My Dr. Seuss Pick List

I pretty much knew I’d be writing this list as soon as I learned of the estate’s decision to self-censor. And yes, one of the six offenders makes my cut — at the #1 slot no less.

1. On Beyond Zebra. 1955. Seuss’s unsung masterpiece uses abstract expressionism to suggest a world of limitless possibilities, and for that matter whole new realities to explore. The minimalist colors of the pre-60s books work for, rather than against, in this case, and the final page showing Conrad writing his own letter (see right) is one of the most inspired visionary pieces I’ve seen in a children’s book. This is one of the six discontinued books, and shame on Seuss’s estate for being so dim. I’ve yet to see a better pictorial adventure for thinking outside the box than what fills the pages in On Beyond Zebra.

2. Oh, The Places You’ll Go. 1990. This was given to me on my birthday a month before I joined the Peace Corps (in November ’91), and just a year after its publication. It could just as easily been given to me five months before, when I graduated from college. I like to think Dr. Seuss wrote his final book for me, but what an egocentric fantasy; this book has spoken on a personal level to zillions of people — anyone going through a major transition, whether young, middle-age, or old. The narrator is undaunted by anything, as he leaps over every hurdle to explore the world. A close rival to On Beyond Zebra, for my money, in its power to inspire.

3. The Lorax. 1971. Seuss seemed to understand things that a child psychologist like Jordan Peterson does not: that the greatest threats faced by human beings are oppression by power (Horton Hears a Who), arms races and warfare (The Butter Battle Book), and environmental crises (The Lorax). Don’t get me wrong: Peterson is absolutely correct about the regressive left and the threat it poses to free speech. (That’s the main reason I’m writing this pick list.) But Peterson seems to think that we can’t save the world unless we save ourselves first as individuals, and that seems backwards: it is rather systematic oppression, warfare, and climate disasters that are ruining us as individuals to begin with. Regarding that last, The Lorax remains one of the most urgent pro-environment pleas ever written, and a book ahead of its time.

4. Oh, the Thinks You Can Think. 1975. This mind-bender of psychedelic imagery is the sort of thing David Lynch might come up with if he made a children’s film. The shadowy jibboo (see right) is probably the scariest thing Seuss ever drew. (Not the dated caricatures in other books that we’re currently being told can “scar kids for life”.) The book’s theme is On Beyond Zebra‘s: it invites the reader to make things up, think freely, draw unlikely connections, and reboot the imagination entirely. Wild, yes, but just the medicine kids crave.

5. Horton Hears a Who. 1954. The classic lesson, “a person’s a person no matter how small”, and that the strong should defend the weak. The message comes across without sounding preachy, and this was Seuss’s gift that lesser talents have tried to tame but seldom achieved. I still haven’t seen the 2008 film, which I hear does considerable justice to it by revving up the scare factor — the kangaroo is really mean, there’s an intense mob scene, etc. Aside from the insanely addictive Green Eggs and Ham, this is the Dr. Seuss book I read most; it’s that compelling.

6. The Butter Battle Book. 1984. That a dispute over how to eat one’s bread (butter-side up or down) could lead to warfare isn’t terribly far-fetched when you stop to think about it; wars have been fought throughout history for reasons just as juvenile. In this case, the conflict between the Yooks and Zooks escalates into an arms race: they continue to build bigger walls and massive machinery in the hope that one will give up, which of course neither side does. The story obviously speaks to the threat of nuclear war and weapons of mass destruction, as it was written during the Reagan years of the Cold War; but Seuss’s allegory still has plenty to teach us about threats of escalating violence.

7. Green Eggs and Ham. 1960. A brilliant story on minimalist vocabulary. Seuss was issued a challenge that he couldn’t write a book using 50 unique words or less, and he not only proved his publisher wrong, he wrote a gross-out story that would become widely and obsessively loved. I was so obsessed with this book as a kid that I asked my mother to cook me green eggs and ham, convinced that it was an obscure delicacy kept out of children’s reach by a global parental conspiracy.

8. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. 1957. I run the risk of hypocrisy by including this title as a favorite, because the fact is I’ve become an awful Scrooge. I don’t like Christmas anymore, haven’t for a long time, and hardly celebrate it in any meaningful way. But I do like other special days (especially Halloween and Thanksgiving), and there’s something about the way Seuss conveys the magic of a holiday and the way killjoys can be reached and moved despite themselves. I love Dickens’ Christmas Carol for the same reason. So that’s my conflicted defense for the Grinch, as a quasi-Grinch myself.

9. Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book. 1962. If the contagious yawns triggered by Van Vleck don’t put you under, there may be something wrong with you. With Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book you don’t sleeping pills, white noise, or meditation. Just read the book and watch the pictures. The use of color is sleep-inducing too, with the red, turquoise, and soft golden yellow bathing the imagery in tranquility. Also subtle is the use of words with letters “o” and “s”, the former putting your mouth into a yawning position, the latter sounding the “zzzz” sound. Now that’s how you get reaction from your readers.

Single-Season TV Shows

I’ve done a pick list for best TV shows, but this one is for shows that didn’t go beyond a single season. Underrated gems that deserve special mention.

 

Tales from the Loop first impression: An intriguing sci-fi TV series | Entertainment News,The Indian Express
1. Tales From the Loop. 2020. I worried about a Stranger Things rehash. The series is set in a small midwestern town in the ’80s (Ohio instead of Indiana), there’s a lab where dangerous experiments are performed, and kids play a key role. But where Stranger Things revels in the nostalgia of the ’80s, here the period is incidental. Stranger Things is full of anxious and overt horrors, using action sequences to supplement the character drama; Tales from the Loop shines in the small and quiet moments. Put it this way: Stranger Things is ET and Gremlins and Alien; Tales from the Loop is Blade Runner and Twin Peaks, filtered through a Kubrick-like lens where everything is held coldly at arm’s length, even as it magnifies the intimate and personal. Dialogue is restrained and used like a precious commodity; every word counts. We end up seeing lot of impossible wonders — time travel, body swapping, time freeze, snow that falls upwards, parallel-world travel, and robots with uncannily human traits — but the series isn’t about any of that. It’s about people; their fears, tragedies, and deepest hopes.


2. Godless. 2017. Marketed as a “feminist Western”, I think the label is misleading. The town of La Belle is dominated by women (since most of the husbands were killed in a mining accident), but the lead and supporting cast have an equal share of men and women, and the overall tone doesn’t really strike one as feminist. Which is good: film and TV suffer when politics become overt, and so I’m glad that Godless‘ excellence is carried purely on the strength of its artistic merits. It has all the classic ingredients of the western — outlaws, train heists, expansive scenery, disillusioned law officials, and a final shoot-out you’ll never forget — while being innovative enough so that it stands proudly among the greats in the western Renaissance. Jeff Daniels plays a baddie of mythic evil, and the underappreciated Jack O’Connell is used very well against him, as the adopted son now turned on his master. I’ve seen this series twice and I’m sure I’ll watch it again.

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3. Bodyguard. 2018. This one pleased me on many levels. It’s a solid thriller, with smart twists that match its brutal intensity. The romance between the Home Secretary and her bodyguard is handled believably, and in just the right doses, before she is assassinated halfway through the series. Most of all, the end reveal completely blew my mind – that the Muslim woman was a cold-hearted jihadist, and not the victim we were led to believe. “You all saw me as a poor, oppressed Muslim woman. I am an engineer. I am a jihadi.” This she says to the appalled protagonist, who had rescued her from the clutches of her husband in the show’s opening scene of terrorism. The cries of Islamophobia were inevitable, but it was so refreshing to see a mainstream Netflix production treat the subject of jihad terror with realism for a change. I was very impressed with Richard Madden (“Robb Stark”); he makes a good hero who gets shafted in the worst ways. If he’s not beheaded at a Red Wedding, he’s being framed as a suicide bomber with a bomb strapped to himself that he can’t get rid of.

Behind Her Eyes, filming locations, filmed, set, Netflix, where, Louise, Adele, cafe, London
4. Behind Her Eyes. 2021. As I write this, Behind Her Eyes is currently the most watched show on Netflix, and I can understand why. It starts as an erotic thriller and then becomes a manipulative game of out-of-body experiences. Then the ending which has everyone in an uproar, but is stunningly perfect given the premise of astral-projection. It reminds me of The Sixth Sense: all the clues are there, so that when you rewatch the series you can understand who Adele really is. It’s established that Rob is gay; his jealous behavior around David and Adele was about his feelings for the former, not the latter; Adele’s junkie behavior, and risking rough neighborhoods; etc. The biggest treat to the series is Simona Brown. She plays a single mother who does all she can for her son, and gets caught in a love triangle against her better judgment. She’s a genuinely good person who is manipulated into surrendering her body — an unpleasant shock, but dramatically compelling, naysayers notwithstanding.


5. Des. 2020. David Tennant is one of my favorite actors of the 21st century. He can play a lovable eccentric (Doctor Who), a brooding curmudgeon (Broadchurch), and one of the nastiest villains to walk the Earth (Jessica Jones). In Des he channels that last as serial killer Dennis Nilsen. Between 1978 and 1983, Nilsen brought home and killed at least a dozen men and boys, keeping their corpses around before butchering them. When he got to that, he boiled their flesh, kept other remains around his apartment, and flushed other parts down the john. (I wonder if Nilsen inspired Walter Dragonette in Peter Straub’s novel The Throat.) The drama is set after his arrest, inside interrogation rooms and courtrooms, as the series explores why Nilsen did all this shit. As true crime dramas go, this one is a cut above most, thanks mostly to Tennant’s chilling performance. He casually chats with authorities about his monstrous actions, and there’s no looking away.


6. Unbelievable. 2019. Here’s another true crime drama, about a serial rapist who kept on the move, hopping over states to confound the police. He never raped in the same place twice, nor the same kind of victim twice. He chose young women and old, of varying ethnicity and social class. The show flashes back and forth between two equally compelling storylines, the first set in Washington State in 2008, focusing on one of the rapist’s early victims (above pic), the second set in Colorado in 2011, showing how two detectives from different cities ended up nailing the guy. The first storyline is heartbreaking, as the Washington State girl isn’t believed by anyone — not her stepmother, her flat mates, or the police; she is arrested and compelled to say before a judge that she had made up her rape attack. The second storyline shows the pair of female detectives on top of their game as they use every resource available to close in on the rapist. The story arcs join at the end in a triumphant payoff, made all the more rewarding since the portrayed events are true.

Photo credit: Netflix
7. The Queen’s Gambit. 2020. This brought me back to my chess days in high school, and it even got me playing against my computer. I lost every time — as I evidently have lost my touch. But I was never anything close to the prodigy of Beth Harmon. She’s based on the real world chess prodigies Robert Fischer, Boris Spassky, and Anatoly Karpov (mostly Fischer), and the show takes a lot of dramatic liberties, so this isn’t anything that could be called a “true story” without winking broadly. It’s wonderful drama all the same, showing a girl spiraling out of control with substance abuse, but almost never, ever, losing a chess game. What blows my mind is how exciting the chess games are to watch on screen. I wouldn’t have guessed that one could wring so much tension out of chess duels, but Queen’s Gambit proved me wrong.

Still from series 'Unorthodox' – young woman getting her hair shaved off
8. Unorthodox. 2020. One of the better religion-themed dramas in recent years: the story of a woman’s liberation from everyday life in an ultra-orthodox community. The Satmar Jews in New York are from Hungary, mostly descendants of Holocaust survivors, and they live to strengthen their ranks and churn out as many kids as possible. While this may sound inspiring, to some it can be suffocating. Women like Esty (the main character) are not allowed to explore their identities and are deprived of rights most American women take for granted. In the series Esty rebels and leaves her husband; she moves to Berlin where multiculturalism awaits. The power of Unorthodox lies in the way it acknowledges the beauty of conservative religion steeped in millennia of tradition, while showing how someone can be miserable in that tradition. We see the beauty of a Passover seder, not beautiful at all to Esty, and reminds us how easy it is to romanticize religion from a distance.

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9. The Five. 2016. I’ve never read a Harlan Coben novel, but since watching The Five I’ve considered giving him a try. He’s known for extremely convoluted plots involving past events which have been misunderstood, this case being a five-year old boy (Jesse) who disappeared and was never found and presumed dead. Until his DNA turns up at a crime scene 20 years later. Now the boy’s older brother is a solicitor, and his three friends are a doctor, a police detective, and a social worker — all still friends and still wanting closure over Jesse’s disappearance. The shocking evidence of Jesse’s DNA leads the characters on an absolute mindfuck through the lives of his family and friends, and finally to the identity of Jesse himself. Few of the subplots and side mysteries have anything to do with each other, and yet it all feels like it hangs together. That’s the Coben magic.

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10. I Am Not Okay With This. 2020. Take elements of Stranger Things (girl has telekinetic powers) and The End of the Fucking World (grief and mental health issues), and you get this series. It’s not on the same plane of excellence as the former, or as edgy as the latter, but it’s a very enjoyable watch. The protagonist lives an unenviable life: her father killed herself, her mother is a hollow bitch, and she suddenly realizes she has superpowers — she destroys things with her mind — that she can’t control. That’s what makes her powers interesting. Sophia Lillis is an actor to keep eyes on. She wasn’t impressive in It, but then she didn’t have a decent script. This series gives her a chance and hints at a promising career.

Word for the Day: “Incused” (Stephen Donaldson’s Self-Plagiarism)

Readers of Stephen R. Donaldson know that he likes to use words that send you to the dictionary: carious, disport, dolor, frangible, guerdon, hebetude, leal, moraine, otiose, puissance, roborant, serried, telic, and thurible among the many examples. But my favorite Donaldson word by far is incused:

incused: /inˈkyo͞ozd/

adjective: formed by stamping, or pressing, or hollowed out by engraving – usually in the case of coins

It was evidently Donaldson’s favorite too, because he used it twice in his Thomas Covenant series, plagiarizing himself in the exact same context. It’s when Linden Avery heals someone with her health sense. She does this by mentally reaching into people, exposing herself to their physical and emotional wounds, and through that intimate sharing of pain works her healing powers.

In the first case she heals a Giant. It occurs in The One Tree (1982) (book 2 of the second chronicles), as she is traveling by sea and the ship becomes mired with no winds to propel the sails. The Giants summon a sea-beast (three times as large as the Giants’ ship) and capture it with a hawser, so that as it flees it pulls the ship forward. Eventually the beast becomes ferocious in its movements and the hawser tears at the Giants’ arms, forcing them to free the beast by letting go of their holding blocks. They need to let go at the same moment, but one of the Giants lets his block go a nanosecond too late, and he is yanked forward by the sea beast and smashed against the rail of the ship’s prow. Linden immediately moves to heal him with her health sense:

“The Giant’s pain cried out to her. She saw his shattered bones as if they were limned in light, felt his shredded tissues and internal bleeding as though the damage were incused on her own flesh. He was severely mangled. But he was still alive. His heart still limped; air still gurgled wetly from his pierced lungs. Without hesitation she knelt at his side, cleared her mind of everything else. Reaching into him with her senses, she committed herself to the support of his faltering life. With her own pulse she steadied his, then bent her attention to the worst of his internal injuries. His pain flooded through her, but she refused to be mastered by it. She confronted his lungs. Broken ribs had puncture them in various places. Firmly, she nudged his tissues closed around the bones so that his lungs would not fill with blood…” (The One Tree, pp 60-61)

In the second case, Linden heals an army of warriors. It happens in Fatal Revenant (2007) (book 2 of the third chronicles), when she comes to the war camp of Berek Halfhand, sees most of his army on death’s door, and proceeds through the tents attempting to heal as many as she can:

“The naked human suffering was worse than any she had faced before. She felt every severed limb and broken skull, every pierced abdomen and slashed joint, as if they had been incused on her own flesh. Nevertheless she did not falter. She dropped to her knees beside the nearest of the wounded. This warrior was a woman, and the sword-cut which had split her breastplate had opened her ribs; her left foot had been amputated above the ankle; her shin suppurated with infection and anguish; slivers of bone protruded from a mass of pus and maggots. Linden closed her eyes; refined her attention; swathed the woman in Earthpower. She burned away infection and maggots, cleansed poisons, excised and sealed neurotic tissues, knit together shards of bone…” (Fatal Revenant, pp 169-171)

I’m not surprised Donaldson plagiarized himself. I doubt there’s a better word for conveying the pain Linden feels by healing others. “Incused” implies the pain is being imprinted or engraved on her. It’s hard to get stronger than that.

I liked this bit of self-plagiarism so much, that I plagiarized it myself in chapter 6 of my novella Stranger Things: The New Generation, in describing Eleven’s battle with the Llaza. When she calls the shadow creature into herself, accepting the entity as her personal flesh, she senses her son Mike who has been devoured by the creature, and then “felt his frozen tissues and poisoned bloodstream as if they were incused on her flesh”. Stranger Things is about homage, and that was my homage to Donaldson: plagiarizing his self-plagiarism.

U2 after 40 Years

I’m four months late with this post. In October 2020 I’d meant to do something for U2’s 40th anniversary. Their first album Boy was released on October 20, 1980, and since then they’ve given us 14 albums, some better than others, three of them masterpieces, even a few stinkers. The web is flooded with rankings of U2’s best songs, but you know these lists, they always cry for clearance. Here are my essential 20, plus a bonus to celebrate Boy. In seven cases I prefer a live version over the original studio.

1. Where the Streets Have No Name (Live, Rose Bowl, 2009). There’s no doubt that the live performance is the ultimate U2 song, but there is every doubt in my mind as to which live version is the best. There are so many good ones. Put a gun to my head, I go with the Rose Bowl 2009 version, but supremely honorable mentions include Boston 2001, Slane Castle 2001, and Chicago 2005. The segue openings are sublime — “Amazing Grace”, “40”, “All I Need is You”, being typical choices. More than any song I know (let alone a U2 song), “Streets” has been elevated to mountainous heights from its studio version, which, like many Joshua Tree tracks, doesn’t do much for me. If I were limiting my rankings to studio versions, this song wouldn’t even make my top 20.

2. Bad (Studio, 1984). Many feel the same way about “Bad” as they feel about “Streets” — that live versions have transfigured the song into something much greater. I strongly disagree. The studio version of “Bad” is as perfect as the song will ever get. The slow build, the notes Bono hits, and pulsating sonics combine to convey the desperation of the heroin addict in a soft-edged miracle of lyric transcendence. The live versions are good, don’t get me wrong; but by making it more aggressive, something essential is sacrificed.

3. Ultraviolet (Studio, 1991). Someone should write a book about the “speak-sing trilogy” of Achtung Baby: “The Fly”, “Until the End of the World”, and “Ultraviolet”. (Called that because Bono speaks the lyrics as much as sings them.) They all make my top ten, and the last is the best. It was the overlooked gem of the album back in the ’90s, rarely played at concerts, but has undergone something of a reassessment since the 360 tour of 2009. For me, it was always the greatest. It’s the moment on the album (track 10 out of 12) when you can breathe a bit, after all the despairing songs about shitty relationships. “Ultraviolet” celebrates the trials and hardships of love, and holds fast to the wisdom of lighting the way and moving forward, even if it’s all ultimately in vain.

4. Kite (Live, Slane Castle, 2001). Bono knocked this one out of the park at Slane Castle. It was soon after his father died (and only ten days before 9/11), and the song plays to that, but it really plays to any theme about remembrance and loss. When he sings “I’m a maaaaaaaaaaan, I’m not a child,” he hasn’t nailed a note like that since the studio version of “Bad”. It’s an incredibly beautiful song.

5. A Sort of Homecoming (Studio, 1984). Whenever I hear this song, it’s almost like hearing it for the first time. I doubt it could be ruined by overplaying it. Lyric wise, it’s the best thing Bono ever wrote, and he was inspired by the poet Paul Celan. Celan described poetry as “a kind of homecoming”, and while the poor bastard ended up drowning himself, I don’t imagine this song provoking any suicidal tendencies in anyone. It’s a slice of ambient perfection from the Unforgettable Fire masterpiece.

6. Beautiful Day (Studio, 2000). AKA “The song announcing a return to form”. But after the horrid stench of Zooropa and Pop, All That You Can’t Leave Behind wasn’t just a return to form; it was a mid-career masterpiece. And while “Kite” is my personal favorite from the album, “Beautiful Day” is a close second, blending melodies and hooks from the ’80s albums, along with the electronic textures from Achtung Baby. It was certainly a beautiful day when this song hit the air in 2000, and it sounds just as fresh after two decades.

7. The Fly (Studio, 1991). The speak-song that burned down the Joshua Tree almost single-handedly. Every song from Achtung Baby took part in that fire, but “The Fly” was the first released, and I’ll never forget my reaction when I first heard it: That is not U2. It was a hoax and I hated it. Within weeks I was eating my words. Abrasive industrial textures have never sounded smoother, and lyrics have never called forth an alter-ego as memorable as Bono’s Fly. And it’s Edge’s best guitar solo of all time.

8. One Tree Hill (Live, Denver, 1987). The second half of The Joshua Tree is the stronger half by far, and “One Tree Hill” is the unsung masterpiece. It was performed live only once (for the Rattle and Hum album), even better than the studio version, but the song was apparently too emotional for Bono to get through ever again, so the band hasn’t performed it since the Joshua Tree tour. I can understand why: it has a poetic intimacy that goes through you like an awl, even if you don’t understand who the song is about (a friend of Bono who was killed).

9. Drowning Man (Studio, 1983). At least “One Tree Hill” was played live once. “Drowning Man” never. Each are the best songs on their respective albums, and “Drowning Man” is probably the darkest song in the U2 canon. It’s about drug addiction (like “Bad” and “Running to Stand Still”) but with a sense of personal injury, as it was written for band member Adam Clayton who was struggling with substance abuse at the time. The cribbed lines from Isaiah 40, amazing guitar strokes, and Middle Eastern-sounding violins, all add up to one of the best pieces U2 has ever recorded, though it’s hardly recognized as such.

10. Until the End of the World (Studio, 1991). And here’s the third speak-song from Achtung Baby: the story of Judas’s betrayal reworked as a love story. It contains some of Edge’s edgiest guitar riffs, and while the studio version reigns supreme, some of the live versions give it a run for its money (see Paris, 2015, for example). It’s one of the greatest biblical songs of all time: the first verse is the Last Supper, the second the betraying kiss in Gethsemane, and the third Judas’ suicide.

11. City of Blinding Lights (Studio, 2004). I’m not a fan of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, but this song is magical. The band was trying to write another “Where the Streets Have No Name”, and didn’t do half a bad job. (The studio version of “City” buries the studio version of “Streets” IMO.)  It’s about their love of New York, but I hear it as love for any big city where you can lose yourself in a good way. Brings me back to my years in Portland Oregon every time.

12. New Year’s Day (Studio, 1983). It was hard choosing between the studio version and the live from Slane Castle, but I have to stick to the studio. “New Year’s Day” is about as purely perfect as a recorded song can be, and this is the song that everyone’s attention back in the ’80s, hinting at mountains of potential that was indeed unleashed in the three masterpiece albums following War. There’s a lot on War itself that hasn’t aged well for me (If I never heard “Sunday Bloody Sunday” or “Two Hearts Beat as One” ever again, I wouldn’t care), but “New Year’s Day” hasn’t lost a dash of its power.

13. Mysterious Ways (Live, New York, 1992). While Achtung Baby is unquestionably the best U2 album, the Zoo TV tour is one of the band’s weakest outings, torpedoed in part by the inclusion of Zooropa songs, but also because of the gaudy “sensory overload” approach. The singular exception in that performance was “Mysterious Ways”, involving a belly dancer who served to tempt Bono. This was apparently a difficult song to write and nail down, but nail it down they did. It’s one of the most compulsive songs in the U2 canon, and watching the Zoo TV performance makes me want to get up and spin.

14. Red Hill Mining Town (Studio, 1987). The band members are often poor judges of their creations, and this song is exhibit-A. They never played it live (until 2017), believing it to be an overproduced and underwritten effort on The Joshua Tree. In fact it’s one of the very best tracks on The Joshua Tree, eclipsed only by “One Tree Hill” (and live versions of “Where the Streets Have No Name”). Bono howls and looses anguish in a way he has seldom since matched; it’s a song of social injustice and helplessness, and for my money hits stronger than the politics of “Sunday Bloody Sunday”.

15. Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of (Live, Boston, 2001). Finally a gospel number that stands the test of time. In 1987 we all loved “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, but within a few years that song was setting my teeth on edge. “Stuck in a Moment” is a song about acknowledging fears, navigating them, resisting suicide, and waiting for the darkness to pass. The live version at Boston Fleet Center shows Bono and Edge at the top of their game. It’s only gotten better with the passage of time.

16. Mercy (Studio, 2004). Here’s another song that was judged mediocre by the band members, this time to the extent that it didn’t even make the album cut. If it had, it would have been the second best track on How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. I stand in awe of how incompetent artists can be when judging their own work. Thanks to a fan with a bootlegged copy, we can all enjoy it. When I hear Taylor Swift’s “State of Grace”, I hear echoes of “Mercy”. It channels the energy of the Unforgettable Fire period.

17. Acrobat (Studio, 1991). Never been performed live, as the band members apparently believe it’s too depressing even by Achtung standards. Just when we get our second wind with “Ultraviolet” (track 10), “Acrobat” (track 11) pulls us down the hole of hypocrisy, alienation, and utter moral confusion. To which Bono can only offer the strained advice: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” I’m still hoping for a live outing, but it doesn’t look promising.

18. The Unforgettable Fire (Studio, 1984). The title track from the band’s first masterpiece is one that you feel in your blood. It harks back to the nuclear devastations of War, but with more maturity, and an ethereal buzz that stays in my head long after the song ends. Like so many songs from this album. Knowing that it was inspired by paintings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in the bombing aftermath makes it even more effective.

19. Running to Stand Still (Live, Tempe, 1987). AKA “Bad, Part 2”, though a much more subdued piece. “Bad” escalates to overwhelming crescendos; “Running To Stand Still” keeps it reflective. It almost seems intent to find beauty in the pain of heroin addiction. It begins like a blues song then becomes more orchestral, then fades back to blues on the end harmonica. It’s a damn beautiful piece; the live performance in Tempe remains supreme.

20. One (Studio, 1991). Like the Police’s “Every Breath You Take”, this is played at weddings by heartthrobs oblivious to the song’s true meaning. It’s not about two people in love so much they are practically one. It’s a nasty conversation between two lovers who have been through so much conflict and grief that it promises the end of their relationship. Play this at your wedding, perhaps, if you anticipate a nasty divorce. In Bono’s words: “The song is saying, ‘We are one, but we’re not the same. It’s not saying we even want to get along, but that we have to get along together in this world if it is to survive.” And in response to the song’s celebration at weddings: “Are you mad? It’s about splitting up!” It’s indeed a great song; just not for the reasons many people think.

21. Out of Control (Live, Slane Castle, 2001). A bonus song to celebrate Boy. At Slane Castle in 2001, the band members re-enacted their opening performance for Phillip Lynott in 1981: “I want to thank Phillip Lynott for letting us open the show… We’re a band from the north side of Dublin… We’re called U2, this is our first single… We hope you like it!” You can feel the energy of the audience feeding off the band members. This was a true homecoming celebration for the Irish boys, now men.

 

1. Where the Streets Have No Name (Live, Rose Bowl, 2009)
2. Bad (Studio, 1984)
3. Ultraviolet (Studio, 1991)
4. Kite (Live, Slane Castle, 2001)
5. A Sort of Homecoming (Studio, 1984)
6. Beautiful Day (Studio, 2000)
7. The Fly (Studio, 1991)
8. One Tree Hill (Live, Denver, 1987)
9. Drowning Man (Studio, 1983)
10. Until the End of the World (Studio, 1991)
11. City of Blinding Lights (Studio, 2004)
12. New Year’s Day (Studio, 1983)
13. Mysterious Ways (Live, New York, 1992)
14. Red Hill Mining Town (Studio, 1987)
15. Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out of (Live, Boston, 2001)
16. Mercy (Studio, 2004)
17. One (Studio, 1991)
18. The Unforgettable Fire (Studio, 1984)
19. Running to Stand Still (Live, Tempe, 1987)
20. Acrobat (Studio, 1991)
21. Out of Control (Live, Slane Castle, 2001)

My Tour of Dante’s Inferno (Circle 9 – The Lake of Treachery)

In the first part of my Inferno tour, I journeyed through Circles 1-7. In the second part, I suffered the horrors of Circle 8. Here is the final part: my trek across the frozen Lake of Cocytus, which imprisons the souls of the traitors.

Canto 23: The Giants (from Circle 8 to Circle 9)

I looked down in the final pit
Wanting badly now to quit
Knowing I couldn’t, the only way out
Was to finish Dante and Virgil’s route

The giants made my bowels churn
Many of them looking fierce and stern
Rising from below, over 1200 feet
The Lake of Cocytus, the frozen sheet

The giant I approached extended a hand
That could have easily held a rock ‘n roll band
I jumped on gagging at the beast’s pheromones
And braced myself for treachery’s zones:

First against family, slayers of kin
Second against country, betraying within
Third against guests or even one’s host
Fourth against lords – to sin the most

Every soul a supreme offender
Cast down on the frozen blender
They had broken oaths at every price
And were now caged in the rigid ice

As I was lifted down I felt the freeze
The air a brutal 15 degrees
Yet somehow my skin was kept protected
As a guest of Hell I was unaffected

I was swiftly set down at the lake’s edge
And I thanked the giant, giving my pledge
To make this last damned Circle count
And call these miserable souls to account

And I stepped on the ice.

Canto 24: The Traitors (Circle 9)

I step on the lowest Circle in Hell – the frozen Lake of Cocytus, where traitors are buried to their necks (at least), and devils swing mallets at their protruding heads. Lucifer is at the lake’s center. There are four zones of punishment: the outer circle for traitors against kin, the next for traitors against country, the third for traitors against guests or hosts, and the innermost zone for traitors against lords and rulers.

The outermost zone was full of heads
Glassy-eyed, as if on meds
Buried deep up to their necks
Tormented by the lake’s effects

I stepped around them, very slow
And looked upon the horror show
Of all the souls who’d killed their mothers
Fathers, sisters, cousins, brothers

Devils as usual patrolled the course
Abusing the heads without remorse
Hammering them with iron mallets
And chewing off ears to reward their palates

It was the worst punishment in Hell for sure
Except for the flatterers’ lake of manure
To be immersed in either shit or ice
I could never choose, I’d roll the dice

The heads of these traitors moaned around spit
Screaming only when the mallets hit
And I proceeded through the torture ground
Trying to ignore every sound

And then I gasped and stopped my walking
When I saw a head before me gawking
Trying to find the words to speak
Through a frozen mouth and frostbitten cheek:

“How have you come to us down here?
And speak loud, I can barely hear!”

[Me]
“I’m a guest on tour of this awful place
And there’s much from memory I wish to efface
Who are you, and whom did you slay?
Or at least, I presume, foully betray?”

[Kashyapa I]
“I am Kashyapa of dynasty Mauryan
I had the soul and teeth of a lion
Hated by all, but I didn’t care
The throne was mine to seize on a dare.”

I knew the name of this Sri Lankan king
He usurped the throne and made it his thing
Entombing his father inside a wall
Buried alive to scream and bawl

[Me]
“You had the soul and teeth of a shark
And never deserved to be monarch
I hope your father can see you now
Being made the devil’s chow.”

And sure enough, right then and there
Came a devil with no quarter to spare
Smashing the king’s head, as if to cheers
Then squatting to feast on both his ears

I left Kashyapa and then came next
To a soul demanding I pay him respects:

[Me]
“Who are you, to expect submission?
I’m inclined to put you out of commission
Perhaps I’ll find a mallet to borrow
And find more ways to increase your sorrow.”

[Mehmed II]
“I am Mehmed the Conqueror, you infidel
It is you, not I, who should freeze in Hell
I smashed Constantinople once and for all
For the glory of Islam, may it never fall.”

[Me]
“That’s enough to convict you, I grant
But not on this Circle as an ice plant
Which of your family did you slay?
As I’m sure you did, clear as day.”

[Mehmed II]
“I drowned my brother, it’s well known
To remove any chance he’d come for my throne
Better yet, I made it legal
To kill any relatives who might become regal:

‘Whichever of my sons inherits the crown
It behooves him to make his brothers drown.’
This I promoted with the force of a claw
And it became the norm like sharia law.

It only makes sense to remove any threat
Of which there are many, lest you forget
In the royal court, where a brother schemes
To sit the throne and fulfill his dreams.”

[Me]
“If only that ‘justice’ had been done to you
Instanbul may have never come true
Perhaps today it would still be a beacon
And Eastern Europe not have weakened.”

At that he shouted and swore and defamed
I was tempted to kick him, then felt ashamed
These heads in the ice were invitations
To indulge my nastiest inclinations

I left him and walked for about a mile
Then came to a section that looked like an isle
Thousands of heads, and thousands more
Filled this region like an open sore

Questioning them I was able to determine
That they all needed a fiery sermon
For these were men who had killed their sisters
For the “sin” of being raped as resistors

They killed their daughters for the very same crime:
Having the gall to get raped in one’s prime
In the pecking order of family slayers
Honor killers were the worst betrayers

I gave into fury and went on a rant
To the souls it likely came out as a cant
But I was all sincere, 100 percent
And said exactly what I goddamn meant:

[Me]
“Every one of you were ruled by shame
To absolve the guilty and dump the blame
On the victim who needed love and support
Your ‘honor’ came up mighty short.”

[Random soul]
“There’s no need for us to be reviled
We killed our women who’d been defiled
Or fornicated, or dressed like whores
It was only right to settle the scores.”

[Me]
“Scores are settled on this frozen floor
Paying you back for all your gore
While your daughters and sisters bask in the light
Of paradise, hopefully, where all is right.”

I moved onward, straight to the center
And before long I came to enter
Zone number 2 in this ice-cap marsh
Where the souls now suffered even more harsh

The heads were buried up to the chin
Not the necks, as for traitors of kin
These heads could not even bow to deflect
The worst of the winds that blew unchecked

Traitors against country, nation, and state
Breaching their patriotic mandate
And the first of these turncoats to speak aloud
Was a soul of great hubris, who refused to be cowed:

“Watch where you walk, you careless dolt
I’m trying to sleep and you gave me a jolt
But as long as you’re here, stand to your right
And keep the wind out of my plight.”

[Me]
“I think I’ll move the other way
And enjoy it as you bark and bay
The likes of you I will never obey
And who the hell are you, anyway?”

[Ephialtes]
“I am Ephialtes of ancient Greece
Ostracized for making the peace
With Persians who outnumbered us 20 to 1
Anyone could see that Xerxes had won.”

[Me]
“I would have ostracized you no less
What you did was for wealth and largesse
I’m glad you were stiffed on that traitor’s reward
You should have then fallen upon your sword.”

I walked away then without any grace
Leaving the winds to shatter his face
And it wasn’t long before I heard
A voice crying “Peggy, where are you, my bird?”

The head that cried was that officer of fame
Benedict Arnold, his cursed name
Calling for his wife, who was surely resting
In greener pastures with no protesting

I addressed him, asking him why he defected
But he seemed not to see me, as though disconnected
I was about to kneel and get in his face
When shouts from my left tore over the place

I was shocked to see an acre of traitors
White House rioters and demonstrators
Who stormed the Capitol on January 6
Shouting their odious politics:

[Rioters]
“Give us Trump! He won the election!
To him we offer eternal subjection!
Give us Trump! America’s Savior!
Praise to all his vulgar behavior!”

The heads repeated their chant like sheep
Singing the praises of that fascist creep
I tried shouting over them in complete vain:
“Enjoy your death under Lucifer’s reign!”

The chants rose higher, and mallets swung
From devils annoyed by treasonous tongue
But bashing their heads just made it worse
Their praises became even more perverse

I rushed away as fast as I dared
From these Trumpians so mentally impaired
Sliding on the ice, and around every head
I reached a border and looked ahead

In Zone number 3 each soul lay supine
Buried in the ice, a horizontal line
Face exposed just barely to the sky
As tears pooled and froze in the eye

The comfort of weeping was denied these souls
Who had turned on their guests with vicious goals
Slaying them while under their roof
And calling down every form of reproof

And likewise guests who did the same
Slaying their hosts to utter shame
These were souls of the blackest hearts
Who deserved to be torn in a thousand parts

They groaned where they lay, hardly aware
How their moans sounded like a pitiful prayer
Begging release from their freezing tomb
And their irrevocable permanent doom

I approached a head that wouldn’t stop mewling
And asked him why he’d received this ruling:

[Crichton]
“I am Lord Chancellor William Crichton
In the halls of fame, a Scottish titan
‘Twas I who hosted the Black Dinner
So my king would remain the royal winner.”

[Me]
“Holy shit, it was that beheading
That inspired George Martin’s Red Wedding
You deserve to suffer this close to the center
With the shade of Douglas your eternal tormentor.”

[Crichton]
“Douglas and his brother had to die
Don’t make me out to be the bad guy
It was just the way of medieval lords
Whatever it took, we protected our wards.”

[Me]
“I hope it felt good, killing those boys
Who never remotely suspected your ploys
Even King James burned with hives
And begged you to spare their innocent lives.”

[Crichton]
“The young James was naively kind
And sometimes even willfully blind
I wouldn’t risk or hedge my bets
And I kept him safe from Douglas threats.”

It was crystal clear to me by now
That a sin in Hell was a sacred cow
Beyond the reach of any regret
A badge of honor and coronet

I left Crichton, feeling soiled
Thinking of those that he’d despoiled
And further on I stopped to stare
At four souls lying in a square

Buried supine, and aligned precise
With faces exposed above the ice
They yakked incoherently, not making sense
I asked them to explain their hellish offense

“We’re here for treachery,” said one of the heads
“We killed Clan MacDonald – all in their beds
They offered us quarter and treated us nice
Clueless that they would pay our price.”

[Me]
“You’re the shits who murdered your hosts
Then vanished from Glencoe like cowardly ghosts.
All because a pledge arrived too late
From a clan you’d already decided to hate.”

[One of the four]
“The MacDonalds could never be trusted
So quit acting so disgusted
We made an example to stifle rebellions
And to send a warning to any hellions.”

I left them to vent and spew their dreck
And then resumed my infernal trek
Which was finally nearing the end of the line
As I came to Zone 4 of Circle 9

Here the traitors were completely buried
Their heads beneath the ice unvaried
Twisted and bent, their bodies broken
By the Devil who’s name is often unspoken:

Lucifer, who was not far away
At the center of the lake, itching for prey
Trapped though he was, down in this hole
He could still reach out to wreck a soul

As he evidently had with this zone-4 bunch
Mangling the bodies in a horrible crunch
Two of the souls I could barely make out
But I knew them from photos and had no doubt:

One was the sniper, Lee Harvey Oswald
Who had left the American people galled
Shooting Kennedy, despite the claims
Of Olive Stone and conspiracy frames

Another was law student Ygal Amir
Who shot his prime minister like a musketeer
And many more assassins were buried below
Who had slain their lords long ago

I wasn’t sure why on the punishment scale
Betraying one’s lord was beyond the pale
What if one’s lord was especially vile?
For that I’d betray him and suffer a trial

If I’d been a Ruskie under Uncle Joe
I’d have vehemently opposed the status quo
And perhaps killed Stalin, given a chance
With sword or gun or even a lance

Lords who betray the people they serve
Get the betrayals they fucking deserve
Or so I believed at the end of my tour
Of Dante’s Inferno that I’d vowed to endure

And I went to Lucifer and returned home.

Here ends Part 3 of My tour of Dante’s Inferno.

 

Notes to Canto 24 (The Traitors)

Against Kin

Kashyapa I. “Kashyapa of dynasty Mauryan”: The king of Sri Lanka between 473-495 AD. He acquired the throne by overthrowing his father and usurping his brother who was the rightful heir to the throne. Then he killed his father by entombing him inside a wall.

Mehmed II. “Mehmed the Conqueror”: The Ottoman Sultan who had two reigns, between 1444 and 1446, and then 1451 to 1481. He took Constantinople in 1453, making it Istanbul, and wrote brutally harsh laws, including the Law of Governance, which stipulated that anyone who succeeded to the Sultan’s throne could slay his brothers so they could not try claiming or usurping the throne. (Just as he had done to his own brother.)

Honor killers. “For the sin of being raped”: Most honor killers (currently 91%) throughout history have been Muslim fathers or brothers, killing their daughters or sisters who were raped.

Against Country

Ephialtes of Trachis. “Ephialtes of ancient Greece”: This man betrayed his homeland, letting the Greeks get slaughtered at Thermopyle in 480 BC, hoping to be rewarded by the Persians (which he was not).

Benedict Arnold. “A voice crying “Peggy, where are you, my bird?” Arnold began by fighting for America in the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), but defected to the Brits in 1780. Peggy Shippen was the Brit he married after defecting.

The White House mob. “Who stormed the Capitol on January 6”: On the day of Epiphany in 2021, thousands of Trump supporters stormed the White House in defiance of the election results that validated Joe Biden as the new president.

Against Guests or Hosts

William Crichton. “‘Twas I who hosted the Black Dinner”: Crichton was a knight and the Keeper of Edinburgh, charged with safeguarding the young king, James II, who was ten years old in 1440. On November 24, 1440, Crichton invited the 16-year old Earl of Douglas and his 10-year old brother to Edinburgh Castle as guests, and then beheaded them both, in an act of treachery that would become known as the Black Dinner. This event inspired George Martin’s famous Red Wedding in A Song of Ice and Fire.

John Dalrymple, Robert Duncanson, Thomas Drummond, and Robert Campbell. “We killed Clan MacDonald all in their beds”: These men played the lead role in engineering the slaughter of Clan MacDonald, who supposedly refused to pledge allegiance to William of Orange. In reality they were only late pleding their fealty, and the Secretary of State for Scotland (John Dalrymple) wanted to make an example of them. The other men led forces who accepted hospitality from Clan MacDonald — and then murdered their hosts in their sleep On February 13, 1692, which became known as the Massacre of Glencoe.

Against Lords

Lee Harvey Oswald. “Shooting Kennedy, despite the claims of Olive Stone and conspiracy frames”: Oswald assassinated his president, John F. Kennedy, on November 22, 1963, conspiracy claims notwithstanding.

Ygal Amir. “Law student Ygal Amir”. Amir assassinated his prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, on November 4, 1995.

Cocytus: The Frozen Floor of Hell (Circle 9 Preview)

Part 1 of my Inferno tour consists of eleven cantos covering Circles 1-7, and Part 2 is also eleven cantos, but covering Circle 8 alone. Circle 9 is coming soon, and it will be only two cantos, covering the frozen floor of Hell. Here’s a preview of who I’ll find there. Note that even though Circle 9 is divided into four zones, they are all the same punishing ground: a lake of ice. The souls of traitors are frozen here, with the worst traitors closest to the circle’s center where Lucifer is.

Zone 1: Traitors against Kin

  • Kashyapa I of Sri Lanka (473 AD). Acquired the throne by overthrowing his father and usurping his brother who was the rightful heir to the throne. Then he killed his father by entombing him inside a wall.
  • Mehmed the Conqueror (1453 AD). After the conquest of Constantinople (making it Istanbul), he wrote brutally harsh laws, including the Law of Governance, which stipulated that anyone who succeeded to the Sultan’s throne could slay his brothers so they could not try claiming or usurping the throne.
  • All honor killers (throughout history) who murdered their daughters/sisters. The vast majority being Muslim (currently 91% globally).

Zone 2: Traitors against Country

  • Ephialtes of Trachis (September 8, 480 BC). Betrayed his homeland, letting the Greeks get slaughtered at Thermopyle, hoping to be rewarded by the Persians.
  • Benedict Arnold (September 21, 1780). Started fighting for America in the Revolutionary War, then defected to the Brits.
  • The White House mob (January 6, 2021). Instigated a riot at the Capitol building, in defiance of legitimate election results.

Zone 3: Traitors against Guests or Hosts

  • William Crichton (November 24, 1440). Invited the 16-year old Earl of Douglas and his 10-year old brother to Edinburgh Castle as guests, and then beheaded them both (the Black Dinner).
  • John Dalrymple, Robert Duncanson, Thomas Drummond, and Robert Campbell (February 13, 1692). Accepted hospitality from Clan MacDonald and then murdered their hosts in their sleep (the Massacre of Glencoe).

Zone 4: Traitors against Lords

  • Lee Harvey Oswald (November 22, 1963). Assassinated his president, John F. Kennedy.
  • Ygal Amir (November 4, 1995). Assassinated his prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin.

My Tour of Dante’s Inferno (Circle 8 – The Ten Ditches of Fraud)

In the first part of my Inferno tour, I journeyed through Circles 1-7. Here is Circle 8, which is ten levels in itself, and told in eleven cantos like the previous part. The final cantos for Circle 9 will come later this month.

As I foreshadowed here, I have revised Ditches 3 and 5. In place of simony and barratry, I substituted categories I think Dante might have added if he had lived in today’s world. He never knew woke-left propaganda, alt-right conspiracy theories, yellow journalism, and fake news like we have it today. My Ditch 3 punishes snowflakes — woke college professors, public speakers, or commentators who have a large platform. They are fraudulent because they subordinate facts to feelings and often try to silence those they disagree with. My Ditch 5 punishes cranks — crackpot scholars and conspiracy theorists.

Here are the punishments I came up with for Ditches 3 and 5:

Circle 8: Malebolge
Souls Punished
Contrapasso: Punishment Fitting the Sin
Ditch 1
Panderers and Seducers They are whipped by devils while marching. The devils apparently gain sexual pleasure by inflicting pain on those who were either pimps or obtained sexual pleasure by abuse of trust.
Ditch 2
Flatterers They live in the shit they spoke in life — plunged into a lake of excrement.
Ditch 3
Snowflakes They have their lips sown shut, forced to march on a narrow line to a specific drumbeat. As they subordinated truth to their personal feelings, and policed the speech (or even tried to ban speech) of those who spoke truth, so now in death they have their lips sown shut, unable to ever speak again. And because they manufactured offenses, castigating people for trivial causes, they are now flailed with a spiked ball for even slightly stepping out of line or missing a single beat.
Ditch 4
False Prophets They walk with heads twisted backwards, destined to look only behind through eyes blinded by tears.
Ditch 5
Cranks and Conspiracy Theorists They sit against the walls of the ditch with their eyes torn out, continually screaming in fear. As they feared every phantom menace they couldn’t see any real evidence for, so now they can’t see anything at all, and suffer extreme paranoia.
Ditch 6
Hypocrites They walk in gilded cloaks lined with lead. As in life, they shine on the outside but are lifeless on the inside.
Ditch 7
Thieves (Robbers, Extortionists, Launderers) They have their hands tied behind their backs by snakes and suffer a horrible metamorphosis, stealing each others identity, unable to distinguish what’s “mine” and what’s “yours” after all the transitions.
Ditch 8
Counselors of Fraud They used their eloquence to mislead people and rip them off, and so are wrapped in tongues of fire which conceal them, just as in life their speech concealed their fraudulent thoughts.
Ditch 9
Sowers of Discord, Inciters of Rebellion They divided people in life, so now in death they are hacked and divided into a dismembered state, forced to drag their mutilated bodies around the ditch. Their wounds heal as they march the circuit, and then the devil cuts them open again.
Ditch 10
Forgers, Counterfeiters, and Identity Thieves Forgers are afflicted with leprosy, counterfeiters given dehydration, and identity thieves driven insane. Their physical rottenness mirrors the false rottenness of their souls that caused them to falsify things.

 

Lower Hell: Fraud (Circle 8)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canto 12: Riding Geryon (from Circle 7 to Circle 8)

I looked down into Lowest Hell
There was no way down that I could tell
The cliff dropped nearly half a mile
No path or stair to any defile

I knew of course what Dante did
But wasn’t ready to open that lid
So I sat to give myself a rest
Before calling out the grim request

Far below lay the evil ditches
Patrolled by those devil sons of bitches
Malebolge was the city’s name
Filled with every fraudulent shame:

Pimps and seducers, and flatterers too
Prophets who preached without a clue
Hypocrites, crackpots, forgers, thieves
Pits awaiting the one who deceives

These sinners were punished by the cruelest whips
For falsifying relationships
I forgot their order but knew they were ten
The largest Circle in Satan’s pen

Standing up, I prepared to go on
And called out the name: “Geryon!”
In less than five minutes, the demon appeared
Fraud’s guardian – as bad as I’d feared

His face was just the face of a man
His torso a snake with a huge wingspan
His arms were like Kong’s with muscle and hair
And I trembled and muttered a silent prayer

“Thank you, Geryon,” I said to him then
“I know you hate the race of men
But I need to be carried from this height
Straight down into that city of spite.”

For a moment he looked as if ready to kill
Then extended his farce of seeming good will
He taxied guests down without any fare
To watch them break in the pit of despair

And I mounted him and flew down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canto 13: The Panderers and Seducers (Circle 8, Ditch 1)

I enter Circle 8 and walk along the edge of the first Ditch, where the souls of Panderers and Seducers are whipped by devils as they run. The devils apparently gain sexual pleasure by inflicting pain on those who attained such fraudulent pleasure.

Never had I seen a parade of abuse
Like the ditch for those who pimp and seduce
The whips didn’t rest, the cries didn’t stop
The broken souls wanted to drop

Not that I had an ounce of pity
These sickos deserved what they got in this city
The pain they had caused scarred people for life
Prostitutes, kids, and many a wife

And running below me, evading the lash
Was Jeffrey Epstein, that piece of trash
He trafficked teens and got one knocked up
Then died somehow when he was locked up

Gerald Sandusky ran close behind
And a sorrier sight I couldn’t find
The scum had seduced over 50 boys
Grooming them into his sexual toys

I decided at once to skip over this pit
I wouldn’t speak to those piles of shit
And as I crossed the bridge to face the next curse
I wondered how fraud could get any worse

Canto 14: The Flatterers (Circle 8, Ditch 2)

I look down into Ditch 2 where flattery is punished. The souls are immersed in excrement, forced to live in the shit they spoke in life.

I almost fainted from the horrid stench
It was a million Lord Lards packed in a trench
Or so it seemed, the smell was so vile
And caused me to cough and choke on my bile

I’d probably have to skip this ditch too
I couldn’t go down into that cavernous loo
But I stayed on the bridge for as long as I could
And surveyed the grovelers of falsehood

The sycophants here had gone too far
And three had set a whole new bar:
First, Cardinal Giulio Alberoni
Who would have kissed the ass of a filthy pony

Instead he settled for a terrible duke
Whose uncouth manners made everyone puke
Treating his audience like virulent pests
He commonly shat in front of his guests

Giulio had launched his servile career
By literally kissing that nobleman’s rear
A rear still filthy after only two wipes
Yet Giulio kissed it without any gripes

Dante had never known flatterers like these
Who ate filthy ass as if it were cheese
The worst he had seen along this route
Were a lowly opportunist and a prostitute

I saw much worse down in this shit
And the next two made me pitch a fit:

Joseph Goebbels, who licked Hitler’s boot
And created the “Heil Hitler” salute
Full to the teeth of groveling praise
He worshiped his Führer to the end of his days

And then Mike Pence, who in everyone’s sights
Took flattery to vulgar heights
All but kissing Donald’s rump
The ultimate tool and right-hand chump

Besides these three were many more
Swimming in feces, they screamed and swore
I couldn’t imagine dying to this
To dwell forever in a turd abyss

But there was some satisfaction in having found
That what goes around comes around
For this was the worst I’d seen so far
In the Hell that gives you as you are

And I hurriedly moved on.

Canto 15: The Snowflakes. (Circle 8, Ditch 3)

I cross over to Ditch 3, expecting to see the souls of the simoniacs. I discover that the ditch now punishes a new category of sinners unknown in Dante’s time. They are the souls of the snowflakes: Their lips are sown shut, and they are forced to march on a narrow circumference to a frantic drumbeat played by a devil. As in life these souls subordinated truth to their personal feelings, and policed the speech of those who spoke truth, so now in death their lips are sown shut, unable to ever speak again. And because they manufactured offenses, castigating people for trivial causes, they are now flailed with a spiked ball for even slightly stepping out of line or missing a beat.

The ditch loomed ahead and as I drew near
I smiled remembering who Dante found here
Bishops and popes from St. Peter’s stock
Plunged headfirst into holes of rock

But those were not the souls I saw
When I gaped down into the ditch’s maw
Instead I saw a procession of flakes
Who were marched around without any breaks

I descended the stair to see more clearly
And saw that these souls were paying dearly
Their lips were sown so they couldn’t talk
Just as well – they were full of schlock

Snowflakes they were, of woke-left views
Immune to facts and quick to accuse
Those who triggered and made them upset
To cry “bigot” and other names nastier yet

I relished this chance to give them flak
To lecture them as they couldn’t talk back
Justice this was in every way
For they had subordinated truth to the fads of their day

Even to the point of silencing views
And banning speakers from campus news
Some of them claimed there should be no free speech
For ideas that were too unsuitable to preach

They would hear my speech now, unrestrained
Forced to listen as I explained
That hate cannot be proscribed in laws
As one person’s hate is another’s just cause

Consider Ayaan Hirsi Ali
The human rights honoree
Who urged reform of the Islamic faith
And for this was panned a hateful wraith

And here came Ali’s enemy now
I couldn’t wait to rip into this sow:
Linda Sarsour, the vicious liar
Who claimed that sharia wasn’t so dire

She marched past me bleary eyed
And I joined the march right by her side:

[Me]
“Linda Sarsour, it must really chafe
To be paraded here like a lowly waif
How many times have you taken a whack
With that flail that bleeds and breaks your back?

Now you can’t say a single word
Since all you spoke was false and absurd
And hateful too, when you said you’d remove
Ali’s vagina – and more to reprove

Your leftist ilk is a filthy disgrace
To feminism in every place
Sugarcoating your faith, greasing like oil
Betraying the women on Muslim soil.”

Sarsour by now was seething in rage
Trapped in her ambulatory cage
Keeping in step to a fascist drum
Her legs most surely exhausted and numb

I was about to continue my screed of shame
When I looked behind and saw a person of fame
Reza Aslan of radical chic
And woke theories dumb, but very sleek

He had postured to those given to whine
Pretending to stand with them on the front line
Against “oppressors” who were anything but
And he aped the rhetoric of every nut

I fell behind to march by his side
Unsympathetic to the painful stride
And if looks could kill I would have certainly died
From his glare that promised homicide

[Me]
“You look as fierce as the words you wrote
Then proceeded to shove down everyone’s throat
Defending Hamas and thinking it cute
And vowing violence on those you dispute

You taught that female circumcision
Wasn’t required by Islamic religion
Which it certainly is, as you very well knew
But chose to lie for a fake world-view.”

And at that, he turned and swung his fist
– I barely dodged, he barely missed
And because that made him move off track
The devil’s flail smashed his back

I jumped away and looked for more
In this endless parade of snowflakes galore
And as I dodged among the stifled snarls
I was almost knocked down by Laurie Charles

That writer who accused J.K. Rowling
Of bigotries that sent the media howling
(Poor Rowling, she just couldn’t win
To the right and the left her novels were sin)

Rowling was actually no more bigoted
Than a Vegas whore was sexually inhibited
Snowflakes never tried to make sense
But honestly, how could they be this dense?

And having enough, I returned to the bridge.

Canto 16: The False Prophets (Circle 8, Ditch 4)

I enter Ditch 4 and immediately descend the stair, transfixed on the sight below: the souls of the false prophets and fortune tellers walk with their heads twisted backwards. As they lied and deceived about future events, they are forced to look behind for all eternity.

My childhood nightmare was being replayed
With heads twisted in a masquerade
Hundreds – thousands – of Linda Blairs
Promising legions of Exorcist scares

I walked among the contorted lot
And suddenly lost my train of thought
When I saw a figure squatting in mud
Yelling about fire and the Lamb’s saving blood

Damned if it wasn’t Charles Taze Russell
Trying to flex his spiritual muscle
Even in Hell he wouldn’t go sour
On his precious beloved Watchtower

Insisting that Christ was coming again
According to whatever flowed from his pen
And all the Witnesses who followed his lead
To make phony predictions they guaranteed

Not far from him sat a pair of twins
Holding each other and bemoaning their sins
I approached these ladies and asked their names
And all about their future claims

“We’re Tali and Ophira,” said both as one
“We looked to the stars, the moon, and the sun
For simple astrology we are punished thus
And expected to take it without a fuss.”

[Me]
“The Astro Girls – now I remember
You scared all those people born in September
With crazy warnings of fortune reversed
And look at you now, as you sit here cursed

Forced to look at each others backs
(Prettier than your fronts if I speak the facts)
I can’t believe all those senile farts
Who put so much stock in your bloated charts.”

[The sisters, alternating]
[T] “And where do you place your shitty trust?”
[O] “The Bible is as good as choking dust.”
[T] “Our faith came before the infant savior.”
[O] “Applied well, it improves behavior.”

[Me]
“Seems that’s not working well for you now
I don’t follow the Bible anyhow
Or at least not its prophecies which many doubt
And which Jesus himself was wrong about.”

[The sisters]
[T] “Then why isn’t Jesus down in this Ditch?”
[O] “Because he’s the Son of the Almighty Bitch?”
[T] “Seems that the Lord makes the rules
[O] “And breaks them, playing us all for fools.”

[Me]
“Perhaps the Son gets an automatic pass
Because he humbled himself riding an ass
Many of his teachings are tried and true
Which is more than I can say for frauds like you.”

The girls then launched into a nasty defense
Of astro power at my expense
I let them sling their woes and bile
And moved along to the next rocky aisle

Where sure enough, in the same disrepair
Sat another deceitful odious pair:
Tim Lahaye and his good pal Jerry
For them I loosed a sour raspberry

[LaHaye]
“You rude, heartless, junkyard hound!
Try being us with your head torn around
Jerry here can’t even speak
Too traumatized to utter a squeak.”

[Me]
“It must be a very bitter pill
When you weren’t supposed to suffer ill
According to that garbage you peddled for cash
It guaranteed your rapture in a flash

To be taken up by God into the clouds
And avoid tribulation of the crowds
Yet the Bible makes clear, through and through
That believers must suffer as Christ did too

God only spares them the bowls of His wrath
But not the seals of man’s bloodbath
Which puts believers to the test
So they can prove their very best.”

[LaHaye, with Jenkins looking on furious]
“Don’t preach to us about holy writ!
Your views don’t matter a single bit
God would never subject us to wrong
There’s been a mistake here – we don’t belong.”

I left them to their misery fest
And walked about the wretched nest
And lo, the bastard I stumbled on next
Was David Koresh the oversexed

The prophet of Waco was crying hard
Pining for his “wives” that he raped and scarred
His exegesis of the seven seals
Was written under siege, around FBI deals

Not far from Koresh I saw another:
A prophet who would have sold his own mother
Brian Mitchell, who kidnapped a child
And whom everyone positively reviled

Because of these frauds, lives were wasted
Or even ruined, with potentials untasted
Fixated on what the future might allow
They should have lived more in the here and now

And I left for the next Ditch.

Canto 17: The Cranks and Conspiracy Theorists (Circle 8, Ditch 5)

I cross the bridge to Ditch 5 and look down on the souls of the cranks. They sit with their eyes torn out, continually screaming in fear. As they feared every phantom menace they couldn’t see any real evidence for, so now they can’t see anything at all, and suffer extreme paranoia.

Another Ditch that had changed with the times
Dante had stumbled on different crimes:
Bribery and barratry, now likely subsumed
On Ditch 7 where thieves were consumed

This was now the ground of the cranks
Who went through life without any thanks
Except from nutcases just like them
Who peddled theories you could only condemn

They took fraud to a whole new level
Guided no doubt by the hand of the devil
Those claiming that the world is flat
Or that Covid isn’t “as bad as that”

The South Pole is home to Illuminati!
Jesus and the Magdalene were lewd and naughty!
JFK was a government hit!
Moon landings faked by a devious shit!

All these and more, promoted by fools
Who claimed authority but broke all the rules
And tragically so, for they could not surmise
How stupid they looked in everyone’s eyes

And speaking of eyes, these souls had none
Ripped from their sockets by an evil someone
One of the devils patrolling the floor
Had a claw-like ripper, just for the chore

The screams were loud and shook the bowl
Begging for mercy and to be made whole
And the souls wrestled and fought with air
Convinced that conspiracies were standing right there

Then one of the howlers I recognized
For all of his films I so despised
Oliver Stone, that Mr. Cheese
Who spun conspiracies with obnoxious ease

Further along came screams more strident
From sensationalist crackpot Michael Baigent
He “proved” that the early kings of France
Came from Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s romance

Next a despicable human being
Who with all my heart I resented seeing:
Alex Jones – his radio series
Promoted endless conspiracy theories

Then that ignorant pharmacist
As dangerous as an arsonist
Steve Brandenburg, who destroyed vaccines
And saw every threat in government routines

I couldn’t reason with any of this grime
Speaking with cranks was a waste of time
But then among the disaffected
I saw someone I’d once respected:

Maajid Nawaz, that noble crusader
To woke liberals he was Darth Vader
He’d repeatedly bashed the regressive left
With sound arguments, skilled and deft

He was indeed a great Muslim reformer
But then turned into a cheap performer
Downplaying Covid everywhere abroad
Claiming that lockdowns were global fraud

My dander was up, seeing this hero
Devolved into a pathetic zero:

[Me]
“Maajid, Jesus, what a waste!
Here you sit all defaced
Let me say, I really liked you
Before all that nonsense you started to spew.”

[Nawaz]
“Who’s goes there, edging me on?
Are you another devil-spawn?
You hellish fiends are pure cliche
Shut your mouth and go away.”

[Me]
“I’m not a servant of the Hells
I’m a touring guest of all its cells
And I can’t say I’m terribly shocked
That this is where they keep you locked.

By rights you should be on Circle 1
With Asra Nomani, who shines like the sun
For all those suffering in Muslim nations
You both took a hammer to Islam’s foundations

But then you drank the crank kool-aid
And went on that feckless Covid crusade
Opposing lockdowns – Jesus Christ!
All the integrity you sacrificed.”

[Nawaz]
“I don’t know who you think you are
But I’ll tell you this, you’ve gone too far
Say another word, keep acting cute
And you’ll find yourself facing my lawsuit!”

He returned to screaming at what he thought
Was assaulting him like a juggernaut
Phantoms and ghosts, and fans turned traitors
While his eye sockets burned like barren craters

And I returned to the bridge above.

Canto 18: The Hypocrites (Circle 8, Ditch 6)

I descend to the Sixth Ditch and see the souls of the hypocrites, who walk in gilded cloaks lined with lead. As in life, they shine on the outside but are lifeless on the inside.

The souls wore cloaks as heavy as sin
With hoods obscuring the faces within
But as I peered at the man then passing me by
I swore in shock as I recognized the guy

I stared long and hard before starting a drama
But sure enough, it was Barack Obama
On his shoulders draped the oppressive cloak
Putting his neck in an awful choke

[Me]
“Why are you here, far below Bush?
You can hardly walk without a push
You were a bad president, that I grant
But Dubya was still the worse tyrant.”

[Obama]
“They call me a hypocrite, but I care not
Just because I liked to smoke me some pot
They blame me and curse me for American blacks
Who got thrown in the slam and raped on their backs

I had nothing to say about legalization
No heart for those who yielded to temptation
My tribe loved to preach and shout
But we had better things to worry about.”

[Me]
“Better things than prison for years?
And throwing away all chance at careers?
If you’d been arrested for toking that weed
You’d be singing one hell of a different screed.”

At this point Obama tried to object
But I shot him down and kept him in check:

[Me]
“You’d not have made politics, never been sworn
And probably wish you’d never been born
But you tacitly approved those racist drug laws
And utterly failed the African cause.”

[Obama]
“So says you, and all the fools
Who yip and yap like infant tools
Go away and let me be
I can’t even think with this hood over me.”

Obama moved on and more figures passed
And I prepared to leave this ditch real fast
But stepping up in Obama’s place
Was yet another familiar face

It was rapist Bill Cosby, my teenage nemesis
The sight of him brought me to near hyperemesis
I’d always despised this self-righteous prude
And wasn’t surprised when he turned out so lewd

[Me]
“Stop, you! I have something to say
Before you go on your miserable way
Back when you fired Lisa Bonet
From your worthless comedy – that was foul play

No, keep quiet, I don’t want to hear
Lies from your mouth which may as well be your rear
You fired poor Lisa for that X-rated scene
That she did in Angel Heart while still a teen

And for this you lumped her with harlots and whores
But it was her own damn business and none of yours
She did a good job, and that movie, you know
Had nothing to do with your Cosby Show

A show, by the way, that wasn’t even funny
How on earth did you make so much money?
And then to find out, many years later
That you were a pervert all along and a woman hater.”

He frowned at me in haughty disdain
My attempt to provoke him was entirely vain
Like all hypocrites he failed to see
How small he was and wannabe

He proceeded on, but I was not to be free
Of TV stars who bled hypocrisy
Here now came the famous Mike Landon
Who resented this Ditch he wanted to abandon

[Landon]
“Take me with you, I don’t belong!
Anywhere in Hell, it’s entirely wrong
I always prayed and lived a good life
It’s liars who say that I beat my wife

Don’t you know that I was Pa Ingalls Christ?
Righteous and holy and all that sufficed?
My word was the kingdom, just like the leaven
I belonged where I was – on the highway to heaven.”

[Me]
“Jesus please us, don’t make me sick
Everyone knows you’re a goddamn prick
You beat your wife and cloaked your sins
In sanctimonious actor skins

Constantly scolding Albert and Laura
As if you never broke a jot of the Torah
In the real world your life was a violent mess
Just how bad I can hardly guess

But this I’ll say with confidence:
Your sainted image ain’t worth two cents.”

[Landon]
“No, no, that’s just not true
All the gossips, they haven’t a clue!”
And as he began to choke and cry
I turned and bid him a callous good-bye

And then as I was about to turn
I saw one who made my stomach churn
James Buchanan, that chief exec
Whose presidency was a total wreck

I knew his hypocrisy, straight from his mouth
He had refused to take action against the South
Claiming his hands were completely tied
His actions elsewhere showed how he lied

For he utterly crushed Sir Brigham Young
The Mormon rebel who should have been hung
But James Buchanan hated that sect
While licking the boots of the red-necked

These hypocrites all had grievances to lodge
So I turned and got the hell out of Dodge.

Canto 19: The Thieves (Circle 8, Ditch 7)

I look down into the disturbing ditch of the thieves. The sinners have their hands tied behind their backs by snakes and suffer a horrible metamorphosis, losing their identity, unable to distinguish what’s “theirs” and “someone else’s” after all the transitions.

I descended the stair and felt relief
That I was never a goddamn spineless thief
For the punishment here on grim display
Almost turned my bones to puree

The sinners were chased and bitten by snakes
That fired the blood with body aches
And every few moments a body would change
Morphing into a form that was hideously strange

And then change right back, as if to disown
Any form it could call its own
And the first I saw amongst these sights
Was the robber of banks on Friday nights

Carl Gugasian, that slippery slime
He robbed just before closing time
And on Fridays, always, at the week’s end
When the banks had loads of cash on hand

Next I recognized Darnell Riley
The extortionist who acted none too shyly
Crashing the home of another sleaze
And filming the guy doing things on his knees

It was hard to converse with any soul
Their forms constantly changed in this bowl
And there was one soul who especially objected
To the way his body was being affected

Francisco Sanchez, who led the Gurtel
And Christ did he belong in Hell
He had bribed and laundered up the wazoo
And protested now at reaping his due

The snakes held another in this tomb:
Abdullah Yameen Abdul Gayoom
President of the sunny Maldives
And absolute king of laundering thieves

Watching these crooks mutate and howl
Was enough to make me throw in the towel
I fled the snakes and their thieving prey
Up the stair and on my way.

Canto 20: Deceivers and Counselors of Fraud (Circle 8, Ditch 8)

I prepare myself for the next ditch: the counselors of fraud. These are thieves who used their eloquence to mislead others, and were thus even more deceptive than the thieves in the previous ditch. The souls are wrapped in tongues of fire, which conceal them just as in life their speech concealed their thought.

The upcoming ditch where I was headed
Is the one I’d seriously all along dreaded
Counselors of fraud were especially vile
They stole from you while wearing a smile

Promising wealth or the end of worries
With scams that called down endless furies
If they had hearts, they were made of ice
All that mattered was the selling price

They were hard to see in their pillars of flame
But I could still identify some by name:

Bernie Madoff the financier
A Ponzi master without peer
The largest fraud in world history
Began with Madoff’s foul sophistry

I was about to begin a dialogue
When I heard the voice of a pariah dog
A few yards down I saw the wiz
The most hated man in the pharma biz:

Martin Shkreli, who defrauded investors
And called down hordes of angry protestors
When he raised the price of a life-saving drug
And through all the furor, kept smiling smug

[Me]
“I hope, Sir, you will be agreeing
That you were a worthless human being
Jacking the price of those needed pills
So people were unable to pay their bills

From $13.50 to $750.00 a pop
Greed like that is hard to top
Seven years in prison was far too light
For a shit like you never contrite.”

[Shkreli]
“Go ahead and revile me and smirch
I used that money for important research
We needed pills that were more effective
Than Daraprim, which was highly defective.”

[Me]
“So your solution for people falling apart
Was to rob them with prices so off the chart
For a drug you claim could never win
The logic makes anyone’s head spin.”

[Shkreli]
“I used that money for kids who were dying
So spare me all your whines and crying
Funding research makes me a hero
Your hollow sanctimony proves you a zero.”

I was so full of rage, my piles nearly burst
My only comfort was that he was cursed
I left him and passed more tongues of fire
Frauds like Shkreli, just as dire

Who I then saw next burned like a comet
And the face behind almost made me vomit
L. Ron Hubbard, that phony relic
Who made others here look almost angelic

He created the scam Scientology
Based on a sham cosmology
He was the ultimate paranoid-schizo fraud
With delusions of grandeur (he may have been God)

His church turned into a global racket
Advertised on many a book jacket
Books written by Hubbard himself
That belonged on the science fiction shelf

[Me]
“So here you burn, Mr. Hubbard
In a flaming tongue the size of a cupboard
I hope those flames feel like knives
Your mafia church destroyed many lives.”

[Hubbard]
“Calm yourself down, you need to rest
And take my Scientology test
Clear your mind of those engrams
And your thetan will pass all my exams.”

[Me]
“How on earth you parroted this dirt
Expecting the gullible to convert
Only under pressure from wacky ravings
Did they give your church their whole life savings.”

[Hubbard]
“Psychiatrists are the ones who are whacked
It’s because of them that Hitler cracked
You can’t have science without my tology
That combination is the proper theology.”

His drivel was finally more than enough
To make me walk off in a huff
But who was I kidding – in my ire
I went out of the frying pan into more fire

Now I faced an crazy loon
Who sang to a medically professional tune
Promising cures for homo urges
For which she’d created certain purges

Marian Al-Sohel was her name
A Kuwaiti “doctor” of instant fame
Ridiculed widely for her silly game
She claimed “it was science and nothing for shame”

[Me]
“Dearest Mariam, for all your pretension
I had always wanted to try your invention
If suppositories can wipe out homo desires
Then yours might have saved me from Circle 7’s fires.”

[Al-Sohel]
“You should have come see me, you infidel
Your lack of initiative put you in Hell
All it would have taken to remove your disgrace
Were my suppositories – and Allah’s grace.”

[Me]
“Hell is your home as much as mine
I wouldn’t be quick to judge what’s divine.”

And that was all I could take from this Ditch
The abusive lies to get filthy rich
I girded my loins for fouler swine
The sowers of rebellion in Ditch #9.

Canto 21: The Sowers of Discord, Schismatics, and Inciters to Rebellion (Circle 8, Ditch 9)

From the bridge over Ditch 9, I look down upon the sowers of discord, who are continually sliced open by a devil wielding a sword. As these souls divided people in life, so now in death they are hacked and divided into a dismembered state. Their sin was to rip down the fabric of society in order to gratify a sectional egotism. Now these souls must drag their mutilated bodies around the ditch; their wounds heal as they march the circuit; and then the devil cuts them open again. And round it goes, repeating the cycle. I see that most of the souls are sliced from groin to chin, with their entrails hanging out. One soul, however, stands apart from the rest: his head has been decapitated by his own hand, and he carries it around like a lantern…

As I watched the souls all disemboweled
I saw a headless trunk befouled
It held its head by the orange hair
And swung it like a lantern with hardly a care

In the other hand it carried a monstrous sword
Bloody, like that of a medieval lord
Suddenly this figure walked straight towards me
And I gasped as I saw who it had to be

[Me]
“Donald Trump, you piece of shit!
So this is where your fate is writ
How does it feel to be sliced in two?
I only wish I could have done that to you.”

[Trump]
“Who are you, putting on airs?
You come here disturbing my thoughts and prayers
You have something to say, go ahead
I give you five minutes, then I chop off your head.”

[Me]
“I’ll take all the time I fucking need
To explain how you made our country bleed
Feeding conspiracies, nurturing lies
And wishing for a Wall to blot out the skies.”

Snarling he came closer, two steps ahead
And replied – clearly wishing me dead:

[Trump]
“I ruled with fairness and wisdom besides
There’s always always blame on both sides
And if that isn’t enough to fucking appease
Then the Constitution said I could do as I please.”

[Me]
“That document says nothing of the goddamn sort
Your presidency was one to abort
As for blame, there’s much more ambivalence
While all you can do is make false equivalence.”

He roared and swung his sword in an arc —
— barely, barely missing its mark
As I stumbled he brandished his face instead
And rage poured from that decapitated head:

[Trump]
“Who are you, to pass judgment on me?
Just like that know-nothing Jack Dorsey
He censored and silenced me all too well
It’s he and Mark Zuckerburg who should be here in Hell!”

[Me]
“They are here in Hell, but not nearly this deep
They’re up on the Fourth, where stones make them weep
But you are forever consigned to a fate
On this hideous Ditch of Circle Eight.”

The sword came again, and Trump went insane
Hacking and slashing and screaming in vain
For the sword passed right through me, unable to wreck
Anything except his own red neck

He returned to his circuit and I turned to go
This ditch was out of a horror show
And then I saw other come up to me
His entrails spilling down to his knee:

“Help me put my guts back in
This torture far outweighs my sin
I justly refused to pay the tax
It’s why we had given the Brits the ax.”

[Me]
“Wow, you must be Daniel Shays
Didn’t you ever start a blaze
Your cause merited the purest scorn
It’s because of you the Constitution was born.”

[Shays]
“The Constitution was a traitor’s farce
And George Washington a horse’s arse
I hope he’s roasting somewhere in Hell
And I curse all those who thought him swell.”

Shays then turned and walked away
Stuffing back his innards, but they just wouldn’t stay
And nor could I, in this ghastly place
I moved right on to finish my race.

Canto 22: The Falsifiers – Forgers, Counterfeiters, and Impersonators (Circle 8, Ditch 10)

I cross the next bridge and descend into Ditch 10, where the falsifiers lie stricken by disease: forgers are afflicted with leprosy, counterfeiters suffer severe dehydration, and identity thieves are driven insane. Their physical rottenness mirrors the rottenness of their souls that caused them to forge or impersonate.

Now came the ditch that I’d been waiting
The souls in this place took a lot of hating
Understandably, for they committed that fraud
That makes scholars and experts look mighty flawed

I saw them lying there, plagued and lame
And I went down the roll call by name:

Charles Dawson of Piltdown Man
Whose “finds” belonged in the garbage can
Konrad Kujau of the Hitler Diaries
That fooled all of the expert inquiries

Matvei Golovinski of the Protocols
A forgery that took considerable balls
Supreme imposter Frank Abagnale
If there was ever a man who belonged in jail

Walter Fritz who hooked Karen King
Making Harvard Divinity his plaything
Wesley Weber of endless frills
And faking 100-dollar bills

They all lay diseased, dazed, and dried
But the one I wanted had managed to hide
And lo – sure enough, behind this lot
Was the scholar I most anxiously sought

He lay on a rock, leprous and wheezing
And my approach to him was none too pleasing
With daggers in his eyes, he made it clear
That danger awaited if I came near

[Me]
“Morton Smith, it is an honor
But don’t worry, I’m not a fawner
I always admired your scholarship
And your gospel hoax too – that was a trip.”

[Smith]
“Don’t get cute, you impudent twit
How many times have I heard that shit?
Those who claim I forged Secret Mark
Have zero bite, but plenty of bark.”

[Me]
“I think I have all the bite required
And after one-oh-three years, many are tired
Of those who persist in defending your text
If they’re duped by that, then Jesus, what next?

After you died, there came two books
Explaining the motives of certain crooks
Why people like you are driven to hoax
Not for gain, but to laugh at folks.”

He wasn’t laughing now, and I braced for ire
And he rose to his feet, needing respire
His wheezing was bad and his skin all sore
(And he knew damn well what he was paying for)

[Smith]
“Plenty have tried to show me a fraud
With vain arguments deeply flawed
And bigoted too, by the way
Hating the idea that Jesus was gay.”

[Me]
“These two authors had so such bias
Nor were they particularly pious
Their eagle eyes spotted the clues
That you’d planted in your text to test and amuse

The allusion to Morton Salt
Was priceless to a fault
The shade of Oscar Wilde’s play
Completely made my day.”

He froze at first, not believing my gall
And then he started to laugh after all
“Score for those guys! Against all my doubt
Someone actually figured it out!”

I saw this gave him some peace of mind
Which in Lowest Hell was hard to find
Then he asked the authors’ names
Who had sent his hoax down in flames

[Me]
“Stephen Carlson was the very first
To make the heads of scholars burst
Next year Peter Jeffery followed
With arguments not easily swallowed

They’re still dismissed after all these years
Despite the acclaim of many peers
I wish your defenders could hear you now
And put to bed their sacred cow.”

[Smith]
“Tell these two men they did very well
I hope they avoid the Circles of Hell
Now let me be, you simpering lout
Unless, that is, you can get me out.”

And with that my goal in Circle 8
Was handed on a silver plate
The confession of the late Morton Smith
Was mine to shape in later myth

Assuming, that is, I could leave the trap
There was one more level of this crap:
Circle 9, the worst of all
So I made my way to the final wall

And there I saw the giants.

Here ends Part 2 of My Tour of Dante’s Inferno. Part 3 is here.

 

Notes to Canto 14 (The Flatterers)

Giulio Alberoni. “Launched his servile career”: During the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14), the low-ranking Italian priest Giulio Alberoni was sent as an envoy to the Duke of Vendôme. Alberoni got this opportunity because no one else could suffer the duke’s outrageous manners; he often defecated and wiped his ass in front of his audience. Alberoni reaction was to kiss the duke’s buttocks (after the duke barely wiped them) and cry, “Oh, ass of an angel!” The duke approved this extreme flattery, and from that point Alberoni’s political career was made.

 

Notes to Canto 15 (The Snowflakes)

Linda Sarsour. (1) “The vicious liar”: The rise of Sarsour as a national feminist leader shows how far woke feminists have fallen. Sarsour’s offenses are legion, but she’s most infamous for painting sharia law as benign for its provision of interest-free loans. (2) “Remove Ali’s vagina”: At her most vicious, she outdid President Trump’s “pussy-grabbing” remark, declaring that human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali deserved to have her pussy removed, and on top of that deserved to be violently attacked. She said that she wished she could “remove Hirsi Ali’s vagina”, as she (Hirsi Ali) “does not deserve to be a woman”. Hirsi Ali also needed an “ass-whipping”, according to Sarsour. It’s hard to imagine a more Orwellian backwards view of feminism than Sarsour’s. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a victim of female genital mutilation, and Sarsour was obviously implying that she “deserved what she got”. Incredibly, Hirsi Ali is hated by many leftists like Sarsour, and has been banned from speaking at college universities. Because she urges the reform of Islam. Because she speaks the truth about Islam. Because she cares about the millions of Muslims, not least women, who suffer under sharia law. For all of this humane courage and honesty she has been branded a hateful Islamophobe, while fraudulent liars like Sarsour are considered feminist heroes.

Reza Aslan. (1) “Of radical chic”: Like other woke college professors, Aslan engages in the phenomenon of “radical chic”. This is when elitists ape the rhetoric of radicals and put on a show of revolutionary theater, basically serving as the vanguard of woke-leftists who claim to be oppressed when they aren’t, and pretending that they’re the ones holding the front line against the “oppressors”. (2) “Whitewashing Hamas”: Aslan has defended and even praised jihad terrorist groups like Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hezbolla. (3) “Vowing violence on those you dispute”: During the incident at a Kentucky high school where students were accosted by a Native American activist, Aslan called for violence against the student who circulated videos of the incident; then he also called for violence against someone who called him out for this. (4) “Taught that female circumcision isn’t required by Islamic religion”: Aslan has taught this lie repeatedly. In the Shafi’i school female circumcision is obligatory, and in the Maliki and Hanbali schools it is recommended. Only in the Hanafi school is there ambiguity. And where it is obligatory, it is mandated in religious texts. Female circumcision is unquestionably sanctioned in Islamic religion. Reza Aslan’s teaching career is built on deceit, and it’s no surprise that he’s an idol for snowflakes.

Laurie Charles. “Accused J.K. Rowling of transphobia”: British writer Laurie Charles took part of the ongoing witch hunt against J.K. Rowling. In the novel The Silk Worm, Rowling portrayed a male criminal escaping a situation by wearing a burqa. To woke leftists like Charles, this very reasonable plot point (that a burqa is a good disguise) was somehow bigoted against men who dress in women’s clothing, or against men who identify as women — and on top of that also against Muslims, making her Islamophobic as well as transphobic. This was a new low for fraudulent slander.

 

Notes to Canto 16 (The False Prophets)

Charles Taze Russell. “On his precious beloved Watchtower“: The founder of the Jehovas Witnesses started The Watchtower magazine, first called (in 1879) Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence.

Tali and Ophira Edut. “Which Jesus himself was wrong about”: Even moderately conservative Christian believers today acknowledge that Jesus was wrong about the apocalypse’s timetable. He said it would come in his lifetime or within a generation (Mk 9:1/Mt 16:28/Lk 9:27;Mk 13:29-33/Mt 24:33-36,42/Lk 21:31-33,36).

Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. “According to that garbage you peddled for cash”: In their Left Behind novels, LaHaye and Jenkins popularized the pre-tribulationist view of the Book of Revelation. The doctrine originated in the 1830s with John Nelson Darby, and states that faithful Christians will be raptured by God (taken up into heaven) before the horrors of the tribulation begin. The New Testament makes clear the rapture will happen after the tribulation, and that the early Christians not only expected to suffer severely before they were raptured, but that they saw it as a badge of honor. It’s true that God would rapture them before He rolled out His supernatural horrors to annihilate the world; but prior to this, they would have to suffer the tribulation period of man-made wars, famine, and persecution. Simply put, the tribulation (Rev 6:1-13; Mk 13:1-25/Mt 24:1-29/Lk 21:8-26) is not a period in which God is pouring out wrath to punish people (which comes later in Rev 8:7-9:21; 11:13-21; 16:2-21). Tribulation is persecution (Mk 14:17/Mt 13:21) and suffering through man-made tyranny and oppression. Pre-tribbers like LaHaye and Jenkins expect God to bail their assess out of any suffering at all — which isn’t biblical by a long shot.

David Koresh. (1) “Pining for the wives”: Koresh was the prophet in Waco, Texas who believed the apocalypse was imminent. All the men of his church had to take a vow of celibacy, while he slept with their wives. (2) “His exegesis of the seven seals… written under siege, around FBI deals”: Koresh believed he was the Lamb of God, and that he alone could open the mysterious book closed with seven seals. During the FBI standoff, he promised he would surrender after he finished writing his interpretation of the seven seals.

Brian David Mitchell. “Who kidnapped a child”: Mitchell was the Mormon prophet heralding a new Zion. He wanted to restore “celestial marriage” and believed he should take seven wives. Most of his wives ended up hating him, and he eventually kidnapped a 14-year old girl, holding her captive and raping her for nine months.

 

Notes to Canto 17 (The Cranks)

Oliver Stone. “Spun conspiracies with obnoxious ease”: Many of Stone’s films are political screeds filled with paranoid revisionism.

Michael Baigent. “The early kings of France came from Jesus and Mary’s romance”: Baigent wrote the pseudo-historical blockbuster Holy Blood, Holy Grail, with two others (Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln). No historian takes it seriously, and it’s probably the most laughably astonishing theory ever written about the historical Jesus. Namely that he sired the Merovingian Dynasty with Mary Magdalene.

Alex Jones. “His radio series promoted endless conspiracy theories”: Jones is famous for his crazy ravings on many subjects, through the multi-media outlet InfoWars.

Steven Brandenburg. “Destroyed vaccines, and saw every threat in government routines”: This guy is a Wisconsin pharmacist who destroyed 570 doses of the Covid vaccine. He also believes the earth is flat and the sky is not real; the sky is a shield put up by the U.S. government to prevent individuals from seeing God.

Maajid Nawaz. (1) “A great Muslim reformer, turned into a cheap performer”: Nawaz’s fall is a tragic one. For his courageous work in critiquing Islam he deserves immense credit. But his recent noise about election fraud and pandemic fraud is no small point, and goes a long way to torpedoing his image. (2) “You’ll find yourself facing a lawsuit”: Nawaz is sue-happy, threatening lawsuits against those who malign him. (In fairness, one of those lawsuits was appropriate and I’m glad it succeeded: his lawsuit against the Southern Poverty Law Center.)

 

Notes to Canto 18 (The Hypocrites)

Barack Obama. “I liked to smoke me some pot”: During his presidential campaign Obama won people over when he talked openly about using marijuana in college. By the end of his first term he had lost many of those supporters with his reprehensible silence over the drug war (aside, that is, from justifying the government’s opposition to state laws which allowing medical use of pot). He never once addressed the fact that most drug arrests are for small possessions (like the ones Obama had in his younger days) or to offer any critique about how inconsistently racist the arrests go, or how numbers of arrests have increased dramatically since the ’80s. If the police had been as aggressive in making arrests for pot back in the ’80s, then Obama could have been smacked with a criminal record and never become president.

Bill Cosby. “Back when you fired Lisa Bonet”: Lisa Bonet played the eldest daughter on the Cosby Show. When she did the x-rated scene with Mickey Rourke in Angel Heart, Bill Cosby wasn’t pleased and fired her, though it was none of his business.

Michael Landon. (1) “Pa Ingalls Christ”: Landon played Charles Ingalls, affectionately known as “Pa”, on the TV series Little House on the Prairie. (2) “On the highway to heaven.” Landon played a messiah figure on the TV show Highway to Heaven.

James Buchanan. “Hated that sect while licking the boots of the red-necked”: When Abraham Lincoln was elected president, and southern states started to secede, Buchanan sent a message to congress stating (a) that secession was illegal, but (b) that the Constitution didn’t allow him to force a state to stay in the union. He was dead wrong on both counts. If a president so chooses, he can act in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence (and the Articles of Confederation) and allow states to secede. But he also has the authority, under the mildly centralizing powers of the Constitution, to put down secession attempts — again, if he so chooses. So Buchanan could have done either. He could have let the South go, or he could have strengthened southern forts and sent in military forces to stop secession. Either option would have averted the imminent war. Instead, Buchanan sat on his worthless ass and said his hands were tied. That’s what makes him incompetent. What makes him a hypocrite is that he actually knew very well that the had the right to put down secession if he so chose, because his action against the Mormons in Utah proves it. Going on the flimsiest rumors, he assumed the Mormon government to be in revolt, and immediately dispatched a 2,500-man army and a federal governor to replace Brigham Young. He didn’t hesitate for a moment to crush (what he perceived to be) a “Mormon rebellion”. But then Buchanan hated the Mormons, and loved the South.

 

Notes to Canto 19 (The Thieves, Extortioners, and Launderers)

Carl Gugasian. “Robber of banks on Friday nights”: Gugasian robbed more than fifty banks over a thirty-year period, stealing more than two million dollars. He did the robberies on Friday nights just before closing time, so there would be few customers present and a lot of cash having built up over the week.

Darnell Riley. “Filming the guy doing things on his knees”: Riley broke into Joe Francis’ home and forced Francis to pose for a video, using a dildo on himself. Riley later used the video to extort Francis.

Francisco Correa Sanchez. “Who led the Gurtel”: The Gurtel is a vast network of corruption in Spain’s conservative party (The People’s Party), led by Sanchez until he went to prison in 2018, for huge amounts of bribery, money laundering, and tax evasion.

Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom. “Absolute king of laundering thieves”: Yameen leased islands, put the money owed to the state into his own account at the Maldives Islamic Bank, and then laundered the money from there.

 

Notes to Canto 20 (The Deceivers and Counselors Fraud)

Bernie Madoff. “The largest fraud in world history”: Madoff’s notorious Ponzi scheme remains just that.

Martin Shkreli. (1) “Defrauded investors”: Shkreli was sentenced to prison for securities fraud. (2) “Raised the price of a life-saving drug”: Before the securities fraud trail, Shkreli was in the news for price-gouging — raising the price of drugs for HIV patients by an outrageous amount (from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill), and then shamelessly claiming he was a hero for doing so.

L. Ron Hubbard. “Clear your mind of those engrams, and your thetan will pass my exams.”: In Scientology belief, engrams are negative mental images of past experiences; thetans are souls inside the human body. The problem is that thetans have been trapped by the person’s engrams formed at various stages of embodiment. The goal of Scientology is to clear the person of all engrams to create an “operating thetan.” An operating thetan has the ability to leave and operate apart from the human body.

Mariam Al-Sohel. (1) “Cures for homo urges, for which she’d created certain purges”: Al-Sohel claimed to have used Islamic medicine to invent suppositories that cure homosexuality. (2) “She claimed ‘it was science and nothing for shame'”: Her exact words were “This is science, and there is nothing to be ashamed of”. Al-Sohel believed that homoerotic urges developed when a person was sexually attacked, and an anal worm fed on semen. Her suppositories allegedly cured those urges by exterminating the worm that fed on the semen.

 

Notes to Canto 21 (The Sowers of Discord and Inciters of Rebellion)

Donald Trump. (1) “Blame on both sides”: Trump was famous for saying that “both sides” were to blame for the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia — white supremacists and anti-racism protesters being the sides in question. (2) “The Constitution said I could do as I please”: Trump played the boorish king since his presidential campaign, and during his presidency he defended his monarchical attitude with startling appeals to the constitution itself. In July 2019, he said that “Article II (of the U.S. Constitution) gives me the right to do whatever I want.” The article in question establishes the powers of the executive branch, as well as the powers of Congress to oversee the presidency. Obviously it doesn’t make the president a king. (3) “That know-nothing Jack Dorsey”: When Trump’s Twitter account was removed after the White House riots, it was interesting to see who came out in his defense; even his arch-enemy Angela Merkel said that he shouldn’t have been banned from Twitter.

Daniel Shays. Shays’ rebellion (1786-87) in Western Massachusetts was an armed protest against the state’s efforts to collect taxes on individuals and their trades. It was a crisis that called into question whether the state governments formed after the American Revolution could survive. Congress had limited powers under the Articles of Confederation; it couldn’t fund troops to suppress rebellions or regulate commerce to alleviate economic hardships. The rebellion led George Washington and others to believe the Articles of Confederation were only so effective, and that a Constitution was needed for the nation to have any hope of surviving.

 

Notes to Canto 22 (The Forgers, Counterfeiters, and Impersonators)

Walter Fritz. “Making Harvard Divinity his plaything”: The conman Walter Fritz emailed Karen King on July 9, 2010, describing Coptic fragments he wanted to sell. She didn’t reply until almost a year later, on June 25, 2011, and that was to tell him she wasn’t interested. Then, four months after that, on October 15, 2011, she suddenly had a change of heart. And for the next four and a half years, she promoted the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife”, even though it was effectively debunked as a hoax less than a month after she announced it publicly in September of 2012. She finally conceded the hoax in June of 2016. The question is why King ignored Walter Fritz for so long before finally taking his bait, and then persisting in willful denial when the hoax was clearly exposed. Ariel Sabar’s book Veritas (2000) answers this question: In October 2011, Harvard University was on the brink of creating a secular religious studies department, and the divinity department (and Karen King’s status) was in jeopardy. To Karen King, the Jesus-Wife fragment probably seemed a godsend for keeping progressive liberal theology married to academic scholarship.

Morton Smith. (1) “Your gospel hoax too – that was a trip”: The Secret Gospel of Mark (or Secret Mark, as it’s commonly called) is quoted in a letter supposedly written by the famous second-century theologian, Clement of Alexandria. This letter was “discovered” in 1958 by the biblical scholar Morton Smith at Mar Saba, a Greek Orthodox monastery in Palestine. The part of the “secret gospel” which Clement quotes tells a story similar to the raising of Lazarus in John 11. But instead of raising Lazarus, Jesus revives a young man who “looked at Jesus, loved him, and began to beg him to be with him”. Later in the evening, the young man comes to Jesus “wearing a linen cloth over his naked body; and he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God”. (2) “Hating the idea that Jesus was gay”: Smith was passionate about the church’s view of homosexuality, and he wrote on the subject in a time (1949) when it was rarely discussed. He was gay of course, and his “discovery” in 1958 allowed him to conveniently claim that Jesus was gay. In The Secret Gospel (1973) he suggested that Jesus’ baptism ceremonies were used to enter a state of hallucination, and ascend into heaven; in the kingdom of God the disciples were liberated from the Jewish law; and their spiritual union with Jesus was accompanied by a physical union of sex. So Jesus not only had sex with the disciples — he invested homosexuality with religious significance. (3) “The allusion to Morton Salt”: Jesus’ famous saying about “salt losing its savor” (Mk 9:50/Mt 5:13/Lk 14:34) is reworded in Clement’s letter to imply free-flowing salt. Iodized salt is not only a 20th-century invention; the inventor was a man named Joy Morton, who founded the Morton Salt Company. This joke was spotted by Stephen Carlson in 2005. (4) “The shade of Oscar Wilde’s play”: The gospel figure of Salome the disciple (Mk 15:40) is used to invoke a 19th-century play. Salome is among the women in Secret Mark who are rejected by Jesus, implying that Jesus had no interest in women. And in Clement’s letter, there is a puzzling allusion to “seven veils”. It comes from the modern play, Salome, where the lead character does a “dance of the seven veils”. Oscar Wilde was the playwright, and he was a gay martyr. This gag was spotted by Peter Jeffery in 2006.

 

ROSTER FOR CIRCLE 8

Circle 8 Souls Punished
Souls I encounter in this Ditch
Ditch 1
Panderers and Seducers Jeffrey Epstein (P), Gerald Sandusky (S)
Ditch 2
Flatterers Giulio Alberoni, Joseph Goebbels, Mike Pence
Ditch 3
Snowflakes Reza Aslan, Linda Sarsour, Laurie Charles
Ditch 4
False Prophets Charles Taze Russell, Tali and Ophira Edut, Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins, David Koresh, Brian David Mitchell
Ditch 5
Cranks and Conspiracy Theorists Oliver Stone, Michael Baigent, Alex Jones, Steven Brandenburg, Maajid Nawaz
Ditch 6
Hypocrites Barack Obama, Bill Cosby, Michael Landon, James Buchanan
Ditch 7
Thieves (Robbers, Extortionists, Grafters) Carl Gugasian, Darnell Riley, Francisco Correa Sanchez, Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom
Ditch 8
Counselors of Fraud Bernie Madoff, Martin Shkreli, L. Ron Hubbard, Mariam Al-Sohel
Ditch 9
Sowers of Discord, Inciters of Rebellion Donald Trump, Daniel Shays
Ditch 10
Forgers, Counterfeiters, and Identity Thieves Charles Dawson, Konrad Kujau, Matvei Golovinski, Frank William Abagnale, Walter Fritz, Wesley Weber, Morton Smith

 

Malebolge: A Revised Circle 8 for the Modern Age

Part 1 of my Inferno tour consists of eleven cantos covering Circles 1-7. Part 2 will also span eleven cantos, but covering Circle 8 alone. Circle 8 will be over 40% of the entire tour, and it’s worth reflecting over why Dante devoted so much breakdown to the sin of fraud.

Circle 8 is called Malebolge, which means “evil ditches”, and there are ten of them. (Click on the right image for full view.) According to Dorothy Sayers:

“Malebolge is the image of the City in corruption: the progressive disintegration of every social relationship, personal and public. Sexuality, ecclesiastical and civil office, language, ownership, counsel, authority, psychic influence, and material interdependence — all the media of the community’s exchange are perverted and falsified, till nothing remains but the descent into the final abyss where faith and trust are wholly and forever extinguished.” (Inferno, p 185)

That’s about as accurate a description of Circle 8 as any. However, I am revising Ditches 3 and 5. In Dante’s scheme, Ditch 3 punishes the ecclesiastical crime of simony, which is archaic in today’s age. It was part of the feudal structure by which clergy members (like priests and bishops) became the hand-picked pawns of secular lords and emperors. I can’t come up with an example of a modern simoniac. Ditch 5 punishes barratry (the secular equivalent of simony) and also grafters who use their political office to take bribes. Grafters can easily be grouped with the thieves and extortionists on Ditch 7.

In place of simony and grafting/barratry, I’m substituting categories that Dante would have surely added if he had lived in today’s world. He never knew woke-left propaganda, alt-right conspiracy theories, yellow journalism, and fake news like we have it today. My new Ditch 3 punishes snowflakes — woke college professors, public speakers, or commentators who have a large platform. They are fraudulent because they subordinate facts to feelings. My new Ditch 5 punishes cranks — crackpot scholars and conspiracy theorists.

This revision also carries the benefit of freeing up Ditch 10 to be reserved for the falsifiers of something concrete: forgers, counterfeiters, and identity thieves. Dante had constructed Ditch 10 as a “catch-all” punishing ground for any falsifier, including liars in general (“falsifiers of words”), but liars and deceivers are spread out across many Ditches, in some form or another, including, now, on my new Ditches 3 and 5.

So this, tentatively, is what Circle 8 will look like, and the souls I plan to see there.

Circle 8 Souls Punished
Sinners I encounter in this Ditch
Ditch 1
Panderers and Seducers Jeffrey Epstein (P), Gerald Sandusky (S)
Ditch 2
Flatterers Giulio Alberoni, Joseph Goebbels, Mike Pence
Ditch 3
Snowflakes Linda Sarsour, Reza Aslan, Laurie Charles
Ditch 4
False Prophets Charles Taze Russell, Ophira and Tali Edut, Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins, David Koresh, Brian David Mitchell
Ditch 5
Cranks and Conspiracy Theorists Oliver Stone, Michael Baigent, Alex Jones, Maajid Nawaz, Steven Brandenburg
Ditch 6
Hypocrites Barack Obama, Bill Cosby, Michael Landon, James Buchanan
Ditch 7
Thieves (Robbers, Extortionists, Launderers) Carl Gugasian, Darnell Riley, Francisco Correa Sanchez, Abdulla Yameen
Ditch 8
Counselors of Fraud Bernie Madoff, Martin Shkreli, L. Ron Hubbard, Mariam Al-Sohel
Ditch 9
Sowers of Discord, Inciters of Rebellion Daniel Shays, Donald Trump
Ditch 10
Forgers, Counterfeiters, Identity Thieves Matvei Golovinski, Charles Dawson, Konrad Kujau, Walter Fritz, Morton Smith, Wesley Weber, Frank William Abagnale

And here are the punishments I came up with for Ditches 3 and 5:

Circle 8 Souls Punished
Contrapasso: Punishment Fitting the Sin
Ditch 1
Panderers and Seducers They are whipped by devils while marching. The devils apparently gain sexual pleasure by inflicting pain on those who were either pimps or obtained sexual pleasure by abuse of trust.
Ditch 2
Flatterers They live in the shit they spoke in life — plunged into a lake of excrement.
Ditch 3
Snowflakes They have their lips sown shut, forced to march on a narrow line to a specific drumbeat. As they subordinated truth to their personal feelings, and policed the speech (or even tried to ban speech) of those who spoke truth, so now in death they have their lips sown shut, unable to ever speak again. And because they manufactured offenses, castigating people for trivial causes, they are now flailed with a spiked ball for even slightly stepping out of line or missing a single beat.
Ditch 4
False Prophets They walk with heads twisted backwards, destined to look only behind through eyes blinded by tears.
Ditch 5
Cranks and Conspiracy Theorists They sit against the walls of the ditch with their eyes torn out, continually screaming in fear. As they feared every phantom menace they couldn’t see any real evidence for, so now they can’t see anything at all, and suffer extreme paranoia.
Ditch 6
Hypocrites They walk in gilded cloaks lined with lead. As in life, they shine on the outside but are lifeless on the inside.
Ditch 7
Thieves (Robbers, Extortionists, Grafters) They have their hands tied behind their backs by snakes and suffer a horrible metamorphosis, stealing each others identity, unable to distinguish what’s “mine” and what’s “yours” after all the transitions.
Ditch 8
Counselors of Fraud They used their eloquence to mislead people and rip them off, and so are wrapped in tongues of fire which conceal them, just as in life their speech concealed their fraudulent thoughts.
Ditch 9
Sowers of Discord, Inciters of Rebellion They divided people in life, so now in death they are hacked and divided into a dismembered state, forced to drag their mutilated bodies around the ditch. Their wounds heal as they march the circuit, and then the devil cuts them open again.
Ditch 10
Forgers, Counterfeiters, Identity Thieves Forgers are afflicted with leprosy, counterfeiters with dehydration, and identity thieves are driven insane. Their physical rottenness mirrors the rottenness of their souls that caused them to falsify things.

 

My Tour of Dante’s Inferno (Circles 1-7)

Dante did Inferno in 34 cantos. I’m doing mine in 24 and posting them in three parts. Here is Part 1, which consists of cantos 1-11 (Circles 1-7). I will post cantos 12-22 (Circle 8) in early February, and cantos 23-24 (Circle 9) in mid February.

A few notes are in order. First, I admit this is a hit piece, but I believe appropriate since that’s what Dante’s classic is. Inferno is revenge fiction, pure and simple. But it’s hard to appreciate if you’re not familiar with 13th-14th century Italian politics. I wanted to walk in Dante’s footsteps and find modern people in Hell — politicians, scholars, celebrities, authors — and rub their noses in their “sins” as I see them. (Though like Dante I also include some figures from the deep past.)

Unlike Dante, however, I thought it was only fair that I enjoy this fun at my own expense, and so I put myself in Hell — on quite a low Circle for that matter.

There’s an interesting payoff to this exercise. In filling the Inferno with modern souls, I became acutely aware of how weird the medieval hierarchy of sin is. As far as I’m concerned, the first Ring of Circle 7 (violence against others) contains the worst sinners and should be the lowest circle, while the souls of the second Ring of Circle 7 (violence against self) don’t deserve to be in Hell at all. Not to mention the sodomites of the third Ring. Then there is the curiosity of Circle 1, which is a quasi-paradise for virtuous non-Christians; they end up doing far better than the liberal (heretical) Christians who are burning in tombs down on Circle 6. But this counter-intuitive scheme is precisely what makes Dante’s Inferno so compelling. It’s weird but has a consistent logic on its own terms.

I’ve provided notes at the end for the various souls I encounter in Hell.

As for the setting, it’s simple: The year is 2061 AD. I have traveled from my present time (2021 AD) through a gate that leads forty years into the future, to the bank of the Archeron River in the First Circle of Hell. Thus begins my downward tour of Dante’s Inferno. I hope you like it.

Upper Hell: Ignorance and Excess (Circles 1-5)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canto 1: The Virtuous Unbelievers (Circle 1)

In the first Circle I see the virtuous souls who dwell “suspended” without being punished. They are not tormented like the souls on Circles 2-9. The only “torment” they experience is the permanent exclusion from paradise. These souls are non-Christians — noble atheists, righteous Jews, virtuous pagans, saintly Buddhists, etc. — who were morally upright and thus don’t deserve to be on any of the “sinner circles” below, and yet they cannot attain paradise since they do not profess Jesus Christ. The Circle is a state of ignorance and shadowy bliss, an ashen wasteland with the pocket paradise of the Noble Castle. The souls of the virtuous are content here for the most part, yet aware that their fate is somehow blighted.

Here I stood in the devil’s blind
With the Acheron River roaring behind
Ready to begin my tour of Hell
Starting with those who nobly fell

As I surveyed the ground of the virtuous elect
It was hard to see why a soul would object
To being denied paradise
Since the “punishment” here looked pretty nice

There was no torture, nor any screaming
Only the sighs of souls day-dreaming
They sat, reclined, or wandered about
Aimlessly, as if slightly worn out

A few of the souls became dimly aware
Of my presence and called to ask my affair
I told them I was a visiting guest
And they shrugged as if I were a common pest

I went down a road through the ashen tide
And saw more souls on either side
Some in groups, some alone
But always sighing their wistful moan

And I kept my eyes peeled for my very own self
For I was hoping to end up on this shelf
Of the nine circles whenever I died
As I wanted to be on virtue’s side

After some miles I came to a castle
With towers tall – white and gracile
The citadel had seven walls around
With a moat and bridge to completely surround

I was greeted at the bridge by a familiar ghost
The soul of a famous talk-show host
Bill Maher, still so smug
Yet somehow earned it, so it didn’t bug

“Bill,” I said, “fancy you here!
You actually seem in fairly good cheer
But why this post, outside at the gate?
Is this your eternal mandate?”

[Maher]
“This is my penance for being dismissive
Of all religion – now I’m submissive
To the noble souls who abide in this castle
I am ever their dutiful faithful vassal.”

[Me]
“At least you made it to the very top
Probably for preaching against sin, non-stop
Granted in your own secular way
It was still pretty harsh back in the day

Especially that funny New Rule segment
When you blasted obesity and stayed unrepentant
You pissed off the world and made your fans nervous
When you were only providing a public service.”

[Maher, laughing]
“I wouldn’t want to be down on Circle 3
I’d get lynched and again repeatedly
Nor for that matter, on any of the others
Honestly, if I had my druthers.”

And with that he told me to go on in
And to stop my yakking about rules and sin
So I crossed all bridges into a field
That I couldn’t believe Hell concealed

The meadow was fresh and full of trees
And a perfect 72 degrees
Fruits and fountains sparkled brightly
With notes of music falling lightly

Wildlife that I’d never seen
And everywhere impossibly clean
A pocket paradise truly unnerving
Granted to souls that were most deserving

I wanted to lie and go to sleep
But I crossed the field into the keep
And there inside I stopped in awe
Stunned by all the souls I saw:

Asra Nomani, for Muslim reform
She took the Islamic world by storm
Calling out her faith as violent and crude
And for teaching the truth got viciously skewed

From devout Muslims and the woke left too
Who weren’t so different (who fucking knew?)
Both of them allies for the same cause
Reinforcing Islam’s blasphemy laws

Nomani had blasted them, time and again
Refusing ever to put down her pen
Going for the jugular, sawing the bone
Saying Muslims do shit to police their own

Sam Harris was there in the hall
As calm as ever before his fall
Here in Hell he seemed just as unflappable
And content enough inside this chapel

Perhaps his life of meditation
Continued giving some sedation
Against the knowledge of his fate
That for an atheist must surely grate

I saw David Lynch, the Yogi apprentice
Whose impact on film was simply momentous
His dark brutality was overdone
So that grace came not cheap but dearly won

There was Margot Adler, drawing down
Whose love for nature knew no bound

Elie Wiesel, to my right
Who made us feel the pain of night

Gendun Drubpa, intoning Brahma
The very first Dalai Lama

And many – too many – more souls yet
Whom people on earth owed a mighty debt
For laboring hard with endless grace
To make the world a better place

They welcomed me to make my stay
But I said that I had to be on my way
They were melancholy souls and bittersweet
With no resentment or sense of cheat

I realized then that I could only aspire
To be in such company when I expired
I expected to find my future soul
On the next level down, in the lustful bowl

And so I departed.

Canto 2: The Lustful (Circle 2)

I finish crossing the First Circle, and enter the Second, where the souls of the lustful are tossed about on a howling wind. As they had been swept away on earth by raging sexual desires, so now they are swept away by a storm that doesn’t stop.

As soon as I crossed, I was hit full force
With roars lamenting intercourse
The light was dim and the air alive
With souls blown about like bees from a hive

It was official now, this was Hell
As every soul could only yell
Under devil patrol and torment unending
Against which there was no hope of defending

I began my trek and got real sour
As the winds blew 50 miles an hour
Souls rolled by like tumbleweeds
Wailing their protests and lustful screeds

But after a while I saw a face
Blowing around in the same place
It was caught in a vortex – a whirring loop
I doubted this poor soul would ever recoup

Screaming loud so that I could be heard
I asked who she was to be so interred
“If you have to ask, you don’t deserve
To look upon my seemly curves!”

And lo, I recognized the sultry voice
That had given men a raunchy choice:

Madonna, that vixen of unbridled lust
Who published Sex to wide disgust
Though frankly I thought it was quite a gem
With lurid photos of S & M

Some even called it a liberation
For women who lived in sexual frustration
But there was no reward for Madonna now
No freedom at all that Hell would allow

[Me]
“I do recognize you, Louise Ciccone
And always admired you for not being phony
It doesn’t seem fair to be punished so awful
You pushed obscene limits, but always lawful.”

[Madonna]
“All my sex was based on consent
So let my fucking critics vent
I hope they’re all suffering too
On deeper levels than Circle 2.”

[Me]
“Speaking of that, are you aware
If I’m being blown about anywhere?
I come from the past about 40 years
And was expecting to find my soul here in tears.”

And I told her my name, but she knew it not
She’d never seen me on this lustful lot
I thanked her then and wished her well
But she cursed me and all who were down in Hell

Steeling myself I plodded on
Through winds that battered like demon spawn
And on my way to Circle 3
I recognized some who flew past me:

Tiger Woods, whose sordid affairs
Caught his wife at unawares

Paris Hilton of nympho fame
Screwed any-who and which-where to shame

Albert Einstein (I gasped in awe)
Who slept with every woman he saw

Sex addicts so very misunderstood
Nymphos who had all the sex they could:

Danielle Staub every day
Ernest Fucking Hemingway
Russell Brand, Brittany Spears
Lust defined their whole careers

Others spilling, rolling by
Burning hot to gratify
Their partners lost to other places
While here they pined, devoid of graces

And so I came to the Third Circle.

Canto 3: The Gluttonous (Circle 3)

I cross into the Third Circle, where the souls of the gluttonous lie in a filthy mire, bombarded with rain, hail, and dirty snow. They wallow in the mud like the pigs they were in life.

The high winds stopped but the air got worse
Freezing cold like Narnia’s curse
I was in a swamp with drifts of snow
Over sludge and mud like sloppy joe

From the sky poured misery to feed my pain:
Snow, hail, and icy rain
But worse than even the filthy sleet
Was a smell on the air of rotten meat

The smell came strong from every which way
Like some kind of omnipresent decay
And the souls, they groveled down in the sludge
Howling like dogs unable to budge

Their overindulgence of food and drink
Is what put them down in this putrid stink
They looked like they each weighed a ton
As if eating had been their only fun

Dante thought he had witnessed fat
But in his day gluttons weren’t even that
The souls I saw were downright obese
And had feasted daily on sugar and grease

Revolted and shivering, I started my walk
But right away looked over to gawk
Weltering in the mud and vomiting hard
Was Game of Thrones author Lord Lard

George R.R. Martin, he preferred to be called
But his fans didn’t care, they were so appalled
At the snail’s pace he pretended to write
Around sports and politics he indulged on his site

And because of that stubborn outrageous cunctation
He had become irrelevant to his own creation
The TV writers finished the series
Finally resolving all the fan theories

And make no mistake, what they wrote
Was better than Martin’s recent bloat
Books 4 and 5 of Ice and Fire
Were filled with chapters dull and dire

“George,” I said, disturbed by his plight,
“Christ, but you’re a sorry sight
Perhaps it wasn’t the smartest play
To shit on your fans every day.”

[Martin]
“I never asked much of a devotee
Just that they worship and fawn over me
But all they did was piss and moan
About deadlines I never cared to own.”

[Me]
“No one will accuse you of having thick skin
But you’re guilty of this particular sin:
Instead of revising the drafts you wrote
You were shoveling troughs of food down your throat.”

[Martin]
“Watch your mouth or be prepared
To get the treatment as you dared
The odor here is bad enough
But I can let out viler stuff.”

And with that Lord Lard let loose a fart
That stung my nose and stopped my heart
Clutching my chest I lurched and fell
Face down into the putrid gel

[Martin, laughing]
“You think I don’t know who the hell you are?
The blogger who acts like a fucking czar?
Your shitty, lousy, absurd reviews
Set a whole new bar for the fakest news.”

I tried to rise but no such luck
I could hardly move in the stinking muck
His toxic gas clawed at my lungs
I muttered words, speaking in tongues

But the poison finally dissipated
Though my chest felt utterly desecrated
I crawled away from that awful hog
And finally rose to resume my slog

Slowly recovering, I went a few miles
Realizing I had frozen piles
And the roars of the gluttonous drove me insane
I could hardly watch them – the sight was profane

I did however hear a shout
That my ears automatically singled out
From all the other barks and brays
I’d know this voice to the end of my days

It was Sally Struthers, I tell no lie
Howling for cake and apple pie
She came a long way from her comedy days
Her slim figure yielding to gluttonous ways

Her face contorted with starving rage
Which she was clearly demanding that I assuage
“Sorry, Sally, I’ve no remorse”
And I went on my way as she screamed herself hoarse

I finally neared the circle’s brink
And saw that it sloped down into a sink
But before I could escape the freezing bog
I saw a monster in the smog:

President Taft, blocking me
Three-fifty pounds to an absolute tee
He’d hosted the White House in slothful disgrace
Falling asleep while feeding his face

There was even a rumor of some doubt
That his bathtub held him and he couldn’t get out
More reliable was the tale of the horse:
That he broke its poor back as a matter of course

Taft was thrashing and yowling in trauma
But I was having none of his rabid drama
I kept my distance and skirted around
And came to the edge of the gluttons ground

And I descended the cliff.

Canto 4: The Greedy (Circle 4)

I descend to the Fourth Circle, where the hoarders and spendthrifts — the flips sides of greed — roll huge rocks against each other.

The switchbacks went 500 feet down
To the circle’s floor of blackened ground
I realized then I was glad to be alive
And I reflected on Circles 1 through 5

Dante had called them “Upper Hell”
Since their punishments weren’t nearly as fell
As those on the circles far down below
– The unspeakable full-blown horror show

Here at the top were the sins of excess:
Lust, gluttony, and greediness
And wrath too, that didn’t bruise
Or in any way physically abuse

These were the sins of the appetite
Good in themselves, in doses lite
But when overindulged they became a beast
Though not doing harm to others at least

Upper Hell basically punished the brat
Who took much of this, and did much of that
Warping what mattered in his or her life
For the sake of making these pleasures rife

I saw this now as I reached the floor
And heard the march of the Greed Corps:
Souls being whipped by devils close by
To labor and heave without any cry

Against each other they pushed huge boulders
And strained to agony the joints of their shoulders
Hoarders and spendthrifts, the flip sides of greed
Tasked with making the other bleed

A tormented shriek then ripped the air
And I looked to see what caused the scare
A soul had collapsed while pushing his rock
Unable any more to keep up the walk

And holy shit, did I know this swine
As would anyone who lived online
He was the fifth richest person from the year I came
And everyone, everyone, knew his name:

Mark Zuckerburg, CEO troll
Of Facebook that spiraled out of control
So that by the year 2021
He controlled all discourse under the sun

Which he justified being in the private sector
Like any greedy executive director
“Private business” – that feeble excuse
For big tech companies on the loose

The public discourse was as he deemed
In a way that governments only dreamed
Banning users by capricious whim
Like his pal Jack Dorsey, who was equally dim

And sure enough, not far behind
I saw Jack Dorsey in the grind
Unlike Mark, he pushed his stone
But with awful effort – and many a groan

Ignoring Jack, I knelt in place
And leaned over in the other’s face:

[Me]
“Mark Zuckerburg, I cannot tell
How glad I am to see you in Hell
Your wealth and greed was only surpassed
By all the arrogance you amassed

You began as a neutral platform mission
Where people could post without condition
Then slyly became an editorial site
Without being liable for what you invite

Maybe you thought that policing the Net
Was fine according to ‘Terms’ you set
But anyone with half a brain
Knows this is wrong – simple and plain.”

[Zuckerburg]
“Go away, you hectoring shit!
You think I care for any of your spit?
Facebook was mine and no other fool’s
My fucking house, my fucking rules!”

[Me]
“Your house was the entire goddamn globe
Is something wrong with your temporal lobe?
If that’s the line you want to own
Then enjoy your eternity of heaving stone!”

And with that, a devil snapped its whip
And Zuckerburg let out a yip
Before getting up and pushing on
In the godforsaken marathon

There were others I noticed shoving weights:
Simon Cowell, William Gates;
The Koch Brothers, and Julia too
None of them worth talking to

Of this parade I took my leave
And left these wretched souls to grieve
Forever to haul and break their backs
And regret their greedy acts

And I came to next cliff.

Canto 5: The Wrathful (Circle 5)

I descend the cliff to the Styx River, which forms the Fifth Circle and contains the souls of the wrathful, yelling at each other on the surface of the river, reenacting their rage in life.

500 feet of treacherous path
Brought me down to the souls of wrath
My senses were smacked by sounds and smells
Surely not found outside the Hells

Cries of fury raged on the air
And the clapping of water everywhere
I looked and beheld the River Styx
Oily brown and a filthy mix

It smelled of eggs foul and rotten
Washing over souls misbegotten
Angry and pissed, as they’d been in life
They yelled and thrashed in eternal strife

Sunk to their necks to swim and splash
Through mounds of rancid stinking trash
And the soul that yelled by far most loud
Stood out from the rest of the crowd:

Steven Anderson, the fundie pastor
Who had followed Christ his ultimate Master
For all the good it did him now
Swimming in trash up to his brow

Also known as Pastor Piss
For castigating men who were remiss
In peeing properly against the wall
(To pee sitting down was a major shortfall)

The pastor screamed above the din
Ripping face for every sin
Hell itself was put to shame
As he cried out all the offenders by name:

Sodomites, whores, girls wearing pants
Abortionists, Zionists – his favorite rants
But the people who made him zealously bitter
Were those who committed the crime of litter

He projected that outrage on every soul
With orders to clean this stinking hole
As he now tried to do, in fervent haste
To rid the Styx of trash and waste

[Anderson]
“Listen to me, everyone, listen now!
Clean up this river, I don’t care how!”
Don’t worry about a devil backlash!
Throw away this stinking trash!”

Raving like this, he threw his slop
To the bank where I stood, but it was only a drop
From a river filled with bottomless junk
And the pastor got crazier like a roaring drunk

[Me]
“Hey there, Pastor, calm the hell down!
You’re wasting effort, you stupid clown!
All this trash is your just deserts,
Your eternal penance, as bad as it hurts.”

He stopped and stared at me over the water
And his face announced he was ready for slaughter
Putting aside his litter crusade
He went off on a nasty (and crazy) tirade:

[Anderson]
“Listen to me, you filthy queer!
Come and say that to me over here!
You homos will never be content
Until the rise of your one-world government.”

As I began to reply with utter contempt
A horde of souls made a vengeful attempt
They dove at the pastor, jaws open wide
And Steven Anderson cursed them and cried

These souls had taken it none too kind
At what went on in the pastor’s mind
Nor for commanding them this way and that
So they tore and ate at him like a rat

And as his soul was eaten live
I saw a boat about to arrive
As it glided forward the souls swam clear
Of the demon inciting terrible fear

Phlegyas, I recalled from Dante’s verse
A demon under a nasty curse
For horrible crimes in ancient days
He was consigned to patrol Hell’s waterways

[Me]
“Phlegyas,” I called, “ignore Pastor Piss!
I need safe passage to the City of Dis
Ferry me, please, as you once did Dante
And then I’ll happily go on my merry way.”

[Phlegyas, roaring]
“Who are you to presume what I’ll do?
Listen good, and I’ll explain this to you
I’ll take you across, but not for free
You’ll have to give me one of these three:

(1) Your right arm for my evening chow
(2) All the money you have on you now
(3) Twenty years from your worthless life
– Which I’ll cut and remove with my demon’s knife.”

[Me]
“Some fucking choice, you goddamn vulture
Is this what passes for devil culture?
Take my wallet, it’s all my money
I assure you this isn’t the least bit funny.”

And he ferried me across.

 

Lower Hell: Heresy and Violence (Circles 6-7)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canto 6: The Heretics (Circle 6)

I enter the City of Dis and find the burning tombs of the heretics. As they were intellectually stubborn on earth — liberal or rebel Christians insisting themselves more enlightened than the orthodox — their souls are encased appropriately: iron without and fire within. Many of the tomb doors are open, and the souls are half-exposed, baking in flame and smoke.

As I entered the gates of the smoky city
It was hard not to be moved to pity
For those whose sins were crimes of thought
There shouldn’t be punishment, I always taught

To believe in doctrines the church disapproved
And to continue teaching them after being reproved
For that who could blame them – surely not I
A heretic at heart to the day I die

But my sympathy vanished as I moved through the city
The tomb lids were raised, and the sight wasn’t pretty:

I saw Martin Luther, the worst of the lot
Who deserved exactly the tomb that he got
A “reformer” possessed of hatred and spite
A misogynist and anti-Semite

He should have been barred from reading Galatians
For what it did to Jewish-Christian relations
With Romans his heresies got even more grim
As he reinvented Paul to be just like him

I refused to speak to this pile of manure
It would be way too much for me to endure
So I trucked on past and kept on walking
And then stopped at the sight of two souls talking

Sharing a tomb as if having a fling
Were Dominic Crossan and Karen King
Embracing each other they talked non-stop
About Jewish cynics and gnostic slop

I broke up their tryst and they got all sour
Acting as if they were full of power
“Dom,” I said, “how does it feel?
To be down in Hell is a shitty deal.”

[Crossan]
“Cough it up and keep up your brayings
I’m comforted by authentic sayings
The red ones, you know, that passed the vote
The words that came from Jesus’s throat.”

[Rosson]
“You certainly peddled a fantasy Jesus
An egalitarian who could readily please us
If only he were remotely true
You wouldn’t be in Dis without a clue.”

[King]
“Leave him alone, you insufferable snot
Why should we listen to what you’ve got?
No matter how hot we burn in these holes
The devils will never kill our souls.”

[Rosson]
“That’s brazen talk for one who was fooled
Despite your degrees and how you were schooled
You promoted that silly gospel hoax
That duped many liberal and secular folks.”

[King]
“I suspected that thing was a hoax all along
That’s why I ignored Walter Fritz for so long
I only finally accepted his offer
To save my Divinity School from the coffer.”

And with that, the pair told me to scram
They obviously didn’t give a tinker’s damn
About what I thought or said or wrote
Or about any reason I had to gloat

Which was fair enough; I left them to bond
And took the opportunity to abscond
Alongside more tombs, and heretics many
Whose theologies were hardly worth a penny

When I reached about the city’s center
I saw the tomb of a known dissenter
Amidst the smoke that was black-and-bluish
Lay a bishop insisting he was truly Jewish

[Me]
“So here’s the famous N.T. Wright!
Under Hell’s eternal blight
I’ll bet you’re suffering deep abjection
For being stripped of the resurrection.”

[Wright]
“Now you listen good, Mr. Rosson!
I do not belong in this city with Crossan
How can I be judged a heretic?
It’s such a farce it makes me sick.”

[Me]
“Seriously, Bishop, do you need to ask?
Your ‘orthodox’ doctrine is only a mask
For denying the apocalypse just like those scholars
You think aren’t worth a lousy two dollars.”

[Wright]
“If you paid me attention, you’d clearly see
That God will act dramatically
Within history, yes, I’ve said before
But don’t be blind to metaphor.”

[Me]
“Say what you want, but I’ve read your works
And you’re just like all the liberal jerks
Who practice blatant eisegesis
And pass it off as exegesis.”

That went too far, and he screamed in rage
And retreated inside his iron cage
I left as he started to raise a din
Yelling, roaring, and burning within

As I continued through the fiery tombs
I gagged and choked on smoky fumes
And finally came to a perilous bluff
That overlooked some nasty stuff

The stench arising from the circle below
Was enough to make my vomit flow
The cliff was a 70 degree-grade slope
I’d have to climb downwards and carefully grope

And so I descended.

Canto 7: Descending the Cliff (from Circle 6 to Circle 7)

I pause in my descent to Circle 7, and reflect on the arrangement of the Circle’s Three Rings.

As I clambered down slowly, I cursed the heat
This climb was 1500 feet
Red misty vapor rose from the crud
Smelling of corpses and sulfur and blood

I paused halfway down to take a rest
And saw below my seventh test
The Circle was really three in one
A trinity of violence with horrors a ton

My studies of Dante seemed like a dream
But this is how I remembered his scheme:

In Ring 1 splashed the violent against neighbor
Destroyers of humanity’s labor
Killers and warmongers of every theme
I saw trapped in the bloody boiling stream

In Ring 2 then the violent against self
Users of every drug on the shelf
Looking down closely I spotted the trees
The warbling souls of the suicide disease

In Ring 3 violent against the divine
Blasphemers shouting while lying supine
Calling God the foulest names
As they writhed and burned under falling flames

Bracing myself, I resumed my descent
And for that was almost made to repent
As I tripped and tumbled for quite a length
Before breaking my fall with all my strength

And at the bottom, I entered the Circle.

Canto 8: The Violent against Neighbor (Circle 7, Ring 1)

I reach the slope’s bottom and come to the River of Boiling Blood. Centaurs with bows and arrows patrol the banks of the river, shooting at any of the souls who try to escape it. These souls in life were murderers, abusers, torturers, pillagers, and warmongers, and they boil for eternity in the blood of their victims.

The stench of blood was a frontal assault
Forcing me to a grinding halt
The air was full of screams so savage
And the first soul I saw looked eager to ravage:

His commands exploded like a bomb
The founding prophet of Islam
He called for war and everything cruel
To subjugate all under Islamic rule

There had never been reasoning with this brute
His orders against infidels were absolute
He screamed those orders in the burning splashes
That plastered his body with burns and rashes:

[The Prophet]
“Put terror in their hearts and strike their necks
And make their women into slaves of sex
Do all of this in Allah’s name
And you’ll reap the rewards for playing His game

Slay the enemy wherever and how
You may spare them only if they bow
To Allah and convert — or if they follow the Book
They can pay the jizya and get off the hook.”

Too unsettled, I found nothing to say
I turned on my heels and walked away
Crossing myself I prayed for the error
Of the millions killed under jihad terror

There were countless others in the broiling run —
Hitler, Stalin, Attila the Hun
Jihadists like Zengi and Saladin
Who turned Palestine into a filthy latrine

“Peaceful Sufis” like good old Shah Wali
Were just as murderous as the school of Hanbali
Al-Hallaj, Ahmad Sirhindi — too many to name
Different sects, but jihad the same

I wanted to flee these abominable sights
But the river wasn’t done showing its frights
I looked and saw five presidents
Whom every American reinvents:

(1) Jackson who robbed and slaughtered the Reds
And sent them to live in homes that were sheds

(2) Lincoln who killed for emancipation
Instead of giving slave owners compensation

(3) Wilson whose catastrophes were so bad
That he remains the worst president we ever had

(4) Johnson whose excursions in Vietnam
Were as bad as dropping a nuclear bomb

(5) Bush who hammered Saddam without cease
While whitewashing Islam as a religion of peace

These five men did plenty to kill
People, their spirit, and much more still
They extended themselves to harm and destroy
Lands, livelihoods, and human joy

They imprisoned citizens for the slightest breach
Even denying the freedom of free speech
They suspended habeas corpus — or two of them did —
And had egos the size of legend El Cid

Yet Americans love them (except maybe one)
As if from their asses shone the sun
I knew better, having studied them hard
And was righteously glad to see them boiled and charred

As if sensing my thoughts, they wailed as one
Clearly not having an ounce of fun
For them I had no forgiveness at hand
They deserved to burn in this evil land

The more I saw in this bloody tide
The more my convictions were amplified
The crimes of these souls were of such a design
That they deserved to be down on Circle 9

Violence against others was underrated
By medievals who felt inoculated
From seeing bloodshed often up close
And Dante himself got his own heavy dose

But for me, this first ring of Circle 7
Contained the souls most anathema in heaven
I had to move on and leave much unexplored
And sighed with relief as I came near the ford

And then I crossed it.

Canto 9: The Violent against Self (Circle 7, Ring 2)

I enter the Forest of Rotting Trees, where Harpies are perched, eating the leaves as the trees scream in pain. The trees are the souls of suicides and people who abused themselves through addiction. As they destroyed their bodies on earth so now they have been denied proper resemblance to a body in hell.

The Wood was pathless and deathly silent
The trees encasing more souls of the violent
But I felt for people who wanted to die
And I wasn’t inclined to vilify

Suicide, really, worse than war?
The souls in the River I could only abhor
But these in the Wood had harmed no other
No stranger, enemy, friend, or brother

Just their own self, which was plainly their right
Or so I believed on this hellish night
And as I walked among the mutated trees
The souls began to voice their unease

“Who goes there?” cried one in pain
And I turned and saw legend Kurt Cobain
“A fan of yours,” I said after pause
And soon more souls took up the cause

The chorus became a mournful keen
Provoking the Harpies to intervene
Alighting on branches, pecking, awling
Until the trees curbed their squalling

Covering my ears I resumed my stride
In a direction I hoped to the other side
After two miles I was stopped in my tracks
By a despondent tree running like wax

I recognized – barely – the visage within
It was Robin Williams, atoning his sin
A man who was such a lovable guy
Had surrendered to his need to die

I asked if I could do anything
To give any comfort or lessen the sting
But he barely even heard me, it seemed
As he moaned about trials of the unredeemed

That he was down in Hell, ill and decayed
Was an irony considering the role that he played
In the 90s film What Dreams May Come
As the husband, Chris, of a wife and mum

Who killed herself unable to cope
With tragedies leaving her zero hope
In a fit of rage Chris left no doubt
That he would descend into Hell and get her out

And so just like Dante (and me of course)
He embarked on a major tour-de-force
Of Hell in all its perilous faces
And found his wife in the darkest of places

Against all odds, and holding his ground
He reached her and turned her completely around
With her spark of life and spirit restored
She then escaped her Infernal ward

I recounted that story of Annie and Chris
But that only served to widen the abyss
Of Robin’s pain that put him here
He cried so loud that all Circles could hear

That film was a fantasy anyway
From the Inferno there was no breaking away
And so I left, troubled and tired
For Williams was someone I had much admired

And I came to the forest’s end.

Canto 10: The Violent against God (Part 1) – Blasphemers (Circle 7, Ring 3)

I reach the Desert of Fire. The souls of blasphemers lie on the ground, shouting vulgarities at the sky, as fire rains down on them. As in life they defied the heavens, so now the heavens strike them down eternally with flame.

Leaving the diseased forest behind
(Robin’s cries still impaling my mind)
I came to a desert of blasted sand
With tongues of fire pouring over the land

And lying everywhere, crying fury
Were the souls for whom God was their judge and jury
They were giving the Deity the middle finger
And frankly I didn’t even want to linger

For fear of guilt by association
That would land me in the same damnation
For the temps in this Ring were out of sight
One hundred and twenty Fahrenheit

Already my mouth was beginning to parch
So I gulped some water then started my march
And as I waded through the ungodly herd
I saw a particularly ugly nerd:

Andres Serrano, the vulgar artist
Who fancied himself the blasphemers’ smartest
His most lurid and infamous work by far
Was a crucifix dumped in a urine jar

There were so many others, but one stood out
As he hurled bolts of venom with every shout
It was Richard Dawkins, most irate
Filling the air with bilious hate:

[Dawkins]
“Fist and fuck and felch yourself, God!
Your word is shit, your promise fraud!
Torturers are saints compared to you
And clit-snippers start to look pretty nice too.”

What he then said next was awful mean
I can’t repeat it, it’s too obscene
I looked down asking “Why so much hate?”
And he proceeded to launch a fierce debate

I cut him off with a direct appeal:
“So now you believe that God is real?
Unless you’re in a state of dire confusion
You’d never yell like that at a delusion.”

[Dawkins]
“I’ll show you yelling, you little twit
So listen closely, you measly shit:

All religion is rotten excuse
Teaching kids God is child abuse
Parents of faith shouldn’t exist
And I don’t care if that makes you pissed.”

He was going to vent on, but was suddenly struck
By a huge tongue of flame and he cried out “Fuck!”
And tried to rise, but was pushed down firm
By a nearby devil to make him squirm

I grabbed my chance and sprinted off
Leaving Dawkins alone to sputter and cough
And as I beat my more than hasty retreat
Souls kept wailing in the sweltering heat

And from that cacophony floated a swear
A voice I would know anywhere
I stopped and turned, hardly believing
That it was my own best friend doing the grieving

I knelt down and got really near:
“Matt, why the hell are you here?”
He scoffed as if I’d had too much to drink:
“Loren, why the hell do you think?”

He was a long-time atheist and a fierce one at that
His sworn enemy the theocrat
Creationist dogmas to him were the worst
Just thinking of them made his bowels burst

Seeing him this way, so reduced
On the sand where God-haters came to roost
I felt remorse for a second time
For a soul that didn’t seem guilty of crime

[Matt]
“Don’t waste your goddamn pity on me
Save it for yourself – you’ll need it, you’ll see
You’re here down with me, burned by this fire
And your sin in God’s eyes is just as dire.”

[Me]
“What are you saying? That makes no sense
I don’t hate God or have any pretense
My only real sin is lust — it’s true
But my soul wasn’t even on Circle 2.”

At that my friend laughed mightily hard
That his anus let loose a toxic petard
When his gaseous farts began to quit
He explained the scheme of Dante’s pit:

[Matt]
“Your lust unfortunately cuts both ways
You sleep with the straights and you sleep with the gays
And because of the latter, no matter how lite
The Almighty judges you a sodomite.”

I confess I’d forgotten this part of the rhyme
Where Dante made sodomy a grievous crime
Grated the medievals were really austere
But the equation with blasphemy seemed quite severe

[Matt]
“You shouldn’t be surprised by any of this
You listened to the sermons of Pastor Piss
It was he who made clear without facade
That you homos are absolute haters of God.”

[Me]
“Don’t remind me of that King James fanatic!
The point is what Catholics consider dogmatic
Obviously fundies hate gays with a passion
But Catholics usually have greater compassion.”

[Matt]
“I’m afraid on this subject they’re not that tribal
They read, after all, the very same bible
And that book does call you a reprobate
That you’re filled to the rim with ungodly hate

It’s why Abraham was sent down into Sodom
To witness its sinners who’d hit rock bottom
Not to preach or make them repent
But to see how filthy they really went

With Ham there was no hope – just ‘Cursed be Canaan!’
With Sodom no lifeline – just brimstone rainin’
It wasn’t like Ninevah or any other town
Where repentance was offered to turn things around

There’s nowhere in the bible, anywhere you glance
That gives the sodomites a second chance
Jesus was silent, and the apostle Paul said
That you homos, frankly, deserve to be dead.”

[Me]
“All right, enough! That puts me to shame
I guess I’m resigned to the Desert of Flame
I can’t believe we’ll be stuck together whining
Though maybe that’s a small bit of silver lining.”

And I moved on.

Canto 11: The Violent against God (Part 2) – Sodomites (Circle 7, Ring 3)

While crossing the Desert of Fire, I see the souls of sodomites, who run about forever, chasing each other — looking toward the human body they offended, without ever getting anywhere.

I departed my friend and walked in haste
And sure enough, across the waste
Came a group of souls running for sport
And I was among them, out of sort

Seeing myself in this marathon
I despaired of my fate as an Infernal pawn
And recalled why the souls ran here and there
For sodomy is exercise that gets nowhere

My soul broke ranks and left the race
And came to me showing the burns on his face
Not to mention the rest of his bod
That had been horribly scorched by the fires of God

[My soul]
“See what the future holds for you?
I hope you’re satisfied, you’ll have to make do:

With running forever, until your legs feel like clay
And you curse the genes that made you half-gay
Every day worse, hotter and hotter
And never getting a cup of water.”

He ran back then to rejoin the throng
Before I could say that we did no one wrong
Not that it mattered in Dante’s design
Our offense was that we had wronged the divine

“Haters of God, indeed,” I sneered
And then the cliff to Circle 8 appeared
But before I got there, I was almost knocked over
By another runner who looked hungover

His face rang a bell and then I recalled
He was Kenneth Pinyan, who had so appalled
Every citizen in Washington State
For fucking a horse, which sealed his fate

[Me]
“Holy shit, you bestial perv!
What you did took considerable nerve
How did you get that horse to agree
To enter and ream you so thoroughly?”

[Pinyan]
“Never you mind my tricks of the trade!
Mind yourself and how you get laid
And show me some sympathy – my life was stolen
When I died on the table from a perforated colon.”

[Me]
“I’m sorry to hear, that’s a bloody shame
You took initiative and went down in flame
I called you a perv, but I don’t really judge
Anyone who likes to pack mammal fudge.”

[Pinyan]
“That’s small consolation in this devil’s lair
I’m caught in a race that goes nowhere
Do me a favor and get yourself lost
And don’t fuck horses without counting the cost.”

Equine beasts weren’t quite my thing
But I was humbled by the perils of a horse’s ding
I proceeded then straight to the waterfall
Which tumbled down the 2000-foot wall

And I looked over.

Here ends Part 1 of My Tour of Dante’s Inferno. Part 2 is here.

 

Notes to Canto 1 (The Virtuous Unbelievers)

Bill Maher. “That funny New Rule segment”: Maher’s segment on fat-shaming made a lot of viewers angry, despite his making clear that he opposed mean-spirited shaming.

Asra Nomani. “For teaching the truth got viciously skewed”: Nomani is the rare feminist Muslim reformer who speaks honestly about Islam as a toxic religion. She has taken abuse from the left for her courageous efforts.

Sam Harris. “His life of meditation”: Harris wrote the book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality, in which he advocates techniques of Buddhist meditation remolded for atheist/secular consumption.

David Lynch. “So that grace came not cheap but dearly won”: Lynch is agnostic, but some of his films have been hailed as profoundly (if obliquely) religious.

Margot Adler. “Drawing down”: An allusion to Adler’s famous book Drawing Down the Moon, the famous study of modern pagans.

Elie Wiesel. “Made us feel the pain of night”: An allusion to Wiesel’s acclaimed book Night, based on his Holocaust experience.

 

Notes to Canto 2 (The Lustful)

Madonna. (1) “Published Sex to wide disgust”: Madonna pushed sexual boundaries left and right, and her pornography book included images of sadomasochism. It was widely panned at the time, though later became hailed as a daring post-feminist work. (2) “Louise Ciccone”: Madonna’s real name.

 

Notes to Canto 3 (The Gluttonous)

George R.R. Martin. (1) “Around sports and politics indulged on his site”: Martin is legendary for his snails-pace writing, and the long intervals between the volumes in A Song of Ice and Fire. Pissing off his fans even more is the fact he indulges writing so many off-topic posts on his blog, instead of getting his ass to work on Ice and Fire. (2) “A whole new bar for the fakest news”: Years ago I had written satirical reviews for The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, which hadn’t been published yet (and still haven’t). Many readers, blind to the humor, took these reviews seriously and went viral with their enthusiasm. Martin didn’t take kindly to this.

Sally Struthers. “A long way from her comedy days”: Struthers was slim when she played Gloria in the ’70s sitcom All in the Family. After putting on a ton of weight, she became the butt of jokes, and in the South Park comedy was ruthlessly satirized. The South Park creators saw one of Struthers’ commercials and found it hilarious that a massively overweight woman was doing commercials for starving children in Africa. So they wrote an episode in which she was asking for food donations — and then hoarding the food for herself instead of giving it to the African children. Later the show turned her into a female Jabba the Hut. (See here.)

William Howard Taft. “Three-fifty pounds to an absolute tee”: President William Howard Taft did in fact weight 350 pounds, and was so fat that he fell asleep everywhere — at important meetings, state funerals, even White House dinners as he was in the middle of eating. He probably did not get stuck in the White House bathtub, though it’s hardly surprising that urban legend was taken seriously.

 

Notes to Canto 4 (The Greedy)

Mark Zuckerburg. “Without being liable for what you invite”: When big-tech companies censor and de-platform users, they are assuming the role of an editorial site instead of a neutral platform. If they want to do this (that is, censor and/or remove users according to “Terms of Service”), then they should be treated as an editorial site and be stripped of their legal immunities: held liable for what is posted on their site (copyright violation, defamation, etc.), like any other editorial site. Only under that condition should they be allowed censoring privileges as a private business.

 

Notes to Canto 5 (The Wrathful)

Steven Anderson. (1) “Those who committed the crime of litter”: One of the worst sins in Anderson’s bible is littering; it drives him nuts. He publicly chastises anyone he sees littering, and sermonizes with as much rage as he does on the subjects of sodomites, abortionists, Calvinists, Modalists, Zionists, and men who pee sitting down. (2) “The rise of your one-world government”: Anderson subscribes to the one-world government conspiracy, but puts a spin on it: this new order is run by a cabal of vicious homos, who are bent on pushing “the homo agenda” everywhere.

 

Notes to Canto 6 (The Heretics)

Martin Luther. “Reinvented Paul to be just like him”: Luther’s readings of Galatians and Romans have influenced Christian theologians immensely, despite the fact that the apostle Paul was saying something very different about the law than Luther was. Not least, the fact that Paul had no trouble being righteous under the law as a practicing Pharisee (Philip 3:6). Luther read Paul’s attack against the law through the lens of western guilt and insecurity – and many Christians today still read Paul as a prototype of Martin Luther.

John Dominic Crossan. (1) “The Lord’s authentic sayings”: as a member of the Jesus Seminar, Crossan voted on which of the gospel sayings were likely spoken by the historical Jesus. Few of them made the cut. (2) “Egalitarian Jesus”: Crossan wrote a famous book called The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (1991), which argued that Jesus was an egalitarian. But the idea of social equality between human beings originated with the 18th-century Enlightenment and was first put into practice (and only imperfectly) with the American and French revolutions. Jesus wasn’t born out of time and place. He was a messianic boss who chose twelve male disciples as his closest confidants. That he provided for the weak and vulnerable, and promised a reversal of fortune in the kingdom of God, didn’t make him egalitarian; nor did his reciprocity in common table-fellowship promote a message of equality.

Karen King. “To save my Divinity School from the coffer”: A conman named Walter Fritz emailed Karen King on July 9, 2010, describing Coptic fragments he wanted to sell. She didn’t reply until almost a year later, on June 25, 2011, and that was to tell him she wasn’t interested. Then, four months after that, on October 15, 2011, she suddenly had a change of heart. And for the next four and a half years, she promoted the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife”, even though it was effectively debunked as a hoax less than a month after she announced it publicly in September of 2012. She finally conceded the hoax in June of 2016. The question is why King ignored Walter Fritz for so long before finally taking his bait, and then persisting in willful denial when the hoax was clearly exposed. Ariel Sabar’s book Veritas (2000) answers this question: In October 2011, Harvard University was on the brink of creating a secular religious studies department, and the divinity department (and Karen King’s status) was in jeopardy. To Karen King, the Jesus-Wife fragment may have seemed a godsend for keeping progressive liberal theology married to academic scholarship.

N.T. Wright. (1) “A bishop insisting he was truly Jewish”: Wright sees every piece of New Testament theology as Jewish to the core, even when it’s at its most supersessionist, and even when mainstream Jews laugh his interpretations out the door. (2) “Don’t be blind to metaphor”: Wright is often seen as a conservative biblical scholar, and in many ways that’s true, but not others. He rejects the idea that biblical apocalyptic language speaks about the destruction of the earth and the world coming to a literal end. He claims that apocalyptic language was a vivid and colorful way to use metaphors when describing major socio-political changes occurring within human history. But this claim is based not on a careful assessment of literary evidence, but on Wright’s personal views of creational monotheism — which by rights should make him a heretic in the eyes of the orthodox.

 

Notes to Canto 8 (The Violent against Neighbor)

Muhammad. (1) “Put terror in their hearts and strike their necks”: see Qur’an 3:151, 8:12, 8:60, 47:4. (2) “Make their women into slaves of sex”: the Qur’an teaches that infidel women can be lawfully taken for sexual use (cf. its allowance for a man to take “captives of the right hand”), 4:3, 4:24, 23:1-6, 33:50, 70:30. (3) “Slay the enemy wherever and how”: see Qur’an 2:191-193, 4:89, 5:33, 8:39, 9:111. (4) “Pay the jizya and get off the hook”: The Qur’an teaches that Jews and Christians (“People of the Book”) may live if they refuse to convert to Islam if they pay the jizya, which is a special tax (Qur’an 9:29). (Paying the jizya tax puts Jews and Christians under a mafia-like rule which subjects them to a raft of discrimination laws; it’s a second-class citizenship at best.)

Saladin. The first sultan of Egypt and Syria and founder of the Ayyubid dynasty (died 1193 AD). He led the military campaigns against the Crusader states. In modern myth-making, Saladin has become the prototype of the tolerant, magnanimous Muslim warrior. He was in fact as ruthless as other Muslin sultans and had visions of extending his jihad far beyond the holy land of Palestine; he believed that his fight against the Crusaders was part of a larger global jihad, which he intended to pursue. (Dante actually put Saladin on Circle 1, with the virtuous unbelievers, following the precursor to the modern myth, that Saladin, like Richard the Lionheart, was “nobly chivalrous”.)

Sufi Muslims (Shah Wali Allah, etc). It’s a common myth that Sufi doctrine is peaceful, just because it is heretical. The mystical doctrine of the Sufis in not at odds with the jihad imperative, and many Sufis are jihadists as Islam requires.

The five presidents. (1) “Jackson who robbed and slaughtered the Reds”: Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, and was responsible for more suffering and death on the part of the Natives than any other president. (2) “Lincoln who killed for emancipation”: Abraham Lincoln could have ended slavery as other countries had ended it (Britain in the 1833-38 period, and even “backwater” Mexico in 1829), and the cost of this kind of emancipation would have been far less than the financial costs of the Civil War, not to mention the obscene cost of human lives, which by the end of the Civil War totaled 600,000 Americans, 38,000 of whom were African Americans. (3) “Wilson the worst president”: Woodrow Wilson was the most catastrophically interventionist president in history, causing more deaths than any other; he was a virulent racist, who fueled the rise of the second KKK; he was the worst offender of peoples’ civil rights; his presidency screwed up the 20th century and beyond – and the meter is still ticking. (4) “Johnson’s excursions in Vietnam”: Lyndon Johnson knew and acknowledged that the Vietnam War was stupid and wrong, and yet for political purposes escalated the war to the point of getting 58,000 American soldiers killed. (5) “Bush who hammered Saddam without cease”: George W. Bush was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, because he could have prevented them, but was too consumed with scheming against Saddam Hussein; he was responsible for ISIS, because he deposed Saddam Hussein who was a lesser evil; he peddled a rosy view of Islam, which impedes an understanding of the motivations of jihadists — the religious ideology that drives groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS; and he was responsible for the deaths of over 4000 American soldiers and 100,000 indigenous peoples in Iraq, for a war entirely without cause.

 

Notes to Canto 9 (The Violent against Self)

Robin Williams.What Dreams May Come“: In this 1998 film directed by Vincent Ward, Williams played Chris Nielsen, and Annabella Sciorra played his wife Annie. Annie goes to Hell when she commits suicide, and Chris finds a way to enter Hell and rescue her. The imagery of Hell in the film is very Dantean.

 

Notes to Canto 10 (The Violent against God – Blasphemers)

Andres Serrano. “Crucifix in a jar of urine”: The artist known for glorifying images of feces and bodily fluids, especially in his photograph Piss Christ.

Matt. “The sermons of Pastor Piss”: A reference to Pastor Steven Anderson (encountered on Circle 5 among the wrathful). Anderson teaches the Reprobate Doctrine (Romans 1:18-32), which states that there is a line which an unbeliever can cross, where God no longer wishes for that person’s salvation. The Deity — fed up after being patient and offering second chances — finally gives the person over to a reprobate mind, turning the person into a sodomite. That’s how people become homosexual, according to the Reprobate Doctrine. Homosexuals are beyond hope and impossible to save, because God has “given them up” to be precisely this way, in an act of irrevocable rejection. Curiously, the modern fundamentalist Reprobate Doctrine aligns fairly well with the medieval Catholic view, which also treats sodomites very harshly, as the Inferno makes clear.

 

Notes to Canto 11 (The Violent against God – Sodomites)

Kenneth Pinyan. “I died on the table from a perforated colon”: This isn’t an urban legend. Pinyan was sodomized by a horse and died from it.

 

ROSTER FOR CIRCLES 1-7

Souls Punished
Souls I encounter on this Circle
Circle 1
Virtuous Unbelievers Bill Maher, Asra Nomani, Sam Harris, Margot Adler, Elie Wiesel, Gendun Drubpa
Circle 2
The Lustful Madonna, Tiger Woods, Paris Hilton, Albert Einstein, Danielle Staub, Ernest Hemingway, Russell Bran, Brittany Spears
Circle 3 The Gluttonous George R.R. Martin, Sally Struthers, William Howard Taft
Circle 4
The Greedy Mark Zuckerburg and Jack Dorsey, Simon Cowell, Bill Gates, the Koch Brothers
Circle 5
The Wrathful Pastor Steven Anderson
Circle 6
Heretics Martin Luther, John Dominic Crossan, Karen King, N.T. Wright
Circle 7, Ring 1
The Violent against Others (Murderers, Warmongers) Muhammad, Hitler, Stalin, Attila the Hun, Zengi, Saladin, Shah Wali Allah, Al-Hallaj, Ahmad Sirhindi, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon Johnson, George W. Bush
Circle 7, Ring 2
The Violent against Self (Suicides) Kurt Kobain, Robin Williams
Circle 7, Ring 3
The Violent against God (Blasphemers, Sodomites) Richard Dawkins, Matt Bertrand, Loren Rosson, Kenneth Pinyan

Special Preview: Dante’s Inferno in the 21st Century (Donald Trump)

Dante’s Inferno is in drastic need of updating for modern times. It’s one of the best classics of Western literature but so much of it is tied to the obscurities of 13th-14th century Italian politics. I aim to rectify that. In honor of Inauguration Day, here is a special preview of my revised Inferno. I’m the one touring Hell and I encounter Donald Trump pretty far down — on Ditch 9 of Circle 8, punished as an inciter of rebellion.

From Canto 21: The Sowers of Discord, Schismatics, and Inciters to Rebellion (Circle 8, Ditch 9)

As I watched the souls all disemboweled
I saw a headless trunk befouled
It held its head by the orange hair
And swung it like a lantern with hardly a care

In the other hand it carried a monstrous sword
Bloody, like that of a medieval lord
Suddenly this figure walked straight towards me
And I gasped as I saw who it had to be

[Me]
“Donald Trump, you piece of shit!
So this is where your fate is writ
How does it feel to be sliced in two?
I only wish I could have done that to you.”

[Trump]
“Who are you, putting on airs?
You come here disturbing my thoughts and prayers
You have something to say, go ahead
I give you five minutes, then I chop off your head.”

[Me]
“I’ll take all the time I fucking need
To explain how you made our country bleed
Feeding conspiracies, nurturing lies
And wishing for a Wall to blot out the skies.”

Snarling he came closer, two steps ahead
And replied – clearly wishing me dead:

[Trump]
“I ruled with fairness and wisdom besides
There’s always always blame on both sides
And if that isn’t enough to fucking appease
Then the Constitution said I could do as I please.”

[Me]
“That document says nothing of the goddamn sort
Your presidency was one to abort
As for blame, there’s much more ambivalence
While all you can do is make false equivalence.”

He roared and swung his sword in an arc —
— barely, barely missing its mark
As I stumbled he brandished his face instead
And rage poured from that decapitated head:

[Trump]
“Who are you, to pass judgment on me?
Just like that know-nothing Jack Dorsey
He censored and silenced me all too well
It’s he and Mark Zuckerburg who should be here in Hell!”

[Me]
“They are here in Hell, but not nearly this deep
They’re up on the Fourth, where stones make them weep
But you are forever consigned to a fate
On this hideous Bolgia of Circle Eight.”

The sword came again, and Trump went insane
Hacking and slashing and screaming in vain
For the sword passed right through me, unable to wreck
Anything except his own red neck.