Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Record Deficit ...

which we knew was inevitable. With a big chunk of the electorate desperate for cash handouts - especially of the Medicare and social security type - the runaway spending must continue. Overall taxation in the US is high, and jobs are leaving due to litigation malpractice involving fraudulent disability claims. Meanwhile, the work force is guaranteed to shrink as a percentage of the population due to aging, so this has a major demographic component. Then there is the loan mess which was instigated by the government forcing banks to give out bad loans, or face litigation over racial profiling. Eventually the crap has to hit the fan, which it is doing.

The Left likes to blame the tight fisted US taxpayer and the mythical filthy rich taxpayer who isn't paying her fair share. Good luck on getting Mrs. Kerry to pay up. Some will argue that Clinton was able to balance the budget. Yes, but that was Newt Gingrich's congress holding down the spending while the dot-com boom raged and higher taxes brought in real tax dollars on virtual income. This was a once in a century event. So where to go from here? Downhill. The dialog has not yet begun.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Off on travel, and posting lightly. The killing in Knoxville, however, has grabbed my attention. How someone can go into any children's group and start shooting is beyond me. It reminds me a bit of the shooting in the Amish school house that occurred two years ago. Give some prayers for this Unitarian congregation.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

I generally take an interest in the news and am always on the lookout for some new source. The Drudgereport has been extraordinarily helpful in this matter, but sometimes a compelling news source shows up that isn't linked to by Matt Drudge. The SOL 3 News Service seems to be one of them, thus, I have included this in my links.
Marcus Aurelius regarding remorse ...

"Remorse is annoyance at yourself for having passed up something that's to your benefit. But if it's to your benefit it must be good - something a truly good person would be concerned about. But no truly good person would feel remorse at passing up pleasure. So it cannot be to your benefit, or good." - Meditations VIII.10.

There is a lot in here that I should post on the wall as a reminder to myself, but this particular passage was just wrong. I don't feel remorse because I passed up a 5 star feast to chew on some stale Cheetos. I feel remorse when I indulge my pleasures and someone else gets hurt - sometimes completely out of proportion to the little pleasure that I indulged. That is remorse. The Stoics emphasize focusing on the issues of the day and not being agitated about one thing or another. This is good, but we still are left with guilt from earlier actions. Even if we vow to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them, remorse is a genuine feeling from our conscience that cannot be addressed in the manner that the Stoics are attempting. It is only through Jesus Christ that we have a solution to this.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Suetonius regarding Tiberius and his inquisitions ...

"He abolished foreign cults, especially the Egyptian and the Jewish rites, compelling all who were addicted to such superstitions to burn their religious vestments and all their paraphernalia. Those of the Jews who were of military age he assigned to provinces of less healthy climate, ostensibly to serve in the army; the others of that same race or of similar beliefs he banished from the city, on pain of slavery for life if they did not obey. He banished the astrologers as well, but pardoned such as begged for indulgence and promised to give up their art." The Twelve Caesars, Tiberius.36.

This is interesting because the conflation of religion and race that characterizes modern Judaism is already prevalent. The Egyptian rites probably refer to Serapis. As part of this exercise, he banishes the astrologers also. It seems to me that the astrologers were banished many times, but it is hard to remember where all of the references might be. I find it interesting that the inquisition of later times seems to follow these pre-Christian patterns.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Obama's speech in Germany.

I should start with what I like: The call to do something about Darfur, Zimbabwe, and/or Burma. Afghanistan was also a plea and there was a call to constructive action elsewhere, such as trying to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, supporting the rebuilding of Iraq and stopping the flow of drugs. Unfortunately, that meant that there wasn't really any unifying message, as there is always a long laundry list of ills in the world that we could address.

Then there was the talk of walls. "The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down." OK, so we need to undo the Tower of Babel. Is this really in the power of mankind to do? And what is the basis for doing it? Who is going to give up their language, race, nation or religion to make this work? How many squatters should the average German allow to live in their back yard? We can eliminate the walls between Christian, Muslim and Jew by seeking a lowest common denominator of godless immorality, which seems to be what American secularism is striving for - and succeeding with in the dysfunctional parts of our cities. Somehow that doesn't seem to be a path to anywhere desirable.

So where do we go from here? Barrack, got any ideas?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

More than 1 Million Acres Burned.

And the fires continue. Depending on the wind conditions, we can sometimes see the smoke from the Bay Area, but mostly it has been clear.
Marcus Aurelius - taking his inspiration from Purpose Driven Rick Warren.

"People who labor all their lives but have no purpose to direct every thought and impulse toward are wasting their time - even when hard at work." - Meditations 2.7.

The Stoics have a wonderful philosophy, or maybe it just seems this way since it is so much like what I believe. They characterize their philosophy with the word Logos and the book of John certainly embraces this concept, but then goes further saying that Jesus is the Logos in a way that is offensive to the Stoics and probably explains the continuing persecution of Christians under the emperor Aurelius.

Still there is something missing from Stoicism. The son of Marcus Aurelius, Commodus, managed to get a very poor reputation which is celebrated in the film, Gladiator, in spite of having the best tutors money could buy. The Stoic Seneca's student Nero also was an embarrassment to the movement and Seneca himself was lambasted for talking stoic but not acting Stoic. As a competitor to Christianity, it simply proved very weak due to the fact that few will actually have the mental makeup to truly be Stoic and it is very difficult to pass on to the next generation. In the end, it proved not much of a match to Christianity with a personal God, judgment, and forgiveness being the central themes that are missing from Stoicism. I find the study of the Stoics useful, because there is much that I would have assumed was uniquely Christian which isn't, while what is uniquely Christian stands out in contrast when we compare these other writings to the Bible.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tacitus regarding the Jews - from Histories V.5.

"This worship, however introduced, is upheld by its antiquity; all their other customs, which are at once perverse and disgusting, owe their strength to their very badness. The most degraded out of other races, scorning their national beliefs, brought to them their contributions and presents. This augmented the wealth of the Jews, as also did the fact, that among themselves they are inflexibly honest and ever ready to shew compassion, though they regard the rest of mankind with all the hatred of enemies. They sit apart at meals, they sleep apart, and though, as a nation, they are singularly prone to lust, they abstain from intercourse with foreign women; among themselves nothing is unlawful."

This passage is a shock to me. Coming at the end of my readings of the surviving works of Tacitus, I have found him to be a fairly calm anthropologist discussing cultures from Britain and Germany to Persia and Egypt, but always in a sympathetic tone. In this section on the Jews, however, seems to lose his cool and uses his language skills to express his disdain in a most thorough manner. This also stands out as a contradiction to Josephus regarding the Jewish wars that there wasn't a component of religion that was driving things.

The other issue this brings up is antisemitism during this period. If I remember correctly, the practice of historians is to lay the blame for antisemitism at the feet of Christians as it works its way from antiquity into the middle ages. Certainly there are Christians who deserve some blame, but this note from Tacitus, who wasn't a Christian, clearly indicates that antisemitism had a firm footing in Roman culture before Christianity was a significant force. Sadly, much of the work of Tacitus is missing, so we don't get to find out from his regarding the expulsion of the Jews from Rome under Claudius, nor can we read about the conclusion of the destruction of Jerusalem, but we do have his assertion that more than 600,000 people had gathered in Rome before the Roman armies surrounded the city and began the siege and destruction of the city.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Tacitus regarding a practice with similarity to the Jewish Nazarites.

"Then Civilis fulfilled a vow often made by barbarians; his hair, which he had let grow long and colored with a red dye from the day of taking up arms against Rome, he now cut short, when the destruction of the legions had been accomplished." - Histories IV.62.

In the first century AD, Civilis was a leader of the Batavi, who were geographically situated where Holland is today. This compares to Number 6 -

"The Lord said to Moses, 'Speak to the Israelites and say to them: "If man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of separation to the Lord as a Nazarite, ... During the entire period of his vow of separation no razor may be used on his head. He must be holy until the period of his separation to the Lord is over; he must let the hair of his head grow long. ...

Now this is the law for the Nazirite when the period of his separation is over. ... Then at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, the Nazirite must shave off the hair that he dedicated. He is to take the hair and put it in the fire that is under the sacrifice of the fellowship offering. ..."

The rough similarity between the Biblical practice and that of the Batavi is what jumped out at me here. No, I am not suggesting any lost tribes theory! ... or trying to suggest any other conclusion.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Batman, Tacitus, Livy, Suetonius, and Sun Tzu.

These are just rough memories of the quotes at the beginning of the movie, The Dark Knight:

Dent: "When Rome was threatened, they appointed a dictator to be their temporary leader."
Rachel: "Yes, but the last dictator was Caesar, and look what happened."

And so we have a bumper sticker treatment of a few centuries of Roman history, which forms the philosophical framework that this movie is constructed on. This theme of absolute power continues with Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) being given access to everyone's cell phones simultaneously, but does the heroic thing by shutting down the system and turning in his resignation at the end of the movie. The leap from information to power is a modern American obsession which I will leave for a bit further in this post.

Tacitus provides a summary of the Roman dictatorship (Annals, I.1):

"Rome at the beginning was ruled by kings. Freedom and the consulship were established by Lucius Brutus. Dictatorships were held for a temporary crisis. The power of the decemvirs did not last beyond two years, nor was the consular jurisdiction of the military tribunes of long duration. The despotisms of Cinna and Sulla were brief; the rule of Pomnpeius and of Crassus soon yielded before Caesar; the arms of Lepidus and Antonius before Augustus; who, when the world was wearied by civil strife, subjected it to empire under the title of 'Prince.'"

Reading Livy's The Early History of Rome, it is clear that the Roman Republic was frequently so consumed with bickering that only a dictator who had been entrusted with absolute power could provide the kind of timely defense of Rome that was needed. Things did begin to sour when the Roman people decided to put an end to the nearly annual attacks from the nearby city of Veii. This required a lengthy siege, which meant that the rights of the citizens were overruled for a long period of time. The increasing of the bickering resulted in a period where all authority had broken down, the defenses could no longer be organized, and the Gauls went in and completely destroyed the city of Rome. Again, a dictator was appointed to assembled the remnants of the Roman empire from the nearby cities and the Gauls were driven out. Reading Livy, it seems that freedom was a greater threat than dictatorship.

Suetonius, in The Life of Julius Caesar gives us this quote: "Everyone knows that when Sulla had long held out against the most devoted and eminent men of his party who interceded for Caesar, and they obstinately persisted, he at last gave way and cried, either by divine inspiration or a shrewd forecast: 'Have your way and take him; only bear in mind that the man you are so eager to save will one day deal the death blow to the cause of the aristocracy, which you have joined with me in upholding; for in this Caesar there is more than one Marius.'"

Marius seems to have had a bad reputation, especially with Sulla. Sulla's real claim, however, is that Caesar's problem was related to character and ambition, rather than any special fault in the organization of the Roman Republic, but the issues of character were subordinate to the concerns of political power between the factions. In the Batman movie, this seems to be the concern too of the new Dent, who shows such promise, but we are wondering about his true character. The movie explores this in a wonderful way where one inmate demands a detonator with some threatening language, and then does the right thing with it. His upright looking counterpart on the other ship does something similar, but does not show the clear minded resolution needed until after some serious waffling. In the end, Dent's character proves flawed too. For our modern politics, this situation is really sad. With accusations of character flaws being hurled everywhere and entire web sites devoted to lambasting the other party, I assume that nothing sensible can be sorted out regarding character, but character is the most important factor in how someone will handle power.

Moving onto the telecommunications issue, Americans are quite quick to note that complete access to information is something which totalitarian regimes always demand. What we don't admit is that some free countries, like England and France, also use these techniques to track down criminals and few are really protesting. There simply is not enough resources for law enforcement to track down the IRA and al Qaeda and worry about the Tories at the same time - especially when the IRA and al Qaeda have a coherent, organized plan that can be thwarted and the Tories don't have a plan and will thwart themselves. Better to work on an imminent problem.

The telecommunications paranoia is really something I fail to understand. Maybe if I am a drug dealer or involved in some other illegal dealings this is an issue. Then there are the anarchists plotting the overthrow of the government. Moving on from here, there are the genuinely paranoid. Then there are those who apply the admonitions of Sun Tzu all the time, whether in the office, in the family, in politics, in the university of in the church: "He who knows the enemy and himself will never in a hundred battles be at risk; He who does not know the enemy but knows himself will sometimes win and sometimes lose; He who nows neither the enemy nor himself will be at risk in every battle." - The Art of Warfare. Do we really need to take a warfare stance all the time with everyone?

In the end, this movie does raise some important questions: To what extent should we give up our rights to preserve our freedom? Is it possible that belief in a hopelessly flawed human being can become a necessary rallying point for our culture? Is there really any source of goodness to counter our depraved nature? It is this last question which is the most important - particularly to me as a Christian who believes that God will bring everything we do to account, whether it was good or bad. The movie raises questions, but gives no answers.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Well, thanks to Delirious for sending me this link. It is a perfect touch to complete the series on unnatural behavior.
Vespasian checks out Carmel (no, not to see former mayor Clint Eastwood).

This is from 69AD when Vespasian was wrapping up the Jewish war and planning to become Roman Emperor - from Tacitus, Histories II.78.

"After this speech from Mucianus, the other officers crowded round Vespasian with fresh confidence, encouraging him, and reminding him of the responses of prophets and the movements of the heavenly bodies. Nor was Vespasian proof against this superstition, for afterwards, when master of the world, he openly retained one Seleucus, an astrologer, to direct his counsels , and to foretell the future. ... at first, however, the honors of a triumph, his consulate, and the glory of his victories in Judea, appeared to have justified the truth of the omen. When he had won these distinctions, he began to believe that it portended the imperial power. Between Judea and Syria is Mount Carmel; this is the name both of the mountain and the Deity. They have no image of the god nor any temple; the tradition of antiquity recognizes only an altar and its sacred association. While Vespasian was there offering sacrifice and pondering his secret hopes, Basilides the priest, after repeated inspections of the entrails, said to him, "Whatever be your purposes, Vespasian, whether you think of building a house, of enlarging your estate, or augmenting the number of your slaves, there is given you a vast habitation, boundless territory, a multitude of men." These obscure intimations popular rumor had at once caught up, and now began to interpret. Nothing was more talked about by the common people. In Vespasian's presence the topic was more frequently discussed, because to the aspirant himself men have more to say."

Carmel seems to be a popular name with quite a history. We have Carmel-by-the-Sea in Northern California and Carmel Valley near San Diego. In the Bible, Carmel first shows up in a list of places conquered by the Israelites in Joshua 12:22. Next Saul made a statue to honor himself on Carmel in 1 Samuel 15:12 after messing up the instructions with regard to the Amalekites. Then there is Nabal and Abagail who get David's attention in 1 Samuel 25. On Mount Carmel is where Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal. In Isaiah and Jeremiah, Carmel is used as a symbol of some great blessing, whereas Amos and Nahum mention the beauty of Carmel withering due to curses.

I wonder a bit about the prophecy regarding Vespasian. The practices described on Mount Carmel seem to follow Jewish practices - no image of the deity, just a simple altar. On the other hand, inspecting the entrails is not a Jewish practice, but rather a pagan one for fortune telling. Had the priest(s) simply made a Jewish-pagan fusion ritual on his own? Or did someone make up the story and add in both Jewish and pagan elements? Certainly we have no way to know. The location on Carmel is asserted to be something that traces to antiquity, meaning lost to history in this case. Anyway, I was just having some fun tracing the name Carmel and wondering why it seemed to be such a timeless symbol, even if I don't know what the symbol fully represents.

Friday, July 18, 2008

"To Adam he (God) said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,' "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." - Genesis 3:17-19

I don't like running down the trail when thorns and thistles are scrapping my legs. This thistle, however, is truly amazing. Each of the blossoms is about the size of a grapefruit.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Post #1,000 again! The trick is that I reached post #1,000, then I deleted all of the drafts that were hanging around but never posted. A few more posts and voilà, I have reached number #1,000 twice!
Tacitus - regarding the Vatican.

"Meanwhile the soldiers, as their numbers overflowed the crowded camp, dispersed throughout the porticoes, the temples, and the whole capital, did not know their own headquarters, kept no watch, and ceased to brace themselves by toil. Amidst the allurements of the city and all shameful excesses, they wasted their strength in idleness, and their energies in riot. At last, reckless even of health, a large portion of them quartered themselves in the notoriously pestilential neighborhood of the Vatican; hence ensued a great mortality in the ranks."

I guess some things are timeless - including criticism of the Vatican! This was from Histories II.93.
Blue skies have returned to the Bay Area, but California continues to burn.
Chinatown Shakedown.

This is a post regarding something on the Chinese television news, but the link gives an idea of the context. As I understand it, some lawyer has hired disabled people to visit various little mom & pop establishments looking for non-compliance with the ADA - Americans with Disabilities Act. Once a target is found, the disabled person gets a fee and the lawyer files a suit against the small business - generally resulting in $10,000 to $20,000 in legal fees incurred by the small business plus whatever is needed to make an ancient building comply with the latest ADA regulations. The news report said something like 1,500 small businesses have been hit. A bit of advanced calculus and guestimating gives a cost on the order of $100 million or more for all this.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

More on the unnatural, from Seneca - from letter CXXII

"Don't you think it's living unnaturally to exchange one's clothes for women's? Is it not living unnaturally to aim at imparting the bloom of youth to a different period of life - can there be a sorrier or crueler practice than that whereby a boy is never, apparently, allowed to grow up into a man, in order that he may endure a man's attentions for as long as may be? Won't even his years rescue him from the indignity his sex ought to have precluded?"

This is a follow on to my earlier post regarding the unnatural which included quotes from Paul and Suetonius. In this case, it seems that there was a habit of wealthy men purchasing boys, dressing them up as young girls, and keeping them dressed in this manner until they were fully grown men so that they could use them for sex. The moral sickness is mind boggling.

Seneca was the tutor and adviser of Nero, who took sexual abuse to new levels. As a Stoic, Seneca represents a different cultural background than Paul and Suetonius on this subject. Thus, my general view is that the behavior at this time was fairly universally condemned while it continued.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Memories ...

That image is from Cryosphere Today, which has the latest arctic ice pack data straight from NASA. There was a startling prediction of a north pole free of ice this summer which seems to be confirmed by the satellite photo. There are two problems for me. First, the Cryosphere Today web site shows that the arctic has about 500,000 square kilometers more sea ice than last year at the same time.

The second is a case of deja vu where this picture seems so familiar. Back in the 1970's when I was bicycle racing, our racing club brought together this fundy with a bunch of hippie left overs from the 1960's and some new agers in our common bond of self inflicted pain. We used to yap into the wee hours about all kinds of stuff, and one topic that was popular with the new agers was a hollow earth theory. The opening to the hollow earth was believed to be at the north pole, and they showed me a picture with a dark circle on the ice pack near the north pole which was quite like the one on the photo above. I scoffed at the time that it was a forgery, but apparently the physics of the ice pack cause the water to clear near the north pole quite regularly in the summer. A quick check on the internet shows that the hollow earth theory, like everything else bizarre, continues to live on the internet.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tacitus regarding the popular opinions of the emperor Galba, from Histories I.6:

"In this conjuncture it happened that tidings of the deaths of Fonteius Capito and Clodius Macer reached the capital. Macer was executed in Africa, where he was undoubtedly fomenting sedition ... Capito fell in Germany, while he was making similar attempts ...

Both executions, however, were unfavorably regarded; indeed, when a ruler once becomes unpopular, all his acts, be they good or bad, tell against him."

This observation, that an unpopular ruler is criticized even when he does good, struck me as a timeless principal. Thus, among most Americans today it would be a rare critic of President Bush who could also name something good that President Bush had done. On the other hand, being a critic of the Clintons, it is sometimes difficult to talk about NAFTA being good, and when I do, I will usually point out things where NAFTA undid some free trade items. Of course most leaders do have both good and bad qualities and few are completely devoid of anything positive.
Suetonius regarding the character of Emperor Claudius.

"He slept but little at a time, for he was usually awake before midnight; but he would sometimes drop off in the daytime while holding court and could hardly be roused when the advocates raised their voices for the purpose. He was immoderate in his passion for women, but wholly free from unnatural vice. He was greatly devoted to gaming, even publishing a book on the art, and he actually used to play while driving, having the board so fitted to his carriage as to prevent his game from being disturbed." - The Lives of the Caesars, book V, xxxiii.

Yep, he would have been a World of Warcraft fan.

What caught my eye was the term "unnatural vice". Looking at the book as a whole, it is clear that "unnatural vice" is associated with homosexual relations. Claudius was a womanizer, but apparently this is considered merely natural vice - per Suetonius.

In Romans chapter 1:26-27, Paul uses similar vocabulary:

"Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion."

Apparently this vocabulary of natural/unnatural relations is common between Paul and Suetonius, although Suetonius was born perhaps 5 years after Paul was executed. As Suetonius uses the modifier, 'vice', it is safe to assume that he doesn't view homosexual acts as a good thing, although he is certainly not a Christian. I haven't parsed the Greek and Latin - this not being my specialty - but it seems to me that this is the sort of material that young scholars pick up on and work into a Ph.D. dissertation. From my perspective, this is valuable due to the methods of LGBT theologians: If we treat verses out of context, look for extra meanings of the vocabulary, and throw in a massive dose of sophistry, it is possible - with massive quantities of faith - to accept that the meaning of the Bible's passages on homosexuality are always exactly the opposite of what appears upon first reading the passage. Fundamentalist need to remind these Ph.D. scholars that they must consider passages in context, with respect to the Bible as a whole, and with respect to the cultural context in which the passages were written.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Tacitus, regarding the burning of Rome, which directly followed the gay 'marriage' of Nero and was itself followed by the mass killing of Christians. This was brought to my mind by the relentless burning of California, and the smoke which has engulfed the state capital, Sacramento, which began two days after the California Supreme Court's establishment of government sponsored gay 'marriage' religious rites in the state and also coincided with the Gay Pride parade in San Francisco.

"A disaster followed, whether accidental or treacherously contrived by the emperor, is uncertain, as authors have given both accounts, worse, however, and more dreadful than any which have ever happened to this city by the violence of fire. It had its beginning in the part of the circus which adjoins the Palatine and Caelian hills, where, amid the shops containing inflammable wares, the conflagration both broke out and instantly became so fierce and so rapid from the wind that it seized in its grasp the entire length of the circus. For here there were no houses fenced in by solid masonry, or temples surrounded by walls, or any other obstacle to interpose delay. The blaze in its fury ran first through the level portions of the city, then rising to the hills, while it again devastated every place below them, it outstripped all preventive measures; so rapid was the mischief and so completely at its mercy which characterized old Rome. Added to this were the wailings of terror-stricken women, the feebleness of age, the helpless inexperience of childhood, the crowds who sought to save themselves or others, dragging out the infirm or waiting for them, and by their hurry in the one case, by their delay in the other, aggravating the confusion. Often, while they looked behind them, they were intercepted by flames on their side or in their face. Or if they reached a refuge close at hand, when this too was seized by the fire, they found that, even places, which they had imagined to be remote, were involved in the same calamity. At last, doubting what they should avoid or whither betake themselves, they crowded the streets or flung themselves down in the fields, while some who had lost their all, even their very daily bread, and others out of love for their kinsfolk, whom they had been unable to rescue, perished, though escape was open to them. And no one dared to stop the mischief, because of incessant menaces from a number of persons who forbade the extinguishing of the flames, because again others openly hurled brands, and keep shouting that there was one who gave them authority, either seeking to plunder more freely, or obeying orders.

Nero at this time was at Antium, and did not return to Rome until the fire approached his house, which he had built to connect the palace with the gardens of Maecenas. It could not, however, be stopped from devouring the palace, the house, and everything around it. However to relieve the people, driven out homeless as threw open to them the Campus Martius and the public buildings of Agrippa, and even his own gardens, and raised temporary structures to receive the destitute multitude. Supplies of food were brought up from Ostia and the neighboring towns, and the price of corn was reduced to three sesterces a peck. These acts, though popular, produced no effect, since a rumor had gone forth everywhere that, at the very time when the city was in flames, the emperor appeared on a private stage and sang of the destruction of Troy, comparing present misfortunes with the calamities of antiquity.

At last, after five days, an end was put to the conflagration at the foot of the Esquiline hill, by the destruction of all buildings on a vast space, so that the violence of the fire was met by clear ground and an open sky. But before people had laid aside their fears, the flames returned with no less fury this second time, and especially in the spacious districts of the city. Consequently, though there was less loss of life, the temples of the gods, and the porticoes which were devoted to enjoyment, fell in a yet more widespread ruin. And to this conflagration there attached the greater infamy because it broke out on the Aemilian property of Tigellinus, and it seemed that Nero was aiming at the glory of founding a new city and calling it by his name. Rome, indeed is divided into fourteen districts, four of which remained uninjured, three were leveled to the ground, while in the other seven were left only a few shattered, half-burnt relics of houses."

Reference: Tacitus Annas, XV.37-41. The Modern Classics Library.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Barbara Boxer: Americans are in danger of not hearing about global warming due to White House conspiracy ...

... proving again what the world knows about Californians - their brains are a bit screwed up. In this particular case, the doctrines of global warming are so all-pervasive that someone who just woke up from a multi-year coma would have difficulty convincing his friends that he hadn't heard about global warming, Government funding of this ideology is everywhere - from NASA on down to the government kindergartens. Sadly this won't stop her from screaming that Dick Cheney is part of a sinister conspiracy to keep Americans from being informed about global warming. Sadly a large number of people will believe her.
Seneca regarding the problem of pain:

"One can do nothing better than endure what cannot be cured and attend uncomplainingly the God at whose instance all things come about. It is a poor soldier that follows his commander grumbling. So let us receive our orders readily and cheerfully, and not desert the ranks along the march - the march of this glorious fabric of creation in which everything we shall suffer is a strand."

Letter CVII has much more regarding this. The problem of pain in a nutshell is the rhetorical question "How can a loving God allow X to happen?", where X is something nasty. Seneca has covered many topics as I near the end of this book, but this question doesn't seem to have crossed his mind. On the contrary, he seems to think that adversity is something which allows us to develop and prove a noble spirit and only a churlish god would deny us some adversity.

A similar sentiment is throughout the Bible, so in James 1:2, we have this:

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds"

Maybe I missed something, but it seems to me that the problem of pain is something which wasn't a problem until rich intellectuals in the 20th century started raising the question. Seneca's god was Jupiter and we might protest that there were no pretenses of love in Jupiter. The God of all creation, however, sent us his son as a sacrifice for our sins and takes a personal interest in us, yet now we complain that he isn't nearly loving enough.

I think that the problem of pain reflects much more of our modern mindset. In the 19th century, philosophy lost its ability to proceed logically and took to playing with words in rhetorical questions. (OK, Seneca says there was plenty of this in his time.) With our modern wealth and self-centered mentality, everything is about 'me' and there seems to be nothing that we can't expect from God. When these two worlds combine, the result is a me-centric irrationality culminating in the problem of pain. God, why don't you allow me and my loved ones to indulge our desires? Better to go back to Seneca.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Yeah! Good weather to get back into my exercise routine. The winds have shifted so that the smoke from California burning is coming back to the San Francisco Bay Area. The fire fighters have done a good job so that there are now "only" 330 wild fires raging throughout the state. Mission Peak is the way to exercise because there is almost no shade on the 3.5 mile climb up. Due to a heat wave, the temperature was between 100F and 104.5F (38.1C to 40.3C) according to my handy computer. Hopefully my coughing will stop in the next few days. (The air is bad and I have a mild asthma.)

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Seneca Letter LXXVIII:

"For a life spent viewing all the variety, the majesty, the sublimity in things around us can never succumb to ennui: the feeling that one is tired of being, of existing, is usually the result of an idle and inactive leisure. Truth will never pall on someone who explores the world of nature, wearied as a person will be by the spurious things"


"As Posidonius said, 'In a single day there lies open to men of learning more than there ever does to the unenlightened in the longest of lifetimes.'"

All this is idle boasts. Yes, learning and exploring nature are my hobbies, but I believe there are more people who experience a fulfilling life among the simpletons than the sophisticates. I have also encountered plenty of learned people who were no less disturbed in their soul. Jesus tells us this:

"I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." - Mark 10:15.

It should be little wonder why the philosophy of the stoics was no match for the growth of Christianity.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Beside the salt ponds at Coyote Hills.

Seneca vs. Christianity:

"If God adds the morrow we should accept it joyfully. The man who looks for the morrow without worrying over it knows a peaceful independence and a happiness beyond all other. Whoever has said 'I have lived' receives a windfall every day he gets up in the morning." - Seneca's Letter XII

and Matthew 6:31-34 -

"So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Seneca was born in 4BC, while Jesus is believed to have been born in 7BC. During his time, Seneca was the most famous scholar of Greek philosophy and lived to 65AD, when he was forced to commit suicide. Seneca is celebrated as one of the greatest teachers of wisdom in history. It is quite an irony that one of civilization's lowest leaders, Nero, should have had Seneca as his teacher, tutor and mentor.

Previously I had looked at Philo's synthesis of Judaism and Greek philosophy and it left me cold. Philo is long winded and redundant, so that we must read for a few hours before running across something interesting. Seneca, on the other hand, is fairly compact, contains many gems, and reminds me more of Paul. This isn't to say that I view Seneca as anything close to a replacement for the Bible. The above quote seems to reference God, but in fact, Seneca as a whole is trusting in nature to supply his needs, whereas the Christian credits God with supplying the needs. Seneca also views wisdom as an end in itself, whereas the end for Christians is our relationship with God, and wisdom is largely a tool for accomplishing the work we need to do here on Earth.

Finally, we have Proverbs 9:10 -

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding."

Thus, the wonderful dilemma: Although Seneca has said some useful things, by Biblical standards he has not yet begun to obtain wisdom.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Livy regarding liberty and the bickering of the plebs.

"But not only was war with the Volsci imminent; the citizens were at loggerheads among themselves, and internal dissensions between the Fathers and the plebs had burst into a blaze of hatred, chiefly on account of those who had been bound over to service for their debts. These men complained loudly that while they were abroad fighting for liberty and dominion they had been enslaved and oppressed at home by fellow-citizens, and that the freedom of the plebeians was more secure in war than in peace, among enemies than amongst citizens."

This bit dates to perhaps 600BC and is one of many scattered but related passages involving debts and their consequences. Originally the area around Rome had relatively equal landowners. The fortunes of landholders would rise and fall, so that sometimes they took out loans. Due to high interest rates, however, the loans frequently grew to unpayable levels and the result was that the landholder was evicted. Gradually lands were gathered into large estates and an equestrian class formed which produced the knights, while the plebs (peasants) became artisans or worked the fields of others.

When I was in the government schools, I had learned that this transformation to feudalism had occurred a thousand years later during the middle ages. It was a surprise to learn that my text books had been so wrong. Apparently this Roman practice was foisted onto most of Europe by the Roman Empire.

This does bring some new insight into a passage from Deuteronomy 23:19-20 -

"Do not charge your brother interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest. You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a brother Israelite, so that the Lord your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess."

Comparing this law with what happened to the Romans, it seems that the effect of this law would be to avoid the problems that caused the gathering of lands into large holdings and the formation of an aristocracy. It would seem that God's intent was to keep class divisions from happening.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Seneca - On choosing books ...

"People who spend their whole life traveling abroad end up having plenty of places where they can find hospitality but no real friendships. The same must needs be the case with people who never set about acquiring an intimate acquaintanceship with any one great writer, but skip from one to another, paying flying visits to them all."

Ouch. This is in Letter II, which I encountered as I was skipping from one book to another attempting to pay a flying visit to them all. To make matters worse, I have been a living example of the person "traveling abroad" and the comment that they "can find hospitality but no real friendships" is a bit too real for me. Perhaps I better give Seneca a few minutes extra.
Tacitus, regarding Nero's novel marriage. (Annals, XV 41)

"Nero, who polluted himself by every lawful or lawless indulgence, had not omitted a single abomination which could heighten his depravity, till a few days afterwards he stooped to marry himself to one of that filthy herd, by name Pythagoras, with all the forms of regular wedlock. The bridal veil was put over the emperor; people saw the witnesses of the ceremony, the wedding dower, the couch and the nuptial torches, everything in a word was plainly visible, which, even when a woman weds darkness hides."

This looks to me to be a passage similar to the one in Suetonius, although Suetonius gives the name of the boy as Sporus, rather than Pythagoras. This event happened just before the burning of Rome, and was followed by the persecution of the Christians described by Tacitus here.

I find it interesting that Tacitus uses the word "abomination". The pattern seems to follow a little bit along the lines of Matthew 24:15,16 -

"So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation', spoken of through the prophet Daniel - let the reader understand - then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains."

In this case, it would have been good for the Christians to flee Rome. As marriage is a symbol of Christ and the Church, the nature of the abomination is far more significant to Christians.
New Look.

This was done as part of a process to get the tags field in on the lower right. I have accumulated a lot of little quotes from classical authors over the course of making this blog, but can't easily go back and find them, so the tag feature is needed. Hopefully some others may find this useful, although I have avoid tagging most of my rants - for obvious reasons.