Thursday, March 23, 2017

One More Myth Gone: Marcus Aurelius And Commodus

There’s a lot of loose talk around now about how all great civilizations descend into madness and end up with rulers that are narcissists, insane, demented or merely perverted. Those pundits are hinting that our current Grand Poobah is a sign of the End Times for America. That is presented as the progression: great rulers, then good, then okay, then poor, and finally perverted/demented/insane narcissists. Like most processes, this one is not linear. It is actually a one step forward, one or two steps backward kind of thing.

Take Commodus, please. He became emperor of Rome in 177 AD. You may remember a fictionalized Commodus from the movie "the Gladiator," staring Russell Crowe as Maximus (the gladiator) and Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus. “Fictionalized,” yes, the real Commodus was a combination of slightly better and much, much worse than Mr. Phoenix’s Commodus.

Perhaps all you need to know about the real Commodus is that he was Emperor from 177 to 192 AD; he was finally assassinated when people just got totally sick of his bullshit; and for all of that time, and particularly towards the end of his reign, he kept adding honorifics to his name and getting more and more annoying. The man’s ego was out of control. By 191 AD his name was:

Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus Augustus Herculeus Romanus Exsuperatorius Amazonius Invictus Felix Pius.

That’s a mouthful. In the last year of his life he added two more titles, Pacator Orbis (pacifier of the world) and Dominus Noster (our Lord).

Commodus in real life was even much more annoying than Commodus in the movie. But before you start to believe that he was a product of the final stages of a decadent Roman Empire, bear in mind that he had succeeded his father Marcus Aurelius to the throne. Marcus was a great Emperor, really one of the greats of all time. Marcus was a genuinely intelligent man of moderate personal habits, who left the empire in much better shape than he found it, a great general and philosopher, very careful with money and good to his people. He was a man seemingly without vice, loved by all. Marcus was a late-empire ruler, too. So they weren’t all bad.

The lesson is that we cannot now believe, as some pundits would have us believe, that Donald Trump is a sign of the end times for the American ascendency.  Sure, Trump is an annoying egomaniac, an ignorant bull-in-a-china-shop, but Donald is an aberration. He will pass from the scene like a meal of undercooked shrimp. There will be some discomfort, but finally it will all sleep with the fishes.

Take heart, America! There is at least a thirty percent chance that things will begin to get better within ten or fifteen years! I don’t think that it could get better any faster than that, that’s about as good as we can do, I’m afraid. It’ll take some time to get out of this hole. But it could have been worse! We might, if we are lucky, be able to avoid a new Dark Age of one or two hundred years.

Or not, who knows? See what you can do to push it all in the right direction. 

Monday, March 20, 2017


Hint: you've got to give this one a minute and a half to get rolling.

For one thing, how terrible is it when you come up with a great song idea and the Rolling Stones release a song with the same title right around that time? (I haven't spent the time to figure out which one came first.)

I love Billy Gibbons as a guitar player, because he's one of those guys for whom the guitar is just a starting point. You get it all plugged in, get everything switched on, and then go nuts. Guys like this don't mind if you completely lose the sound of a guitar in the haze.

Phil Manzanera said in an interview that he always tried to make the guitar sound not like a guitar at all. Billy said one time that if you play loud enough, it's all harmonics, the guitar is gone. I wouldn't recommend that approach to everyone, but it does seem to work for some people.

Astrud Gilberto With Stan Getz - Girl From Ipanema (1964)

Okay, now this is strange.

If you don't get the entire shpiel, go and check the YouTube.

A Modest Proposal To Reduce The Cost Of The Border Wall, Which We Totally Need, Because The Whole Thing Is A Catastrophe

After months of wondering whether such a thing were even possible, it appears that Donald Trump is the President of the United States and that he has proposed a budget that includes a couple of billion dollars to start building that wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Many of us were sure that he would let the matter quietly die, because: 1) the utility of the wall would be dubious at best; 2) the wall would be preposterously expensive; and 3) of course Mexico would not pay for it. None of this, however, seems to bother our fearless president. He has always been brave with other people’s money.

There are problems. For one thing, our border with Mexico is very, very long, like two-thousand miles or something. No one knew that it was so long! For another thing, a lot of the necessary land belongs to people that we more-or-less get along with, like American citizens and friendly Indians. We’d have to obtain it somehow. Also, some of the land for the wall is not contoured conveniently, i.e., there are significant changes in grade that would complicate construction enormously. Not to worry, though, there are work-arounds that would go a long way to solving these problems.

It must be noted that the country of Mexico tappers inward as you go south from the border. The border itself is the widest spot in Mexico by far. If I may be permitted to offer a suggestion, and I do hope that you will indulge me, why not formulate a new border and build the wall where it would be more convenient to do so? Say, across the Tropic of Cancer or thereabouts? The breadth of Mexico is more manageable there, only four or five hundred miles.

Building the wall there would have many advantages beyond simplifying the construction of the wall. It would increase the land mass of the United States considerably. It would, in fact, increase the mass of “California Land,” because the area that would become American would include all of Baja California. This could be the selling-point for the entire project. Who would say no to more of California? And more of Southern California at that! (Redwoods are nice, but almost no one really goes there.)

DISCLAIMER: Don’t be holding this shit against me. This here is satire.

It must be acknowledged that this plan would bring problems of its own, but nothing that would be too troublesome, considering all of the benefits. The whole plan would actually be of a piece with the shared history of our two countries. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time that we reduced the area of Mexico by one-half by force of arms, simply because we wanted something (California, mostly). Mexico is low-hanging fruit! Aren’t we all happy now that the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and parts of Wyoming and Kansas are part of our glorious U.S.A.? (See, Mexican-American War, 1846-1848.) Upon reflection, I guess we can’t take credit for Texas, because the Texans had already stolen most of Texas fair and square. But the rest of it, certainly, we Americans stole that. (Thanks, President Polk!) History could repeat itself. What has happened can happen again.

Mexico would still be a rather large country, and they would be keeping their capital city, all of their big touristy spots and almost all of their oil production. (Although they would be losing their natural gas.) They might be better off without the northern part of the country. It’s just a desert full of gangsters anyway. With a little bit of luck all around, most of the gangsters would get lost in the scuffle. There would be plenty of room left down south for all of the displaced Mexicans. Oh, yes, displaced. They certainly couldn’t remain in those new American states. If we left them there, what would be the point? Besides, voters these days wouldn’t stand for such a generous immigration program. We would need the open space anyway, to accommodate new immigrants who displayed the appropriate level of merit. Maybe we could let the Mexican doctors stay.

The many Americans who currently live in Northern Mexico because they can’t afford to live in the U.S. anymore would have to decide whether to follow the actual Mexicans in their trek southwards or to try to make a go of it in new American states. But really, no one has ever cared about them, and that probably won’t change any time soon, so no one need consider them in the planning of the operation. A certain number of friendly-fire accidents can be tolerated.

“But Fred,” I hear you thinking, “what about all of the mountains?” Be assured that I did consult a relief map, and the mountains in central Mexico are not a surprise to me. You will notice, however, that right around the Tropic of Cancer the mountains thin out a bit, so there’s that. There are some mountains in any route that the wall could take. Allow me, while I am speaking freely, to suggest a separate work-around for mountains that could work out nicely.

I recall long ago reading a proposal to use radioactive materials to create an impenetrable barrier at a border. Was that in connection with Korea? Vietnam? I forget now. The idea was to put plugs of highly radioactive material in some sort of pattern at intervals that would render the area deadly in a short time. You would need one hundred Sieverts or something, throw in some extra, enough to cause incapacity almost immediately and death within minutes. This would have the additional advantage of reducing the length of the wall by many miles! Public opinion should tolerate the radiation itself very well. The area would be many hundreds of miles south of the existing border, in land that would recently have been Mexico.

And, you say, it would be a war! War is bad! But if we must have a war, and it’s beginning to appear that we must have a war, why don’t we have a war that is close to home for a change? Why don’t we have a war with clear objectives that would deliver clear benefits? Mexico is very attractive as a target for military aggression. The savings in logistics alone would be colossal, and Mexico’s lack of military potential would keep casualties down, on our side anyway. The first Mexican-American War was a relatively low cost, low casualty operation that yielded spectacular results.

Greater minds than mine will be required to hammer out the details, but now is clearly a time when we are being encouraged to think big. Our current ruling junta virtually demands it! Our bold new chief executive is a man of action, and I wouldn’t put anything past our revolutionary 115th Congress. Pursue your best interest, and Devil take the hindmost! That doctrine, now completely operational, applies not only to individuals, but also to the country at large.

Be all that you can be, America! And be another 400,000 square miles of Mexico, too! Given the new reality that we are living with, I’m sure that you’ll agree that this proposal has become reasonable. 

Jimi Hendrix Experience at The Lulu Show

This one is really priceless. Lulu was a star in her own right, a very talented entertainer and a very pretty woman. I have a hunch that she was a very sociable woman as well, a good time to be around. Jimi and the band bring their A-game here throughout.

They start out with a very nice version of Voodoo Child, live on the air. That's always nice.

At 4:40 Lulu introduces Hey Joe, "the song that made them famous." Nice job here, too.

Somehow, and probably unscripted, at 7:10 Jimi starts praising Cream and calls for Sunshine of Your Love! The suits probably went nuts because that almost certainly meant that additional royalties would have to be paid. Did Jimi care? Why, no, obviously Jimi did not care about such things. Did Lulu care? Probably not. I'm pretty sure that Lulu had the FLEX gene.

And can we bring up the often disputed point about the role of Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding in this band? Can we agree that yes, they did belong in this band, that they were real participants in this music? There's a black/white thing that circulates around Jimi's music, and it's just not fair to the musicians involved. Noel was fine, he held it down, that's what a bass player does. Mitch was great, and for my money his slightly frenetic style was the perfect foil for Jimi's playing. This was a great Salt-and-Pepper band, in an age when such things could bring lessons that people needed to learn. Good for them!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Astrud Gilberto - Corcovado

"This is where I want to be . . ."

Find your Corcovado. Be there. Be happy.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.