Monday, February 19, 2018

Achilles Killed Hector

By Fred Owens

Achilles killed Hector. It finally happened. It was foretold, but when it actually happened it was awful. This is in Book 22 of the Iliad...... I never read the whole poem before.... When we studied Classical Greek in high school, we read the Odyssey..... But the Iliad is the greater and more powerful work....It is awesome, I can only read one or two pages at a time in English.... I have a Greek version of the poem, the Loeb Classic edition, and I can pick out a few words here and there in the original is a great treasure to know this language, as Horace wrote exegi monumentum aere perennius ... that was Latin, but you get the idea. It means "I will build a monument more lasting than bronze." .... These poems have lasted for thousands of years ...
The Iliad is a terribly violent book, a tale of constant battle, sword thrusts and bloody corpses. It is most thoroughly patriarchal. There are few female characters and they tend to be fought over.
Unless you count the goddesses. They are hell to pay and mount one scheme after another. Hera is the wife and sister of Zeus. She favors the Greeks. Aphrodite and Artemis favor the Trojans. Athena whispers into Achilles' ear and stirs his emotions. The godesses move mountains and change the course of rivers on the battle field.  They strike fear and they inspire courage. This was all before Marvel Comics, but you get the idea.

The Iliad was written three thousand years ago. Thus the patriarchy was born in a noble tragedy. Born in tragedy and ending in farce. Farce, thy name is Trump. He is the last patriarch. Will Trump's Tweets last for the ages, or will they melt in the sun like the morning dew?
A Broken Promise in Florida after the Shooting
The only people we cannot possibly blame are the high school students themselves. We have broken our promise. If we cannot guarantee their safety, then they are not bound to follow our instructions.... By what authority do you compel a student to  attend class and study if you cannot promise safety? .... They will go on strike. The public schools will descend into chaos and conflict. Conservatives will love this because they consider the public schools to be cesspools of corruption and depravity. Go on strike, Trump will say, and let's shut them all down.
Lacking guidance and moral authority, teenagers will form marauding gangs. Conservatives will retreat to armed compounds. Trump will revel in the  fearful destruction. Trump, the last patriarch, will demand loyalty and promise safety. Trust me, he will say, and millions will do just that, all heavily armed.
I might be taking this Greek epic to heart and coloring my words in a nightmare vision. I hear the wailing of the #MeToo Chorus. Fate! It has been foretold! There is no mercy! Epic Glory descends to Fake News!
My rant ends here. Let's lighten up.
I Don't Understand Gefilte Fish

I will keep this short, but it seems relevant to our earlier discussion of kvetching.

I ate gefilte fish, but only once. I didn't get the point. I was doing some garden work for Moshe Waldoks in Brookline, which is part of Boston. How I got to Boston and how I got to know famed Jewish humorist Moshe Waldoks -- that is a long story. He wrote the Big Book of Jewish Humor.
When I knew him, in 1992, he was a large boisterous man with a booming voice and a big smile. Always energetic. He lived in a big white house in Brookline, a leafy Boston suburb. I came one day to trim his shrubbery. This was not a happy job because Moshe, a man of wild ambitions and rambunctious enthusiasm, had no interest in his yard.
Even today I can picture his back yard -- scrawny trees and overgrown shrubs.

But he invited me in for lunch, to his warm, friendly kitchen. He was spoon feeding his young son lumps of gefilte fish out of a glass jar, and cooing like a love bird, such lovely food.
He offered me some. I tasted it. That's the wrong word. Gefilte fish has no taste. What is the point? The point is I never saw Moshe Waldoks again, but I remember that lunch time moment. Forget the gefilte fish, I said to myself, but remember his smile.

Harvey Blume, the Lion of East Cambridge, heard of my gefilte fish problem. He told me you need to eat it with strong horseradish and matzos. I will try that some day.
Greek tragedy is leavened by Jewish humor. Fate  is strong.  What can you do? You can laugh, because the laugh is on you.
Surgery. My thyroid surgery went well. The hospital staff was incredibly kind and competent. I got home the same day and by the next day I was free of pain. Then I took it easy for a few days and now I am back gardening and writing this newsletter. Thanks to the many readers who sent me expressions of sympathy.
Drought in Santa Barbara. It is too dry. The only decent rain we have gotten all winter was the deluge that caused the Montecito Mudslide and that terrible loss of life. Every day we look up at warm, sunny skies -- which are so pleasant for us human beings, but too hard on trees and shrubbery. We pray every day, can we please have some rain, and please not too much at one time.
The Grandchild in Seattle. Laurie and I will fly to Seattle in April to visit our grandchild Finn. He will be eight months old. He is already achieving monumental feats of cuteness which we view via FaceTime. It will be so much nicer to hold him and make faces at him. Lara and Eva are doing a great job raising this young boy. Not much of a baby anymore, ready to crawl, and grow teeth and say Ma.
Toronto. Laurie and I will fly to Toronto in early June for the 50th Reunion of the class of 1968 at St. Michael's College in the University of Toronto. I will indulge my sense of nostalgia and tell you tales of old college days when we were young. It was a gift to go to college in Canada during the Sixties. There was no war in Vietnam, no draft, and no riots. Canadians were concerned about the madness in the States and only wished to be helpful, but there was no way there going to send more than a few soldiers over to Southeast Asia.  In this more tranquil college atmosphere I was able to study and have fun too. It should be illegal how much fun I had back then, but I did study as well, read hundreds of books and got good grades. Well, that was a long time ago.
A New Laptop. If the Seattle trip goes well and the Toronto trip goes well, if I have any money left, I will buy a new laptop. Hopefully. Some basic new model at Best Buy or perhaps an almost new reconditioned Apple.

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thanks a lot,

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

Monday, February 05, 2018


By Fred Owens

Dr. Benjamin Howard is young. He's probably 30-years-old but he looks 25, average build and height, light brown hair, a mildly confident manner as he entered the room.

He has a wife and two small children. He recently came to Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara when the old surgeon retired. He went to medical school at UCIrvine and did surgical residence at UCSanFrancisco.
That's where he learned to work on thyroid glands. I don't know what else he does but he's going to work on mine. Remove it. Apparently you can get along without a thyroid gland by taking thyroid replacement pills -- $5 a month at Wal-Mart.
The thyroid is like a thermostat on your home heating. You add more and then your metabolic rate kicks up a notch, or you cut back on the dosage and you slow done. Up or down.
Well, if it's that easy not to have a thyroid, then why do we have one in the first place? I don't know. But several well-informed people have told me I would be better off without mine.
It's the nodules. A lot of people have nodules on their thyroid glands. Like warts. They don't hurt anything. But I have a big nodule, bigger than a ping pong ball, big enough to name, big enough to put on a leash and take for a walk.
Oh, don't worry. It's benign. We did a biopsy. They checked, They poked a long, slim needle in my my throat four times and it came up fine. This was a year ago. "Not to worry, it's benign. But you might think about having us take it out because you never know. We could take it out and that's that."
Low key, no pressure. A year passes. Another ultra sound. It's still there. Starting to squish my breathing tube and impact the swallowing. So I said okay, let's do it, let's take it out.
That's when I met Dr. Howard, the surgeon. He explained the procedure and the possible complications and the likely outcome. Then he asked me if I had any questions.
I said, "Are you right-handed or left-handed?"
He said he was a right-handed, but a left-handed surgeon could do just as well.
Then he handed me over to the scheduling nurse. She said is Friday, February 9 all right?
Then be here at 5 a.m. and don't eat or drink anything the night before.
I was nervous about all this, but I talked with people and began to gain a little confidence, so I think it will be all right.
The National Scene

This business with the memo being released by the Republicans on the committee is confusing. I do not understand the problem. I read a couple of news stories about this memo but it reads like Sanskrit. No Comprendo.
Overall, Trump is winning. He is driving me and a lot of other people into a state of exhaustion. He disrupts, then he disrupts, then he disrupts again. Trump is wearing me out and I don't know what to do about this.
#Me Too and Hollywood
Maureen Dowd writes about Uma Thurman and Quentin Tarantino in Sunday's NYTimes. Following her, Nicholas Kristof writes about Woody Allen and the accusations against him.
What this tells us, what we already knew, is that a lot of weird people work in the movie industry. If they are making an effort to behave better, then all power to them. But even so they do not inspire the nation. Or I should say they do not inspire me. I have never looked to Hollywood for moral guidance.  Artists have never been paragons of virtue. Adventuresome, creative, different, yes, and a blessing to our country for that. But to serve as a model of good behavior, I don't think so. They cannot lead us to a better place.
For a model of good, loving behavior, we don't have to look far -- Consider Barack and Michelle Obama. They seem to treat each other pretty well. Their behavior inspires me. They set a good example in their personal lives, no matter what you think about their politics.

We've been hearing too many bad, true stories, but we need to balance that with some good, true stories, to show us a better way. 
St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto.
It is my good fortune to announce that Laurie and I will be going to Toronto in early June, for my 50th class reunion. It will be fun. I looked at non-stop flights from Los Angeles, they run about $450 round trip. We will be staying at the dorm, where they have fixed up rooms with double beds and private bathrooms. Those rooms, which I expect to be fairly Spartan, run about $45 per night including breakfast.
The St. Michael's campus is quiet and very pretty in early June -- the green grass on the lawn will be a pleasure to our parched drought-stricken eyes. The peonies and roses will be in bloom. It will be nice to see old friends and meet new friends. I expect we will do little more than sit and talk, and then stroll around here and there and talk some more.

How about a class nap?  Okay, class, blankets at the ready, two p.m. in the Quad, ready, sleep!

That's all for today,


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital