Eugene’s Inferno

Posted in General on January 28th, 2014 by Eugene Finerman – 3 Comments

Dangerous Cold in Chicago

According to Dante, Hell frequently freezes over.  He imagined much of Hell to be cold.  Of course, a Florentine’s vision of a glacial perdition would be any Midwesterner’s idea of a brisk November.

When reading L’Inferno I remember thinking “I could come up with better eternal torments than that. ”  Dante’s notions would not qualify him an intern in Human Resources.  Let’s tour the Adultery Section:  Circle Two.  Tempestous lovers are trapped forever in a whirlwind.  It is a good metaphor but not much of a punishment.  No, their extra-curricular activities should be videotaped and eternally shown on late night cable television, to the standard accompaniment of appallingly bad jazz.  The embarrassment would be much worse than windburn.

(Don’t quibble that a 14th century Italian couldn’t have envisioned television and video recorders.  Dante concocted an entire cosmological system.  And if Dante needed a little tech advice, he could have asked Marco Polo what the Chinese and Japanese were working on.).

Let’s drop by another sin: gluttony.  According to Dante’s itinerary, in the Third Circle those who have succumbed to their debauched appetites lie in the garbage and waste they created.  However, I think that describes the typical college dorm room.  That may be Dante’s idea of Hell, but for most of us it was one of the happiest times of our lives.  No, the appropriate eternal punishment for gluttons would be to look at themselves in bathing suits and realize why they’re not in the Second Circle of Hell.

I really don’t have the time to worsen all of Hell, but I’d like to do one more neighborhood.  In the First Circle are those souls who had every virtue but the right religion.  The virtuous pagans (and according to Dante, that includes chivalrous Moslems) are only tortured by the thought of their inferiority.  Now, in my Hell I would really rub in Christian perfection.  Everyone in the First Circle would be reincarnated as Jerry and Millie Helper, living next door to Rob and Laura Petrie.

What is Spanish for Chutzpah?

Posted in General on January 22nd, 2014 by Eugene Finerman – 3 Comments

In 1836, Mexico’s failure to enforce a Spanish requirement on its immigrants made it difficult to explain to the Alamo garrison that it was about to be massacred.  A 3000 man army with cannons offered a hint, but the Texans might have missed the subtlety.  So the Mexican army band serenaded the garrison with “The Cut Throat Song”–a musical message to expect no mercy.

Here is the number:

The Texans probably assumed that they would be bored to death.

Some 120 years later, a John Wayne movie wanted to use “The Cut Throat Song” in its soundtrack.  But the composer Dmitri Tiomkin knew that he could do better.  In a way, he did…

Of course, Santa Anna did not have the foresight to include a full orchestra in his army.  And he would have had to melt down some cannons to increase the brass section.  There is also some question as to how the Texans would have reacted to Tiomkin’s lush, seductive music.  Probably panic…They were ready to die for Texas…but not same-sex dating!

Second Thoughts on the Second Reich

Posted in General on January 11th, 2014 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

“Germany is ‘not alone to blame’ for the outbreak of the First World War quote from Die Welt


Yes, for too long we have ignored Belgium’s aggression.

Germany did not have a monopoly on belligerence, myopia and stupidity; but it probably was the majority stockholder.

And the blame largely rests on one particular German.

Kaiser Wilhelm II could have been worse. (Consider the German voters’ subsequent taste in chancellors.) Nevertheless, the Kaiser was a bellicose, bellowing moron.  It takes an uniquely repellent person to inspire a military alliance between Tsarist Russia and Republican France. Britain and Prussia had enjoyed two centuries of excellent relations; then Kaiser Bill opened his mouth, supporting the Boers, announcing his intention to have the World’s powerful navy, and just being his dangerously insufferable self.   Two centuries of amity–and one century of anti-Russian policy ended–and reversed.

Dramatists can be great historians–providing an eloquence that the actual historical figures usually lacked. The British production “The Fall of Eagles” depicts the last days of Imperial Germany; as his Empire collapses, the Kaiser is complaining that he never wanted this war. Hearing of the Imperial tantrum, Hindenburg agrees. “It is true. The Kaiser never wanted a war. He only wanted a victory.”

New Year’s Resolutions

Posted in General on December 31st, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

I promise to always wear a helmet when I am riding with Hell’s Angels.

When encountering someone named Justin, I will try to refrain from a lecture on the Byzantine Empire. (This resolution also applies to anyone named Zoe, Theodora and Nicephorus.)

I will try not to scream at the television whenever I see Lena Dunham nude. Although most winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor would be just as horrified.

That is about it. Otherwise, I really am quite content with my stagnant quo and I hope that we will continue our sado-masochistic (but intelligible) relationship in 2014.

Happy New Year!

Boxing Day

Posted in General on December 26th, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

This day celebrates the invention of production placement when Arena Sports Productions gave the infant Jesus a pair of authentic Spartacus boxing gloves.  There were tentative plans to arrange a fight between Jesus and the future emperor Claudius.  However, some doubted whether the palsied, stammering Roman would be a fit match for a carpentry major at Nazareth Community College.  It was hoped that Jesus would cure Claudius before beating him up.

As you know, however, that fight never happened.  The first real Boxing Day bout occurred between St. Stephen the King of Hungary and St. Stephen the Very Tactless over whose feast day this was.  Since this was prior to the Marquess of Queensbury rules, Tactless Steve and Paprika Breath fought it out with poison tipped crosiers.     (Fight available on pay-per-view.)  And it was a split decision.

(So, do I have a career with Wikipedia?)

The Nativity

Posted in General on December 25th, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Now showing at Mangers everywhere. Check your local listings.

Here’s what the critics have to say.

A Pre-Proustian Bildungsroman”: The New York Times

Obama’s socialized medicine wouldn’t permit Virgin Birth”: The Wall Street Journal

At least Ben Stiller isn’t in it.“: Eugene


p.s.  Let’s not forget today’s historical significance:




The Wailing Wall Street Journal

Posted in General on December 22nd, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

December XXV, Annum I

New Management, New Image for LORD & Co.

How to Teach an Old Dogma New Tricks

JERUSALEM ”In a land this poor, it is not surprising that the Jews could not afford more than one God. Nor could the choosing people offer their deity the customary “perks” of divinity. Their generic God has to be invisible: it saves a fortune in marble. The Almighty can also forget about hosting theater, orgies and gladiator games. Here Heaven has a low overhead.

The question is can this religion be marketed? Gaius Phelonius of the Janus Theology Fund sees the potential. “Paganism is a headache. You have to sacrifice to all these Gods. You forget one, and you end up in a Greek tragedy. Now, if you had one all-purpose God, and a very cost-conscious one at that, think of what you’ll save in this world and the next.

“Monotheism can sell. Our focus groups show a decline in brand loyalty. People don’t see a real difference between Ceres and Isis. This is the biggest market erosion since the collapse of the Mother Earth cult. The public is ready for a change, and they are going to love this product. Think of it: a God with morals. A deity you can trust with your daughter.”

Phelonius did concede that monotheism had certain image problems. “All right, in terms of charisma, He’s no Apollo. That can be overcome. He’ll seem more likable if He has a wife and Son. The real challenge is to make Him less ethnic. Right now, he’s a little too East Coast. His idiosyncrasies about pork and foreskins won’t sell in Ephesus or Corinth. But it’s only a question of packaging.”

Savaging Mr. Banks

Posted in General on December 16th, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – 7 Comments

I imagine that the largest circle in modern Hell is filled with damned souls eternally clicking their remote controls in the desperate search for worthwhile television. Either they will never find anything or stumble upon the last two minutes of something actually good. My recent perdition was catching the very end of Mary Poppins.

Even by our jaded post-Walt Disney perspective and our exacting standards of computer animation, “Mary Poppins” is still quite charming. In fact, given the film’s popularity, I am surprised that there has never been a sequel. Much of the cast would still be available (although Dick van Dyke is older now than Arthur Treacher was in 1964).

Unfortunately, British history would be very uncooperative in the project. Here are the likely fates of the characters:

Bert is killed in World War I. You’d think a chimney sweep would have more immunity to chlorine gas.  The widowed Mary Poppins tries losing herself in physical abandon and that does help D.H. Lawrence with his writer’s block.

Exercising her long-sought right to vote, Mrs. Banks proudly marches to the polling place and contracts the Spanish Flu.  Mr. Banks will always blame Lloyd-George for her death.

Flying over London, Mary Poppins is shot down in the Battle of Britain.  The victorious pilot has an umbrella painted on his Messerschmitt.

Young Michael Banks goes to Cambridge and meets Guy Burgess. Michael is taken under Guy’s left wing…and other appendages. The least of Michael’s transformations is becoming a Soviet spy. He eventually defects and the shabby old pensioner in Moscow will drink himself to death.

Having gone through four husbands, three fortunes, and innumerable scandals, Jane Banks is now in a nursing home near Brighton. Among her escapades, she had affairs with both the Duke and Duchess of Windsor; but who didn’t?  The Golden Flapper is said to be a literary inspiration for Evelyn Waugh and a medical one for Alexander Fleming.

Yes, the history may be a little sordid for Disney but perfect for HBO.  And there are other children’s classics worth a sequel.  How about John Le Carre’s “Wind in the Willows”?  Who is the Mole in MI6?

The Tournament of the Decayed

Posted in General on December 3rd, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – 20 Comments

You have been waiting to know how I did in Jeopardy’s Fan Favorite Contest.  But Sony made me sign a terrifying contract, demanding my silence.  It is somewhat unnerving to read such recurring phrases “sue you for damages, if and when we feel like it” and “you don’t think that the Geneva Convention will protect you.”  The enclosed photos of Nanking, 1937 were probably gratuitous, especially with the question “Wish you were here?”  I definitely got the hint.

So you had to wait because I had to wait.  Today, however, Sony has freed me from my bondage of silence.  I can finally make the announcement!  Unfortunately, it is more of a whimper.  I did not win the contest.  Unless there is a miracle or a scandal, I will not be in the tournament.

You can’t  say that I didn’t try.  On the contrary, I threw myself in the campaign–a one-man repertory company.  I was center-stage, promoting myself and barraging you for votes.  During that one week, I lost sleep, gained weight and had a wonderful time.  I reveled in the theater of politics; I discovered my inner sociopath. While I certainly enjoyed the campaign, I am not quite so thrilled with the outcome.  Disappointed would be an understatement.  Surprised would be an euphemism.

But I want to thank you all for your support (except Leah Greenwald, but she had a decent excuse; and I was her second choice).

And please stick around; I may need you for the next tournament.

The Lion of the North

Posted in General on November 30th, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

November 30, 1700:  Peter the Great Almost Loses His Adjective

In 1700, Peter the Great, along with the kings of Denmark and Saxony, expected to take candy from a baby. But the baby almost killed them. The candy was actually Sweden and the baby was its teenage king. Today’s Sweden is the kind of country that would make a perfect suburb: placid but sophisticated. (Many of us fondly remember that Swedish films had nudity when Hollywood still apparently believed in storks.) But three centuries ago, Sweden was the bully of the Baltic. With the best army and navy in the North, the overachieving Swedes had won control of Norway, Finland, the Baltic States, and most of the area that would have been Poland’s and Germany’s coasts.

However, Sweden’s resentful neighbors saw their chance for vengeance and territory when a fifteen year-old ascended the throne in Stockholm in 1697. His youth was not the only perceived handicap of Charles XII; the young man was very strange. Some thought him “backward”; we might diagnose him as autistic. He never mastered the charm or the etiquette of the Court; he had no interest in the pleasures and vices that were his royal privilege. All Charles ever wanted to do was to play soldier; but, as it turned out, he was very good at it.

When, in February 1700, Russia, Denmark and Saxony declared war on Sweden and its callow king, the allies must have based their strategy on an accountant’s assessment. Their amassed armies far outnumbered Sweden’s forces; the Swedes would inevitably be overwhelmed. However, Charles did not wait for the inevitable. He attacked. Denmark’s proximity was its misfortune; by the summer of 1700 an overrun, devastated Denmark was suing for peace and ceding more territory to Sweden. In fact, Denmark was lucky that Charles acceded to a peace treaty. He didn’t like treaties because they required him to stop fighting. At least, Charles found solace in that he still had a war with Russia and Saxony.

A Russian army threatened to wrest Estonia and Latvia from Sweden. Peter the Great commanded an impressive number–40,000 men–but the invasion had accomplished little more than trespassing. Cannons and muskets require aiming, but no one had provided the Russian horde with adequate training. Furthermore, many of the Russian soldiers did not even have muskets; they were armed with clubs, axes and halberds, weapons only fairly effective in the 15th century. (But Peter’s officers had the latest fashions in uniforms.) Charles felt that 10,000 of his highly trained soldiers could handle the Russian horde, and he proved it this day–November 30– at the battle of Narva in 1700.

With half of his force dead or captured and the rest scattered, his country at the mercy of an unscathed Swedish army, Peter was prepared for any demand and every humiliation; but he still was amazed by Charles. The Swedish king simply marched away to begin an invasion of Saxony. This was not an act of mercy or generosity but contempt. Charles thought so little of Russia that he snubbed it; he wanted his enemies to have some fight in them. So Russia could recuperate before Charles would demolish it again.

Peter certainly had underestimated the young Swedish king; but now Charles underestimated the Tsar. Having seen–and barely surviving–a highly trained army, Peter proved an apt student. Over the next few years, while Charles was rampaging through central Europe, Peter rebuilt the Russian army along the model of its Swedish nemesis. If Ikea had a military catalog, Peter would have bought out the store. By 1703, the Russian army was ready for a rematch, and this time it successfully invaded the Baltic States. On newly acquired territory along the gulf of Finland, the Tsar ordered the construction of a fortress-with room for expansion–named St. Petersburg.

Yet Charles ignored the reviving Russian menace. He was preoccupied with a relatively unimportant but endless campaign in Saxony and Poland. Did it really matter who would be the next figurehead king of a powerless Poland? Inexplicably, it did to Charles. By 1708, however, he finally turned his attention to Russia; and this time he was going to oust Peter. To do so, Charles would lead his army into the heartland of Russia, through the Ukraine and on to Moscow. At least, that was the plan. His over-extended, precarious supply lines might have seemed an obstacle, but Charles expected to be feted, supplied, and reinforced by the Ukrainians and Cossacks. They were known to hate the Russians, so wouldn’t they regard Charles as their liberator? If so, their gratitude did not extend to fighting along side the Swedes.

Of course, Charles stayed on the attack. What did it matter if the Russian army at Poltava was three times the size of his force? Vell–as they might say in Swedish, eight years of training did make a substantial difference in the Tsar’s army. Most of Charles’ army was either killed or captured. Now, if Charles wouldn’t end a war when he was winning, imagine how he felt when he was losing. Riding south, he avoided capture and managed to get to the Ottoman Empire. There, the celebrity refugee convinced the Turks to declare war on Russia.

Peter welcomed this additional war as a chance to advance Russia’s southern frontiers to the Black Sea. He was so eager that he repeated the same mistakes that Charles had made at Poltava. Now, it was a Russian army deep in enemy territory, with its supplies cut off, and badly outnumbered. There was one difference, however, in Peter’s disastrous loss at Pruth in 1711. He, along with his entire army, was captured. The Turks were in a position to exact any terms that they wanted; and their ally Charles was insisting on the restoration on everything he had lost. However, after two years of Charles, the Turks realized that they did not like him, either. All they asked of the captured Tsar was that he return any territory that the Russians had previously won from the Turks…and that Charles must be allowed safe passage through Russia back to Sweden. Yes, the Turks were that eager to get rid of him. In fact, they placed him under house arrest until he got the message.

When back in Sweden, Charles simply scrounged whatever he could to continue the war. He was oblivious to the fact that the war was irretrievably lost, and that his strickened country had neither the manpower nor the resources left to accommodate his bloody hobby. Of course, Charles would not be content until he was killed in battle; in 1718, in a pointless siege of a Norwegian town, someone finally obliged him. The marksman is unknown; it might even have been an exhausted Swede.

History has had a number of great yet self-destructive generals. Charles XII is unique among them in that he is so colorless. Perhaps that is the consequence of being Swedish.   History remembers him as “The Lion of the North” but he could have been an idiot savant whose savoir happened to be war.