he has no time to call a typist,
He calls her a Stenographer for short.

He is never known to loiter or malinger,
He rushes, for he knows he has ‘a date’ ;
He is always on the spot and full of ginger,
Which is why he is invariably late.
When he guesses that it’s getting even later,
His vocabulary’s vehement and swift,
And he yells for what he calls the Elevator,
A slang abbreviation for a lift.

Then nothing can be nattier or nicer
For those who like a light and rapid style.
Than to trifle with a work of Mr Dreiser
As it comes along in waggons by the mile.
He has taught us what a swift selective art meant
By description of his dinners and all that,
And his dwelling, which he says is an Apartment,
Because he cannot stop to say a flat.

We may whisper of his wild precipitation,
That it’s speed in rather longer than a span,
But there really is a definite occasion
When he does not use the longest word he can.
When he substitutes, I freely make admission,
One shorter and much easier to spell ;
If you ask him what he thinks of Prohibition,
He may tell you quite succinctly it is Hell.

You can find many of Chesterton’s best works available for free from Gutenberg.Com or for cheap from E-Book vendors.