We Went to Disneyland!

I’ve visited Disney resorts a few times in my life. In fact, on the funny pages you can read about one visit twice, once as a parody, once for real. Well, last weekend my dear wife wanted to go to Disneyland, and why not, since it’s only a tank of gas away. (Las Vegas may be crude, but it’s convenient to Los Angeles.) As it happens it’s less than four hours away. The reason was because it is the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the park, which ends this month. So we got to be there for it, and we have the souvenirs to prove it. Fatigue, grumpiness, glee at not being at Disneyland, we got the whole thing. We bought two day park-hopper passes, that let us also visit the Disney California Adventure theme park, which is located just across a plaza from the original. It’s got some nice things, but not enough to make it rate as an amusement park. One thing is the “Soaring Over California” ride, which includes sights, sounds and smells (yep) one would experience if one were to use a jet-powered hang glider to tour the state. It’s quite a state, too, and probably a lot different from the impression many conservatives have of it. Deserts, lakes, mountains, great cities, over all it’s quite an impressive place. Another thing is, uh, well, you know, that’s really about it, although there’s a fake pier with a traditional amusement park on it. I guess the roller coaster is okay. I’ve never tried it.

So mostly we stayed in Disneyland, and before I begin my rant portion of this post, let me say that we do plan to return someday. Our next California trip will be to the beach, but that’s another story. I just don’t want anyone thinking I’m anti-Disney, especially the Disney Thought Police. I’m happy! I’m happy! Honest I’m happy! Disneyland is not only decked out for the “Homecoming” celebration, but it’s also decked out for the holidays. Decked out for Christmas, mainly, but there seems to be an occasional Chanukah reference present as well. Oddly, I didn’t see any New Year’s decorations. But they do one heck of a job of decorating. For instance, the Haunted Mansion, one of my favorites, is all made up as if Jack Skelington of The Nightmare Before Christmas had redone the place. In effect, it was a brand-new ride we’d never seen before, which was a great surprise at Disneyland, where we’ve both done everything so far as we can tell. The venerable It’s a Small World drives you crazy with Jingle Bells and Deck the Halls (an ancestral hymn of mine you know) interspersed with snippets of the usual theme song. Pirates of the Caribbean didn’t have a Christmas theme, but the usual ”Pirate’s Life for Me” only played intermittently, which bothered me because I looked up the lyrics and can actually understand it now. (“We pillage and plunder and don’t give a hoot!”) It was actually rather attractive, to tell the truth.

Attractive, that is, to most of the population of North America and several foreign continents. There was a band from an Australian college playing in the bandstand, but that’s not what I mean. I mean that the place was as crowded as the proverbial Highway to Hell, but less pleasant in terms of humanity. And you know why? Strollers! Of all the abominations ever foisted upon a crowded space, surely the baby stroller (Pram if you’re English) is the worst. The mere fact of wanting one at an amusement park indicates that the parents are ignoring the fact that the occupant cannot possibly benefit one little bitty bit from being in Disneyland. The kid can’t even walk, what, you’re taking him on Space Mountain? And, okay, so the parents are there, but the fact is they are not going on Space Mountain, or the Matterhorn, or even Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, because they’ve got a young child with them who needs constant care and attention. One of them can ride, maybe, but one must always stand by (and that could be for hours) and wait and watch the child. Heck, why not find a relative to watch the child while you visit? No child, no problem with rides, no stroller. It’s a win-win-win! But that would be expecting too much, I suppose. So, in an already crowded venue it is necessary to dodge dangerous wheeled items hurtling at your ankles, and the combination of two parents, one stroller and all the stuff stuffed into and around the stroller takes up about as much room as five people, or maybe one elephant. And I’m supposed to be sympathetic because they have a little baby? Nope. Ain’t gonna happen. In a few years that baby will be absolutely thrilled to be a Disneyland. Try it then, won’t you, and let him walk?

Speaking of Space Mountain, it was closed for a long time while they redid it. I can report from personal experience that they took an okay roller coaster ride and made it a really good one. For one thing it’s darker in there, and for another the thing is a lot faster. If you like roller coasters, you’ll probably like Space Mountain a lot more than you did the old version. And the monorail, which used to be a ride, is now a working item, shuttling people to and from Downtown Disney and the Disneyland Hotel. We went to a movie there, mainly because it was an AMC theater, which is not something Las Vegas is blessed with. Too bad for Las Vegas because they’re right: there is a difference. (And that plug is totally unsolicited, thank you.) The theaters even look nicer, and the seats are more comfortable, and the popcorn tastes better. Talk about win-win-win, huh?

Well, overall I recommend a visit to Disneyland, and if you’ve never seen it, California Adventure. Heck, how often do you get there? Just, on your life, don’t visit on a weekend during a peak season. Or if you do, wear ankle guards or suffer the consequences.

Religarium Americanum

I saved the following quote:
“I want to defeat the terrorists. And I want our troops to come home, but I don’t want them to come home without having achieved victory. ” – President Bush
I intended at the time to add a few other quotes, such as the one I can only paraphrase now from the head of the FCC to the effect that “Sure, you can turn off the TV to avoid stuff you don’t like, but why should you have to?” Then I was going to rant on about the incredible stupidity of the people who make quotes like that, with individualized comments on each one. Such as for the first one above, “assuming we ever figure out just what victory means in this swamp,” or for the second, “because what I really don’t like is you, you pusillanimous prude!” But I just can’t do it. I haven’t got the heart.

Do I mean that I don’t have the heart to poke a rant at those guys? No, I mean that I just don’t have the energy for it because there’s just too much to rant at. I even had to quit joking about the current administration because, as I said a while back, it’s just too easy and they’re doing it for me. Frankly, that quote from the FCC Chair should be a self-evident joke, but there are far too many people who think like that, or rather fail to think like that. I mean that what they do is fail to think. The way they fail is like that. I mean it, really. So, instead, I’ll go on about religion again. Why not, religion is easy too.

Religion is a Latin word. Two words, really: re, which means exactly what it means in English. You know, “again” or “once more.” The ‘ligion’ part is from the word ligere, which means “to tie together.” You might remember it from those “ligaments” you have in your knee that keep giving your trouble. Why trouble? Probably because they don’t “ligate” as well as they should and your knee moves side to side. See? Tie together: ligere: religion: to tie together. In Latin that’s religere. Honest it is. Religion is something that ties people together. And speaking of religion and Latin, consider the Pope’s official title, which is Pontifex Maximus, or “Greatest Bridge Builder.” That’s also true. Julius Caesar took that title, in fact. Originally the people called “Pontifex” actually built bridges, but now it’s the Pope, because he “builds bridges between people.” See, it’s a religious thing. And for once I don’t digress.

Religion then is really something that ties you in to your past, to the region where your family comes from, or to your birth family, to your philosophical forebears, to any and all of that. So, if you embrace Christianity you tie yourself to a Roman province called Palestine about two thousand years ago, by way of a whole lot of high falutin’ Greek and Roman interpretations since. If you embrace Islam you’re tying yourself to a man who you believe to have been a mouthpiece for the almighty, this time a bit more recently in the eighth century, and also to the cultural influences of the region of the world we call the Middle East. A Hindu is tied to the culture of the Indus Valley and the Indian subcontinent in general; a Buddhist to a Hindu reformer about 2700 years ago; a Lutheran to a German religious rebel; and one could go on forever. The Native Americans I’ve met, primarily from the Four-Corners area of the United States, have origin stories going back as far as anyone can remember, and those stories tie them together as well as to their own ancestry and the land on which they live. And all that, in truth, is simply swell. Except when one set of ties conflicts with another set of ties, which situation comes up pretty often in a country like ours, it doesn’t seem so swell any more.

The United States seems pretty divided these days, what with fundamentalism and liberalism and all sorts of people who just know they know “the answer” out there, uh, pontificating (but frequently failing to build any bridges, you’ll notice.) Wise commentators decry the state of the nation, saying that we lack any unifying concepts to bind us together. To that concern I say, Horse Shit.

We all are bound together by the ties that Americans have always honored: the ties of commerce and enterprise. What? So crass? That can’t be! We are a God-Fearing and Righteous People, or at least we used to be before all this commercialism took over Christmas. Right? No, more of the same I’m afraid.
Of the nine men generally regarded as the “framers of the Constitution,” two were Christian, the rest basically Freemasons, which was then a species of Rational Deism. Franklin is a famous Deist, but so, believe it or not, were Adams, Jefferson, and the other most influential minds who made up our system of government. To them, God was the “Prime Mover,” not a force to be feared at all. (Note that I have not the least shred of an idea what contemporary Masons might believe. This is all historic stuff.) These guys were commercial in their hearts: printers, pot and pan makers, bankers, that sort of thing. As a quick example, consider that Franklin joined every church that would have him because it was good for business, and that’s the truth. Pious? Well, devoted to the thing that ties us together, so yes, pious in pursuit of the true American religion, for sure.

Christmas was illegal in New England into the eighteenth century. Even at the beginning of the nineteenth, it was no big deal. In England, home of Charles Dickens, it was dreaded because gangs of “Wassailers” would roam around demanding food and drink from the middle class, causing real damage if they didn’t get it. There was arson, looting, all sorts of unpleasantness. This is true. There was a general social interest in taming the “Christmas Beast” and the people who came to the rescue, both in England and here in America, were the retailers. Clement Moore, a minister no less, contributed the famous “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” which everybody knows to this day. Dickens wrote his famous “A Christmas Carol” which lent the sentimental aura Christmas enjoys today, and the retailers started having special sales and celebrations around the day. Before you knew what was happening, the civic holiday that is Christmas was born. And why not a civic holiday? Heck, I was born. Adolph Hitler was born, come to that. Are he and I holy men? So Jesus was born, big hairy deal. Prior to the eighteenth century, that was the official church position. That “Jesus is the reason for the season” stuff is just that: stuff. You know the stuff, right? Jesus was born, in fact, in the Spring. Christmas was moved to December 25th to placate Sun worshipers and Saturn worshipers. That’s also true. The reason for the season is nothing less than the true, to the bone, American religion of sheer commercialism. You want Christianity, study up on Easter.

And now, to speak in particular to those of Christian backgrounds, and any Muslims who may have read the Christian testament, you may recall that people once asked Jesus about “the law.” And he said something to the effect of, “The law is that you shall love your god with all your heart mind and soul, and further, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I have never heard anyone argue with the obvious fact that this is a commandment. But I’m going to. Gravity is a law. Go ahead, defy it. If this i
s a law, not a piece of legislation but an actual law, then it’s not a commandment but a statement of how things are. That is, it seems to me that each one of us does worship our god, whatever that is, with everything we have, and that furthermore the way we feel about our neighbors really does say a lot about how we feel about ourselves. The law? Sure, Jesus said so and on this point I absolutely believe him and no doubt. In America what we worship, our national god, is commerce, enterprise, individualism, capitalism, the works of Adam Smith and, when we have the time, that Christ guy, but mainly only on Sunday  plus a couple of holidays. I’m not saying this is good or bad, but it is what it is. And what it is is our real object of real worship, good old commerce and industry. It’s a pretty small town that doesn’t have a “chamber of commerce.” Like any good prince (see Machiavelli) the captains of commerce observe the forms of religion, but again like any good prince, they only use religion, as did Franklin, to further their commercial interests. Is that bad? If it is, might I suggest that you got yourself born into the wrong world. Sorry about that.

Think about this: American Muslims are almost universally aghast and against the Islamic terrorists, while in Europe there seem to be a lot of sympathizers lurking in the darker quarters of town. Why the difference? Could it be because in America Muslims are able to start and run businesses, make money, pay for their relatives to come live with them, and enjoy the fruits of our society, whereas in Europe they tend to be ghettoized and prevented from fully participating? In short, our Muslim fellow Americans are tied together by the true American religion of commerce and industry, and therefore are of little mind to disturb their fellow Americans even if they do hold otherwise contradictory beliefs. Interesting, huh?

And that is why I do not think that America is nearly as divided as the pundits say. When we were attacked, it was via the World Trade Center. Trade Center: Center for Commerce and Industry. It was in New York, the center of the commercial world. Nothing could unify us faster, whatever our personal religion, than to attack the unofficial god of America. So okay, sometimes we elect dolts who appoint idiots. So what? As a practical matter, we can generate more wealth in a week than most of the world can in a year. I pity the poor fool who tries to attack us and doesn’t understand that. Meantime, we can worship however we see fit, both the great god of The Economy, and our chosen faith, be it Methodist, Muslim or Jain. It’s good to remember one’s roots while stretching to new heights and besides, it’s always good to have friends to turn to when the worship of wealth gets to be just too much.

I suppose that the biggest problem with the religion that ties Americans together is that it has a sort of lack of real comfort to offer, isn’t it? But then that‘s a thesis for another day. Maybe I’ll write it up, but frankly, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Heck, I gotta make a living here . . . . .

Oh, Canada?

I just posted an article about Canada on the Funny Pages. It probably really sucks because I think it’s pretty good. Rather than reprint the thing here, which would only waste space I’m paying for after all, I’m going to just put this link here: http://www.stevefey.com/Articles/2005/Oh_Canada.htm.  Click that, and you can read it. It’s a plan to increase our National petroleum and other natural resources at a time when they’re critically needed. Of course.

I Wrote A Rant Today

I did write a rant this morning, but unfortunately for the blog, it came out funny. So, if you want to see my complaint of the day, you’ll just have to go to http://www.stevefey.com and look it up. If it’s the week this is posted, it’s the current article. Later it’ll be under 2005 in the archives, and when I get around to putting in the link, under Politics in the topic index.

Other than that, the sun is shining, it’s 72 degrees, there’s a very mild and pleasant breeze, it’s almost Thanksgiving, and nyah nyah to those of you in cold climates!


So, since I quit my night job I haven’t posted much. Okay at all. At least one person notced. I got a complaint that I hadn’t posted in a while, and didn’t I have someting to complain about? Well, besides someone saying that I hadn’t posted in a while and didn’t I have something to complain about, you mean?

So here’s what I did with the past three weeks, in case anyone cares much. First I converted a laundry room into an office. As you’d expect, just hearing that, it only took a couple of hours. Then I went on vacation for the rest of the week, although it was a vacation involving a lot of hammering, painting, flooring installation, etc. The week off was so I could do just that since I was starting a new job the next week. And the next week I went to work every day, got to know the place and the people, and pretty much enjoyed my new professional digs. Then that Friday I got called in, told it wasn’t working out, and handed a check. I quit a job for that. Was I pissed? Is the Pope Polish? Well, no, but I was really hacked off. I’d have posted that complaint except that that very afternoon I was due in Los Angeles, so instead of posting I drove all the way to Ell Aey, which means that I got to drive past Zzzyx road, if you can believe it. It’s an exit off the Interstate that crosses the Mojave desert. There’s only one, so if you look it up you probably will find the right road. Anyway, I had what passes for a successful weekend in the screenwriting business (somebody bought my pitch and asked for a script to read) and I wasn’t all that mad by the time I got home on Sunday.

Then this past week I finished that script and decorated the laundry room that we have left, what had been just the last few feet of laundry room and now takes the burden of being the whole place. That was more work than it sounds like it is, but today after swimming in paint for a few hours I crawled around the floor for a couple more and by crackey it’s all done. So, you want complaints? You can’t handle complaints! Or something like that. Lucky for me I’ve been in Vegas long enough to know some people who know people; I’ve interviewed once and have another on Monday. Happy? Not really, but not worried either.

What I should do like the guy who was room monitor in one of the classes I taught at the convention I was at and try stand up. Apparently I can’t do anything else. There’s an open mike night in Vegas (that would be a surprise if you knew anything about this town) and I think I’m going to give it a go. What the hey? I like my stuff.

Anyhow, that’s all the commplaints I have or have time for. Sorry for not posting more, but I’ll try to do better.

Besides, what with the Prez melting away, what’ve I got left? The opposition party? Don’t make me laugh!

Tax Cuts and Wealth

Those who favor big tax cuts, whether a TABOR style tax limitation measure ala Colorado, or the sort of tax breaks that President Bush got passed a few years ago, promise that the lower taxes will result in more money in the pockets of ordinary citizens, and therefore more wealth. Oddly, this is roughly the opposite of what seems to be happening.

I just read an article from the Wall Street Journal (not noted for a liberal slant, you’ll observe) about the decline of traditional parades. Parades, of course, cost money, and many municipalities have cut funding for non-essentials like parades. This has led to a rise in corporate funded and uniform floats with advertising on them. A small thing I suppose, but it does eliminate the fun people used to have (or so I’m told) putting the floats together every year. Rising prices for the steel, flowers, and even paper poms used to decorate floats have also contributed to the decline, just as rising prices have contributed to the decline in purchasing power of average people in the last six years, probably for longer than that. I can almost see a Frank Capra movie about the poor little float builder who perserveres against the corporate greed of a larger world. He could decorate with lots of bells, to keep angels flying. It would be heartwarming.

I allude to It’s a Wonderful Life because the situation seems similar to the days portrayed in that movie, when the large financial institutions were beginning to flex their now quite considerable muscle. Then it seemed as if the “little people” didn’t stand a chance against big money: the discrepancy in buying power was just too great. Same thing now with floats, sports arenas, public buildings. I could care less if your stadium is “Nextel Arena” or “Municipal Ball Field” but the fact that more and more of them are named by a large corporation is evidence of a tax drought from the point of view of governments which, unlike the Feds, can’t simply print more money to make up a shortfall. A few states, for instance Nevada, have excess tax money and actually offer refunds to their taxpayers. But most states, and virtually every local government, is in a pinch. Not only can’t they fund parades, they can’t even patch potholes properly. I’m not just talking about Detroit, where the major industry has crossed the river to another country, but cities like Denver, which are in an essentially rich area. Cities in an area of low unemployment and prosperous citizens yet are struggling for money can only be feeling the effects of a penny-pinching tax relief effort.

The thing is that people want things from their government. It was in Colorado, in fact, that I heard someone, in one paragraph, go from complaining about the taxes he had to pay to complaining that “they” weren’t fixing a highway near his house. Something fails to connect in that man’s mind, and in the mind of many a tax rebel. That is that any government service costs money, and that such money can only come from taxing something. Our tax system is messed up, for sure. Allowing multibillion dollar corporation to skip to an almost fictional nation in the Caribbean and avoid paying anything is asking to robbing the rest of us. But the sad fact is that taxes must be paid at some point. By supposedly shifting the tax burden away from individuals and onto large corporations we have in effect caused more of those large corporations to seek shelter elsewhere, thereby actually lowering our tax base even as our population continues to grow. That, if you will, is dumber than George W. Bush has ever been. There’s a simple rule of thumb, expressed by economists as “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” That doesn’t mean that you can’t ever get someone to buy you lunch, just that everything is paid for somehow. By being stingy and stupid in our attitude toward paying taxes we have lowered our ability to pay for some things we really enjoy, such as smooth streets, municipal services, student loans, and even parade floats.

Another aspect of taxes that tends to get lost in the debate is that taxes are just a way to spread the burden of social support systems around in order to make it less expensive for the average person to live in the town, state or nation than it would be if everyone had to pay their own way. It’s good to help each other out, just ask Jesus, or Buddha, or Allah via Muhammad; they all say so. But apparently it’s not all that easy to remember those lessons when looking at a tax bill. Still, Yankee stadium is named after its owners. Same for Wrigley Field. There are still quite a few WPA built municipal buildings and parks around that aren’t named for a corporation, maybe not named for anyone. The WPA was a government funded project that put an army of people to work during a time when corporate America was unable to provide jobs. It was a way for the people of the country to help each other out during a tough stretch, and it worked to the extent that many of the projects it constructed are still in use seventy years on. Very few people alive today paid a nickel in tax to fund the WPA, but we all still benefit. That’s what taxes are supposed to do, but they can only do it if they are levied and paid.

It’s popular in the West especially to deride government handouts. This belies the fact that the West has always received more in Federal money than it has paid in, with the exception of California, which has been a net contributor for some time. First came free land to the railroads so that the area could be settled by normal respectable people who could then spend their lives complaining about government handouts. The homestead act ensured that there would be plenty of agriculture in the area, even though most of it might not have been hugely profitable. Very low cost mineral leases and grazing permits continue to enable people in the West to make a living off of land that is otherwise pretty much barren. Since things tend to be hundreds of miles apart in the West, highways and airports are more vital than in the more densely populated East. The “solidly conservative” West is, and this is the plain truth, a leech on the liberal establishment, because among the “blue states” we find that they are all net contributors to the Federal budget. The “red states” tend to be net recipients. And there’s the gratitude: surly griping about paying taxes to fund “liberals.” Hmmmph.

My overriding point is that we were actually wealthier as a nation and as individuals when we thought more about societal needs and wants and less about our greedy little selves. Some sad but true facts: one good solution to the condition of public education would be to throw some money at it; the cost of health care is getting so distorted that only a publicly funded form of universal health care, be it insurance or making employees of doctors, will be the only way for us to stay healthy; and no, you’re not nearly as self-sufficient as you think. Even if you live in a shed in the north woods, you need to know that somebody mined and refined the lead you pour into your bullets, the brass of your shell casings, the iron in the nails with which you hold together your shack, the steel in your axe head, and so on and so forth. I know, it’s tough not being the center of the universe. Believe me, I know, but somewhere in the past I realized that the sad fact was that I’m not, and further that I’m stuck sharing the world with a mess of other people, and still further that the only way to do that was to work together with my fellow humans. Reaching those conclusions is part of a process known as “growing up.” I commend that to any strident tax protestor who may happen to come across this. Try it: you might even like it.

The Arguments

Because I just know people are curious, here lies an argument or two against the idea of intelligent design, and no, they’re not jokes either.

The chief argument against the idea is a refutation of the notion that the complexity and marvellous design of the known universe calls for a plan to be behind it all. That’s really just nonsense, if you think about it. If evolution is responsible for the origin of species (and that’s what Darwin said, by the way; he didn’t invent the idea of evolution, which taken on its own is pretty much self-evident; watch a party for a few hours and you’ll see what I mean) then it’s only reasonable to expect the resulting species to wonderfully fit into their environment. The world works the way the world works: no other outcome would be possible, given the starting conditions, than what we now experience. Also, some things in the universe are not particularly intelligent. You can rationalize all you want, something like a season of repeated killer hurricanes is not a good thing for humans, although it does help keep the universe balanced, a concept many take as a spiritual higher good.

But, more importantly, assuming for the sake of argument that there is a creator behind it all, what’s wrong with the theory of evolution? The creator maybe has some plans that are bigger than humanity, and maybe those hurricanes are there to further some divine purpose of which we may only guess. Okay, maybe. But what in heck is so wrong about figuring out how the creator is going about his business? If you take the Jewish creation story about the fall of innocence to be true, at least metaphorically, then we are way beyond being able to go back to the garden; we’ve eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; we have gained the ability to think and judge theories. If we can’t go back to innocence, then the only way out of the place in which we find ourselves is to keep on thinking and learning and becoming more and more like the creator, which is actually what the ancestors of scientists (the philosophical ancestors that is) believed that they were doing, even back in ancient Greece. If god has a plan, might not that plan include using evolution to continuously come up with new forms of life that can survive in an ever changing environment? God may be everlasting and unchanging, but the universe isn’t, so where’s the problem with discovering that the creator, if there indeed is one, built in a coping mechanism for the life herein?

So, the trouble with intelligent design is that 1: it isn’t necessary and 2: it doesn’t preclude evolution as the origin of species. In the first place it refutes the arguments of those pushing it in schools. In the second case it simply wastes everyones’ time. Either way, why bother with it at all?

Intelligent Design

This one might surprise some people. If you read back over this entire blog though you’ll see where I’m going and can skip reading this post entirely. There’s a bargain: hours of pouring over drivel to save reading a few paragraphs. I say, if that moves you, by all means go for it.

Intelligent design is being pushed by the same people who were lately pushing creationism. I wrote one or two things in which I said creationism was fine, but I wanted to pick the creation stories to tell in school. Obviously that frightened the proponents of creationism so much that they came back with another theory, not one out of the bible, but one with religious roots, that of “intelligent design.” The intelligent design theory holds that the level of complexity and marvellous meshing of things in the universe can not have happened by chance, so that ipso facto, there is an intelligence behind everything. There are some very good arguments against this idea, especially if you know anything about probability and just how friggin’ huge the universe really is, but I’m not going to make them. No, my point goes this other way.

Our founding fathers, who insisted that church and state be separated by the way, nevertheless were, as I’ve pointed out before, mostly Rational Deists. Freemasons, in fact, back when being a Mason meant more than driving around in funny little cars in parades. The very name “Rational Deist” suggests that the adherent believes in a deity that is a planner and a thinker. In brief, and leaving off some details, what they thought was that the creator, which they called “first cause” or, in much classier sounding Latin, “Primum Mobile”, created the universe in order to test some theory or other, and now sits back and watches but never interferes as this world unfolds. That is, first, pretty whacky to our modern sensibilities, but more important to this thesis, a form of Intelligent Design. Which is why I’m not making the arguments against intelligent design here: I thought it would be more fun to point out that Intellligent Design, at least a form of the concept, was pretty popular with those dudes who wrote our Constitution.

Of course, if you accept that form of intelligent design, which would be the one to accept in this country, you must also accept that god, the first cause, doesn’t have any intention of intervening on anyone’s behalf, or care one whit for one combatant over another, or for that matter, is pretty much useless to pray to, since the almighty creator is merely observing how his experiment unfolds.

Is that what you think the proponents of teaching intelligent design alongside the theory of evolution really want? What I think is that if they were really thinking, they wouldn’t promote faith instead of science in the first place. But, that’s just me. I’ve been wrong before.

Lies, Damned Lies, and the Stuff You Hear

There’s lies, there’s lies, and there’s lies, as Mark Twain pointed out. He had statistics as the worst, but I think there is one more level. That would be the sort of lying we’ve been enduring for the past oodles of years mostly from the righteous wing. For example, the indictment of Tom Delay is the “criminalization of politics.” First of all, that phrase doesn’t mean a damned thing. If you don’t believe me, look up the words in a dictionary, string the definitions together, and try to make sense of it. Politics is basically public negotiations of public issues, whether in an organization such as a corporation, or in the broader organization of public life. Criminilizing something means, if anything, making it illegal. Unless these jokers mean to say that we’re making it illegal to debate public policy (something they seem eager to accomplish with the pedantic approach they take to their critics) the phrase doesn’t mean anything at all. Which begs the question of course, of why they’d make up such an essentially meaningless phrase.

The answer is that they use such semantic tricks to control the topic and tenor of debate, which is a pretty cool way (from their point of view) of keeping attention off of the real issues. In Delay’s case, the issues are whether or not he improperly handled money, which is a nice juicy charge. If he is innocent, which for all I know he is, then that will come out in his trial. He is not charged with politicking, he is charged with financial irregularity, a different animal entirely. Where I live, in Nevada, there virtually no limit on where or how much one can gamble. The casinos can sponsor any sort of game of chance they believe will bring in the suckers, and while they do make some effort to keep what they call “problem gambling” in check, basically gambling is legal in all its forms and variations. However, let a casino rig a sweepstakes in favor of a beloved high-roller, as did the Venetian last year and they get fined, in this case to the tune of one million dollars. That is, the arguably shady activity of gambling, where the house virtually always wins, is legal. The Venetian being charged and fined didn’t mean they were “criminalizing gambling”. It meant that financial skullduggery was, as it always has been, illegal. If Tom Delay is guilty as charged, then he won’t pay a fine or do time because he was a politician, but because he was a dishonest politician. That’s just like the Venetian when they were found being a dishonest casino.

There’s something missing with some people when it comes to basic honesty, I think. Neal Bush, one of the brothers who has chosen not to enter politics, was involved in the big Silverado S&L; scandal in Denver in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was asked, in open court, if he saw anything wrong with taking someone else’s money and lending it to a third party without a reasonable expectation of repayment. He replied that he did not. Amazingly, this utter lack of fiduciary sense was confessed by a man not even realizing that he was confessing. I only mention this incident because that Mr. Bush is the big brother of the Mr. Bush who’s living in the White House. I’m not sure that George W. Is quite that lacking in ethical sense, but he seems to be extraordinarily tolerant of people who are. It can be a simply verbal switch his advisors come up with, such as when “pro choice” becomes “pro abortion.” Abortion sucks, but when it was illegal things were even worse. Pro choice means pro choice, not that somebody favors abortion. The movement behind the Bush presidency even started with a lie: they called themselves the Moral Majority. They were never in the majority, and their morals, like everyone’s to be honest, are questionable, but the term has a nice ring to it.

It isn’t just these guys, of course. That “police action” in Korea in the early fifties killed a lot of people and looked, walked and quacked like a war. So did that undeclared conflict in Vietnam, only more so. LBJ flat out lied his way into getting that adventure approved. Lies are pretty much endemic to public life. Apparently the liars lack the simple courage to tell the plain truth, or they can’t support their arguments with facts so they resort to lying to make their case. If the current Democrats really want to gain power, they might try being honest with us, but I’m not going to hold my breath. But there are two sets of lies that have me the most mystified.

Clinton lied about having an affair with an intern. The very people who are now defending Delay with lies jumped up and down on Clinton so hard that the nation rocked and all other business had to take a back seat to Justice Rehnquist presiding over an amazingly poorly conducted trial by the House of Representatives. Bush gave us false information to justify invading Iraq and so far a couple of thousand Americans and many more Iraqis have died, plus the infamous Al Qaida, who could not operate in Iraq so long as Hussein was in power, are using the place as a base of operations. Not even a Democrat has breathed a hint of the possibility of impeachment for those lies, which is the very point on which I’m mystified.

It’s an odd world view where it’s permissible to get thousands of people killed, but not okay to have sex.

Nova Roma

Nova Roma means New Rome. On my funny pages I don’t translate from Latin, although I do like to throw some in once in a while. It’s a cool language, no doubt about it. Currently, HBO is running a series called simply Rome. It started while Caesar was finishing up in Gaul, and just last week it concluded the civil war between Caesar and Pompey. Cleopatra gave Caesar a son, oh joy, yada yada yada. I sound cynical, but the truth is that it’s a great series, so good a story that I worry about it during the six days it’s not on. Fourteen days this time as they’re taking a week off this week. Seeing all that Roman history brought to life made me curious about more details concerning Rome in its prime, so among other things I read Caesar’s Commentaries, in which it is revealed that no one loves Caesar like Caesar (no kidding.) I also started looking up place names to see where they are today. For instance, Caesar conquered a town called Masilia, but it was never revealed exactly where Masilia was located. I found out, and immideately realized that if you let a Frenchman mispronounce the Latin word Masilia, it would probably come out sounding a lot like “Marseilles”. So that’s Masilia today. There is a plethora of source material on the Internet about ancient Rome, including the topic of this post.

That topic is none other than “Nova Roma.” If you’d like to see for yourself, check out http://www.novaroma.org/main.html. You may have heard of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a club dedicated to things medieval. Nova Roma is like that, but dedicated to things Roman. The aforementioned SCA has kingdoms, with monarchs, and it hosts tournaments and feasts and such things. Nova Roma has it all. There’s a Caesar (the common name for an Emperor in Rome), currently one Franciscus Apulus. I haven’t the foggiest idea if the office is good for life. They have Senators, Citizens, and a class they call socii, which I guess are members who aren’t citizens. They pay dues, but they call them taxes. An interesting bunch of dudes, I’d say from what I’ve reported so far. But it gets stranger.

Dedicated to the restoration of classical Roman religion, culture and virtues

So it says on their default web page. Read it carefully. It doesn’t say dedicated to the appreciation, or re-enactment, or study of those things. It says the restoration of things Roman. It’s cases like this where I don’t know if they’re serious or having a go at us. As one whose ancestors sacked the city several times, I’m not all that eager to see things Roman brought back into existence. Of course, for thirteen bucks a year (the current tax rate for America Austroccidentalis (The American Southwest – again, here I’ll translate as the humor is pretty much internal and not dependent upon the language) you might think that the actual rate of restoration of things Roman might be at a snail’s pace. Or, maybe they don’t mind, because in many important respects it’s as if Rome never fell. I’ve learned some very interesting things in my researches in the small hours. Such as the following:

Caesar never invented a calendar, but the Egyptian astronomers he hired did. He gets the credit though. You can look up Caesar’s calendar on line if you wish. It’s commonly known as the “Julian” calendar. It had twelve months and a 365 day year. The months were named January, February, March, April, May, June, July, Sixth, October, November, and December. Thirty days had September, April, June and November. All the rest had thirty-one except for February which had 28 except on leap year (every four years) when it had 29. What? That sounds familiar? Yes, doesn’t it. The only subsequent change was when Pope Gregory adjusted the leap years by not having it happen on century years that didn’t divide evenly by 400. So if you remember the year 2000 it was a leap year, but 2100 will not be. Gregory also had to yank ten days out of a year to adjust the calendar to celestial reality. That’s nothing to what Rome did when they switched from their old lunar calendar to the Julian one: they had a 455 day year, with extra months thrown in to make it come out even. Yoiks! So a Roman would recognize our calendar, especially one after Augustus was emperor since he chose the sixth month to name after himself. Why are the month numbers off? Because originally they only used ten months, with March (for the god of war) April, May and June being the first four.

Weekday names are similar, except that in English we mostly use Germanic equivalent gods’ names. There was Sunday, an Eastern import for Rome and originally named for Jupiter. Then Lundi, which should look familiar if you know any French, Mardia (Mars’s day – Mardi in French), and so on up through Saturns’ day, the only one where we still use the Roman name. Our Tuesday, for instance, is named for Tus, the Norse god of war. Wednesday is named for Odin or Wotan, another fierce Norse god, rather than Mercury like the Romans. Still, we use different names, but the days are the same.

When buying and selling the Romans used a standardized system of weights and measures. The basis for it all was the uncia, which was a given weight. One uncia of water constituted one fluid uncia. The measures up from there are different than what we use but guess what one uncia weighs in today’s system? If you said one ounce, you win. Sixteen unciae to the pound, the world around, right? For distance the Roman standard was the Milli Passum, or thousand paces. (Paces would be pacii, but the milli passum was considered a unit.) A pace was a double step for a soldier on quick march. It was usually shortened on mileposts to MP, and in speech to Milli, or as we’d put it, Mile. One milli passum is 1618 yards long. Guess how long our Mile is in Metric? G’wan! Well, when first conceived it was set at 1618 meters. That ratio of 1.618 to 1 is significant. If you’re a Dan Brown fan you already know why, but even if you’re not I don’t want to get into it now. It’s not a coincidence that those two ratios are the same, though, I’ll say that much.

So our calendar, including some of our holidays (Christmas for example) is Roman; our weights and measures are Roman, and we measure distance in the Roman way. Further, we have a Senate, Corinthian columns on public buildings, and we use the Roman alphabet. We even use Roman numerals for special cases, like copyright dates on movies and such. Maybe, you know, there’s no reason to bring back Rome because maybe, in a real sense, it never went away.

Besides, I really don’t want to live in ancient Rome. For one thing my ancestors wrecked the place. But beyond that, what exactly would I get out of worshipping Roman gods? Or out of following Roman codes instead of the laws of my state? The Romans were an amazing people, but a lot of them lived in fleabag firetraps called Insulae (Islands) which were basically tenements put up on city blocks. They had no way to preserve food. They enjoyed a much shorter life expectancy than do we. They were violent, and by our lights, amoral. You could get away with murder if the murderee’s family didn’t mind too much, since it was the aggrieved who did the prosecuting (there was no Roman CSI or Law and Order.) And, worst of all, if you got a bum emperor, you were stuck with him until either he died or somebody did him in. Here, whether you despise Clinton or hate Bush, you’ve got to admit that they were both short termers in the long run. Frankly, I like electricity and a general air of social justice. I’ll admit that other things I like, such as running water and sanitation, the Romans had as well, but their roads, while impressive, never curved because they couldn’t around a corner. Some of my favorite highways are gracefully curved, don’t you know? And I don’t think the Via Appia would stand up to the traffic on I-80, either.

All of which
leads me back around to Nova Roma, and the one question that the very existence of the group begs so loudly: