Monday, February 28, 2011


Many readers, no doubt, are familiar with the hit TV series Spartacus: Blood and Sand, about the famous Roman-era gladiator. This is the greatest show ever made in the history of the world. It has no need for such bourgeois banalities as “plot” or “scripts.” Instead, it has full-frontal nudity, graphic sex, decapitations, and nonstop virtuoso swearing that would make a Marine Corps drill sergeant blush like a home-schooled teenager given her first valentine. And abs.

Spartacus is set at a time when Western Civilization was in its infancy, and made as if it died there in the cradle. The first six episodes consisted of Spartacus chopping heads off while bellowing, “I must find my wife!” When he found his wife, and she was dead, he spent the next six episodes chopping heads off and bellowing, “I miss my wife!” I realize that readers who have not seen the show may be baffled by the byzantine nature of its storyline, but try to keep up nonetheless.

Longtime friends can confirm that my real talents, such as they are, lie in the realm of fiction rather than non-fiction writing. As proof, I offer my own script for a new episode of Spartacus, which I humbly submit for consideration to the producers of series. As this is a family blog, I have omitted all swearing, though you should feel free to imagine certain four and twelve-letter swearwords sprinkled liberally throughout.


Exterior, Gladiator training school. Enter SPARTACUS and his six-pack abs. The sun reflects off them, blinding several stage hands.

“I need a new wife!”

Enter BATIATUS, his master, having sex with a slave.


“Spartacus! You bring DISHONOR on the House of Batiatus!”

Enter CRIXUS, another gladiator, preceded by his abs.


“I am the TRUE champion of CAPUA!”


“No, I am the TRUE champion of CAPUA! Still, you think maybe a Gaul like you and a guy like me..."

CRIXUS attacks. They fight, making a point to hit each others’ swords. A tidal wave of blood knocks everyone off their feet. They are about to resume fighting when DOCTORE, the gladiator trainer, appears and cracks his whip.


“You can’t fight in here! This is the gladiator school! Ah...Ah...get it? Get it? Plus it’s a Kubrick reference, from Dr. Strangelove. But he also directed the movie version of Spartacus. You see, what I’m doing is subverting your expectations by inserting a metafictional reference, on, people. Work with me. You can win independent film awards for this sort of thing.”

Enter XENA, naked, with an entourage of NAKED SLAVES in tow.


“My husband, could you have Crixus brought naked to my room? Make sure he’s spritzed with a thin but glistening sheen of oil.”


“Certainly, my dear wife. My goodness, how you two seem to be getting on well these days. No doubt you’ll have an enjoyable conversation or something. Anyhoo, I’m off to the market for precisely the amount of time it would take for you to have sex with a gladiator, if you were doing that behind my back, which you’re not, of course. Ciao.”

SPARTACUS (from below)

“While you’re at the market, can you find me a wife? I really need one. Seriously.You have no idea.”


Interior of BATIATUS’S digs. BATIATUS sits at his desk, writing a love poem for his wife, XENA. XENA and CRIXUS can be heard GRUNTING and MOANING and SIGHING and POUNDING THE WALLS in the next room. This goes on for twenty minutes. Enter SPARTACUS, with little frowney faces drawn on each of his abs. When he flexes, they become smiley faces.

BATIATUS (shouting over the noise coming from the bedroom)

“Ah, Spartacus. Your presence brings GREAT HONOUR on the House of Batiatus. Now pack your things. You’re fighting a TEN FOOT TALL NINJA with FOUR ARMS in the arena this afternoon. I must warn you. No ONE has EVER defeated the TEN FOOT NINJA with FOUR ARMS. There’s nothing I can do. I owe the man a dollar fifty.”


“Is he looking for a good husband?”


Exterior of arena. By which I mean interior of arena. The part of the arena that’s interior to the physical structure but actually is open to the air. You know what I mean. Thousands of HALF NAKED ROMANS await the arrival of SPARTACUS. They pass the time by the doing the wave. BATIATUS watches from his private booth. An IRRITATING ROMAN BLONDE WOMAN is there. XENA and CRIXUS are making out in the back row.


“Oooo how I totally hate that Spartacus. And why do all Romans have British accents?”


“Spartacus may yet bring GREAT HONOUR on the House of Batiatus. Or GREAT DISHONOUR. Or, his effect might be more-or-less neutral in terms of its impact on the relative honour standing of the House of Batiatus. There’s no way of knowing without an objective consideration of his win-loss record over the course of the gladiatorial season.”

Cut to: SPARTACUS, entering the arena. He is BUCK NAKED except that he is carrying a sword in each hand and is also holding a shield. Don’t ask how. The CROWD begins to chant his name.


“I am SPARTACUS! Are any of you ladies single?”’

ENTER a TEN FOOT TALL NINJA with FOUR ARMS. He is carrying a sword, an axe, a spear, and an atom bomb. He and SPARTACUS fight. They make sounds such as “ARAAGH” and “OOOGHA” and “BLAGH” and say such things as “Hey! Careful there!” SPARTACUS is slashed across the chest, arms, legs, and nearly gets his shield-holder taken off. His hair is ripped out. His teeth are smashed in. He loses both eyes and has to put them back in to see, but he puts them in BACKWARDS and sees everything upside down. One of his six abs gets removed with a cake-lifter. He is finished off with a horrendous noogie. Spartacus collapses all dirty and sweaty. Four men throw buckets of blood on the camera. The NINJA pauses for a few hours to GLOAT.

Cut to: SPARTACUS, having a vision of his WIFE, who is named MILDRED.


“Is that the best you can do? Typical. You never could keep it up. What will the neighbours think? And you never help around the house. I should have listened to my mother and married a doctor.”


“I want my wife!”


“Not now. I have a headache. And If you think I’m washing your loin-cloths later, you’ve got another thing coming, mister. Anyway, get up and kill this Ninja. Get that promotion you’re always bragging about.”


“But why?”


“Because everyone wants to see you have sex with Xena next season.”

Cut to: SPARTACUS, raising both his swords and his shield. The NINJA goes to finish him off but stubs his toe. While he’s hopping around on one leg, saying “Ow! Ow! Ow!”, SPARTACUS cuts it off. Then his other leg, his ears, and each one of his fingers in turn. Then his arms, which SPARTACUS uses to wail on the NINJA for about half an hour. A thousand-gallon drum of blood is thrown at the camera. Finally, SPARTACUS chops off the NINJA’S head and punts it for twenty-five yard field goal. The CROWD goes WILD.


“That one’s for the ladies!”

Cut to BATIATUS, who is being jostled by XENA and CRIXUS who are rolling about the booth naked in a sweaty embrace.


“Spartacus! You bring GREAT HONOUR on the House of Batiatus!”


“So you’re saying you find me attractive?”


Next week on Spartacus: SPARTACUS searches a mail-order tablet for a wife. BATIATUS accuses him of dishonouring the House of Batiatus, and condemns him to fight a BRONTOSAURUS. The IRRITATING ROMAN BLONDE WOMAN tries to frame SPARTACUS for tax evasion. Everyone has sex while DOCTORE throws buckets of blood around. XENA and CRIXUS continue their secret affair.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


A parable.

So there’s Gordon. In Heaven. Why? He has no idea - he’s a religious dissenter, after all. He’s holding a tray and is in a short, fast moving line in Heaven’s Cafeteria, which queues past a breathtaking waterfall. The day is sunny and a positively blissful 24 degrees centigrade. A live string quintet is playing a new composition by Mozart and Beethoven. As he approaches the counter, Gordon notices a small sign, written in gold. “Tomorrow’s special: Simon Peter’s catch of the day.” It’s an old joke, but everybody gets a good chuckle out of it.

Time has no meaning here, but Gordon keeps a day-planner anyway, because he’s always been a day-planner sort of guy. For today, it says:

8 AM Continental breakfast
9 AM Stroll on the beach
10 AM Ecstatic reunion with lost loved ones
12 PM Lunch
1 PM John Lennon and Elvis Presley in concert
2 PM Pedicure and foot massage
3 PM Nap
4 PM High Tea with Queen Victoria
5 PM New episodes of Firefly on Heaven-on-Demand
6 PM Dinner

He makes a mental note to get High Tea with Queen Victoria changed to burning.

Gordon gets to the front of the line to discover that God himself is serving today, which explains why things have been moving even more quickly than usual.
“What can I get you?” God asks. He’s wearing a big apron that says “Kiss the Cook!” and he sounds like Humphrey Bogart.
“What’s on for today?”
“Anything you want. Name it.”
“ many choices. Ummm...Pad Thai. And a side of McDonald’s French Fries. Oh, and a Cherry Coke.”
“I knew you’d say that. Coming right up.”
“That’s my name, don’t wear it out.”
“Can we talk?”
“Sure. Drop by my office later.”

Later, Gordon takes the cable car up to God’s office, which is at the snowy peak of an immense but gracefully curved mountain. God’s secretary (an in-her-prime Grace Kelly) presses the button on her intercom. “Gordon is here to see you.”
“I know. Send him in.”
God is sitting on a blue exercise ball at a big Ikea desk. Behind him there’s a poster of a kitten holding onto a rope. It says, “Hang in there.” On the desk is an iMac, a name plate that says “God”, and a Magic 8 Ball.
“Got a minute?” Gordon asks.
“All the time in the world. Take a load off.” He waves Gordon towards a chair. “So, how you liking it so far?”
“I’m not sure about this whole bliss thing,” Gordon begins. “I mean, struggle was one of the things that gave my life meaning. I enjoyed it.”
“Uh-huh,” says God, who is finishing up deleting spam from his e-mail. “There’s a book you should read. All about struggle. Guy named Hitler wrote it.”
“That’s not what I mean. I mean that it was the expectation of serious effort now in return for future satiety that was motivating in life. Here, everything’s handed to me on a silver platter. Literally. Lunch was on a silver platter.”
“Look, it’s your Heaven. You want some struggle, you can have struggle. Have an argument with Socrates. Talk politics with Machiavelli. Play chess with Morphy. Box a few rounds with Rocky Marciano. Try to figure out season six of Lost. Whatever. You could even go back, if you want. The Buddhists do. Oh, how they love to go back.”
“Okay. Fair enough. But there’s something else I’ve been meaning to ask. I assume you know already-“
“Of course.”
“Exactly. That’s the problem. Omnipotence.”
“Oh, Me. Here we go,” says God.
“It’s self-contradicting, isn’t it?”
“Not to me.”
“I mean, if you’re all-powerful and all-knowing, you must be the cause of evil. At the very least, you either can’t prevent it or won’t. If you can’t prevent it, you’re not omnipotent. If you won’t, you’re malicious. No offense.”
“None taken. Ever heard of free will?”
“Of course, but can we even have free will if your omnipotence includes omniscience, which it must? And, moreover, tidal waves aren’t a matter of free will. Plague isn’t free will. And what about the innocent victims of the acts of free will committed by others? Jews in the Holocaust, that sort of thing.”
God bounces a bit on the exercise ball and says, “I see things long term. Trust me, there’s a good reason for those things. Your puny monkey brain couldn’t understand it. No offense.”
“I have a PhD, you know,” Gordon says, rather indignantly.
“Well, I don’t have a PhD, I admit. But I created created space and time. I invented the physical constants of the universe. I directed biological evolution to ensure the developmental of higher-order intelligence. I solved the Rubic’s Cube in, like, two minutes flat. Two minutes. The first time I laid eyes on it. It took you six years to write your dissertation and half your committee didn’t even read it.”
“They didn’t?”
“Of course they didn’t, pea brain. Didn’t you notice the one guy’s proofreading comments stopped at about page fifty?”
“Oh, wow.”
Gordon reflects for a moment and then says, “So...why am I here? In Heaven? A non-believer like me? All kinds of people said I’d end up in Hell.”
“Meh,” God shrugs. “You seem like a good guy.”
“Okay. But there was this philosopher, Pascal...”
“Speak of the Devil," God interjects. "I’m hitting the links with him tomorrow afternoon. You should come.”
“...and he said it was the best bet to believe in God. But he didn’t say which God. And he didn’t distinguish between the idea that you should believe and actually believing. I mean, it’s not like I could believe in something for which there wasn’t sufficient evidence, even if belief is the best bet.”
“Me knows. Look, you don’t need to explain yourself. We get all sorts up here, and we do our best to make everyone feel at home. But not everyone expected it to be like this. Some wanted virgins, for example. Virgins! What’s up with that?”
“You should talk.”
“Don’t be a wise guy.” He really does sound like Humphrey Bogart. “Anyway, I’m a softy, basically. I’ve got a generally salvic disposition. I let in all sorts. Pagans, Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Christian Scientists, Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Jainists, Scientologists, Wiccans, Secularists, Agnostics, Atheists, Theological Noncognitivists. Nearly everybody gets in. You’ve got to be a real A-Hole not to get in. Some people bug me. Every day I meet Biblical literalists, and I say to them, ‘Really? Seriously? You thought there was a big boat with two of every animal on it? How the hell do you think the koala bears made it from Australia? Did they swim?’ But then I get all soft and let them in anyway.”
“But they believed. I didn’t.”
“So what? It’s not like I gave you guys much proof, and it tends to be the smart ones who picked up on that. I like smart people being around. Smart by your tiny little monkey brain standards, that is. You used your God given intelligence for a purpose other than devotion. Bonus marks in my book. Not that book, though. I mean ‘book’ metaphorically.”
Gordon is about to speak when the phone rings.
“I gotta take this,” God says. “They want to know if I’m interested in saving money on long distance. I am. Really, you have no idea. Could we pick this up later? And don’t forget golf tomorrow. We tee off at 11. Einstein will be there, too, but he’s always running behind.”

That evening, Gordon is back in line in the cafeteria. Ahead of him is the Reverend Pat Robertson. Gordon knows perfectly well who he is, and so decides not to strike up a conversation. But Robertson looks over his shoulder at Gordon and examines him rather dubiously. “So...what are you here for?” he asks.
“Skepticism,” Gordon replies. “And you?”