Bring Me The Red Pages

This and other pics of Codex Rossanensis courtesy of

This and other pics of Codex Rossanensis courtesy of

One of the cable channels is showing the whole run of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in order, and so we're dipping in from time to time. I'm glad to report that it holds up quite well, as sitcoms go. At a certain juncture in tonight's episode, Murray ripped the breast pocket off Ted Baxter's jacket, and I turned to my wife and said, "Watch. Later he pulls off all three." Sho nuff, it came to pass as I had said.

Now, normally I wouldn't spoil in that way, but Continue reading…


Last 5 posts by David Byron


  1. Marsupial says

    Goddamn that was good — and I only come here for the legal commentary!!

    Also, Ted Baxter (Ted Knight) was not Cpt. Stubing; that was Gavin Macleod (Murray on MTM).

  2. Brett Middleton says

    Wow. It takes quite a mind to blend biblical parables, art history, printing history, Mary Tyler Moore, litterbugs, and 50-year-old PSAs into one fascinating discourse. Then title it with a Myst reference to boot. My hat is off to you! But chances are probably slim these days that random butt-chucking bozos are familiar with Woodsy Owl and Iron-Eyes Cody.

  3. wumpus says

    My odd memory of the Mary Tyler Moore show involves Ted Baxter's wife commenting on her (and hubby's) apparel being tuxes as "a gay wedding cake". My mom noted (this must have been slightly before 1980, I don't think they broadcast reruns much after that) that this seemed a bit progressive/edgy in 1972.

  4. ngvrnd says

    I've been in the car when Clark did that trick with the tossed cigarette butt. "An ordinary person spends his life avoiding tense situations…"

  5. phunctor says

    Now, given that a cigarette butt on the side of the road does not measurably impact anyone's QOL, what is happening here? Would you have the same reaction to a rolled up foil wrapper for a stick of gum? If not, why not?

    I have an actual point. We need to be conscious of our conditioning so we can be suspicious of its guidance. The smokers were just the warm-up swing. Does your ire flow solely from the principle of shared responsibility for maintaining the commons, or is there an extra element of piling on the Goldsteined smokers?

  6. LW says

    @phunctor: "a cigarette butt on the side of the road does not measurably impact anyone's QOL"

    I have seen far too many roadside fires and burned-over roadsides to regard a cigarette butt carelessly tossed out the window as equivalent to a foil wrapper.

  7. Jim Salter says

    " a cigarette butt on the side of the road does not measurably impact anyone's QOL"

    The hell you say. This is the (improper) justification for ALL litter and dumping – "but it's just one [x]! And the outdoors is so big!". Yeah, THAT'S just one, but after you and a few / few hundred /few thousand OTHER people do the same, everything is one giant shithole. And YES, cigarette butts add up, and pretty quickly, because they don't decompose worth a damn.

    Not sure if you're took young to remember the 70s and 80s or just want to defend your own littering, but butts used to be EVERYWHERE and it was disgusting.

  8. says

    if we had been at a stoplight, I might've been tempted to get out, retrieve the butt, fling it into her open window, and explain with a Wodehousian demeanor that it appeared as if she had dropped something.

    I was once on a sidewalk when someone in a convertible reached over the passenger door and dropped a Dunkin Donuts iced coffee cup full of ice and coffee residue into the gutter. The car then proceeded five feet before stopping at a red light. I walked over, picked up the plastic cup, squeezed it so as to dislodge the lid, and underarmed it into the back seat of the convertible just as the light turned green.

    It's been a decade or more but I still treasure that memory.

  9. says

    @phunctor :

    Now, given that a cigarette butt on the side of the road does not measurably impact anyone's QOL, what is happening here? Would you have the same reaction to a rolled up foil wrapper for a stick of gum?

    While standing at a bus stop once a woman unwrapped a stick of gum and discarded the foil. I picked it up and handed it to her and said "Excuse me, mam. You dropped something."

    She looked sour, but took it from me.

    A minute later she dropped it again. As I knew she would. So I pointed, raised my voice and said "Excuse me, mam. You've dropped something. Again."

    After a moment the shame became too much and she bent over and picked it up.

    Another memory I treasure.

  10. says


    I've been in the car when Clark did that trick with the tossed cigarette butt. "An ordinary person spends his life avoiding tense situations…"

    Ah. It appears that there are more stories about me and littering…just not ones that I remembered.

    As ngvrnd and Ken can attest I am not known for my lack of confrontationalism.

  11. Careless says

    if I ever snap "Falling Down" style, I'll probably wind up going after at least one littering smoker. Such assholes.

  12. Jon says

    Wow. Just, wow. About halfway through, I thought to myself how far this had wandered since the opening — and then it all came around again (like a circle — I see what you did there)… And so many quotable lines in the middle, too ("little Macarena saints from days of oy").

  13. Dirkmaster says

    I have to admit, I haven't received such a lecture as David's here since Gospels 301 back at Asbury in the late 70's. But it's GEB's strange loop back to littering delights my more modern soul.

    And those who disdain the environment are like those who mistreat animals. Defective souls.

  14. BNT says

    This one's going on my "read again" list. Which didn't exist, nor did it need to, until this moment.

  15. Mercury says

    Take that art history major scoffers!

    Although I am quite concerned about many serious environmental issues I view pretty much all things “green” with grave suspicion and think the EPA and related such government agencies are falling down drunk with power and completely out of control.

    That said, littering has always pissed me off too and I’m constantly picking up carelessly discarded waste around the publicly owned environmentally sensitive area that abuts my (privately owned) and much better maintained (even on a traffic-adjusted basis) environmentally sensitive area. I’ve never lit anything on fire but I have been known to take the odd three point shot with a McDonald’s bag at a litter bug’s BMW sunroof from time to time. And yes the crying Indian made a big impression on me as well. Oh, and I’ve never seen an environmental police officer so much as pick up a gum wrapper, ever. When it comes to cigarette buts I usually tell litterers that if they're going to smoke and litter at least have the courtesy to smoke (biodegradable) unfiltered like the tough guys (they're usually male) of yore they think they resemble. For all the money the government has extorted from cigarette companies in the name of the public good you'd think they would have mandated biodegradable filters by now.

    Human memory is a powerful thing and quite obviously an evolved, key survival tool. It’s a shame that rote memory learning is rather out of fashion these days because even people of below average intelligence are capable of memorizing huge swaths of material verbatim. In the pre-literate era, your ability to remember that 1000 line poem about what to do when you’re lost in the forest after dark might very well be the difference between life and death. Surely even today you’re better off if you don’t have to Google or app your way through every trial in life.

    For those of us who believe that the aggregate quantity of human religious impulse is fairly constant and that environmentalism has, for better or worse, more or less filled the void left by waning Judeo/Christianity, it will be interesting to see the further evolution of didactic iconography in this regard.

    But if more efforts were focused on things like littering (what has replaced the crying Indian?) and less on carbon footprints the world would probably be a better place.

  16. Connie says

    This would be a beautiful sermon in any church. I want a reproduction of the Red Book though. That thing is amazingly pretty.

  17. princessartemis says

    Now, given that a cigarette butt on the side of the road does not measurably impact anyone's QOL, what is happening here?

    Come to Southern California after fire season and say that. Not only is the world not your, or anyone else's, ashtray, using it as such is stupidly dangerous.

    David, your posts are always a delight! Thank you for making the world a better place.

  18. says

    @Connie, you're in luck! One of the 750 limited edition facsimiles is available for sale at the discounted price of 4800 Euro! That's about 6336 USD and represents a savings of €1000 off the original price! :D

  19. Mercury says

    Also, one wonders what the poor groomsmen thought of the guest with the open-toed footwear who turned away five nubile virgins from this late night reception. “Savior” probably wasn’t the consensus assessment.

  20. TerryTowels says

    Heh. Memory is a funny thing. Grew up in SoCal, am a life-long environmentalist, hate litterers.

    During my first trip to Europe, (40 years ago–thus memory) I remember watching a local in France toss a lit cig out the window of the train. I was SHOCKED, thinking doesn't he know he can start a fire? The memory is vivid- smells, sounds, quality of light.

    We are what we know, I guess.

  21. TerryTowels says

    By the way, really like the essay.

    I am now stuck with the story of the 10 virgins in my brain like an ear worm. What is the meaning of the parable? Why was it so important to those early christians? What is it like today? and more, I'm sure, yet to come.

  22. Connie says

    Growing up in the Orthodox Church, we would hear this parable somewhat often; they call the Church itself the 'Bride of Christ' and refer to him as the Bridegroom.

    I always interpreted it as 'Always have faith, for you don't know when Jesus is coming back and should live your life like any moment you will be judged.' But not in a harsh way of judgement. Only those who are prepared to 'receive the bridegroom' will be admitted to the party aka Heaven. It's not a 'You were bad, get the heck out' but more of a 'Well done, thou trusty servant' kind of thing. "You can join the party."

  23. jdgalt says

    If God turns out to be picky, then none of my friends will be in Heaven either.

    There are things worth getting upset about. Litter as tiny as a cigarette butt isn't one of them.

  24. says

    @jdgalt, According to Wickard and Raich (even filtered on a fillip through Morrison!), we're allowed to aggregate all those butts.

  25. dw says

    The Humane Society, or someone, wants you to know that Kant thinks our treatment of animals is the measure of humanity

    Gandhi, not Kant. But close enough.

  26. says

    @dw, No biggie.

    For the curious, that's Matthew 15:2b-8a up top:

    [15:2b] ου γαρ νίπτονται τας χείρας αυτών όταν άρτον εσθίωσιν [15:3] ο δε αποκριθείς είπεν αυτοίς διατί και υμείς παραβαίνετε την εντολήν του θεού διά την παράδοσιν υμών [15:4] ο γαρ θεός ενετείλατο λέγων τίμα τον πατέρα και την μητέρα και ο κακολογών πατέρα η μητέρα θανάτω τελευτάτω [15:5] υμείς δε λέγετε ος αν είπη τω πατρί η τη μητρί δώρον ο εάν εξ εμού ωφεληθής [15:6] και ου μη τιμήση τον πατέρα αυτούη την μητέρα αυτού και ηκυρώσατε την εντολήν του θεού διά την παράδοσιν υμών [15:7] υποκριταί καλώς προεφήτευσε περί υμών Ησαϊας λέγων [15:8a] εγγίζει μοι ο λαός ούτος τω στόματι αυτ–

  27. Yo-Yo says

    Well done, brother of another mother. I feel the need for a cigarette after reading that. Although it hasn't come up in a while, this post would be extremely helpful in a 'flag burning' debate. The parable and interpretation would also play nice in a salvation by faith vs deeds.

    On memory, I read as a kid the books my sisters would leave when they came home from college. 'Dune' and 'Watership Down' are still applicable parables 25 years later.

  28. David Stapleton says

    Just to be a bigger medieval art geek, there is one possibly older biblical manuscript, The Quedlinburg Itala fragment. It just survives as fragments found in book bindings done in the early 17th century.

    One cool thing about it, is that because of the damaged nature of some the illustrations, we can see the notes left for the artist on what to paint in the the spaces left blank. We can also tell that the artist didn't always follow the instructions.

    Damn artists.

  29. says

    @David Stapleton, Thanks for mentioning Quedlinburg Itala (ca. early AD 400s).

    Codex Cottonensis (ca. AD 300s-400s) is an older illustrated biblical MS than Rossanensis. So is the Vienna Genesis (ca. early AD 500s), perhaps.

    The relevant ternary distinction is the one I drew among "earliest illuminated codex", "earliest biblical manuscript that features pictures", and "oldest illustrated Christian book". The Quedlinburg fragments come from a candidate for that second group: oldest biblical MS with pics. It includes material from Kings and Samuel. In this respect, it's akin to Cotton and Vienna.

    The Rossano Gospels (ca. AD 500s) manuscript offers what are (as far as we know or think we know) the oldest book illustrations that are distinctively Christian in content; they show scenes from the New Testament.

    Now, it's possible that Quedlinburg was made by or for Christians, but that's unclear. As the Wikipedia article to which you link points out

    The other very early illustrated biblical manuscripts that have survived are similar densely illustrated texts of specific books from the Old Testament… which, with some specific details of the illustrations, leads scholars to postulate an earlier tradition of Jewish luxury manuscripts, perhaps in scroll format, in the Hellenized Jewish world…

    So maybe this one is "Christian" in the sense that it was made by or for Christians; or maybe it was made by or for Jews. But this much is clear: even if it's the earliest book with bible pictures, it's not the earliest book with overtly Christian (i.e., NT) bible pictures.

    It's exciting to speculate about what else may lie hidden among the bindings, or in the pages of palimpsests! As the recent exhibition of the Archimedes Codex makes clear, major finds are still possible.

  30. markm says

    A single cigarette butt can be a fire hazard in arid regions. Even in a fireproof setting, they can be quite a destroyer of QOL in the aggregate. I'm remembering Clinch Park Beach in Traverse City, MI when I was a child. By volume, there were more cigarette butts than sand. And that's in a small town with many beaches.

  31. Rich Rostrom says

    phunctor @ Jun 20, 2013 @5:34 am:

    Now, given that a cigarette butt on the side of the road does not measurably impact anyone's QOL….

    There's never just one.

    If I didn't continually pick up the butts that smokers discard around my building, the QOL would be substantially impacted.

    David: way cool essay. When the codex format was invented, Rome was already in serious decline (sacked in 415). Imagine what beauties might have been created had it been adopted 100 years earlier.

  32. says

    @Rich Well, the codex format was invented somewhat earlier, before ca. the AD 80s or so. Via a source cited in the Wikipedia article, we learn that Martial mentions the codex format around that time.

    So folks in the 100s, 200s, 300s had their opportunity to paint in books.

    If they did it, we don't know about it. One imagines something in a Pompeiian style (simply because that would be cool), but in truth there's no telling how it might've looked. Book illustration apparently wasn't in vogue, so the best we can do is to triangulate imaginatively from mural paintings and those later scraps of Vergil.

  33. Darryl S says

    That was a most enjoyable read: a collection of diverse topics, all of which I'm interested in, and all tied together to teach me some things I didn't know and give me a new perspective on some things I thought I knew.


  34. Cato the Younger says

    Personally, I would give anything to return to those halcyon days when cigarette butts littered the roadways. Not because I was entirely unoffended by the sight of all those cigarette butts, but because I'm nostalgic for a time when our nation's fiscal and monetary overlords hadn't quite jiggered the joysticks to ultimate ruination. Roadside cigarette butts are a decent contrary indicator, though that's probably just a coincidence.

    I'm also nostalgic for a time when the good people that I have known were good to one another. The Internet has really taken that away in some sense. It's just snark after snark, regardless of whether the topic is Gerard Depardieu on a key-lime Vespa or the freaking Book of Kells. Too much of the goodness has been sucked out of interpersonal communication. Somebody cue Howard Beale.