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A Romanophile's Thoughts on non-Roman Topics

Entries in this blog

 

Roman rise and fall 'recorded in trees'?

This was an interesting article, and I'm always very thrilled to see quantitative analyses of Roman history. That said, it seems like the article ignores an important insight gained from the many previous attempts to understand what caused the changes that occurred in the late Roman empire. That insight is that the variables that appear to explain change in one part of empire (e.g., the Western empire) fail to accurately predict what happens in another part of the empire (e.g., the Eastern empire).   So suppose the authors' theory is right: climactic change causes disease, famine and war. If so, the theory explains their observations of climactic change occurring with the Germanic migrations in Central Europe. So far, so good. But what about the rest of the empire? The theory predicts that there would be much less climactic change occurring in North Africa and the Levant, which were relatively healthy, prosperous and peaceful during this period. But that prediction seems highly unlikely to be right. In North Africa, for example, there was massive desertification and shortages of water, leading the agricultural frontiers of the empire to move back toward the coasts. Yet, the empire was fine in North Africa throughout this period of climactic change, and it only began to decline when the same Germanic people that invaded central and western Europe made it to North Africa, where they busied themselves impaling babies and butchering children (which I'm sure the authors would argue is just a rational response to climate change....)   The history of North Africa, then, presents a real problem for the theory. That is, given climactic change, we have an equal likelihood of experiencing disease/famine/war (like Central Europe) or continuing health/prosperity/peace (like North Africa). Framed that way, the article totally loses its Cassandra-like punch regarding modern climate change. Framed another way, however, we could observe this: given massive migrations of violent, anti-GrecoRoman foreigners, we have a much greater likelihood of experiencing disease/famine/war (like *both* Central Europe and North Africa).   When you look at the *whole empire*, and not just a fragment of it, you come away with a very different historical lesson. Namely, the most likely threat to civilization isn't climate change but cultural change, specifically people starting to act like those early Germanic hordes. Of course, I'm sure no one in New York, London, Madrid, and Moscow could possibly imagine that there's a group of armed fanatics who hate the Greco-Roman way of life....   Anyway, that's my two cents.   Source: Roman rise and fall 'recorded in trees'

M. Porcius Cato

M. Porcius Cato

 

Decline of the Nobiles

Nobiles ("the known") were the senators whose family-members had climbed the highest rungs of the cursus honorum. How many modern-day nobiles are in the US Senate? After the death of the nobile-st Senator, Ted Kennedy, somebody bothered to publish the results, and the results are good news for New Men like Nixon and Obama: US Senators with family-members in the Senate have never been lower.   Check out THIS graph to see the dramatic fall from the 1st Congress to the 101st.

M. Porcius Cato

M. Porcius Cato

 

Caecilia Metella for Senate?

Apparently the daughter of John F. Kennedy wants to be a senator. Having held no previous political office, which seems to have been both a necessary and a sufficient condition to be a senator in the Roman republic, her ambition is remarkable for a number of reasons. But what is says about political culture in the US and Rome is what has me fascinated.   One of the trickier Latin political terms is nobile. The root of our word, "noble," it connotes royalty and aristocracy. But the Latin term was initially much more humble than that. It simply meant "known". And in a city the size of Rome, where all magistrates were chosen by the people, name recognition was (then as now) an invaluable political asset. Just the name Cornelius or Metellus was a political asset, a sign that the candidate was no fly-by-night-nobody, but would have something to live up to -- viz., centuries of other Cornelii or Metelli that had used their own name recognition for the good of the republic.   It's all terribly unfair, of course. Cato the Elder, a New Man, used to upbraid the people for getting bamboozled by well-known names and for failing to recognize well-administered offices. Nobility--in the sense of an aristocracy--was what he warned would happen if the people continued to be dazzled by nobilitas, in the sense of name recognition. (Indeed, another New Man later used the old name of Julius for his own benefit, and the rest is history.)   I always wondered if this dumb reliance on name recognition came from the fact that politics in Rome was face-to-face. With no mass media, one had precious little to go on when voting for a dozen or so lower magistrates, except the names: X. Caecilius Metellus versus X. Nomen Nescius, etc. Adding to this impression is the fact that dynastic political families have been the exception, rather than the norm, in the American republic. Our own nobiles -- Adams, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Taft, Bush, and so on -- are vastly outnumbered by New Men with no family legacy: Polk, Lincoln, Eisenhower, Obama, and so on.   But now I'm not so sure. With (caroline) KENNEDY running against (andrew) CUOMO, it certainly feels like Metellus versus Cornelius all over again. Personally, I'm hoping for more candidates with funny-sounding names.

M. Porcius Cato

M. Porcius Cato

 

Obama: McCain "like Cato".

In a speech here in Columbus, Barack Obama posed an unusual challenge to McCain's independence: "He hasn't been a maverick. He's been a sidekick. He's like Cato to the Green Lantern."   Don't they teach anything at Harvard Law School? For the record, it's Green Hornet, not Green Lantern.  

M. Porcius Cato

M. Porcius Cato

 

If Anais Nin were a blogger

From Wired Magazine:   "We've reached an age where egotism is considered too much work. Why discuss your hopes and fears when you can just post the results of online tests, show cartoon versions of yourself and collect "friends"? It's a good thing Anais Nin wasn't a blogger, or instead of a steamy tale of sexual awakening and creative fervor, we'd just know that if she was a Ninja Turtle, she'd be Raphael."

M. Porcius Cato

M. Porcius Cato

 

"The Blog of War"

I think Anne Applebaum may be the cleverest writer alive. HERE's her smack-down of that Gawker-style, pro-pacifist book on WWII, Human Smoke.

M. Porcius Cato

M. Porcius Cato

 

Free Trade and the State of U.S. Manufacturing

I blogged earlier about the robust health of U.S. Manufacturing, so I was miffed to read that the word hadn't gotten out to the Washington Post, where Harold Meyerson recycles the same old myths in his critique of NAFTA.   The amazing thing about the free-traders' arguments is that they never change. Today's free-trade commentaries make the same points as the pro-NAFTA editorials of 1993-94. Now, as then, bilateral trade is a win-win proposition for the peoples of both signatory nations. It raises living standards in developing nations. An educated American workforce has nothing to fear from competition. [...]   Read these commentaries, and you'd never know that America has gone from being a nation that manufactured things to a nation that manufactures debt. Manufacturing (as Kevin Phillips points out in the forthcoming issue of the American Prospect, which I edit) accounted for 25 percent of America's gross domestic product in the 1970s but just 12 percent in 2006. Finance, which amounted to 12 percent of GDP in the '70s, amounted to 20 percent in 2006.   Sigh. The figures presented are correct, but completely misleading. Yes, it's true that manufacturing accounts for less of the GDP than it used to--but that's not because manufacturing declined but because other sectors of the economy skyrocketed even faster than manufacturing did. The fact is that U.S. manufacturing output has TRIPLED (yes, TRIPLED) since the good old days of the 50s when manufacturing was king of the economy.   Seems like the anti-free traders are attempting to revive manufacturing by manufacturing lies.

M. Porcius Cato

M. Porcius Cato

 

Classicist for Mayor

HERE the NYT reports that former classics student Boris Johnson stands a chance of beating Red Ken for mayor of London. Can anyone across the pond tell me, What do Brits think of Boris?

M. Porcius Cato

M. Porcius Cato

 

Hanukkah: Hellenism and Its Discontents

"We are all Greeks," Shelley once wrote, rather exuberantly. It's easy to see why he'd say that. As Rabbi Michael Lerner observed, "Along with Greek science and military prowess came a whole culture that celebrated beauty both in art and in the human body, presented the world with the triumph of rational thought in the works of Plato and Aristotle, and rejoiced in the complexities of life presented in the theater of Aeschylus, Euripides and Aristophanes."   Only Lerner wasn't giving Hellenism a sales pitch. See, not every one is a 'Greek' in Shelley's sense of the term, including sectors of far-left post-modernism, the evangelical Christians, most of the Islamic world, the Taliban... and then there were the Maccabees, whose struggle against Hellenism is celebrated during Hanukkah.   Christopher Hitchens asks that we call it quits.Bah, Hanukkah: THE HOLIDAY CELEBRATES THE TRIUMPH OF TRIBAL JEWISH BACKWARDNESS

M. Porcius Cato

M. Porcius Cato

 

Fact Check #1: State of U.S. Manufacturing

I'm constantly stunned by the media's misrepresentation of economic facts. Consider the oft-repeated claim that the US manufacturing sector is "ailing", "hard hit", "dying", and all the rest. Why you'd think it was the Roman republic! Well, it is--strong and healthy, but terribly misunderstood.   Here are the real statisticsabout U.S. manufacturing in 2006:    

M. Porcius Cato

M. Porcius Cato

 

The Anti-Marian Reforms

Marius is infamous (perhaps to a degree that is unwarranted) for opening up the ranks of the Roman legions to the landless, propertyless "head-count" of Rome. The result: an army that unquestioningly obeyed its commanding officers, even when the officers threatened to topple the republic (and finally did).   The widely-vaunted alternative to this ever-present threat--in the US, most recently revived by Douglas MacArthur; elsewhere, seen in military coups from Venezuela to Pakistan--is "civilian control," with military officers accepting the implict charge to accomplish the civilian mission no-questions-asked.   Is this the best alternative? A recent piece in NYT Magazine suggests that civilian control--at least as it is currently practiced--has its own problems, especially the problem of rewarding generals who fail to give frank advice to civilian leadership. It's a fascinating article, and well worth reading.   My first impression is that "private armies" versus "civilian control" is a false alternative--the real alternative to private armies are armies that uphold the laws--that would be the real Anti-Marian Reform. Beyond that, generals who fail to give frank assessments of what can be realistically accomplished are guilty of a derliction of duty--not just to their commander in chief, but to their country.

M. Porcius Cato

M. Porcius Cato

 

A Caesar for President?

The efforts of Hugo Chavez to hide Venezuela's continuing slide to dictatorship has become truly absurdist.   According to the BBC, Chavez has vowed to expel foreigners who even accuse him of dictatorship, remarking "How long are we going to allow a person - from any country in the world - to come to our own house to say there's a dictatorship here, that the president is a tyrant, and nobody does anything about it?" These comments came on the same weekend that Manuel Espino, president of Mexico's National Action Party, criticised Chavez at a pro-democracy conference in Caracas and characterized a plan by Mr Chavez to end term limits on Venezuela's presidency as a threat to democracy.   I really wonder, is this pig-eyed Chavez so stupid that he has absolutely no sense of irony? I guess if you're president-for-life, you don't need a sense of irony.

M. Porcius Cato

M. Porcius Cato

 

A Cato for President, Pt II

Ron Paul, the libertarian presidential candidate who bears some resemblance to the historical Cato, has apparently eclipsed John McCain in the fundraising effort, according to this ABC news story.   I'm wondering who a good Roman analog for John McCain might be. Regulus, perhaps, the war hero tortured by the Carthaginians? Nominations welcome.

M. Porcius Cato

M. Porcius Cato

 

Mens sana in corpore sano--but don't tell the Gauls

Left-wing Gauls are in an uproar that the leader of the Republic is...jogging. "Le running" is apparently too individualistic and too (say it with disgust) American for some. I guess they'll just have to replace their favorite term of abuse, "creeping Americanism", with "jogging Americanism"!   There's a great response to this fashionable idiocy by that Cato of perfidious Albion, fellow jogger Boris Johnson. (Of course, Cato didn't actually jog, but as a good Stoic, he did walk a lot -- and it's a looong walk from Egypt to Utica.)

M. Porcius Cato

M. Porcius Cato

 

A Cato for President

So far Ron Paul strikes me as the most Catonian of US Presidential contenders. Though he's much, much older than the historical MPC (who was John Edwards' age when he died at Utica), Paul's opposition to fruitless military adventures, his principled constitutionalism, and his general philosophical outlook would certainly piss off any modern-day Caesar (or Livia).   Here's Ron Paul on The Daily Show.

M. Porcius Cato

M. Porcius Cato

 

NYT: Virginia Tech killer legally barred from gun purchase

Today's NYT has an interesting report that claims that the Virginia Tech killer's history of mental illness made his gun purchase illegal. The report is interesting because (1) it challenges the assumption that more gun control laws are needed to prevent future VT-type massacres, (2) it demonstrates the difficulties in enforcing existing legislation, and also (3) it illustrates how small differences in the implementation of federal law at the state level can have devastating repercussions. From my perspective, this is an interesting set of observations because it fits in with neither the standard 'liberal' view on the alleged obsolescence of the Second Amendment nor the standard 'conservative' view on the supremacy of States' rights. Rather, the implication of (1) and (3) is that a strong federal government--strictly bound by the Constitution--is potentially more effective at meeting the legal needs of the people than is commonly supposed by liberals and conservatives alike. Further, the implication of (2) is that this potential requires cooperation from state authorities. This makes me wonder whether there are many more issues like this one and whether there is a non-governmental organization that monitors such issues.

M. Porcius Cato

M. Porcius Cato

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