Indulgence For Sale

This page written circa 8 November, 1999.

Umberto Eco in The Name of the Rose occasionally flaunts his education by means of an exhaustive lists of things in some category. In a long list of the types of rogues abroad at the time, a list that you cannot imagine could continue when it is but half finished, comes that uniquely medieval of swindlers, the "Seller of Indulgences" (the adjective "Papal" is assumed). Tangentially to my issue, I wonder how such a fellow would have operated. Was it done with the same clandestine furtiveness of a man selling wristwatches in a side street from the folds of a long trenchcoat? Or did one have to set up a sumptuous tent after the style of your pre-PC-equipped gypsy fortune-teller? Never mind.

The precipitous conversion of floor-space in the local video retailer from VHS tape to DVD, plus some inspiring reports from Eric, have lead us to a little investigatin into DVD players. These are the MPEG-based digital video players whose media look just like a CD, but which promise better-than-CD audio and HDTV-quality pictures, not to mention subtitles in various languages, multiple camera angles, etc. The players are still often awfully expensive. CostCo has a model at $199. We bought one. (After a few weeks of searching, the cheapest DVD machine suitable for playing PAL and NTSC DVDs from all parts of the world was US$429, and one could easily pay $900. Local ones are typically US$300 to US$500. So you can see that $199 is a good deal, but then CostCo has a habit of being spectacular if narrow in range. For machines about which we yet know little, that's not a problem. Hell, at that price, it'll be cheaper if marginally less convenient to buy an Aussie or Brit one as well if the need ever arises. Incidentally, for the globally nomadic---Warwick take note---the web site offers all manner of appliances guaranteed to work in virtually every country and format, and their prices look good.)

We now have 5 remote controls and two TVs. Sounds excessive, but we support now PAL and NTSC, VHS-VCR and DVD. Viewing our growing Australian videotape collection (supplied diligently by Lynne, thank you), I recently encountered the American comedian Rich Hall (sarcasm a speciality) on Back Berner, the political satire featuring Berner late of MMM and frequenter of GNW. In Montana, he was filming an interview with the local constabulary, in which he verified the legality of driving at 100mph, with an open bottle of JD in one hand and waving an automatic pistol in the other, although he was warned that he might be pulled over if driving without a seatbelt or steering solely with his knees. "I want you to know", he hollers out as his convertible roars away from the confused deputy and the camera crew, pistol firing into the air, "that this is the happiest day of my life".

Rich Hall and CostCo really know their indulgences. With hindsight of a few paragraphs, I think Umberto's list of rogues is not so far out of date. And I would not have it any other way.

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