Athenian Democracy

Athenian Democracy coverAthenian Democracy: An Experiment for the Ages
Professor Robert Garland, Ph.D.
The Great Courses
Audio download $34.95 when on sale
If the course is not on sale, check back– the sale price will come around again

I have listened to other courses by Robert Garland and have always enjoyed them. This particular course was especially good.

The material is not new to me. I was a classics major in college, meaning that I studied the Latin and Greek languages as well as Greek and Roman history, literature, art, and culture. Still, it’s always fun to review and there is always the opportunity to learn something new or discover a different perspective.

Athenian democracy was truly a democracy as far as it went. All free males in Athens were expected to take part in the governance of the state. There were a variety of roles to fill and everyone took his turn. Of course, this represented only a small portion of the total population. Women were excluded as were slaves. And it was a slave-based society that allowed the free men to have their democracy.

Of course the democracy wasn’t seamless and there were times when tyranny or oligarchy ruled the day. Still, overall Athens had a strong track record of democracy until the Macedonians put an end to it.

This course was recorded in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election and is heavily influenced by the result. Garland is no fan of the winner of that election. While the lecture series from the Great Courses are designed to be mostly evergreen, and the bulk of this course which focuses on the ancient world will be as well, it will be interesting to see how those parts referring to the election and its aftermath hold up after a couple of additional election cycles.

Nonetheless, if you are interested in the ancient world and its history and governance I can highly recommend this course.


tacos al pastor

Our local Hispanic supermarket, Cardenas, sells marinated pastor meat in their full-service meat counter. It’s really quite good. We don’t buy it very often, however. Cardenas is on the other side of the valley, the meat department is unbelievably busy (you always have to take a number and wait), and I’m not entirely sure how much they like gringos.

Recently on The Kitchen Terry and I saw Jeff Mauro make tacos al pastor. It was a rather complicated recipe that involved marinating the meat, packing it in a tall deli container overnight, removing it, putting pineapple slices on either end, and running skewers through it to create an ersatz spit. It then involved cooking the meat with wood chips in the grill.

tacos a lpastorI simplified this a great deal. I marinated flap meat overnight, cut it into pieces, and cooked it in our cast iron skillet. I was going to grill it outside but that particular day we were affected by smoke from a fire in the region.

This is all about the marinade. The marinade includes adobo sauce, ancho chile powder, canola oil, achiote paste, brown sugar, kosher salt, cumin, and garlic. I actually followed the ingredients quite closely. I even included the salt for a change. I did use safflower oil rather than canola oil. I gave the meat twenty-four hours to marinate. The result was unbelievably, amazingly, delicious, although nothing at all like the Cardenas pastor meat.

And it really wasn’t all that much work, just the time to prepare the marinade. It made for quite the weeknight dinner.


The Song of Achilles

Song of Achilles coverThe Song of Achilles
Madeline Miller
Ecco (March 6, 2012), 389 pages
Kindle edition $9.74, Amazon paperback $9.98

In The Iliad Achilles feels slighted by Agamemnon and withdraws from the battle against the Trojans. The tide turns against the Greeks and his companion Patroclus puts on Achilles’s armor and leads the Greeks to a rout of the Trojans. He is, however, killed by the Trojan Hector. Achilles, enraged, returns to the battle and kills Hector. Though not in the Iliad, other sources say Achilles was killed either by the Trojan Paris, or by the god Apollo disguised as Paris.

It is the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus that is the basis of Madeline Miller’s novel. Patroclus is a very minor character in The Iliad. All we know is that he is the companion of Achilles. We know nothing of the nature of their relationship. While remaining true to the mythology that has survived, Miller fills in the gaps with a well-written and evocative tale of an intense homoerotic relationship between the two that begins in childhood.

Miller brings to life other characters of The Iliad as well, including Odysseus, Agamemnon, Achilles’s mother, the minor goddess and sea nymph Thetis, and a range of others. The writing is brisk and engaging. The novel moves forward quickly. There are explicit scenes of both homosexual and heterosexual lovemaking, as well as of injuries and death on the battlefield.

If you enjoy mythology and value good writing this novel is worth your attention.


Sacred Music Friday: Holy God we Praise Your Name

First Plymouth Church, Lincoln Nebraska


Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology coverNorse Mythology
Neil Gaiman
W. W. Norton & Company (February 7, 2017), 304 pages
Kindle edition $9.99, Amazon paperback $12.59

I only recently became familiar with Neil Gaiman, but he has been around for quite some time and is a prolific author. He has written science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, as well as the text for comic books and graphic novels.

This book is right in his wheelhouse. He does a marvelous job of retelling the Norse myths. He stays very close to the original stories as best as I can tell, but he also throws in some contemporary wit and idioms which is a bit jarring, but really quite fun. Gaiman has a marvelous, flowing writing style which makes the myths in this edition a delight to read.

If you enjoy mythology you will appreciate this book.


easy fried shrimp

Terry and I saw this recipe for easy fried shrimp and tartar sauce on our favorite Food Network program, The Kitchen. Terry was very keen to make it, so she did on a recent Saturday. At least she made the shrimp part. Terry doesn’t like the tartar sauce and the idea of making one’s own tartar sauce seemed kind of pointless to me. Store bought tartar sauce is tried & true, and you know exactly what to expect.

easy fried shrimpThe batter calls for white rice flour and beer. This was really tasty and light. We both loved it. It could have used a little more kick, however and next time Terry will add Cajun seasoning.

If you cook this on the stove top make sure to turn on the exhaust fan. If you cook it in a free-standing fryer be sure to put it near the stove and turn on the exhaust fan, as we didn’t. The smell will linger, as we discovered.

Terry served the shrimp with a Mexican rice mix. It was an ideal Saturday night dinner.


random thoughts

Good, bad, and grateful. Some random thoughts.

  • KTLA logoThe sale of Tribune Media to Sinclair Broadcasting has been called off. Tribune pulled out of the deal. This is a Good Thing. Sinclair is an evil, right-wing company that makes local station news anchors read their far-right commentaries on the air. Our own local Channel 5, KTLA, is part of Tribune. They do a great job with local news and Terry and I watch the KTLA Morning News every weekday morning. I was dreading the thought of KTLA becoming part of Sinclair. That won’t happen. Very good news. (And, by the way, the Los Angeles Times is doing a quality job under its new local ownership.)
  • Two very large fires in the region were both deliberately set by wackos. How sad and depressing is that.
  • We lost one of our strongest members at Menifee Toastmasters. Christina was a relatively new member, but she brought some great leadership skills to the group. When we needed a Sargent-at-Arms she stepped up. When we needed a treasurer she stepped up again. She is moving to Orange County. We will miss her.
  • I turn 65 today. I was going to write about that, but I don’t have a lot to say. I am grateful to now be eligible for Medicare and see a big reduction in my insurance premiums. Especially since I am dealing with a serious but manageable medical issue. I’m not ready to write about that now. Perhaps at some point.

In the words of the great Linda Ellerbee, “And so it goes.”