Monday, August 31, 2015

Iowa Baseball - Mascots Part One

Mid August has traditionally been the time that my brother and I do a Road Trip.  The nominal excuse is taking in a few minor league baseball games.  Of course we do other stuff; eat greasy food, drink beer (but less than in Old Times), discuss the meaning of life, and so forth.

But we do go to the games and enjoy them a lot.  "Down on the Farm" as they say, the players are young and hungry, playing hard for a shot at the Show.  You see raw talent and ridiculous mental lapses.  It is baseball in a form far closer to its original version than what you see in the Major Leagues.  It is also much cheaper to attend.

On our recent trip we started off at Cedar Rapids, the affiliate of our preferred team, the Minnesota Twins.

Last trip down this way we were extremely impressed with the performance of the team mascot, a certain "Mr. Shucks".  (Corn is a big deal in Iowa.  So the team is called the Kernels and the mascot...).  Shucks was simply the best mascot we had ever seen, and we really wanted to see The Master at work again.

But at the beginning of the game he was nowhere to be seen.  And what's this?

Not an Angry Bird.  Well, actually I guess it is, as this is the mascot of the University of Iowa (Hawkeyes) football team.  It seems there was some joint promotional thing going on so we had "Herky the Hawk" and a gang of cheerleaders running around.

They even got up on the roof of the dugout and danced, causing me to miss a play at first entirely. Mind you I have no inappropriate interest in young ladies of an age to be my children, or to stretch the narrative a bit, in theory my grandchildren.  But darn it, I could not see past them.

In the pre-game moments Mr. Shucks was nowhere to be seen.  I asked one of the Kernel's staff about this and they said he* was in fact on the premises.  It was my assumption that he did not want to distract from his "guests" and was letting Herky and his pals have the lime light.

But I also got the feeling that the current "Shucks" was not quite the dynamo of his predecessor, a certain Marius Noden.**  Being a mascot is, you see, a little like being the Dread Pirate Roberts. So long as people believe it is you, it is you.  But you have to assiduously keep up the act.

But eventually Mr. Shucks did start working the crowd, and all was forgiven.  Shucks wanders about with a staffer whose job description probably includes helping with visibility on uneven surfaces as well as snapping pictures with fans.  They were good sports, the both of them.

The yellow bracelet btw is required if you are going to purchase beer.  I had at first just gone up to the beer vendor and pointed to my grizzled beard.  It was deemed insufficient proof that I was over 21.

Oh, the ball game.  Well played with surprisingly good pitching and fielding.  The offense was a bit off but we did see one fellow hit a screaming line drive home run.  The last guy we saw do that was three years ago in Beloit.  The player was Miguel Sano.  He is now up with the big club and hitting impressive home runs off of the best pitching in the league.
*It is hard to tell "he" from "she" in a mascot outfit.  The current "Mr. Shucks" is not tall of stature, but our observation when he was running about with a team banner was that he did not run like a girl.

** compare this article from the local paper with my blog post on the subject: Best Mascot. Coincidence? I wonder.  Mr. Noden has returned to his native Atlanta and has a marketing position with the Atlanta Hawks basketball team.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Reality Check

When the disheveled recluse who has maggots and actual adult flies hatching from under his malodorous bandages is only the THIRD worst patient you see on a shift it is time and past time to consider a career adjustment.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Farewell Rome - Tales left untold

Time at last to say farewell to Rome.  It was a great trip and I am already planning a return.  But wait, say you, what about all the other sights?

There are places I did not have time to visit and others I chose not to visit.  The Colosseum for instance.  Walked past it.  I even had as part of my Palatine/Forum ticket a chance to stroll in for no extra Euros.  But really, why?  I have visited other amphitheaters in southern France that were slightly smaller but not at all less cool.  And I have little stomach for herds of tourists led by guides who are giving the "dummy version" of history.  Another time, perhaps.

But as to other sights I will not be writing about, well, it is a mixed bag.

Take for instance the Domus Aurea.  We were able to get some very hard to score tickets for a fabulous tour of the underground portions of Nero's pleasure palace.  I highly recommend this if you are going to Rome and are interested in great stuff off the usual tourist agenda.  So why no post on it?

My pictures did not do the place justice.  The fragile condition of the wall paintings meant no flash photography.  And while I can get fairly good slow shutter pictures with my indestructible travel camera it takes time and a bit of luck with the lighting.  Sorry.  But as compensation I offer you this:

A friend of mine, the enigmatic MooseandHobbes, was also on the tour.  She has a very nice camera and used it to good effect.  HERE, check out her photos and narrative of our tour.  A tip of my yellow hard hat to M&H on this effort.

I said that I intend to return to Rome but I did not take the traditional measure to ensure it.  While I have been known to leave the occasional votive coin in key spots I think chucking one into Trevi Fountain is very cliche.  Also, it was under repairs when I was there.  Here are long lines of unimaginative visitors clomping over the dry fountain so they could say they were "there".  Really now, is a fountain without water anything like the living, vibrant place it is once the spigot is turned back on?

Sigh.  Here are more lines of tourists.  This site is a little less popular although you would not know it by what you see below.  Buses disgorging groups of mostly Japanese folks who want to visit....

Guess I am cheating a bit here because what they all want to see is inside that covered portico. Behold, the Bocca della Vertia. The Mouth of Truth.

This is a big slab of Roman stonework.  It is probably the god Oceanus, but we are not sure.  It was probably in a temple somewhere nearby, but we are not sure of that either.  What we do know is that it got stuck onto the side of the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in the 17th Century.  There is a tradition that if you stick your hand into the mouth of this thing and then tell a lie, that it will bite your hand off.  This was memorably depicted in the great movie Roman Holiday.  Movie tourism seems to be a big thing with some folks.

On a day when I had a long walk and an early start I set off at a time when the gates to this would not be open for hours.  Sitting on the curb looking very forlorn was a solitary middle aged Japanese man. I had to wonder.  Did he think he could stick his hand in there and find out if he was lying to himself about something?  If he expected some Audrey Hepburn equivalent to join him there, well, I am afraid her standing you up has given you the answer you were seeking, Good Sir.

Some things I am leaving out because I just could not capture the scale of things.  On our cycling trip down the Appian Way we went past a series of ruined aqueducts.  One street sign I saw translated to "The Camp of the Barbarians".  This is where the besieging Goths cut the water supply to try and make Rome die of thirst.  In the long run it did just that.  Too much to capture in a single photo.

I did not visit the Vatican.  And it is not because I am not Catholic.  I wanted to make it over there to see the obelisk in St. Peter's square.  But we just did not have the time.  On our last morning in Rome we discovered that our lodgings had a little garden up on the roof.  Fabulous view of St. Peter's dome. But at that point I was wrapped up in packing duties and tending to a temporarily ill spouse.  Another time, another trip....

A few things I saw but did not really understand.  Many churches in Rome have very macabre funeral monuments.  Yes, I know in general that these were intended as a reminder that we are mortal and should look to the Life Eternal.  But knowing what this meant and understanding it are different things.  I had a lot of these guys looking back at me.  They seem to be gloating.

And one final category of things I rarely write about: food.  Reading about somebody eating a tasty meal seems very unsatisfying, and showing you pictures of things that you can't eat seems mean. But today a rare exception.

We were up in the hills of Tuscany one day and went into a shop that sold meats and cheeses. These are local cheeses made from sheep milk.  Wondering why they are covered in straw?  There are two answers.

True Answer number One.  From long trial and error it has been found that ageing this kind of cheese by packing it in straw just makes it turn out better.  Better cheese is good.

Truer Answer number Two.  Back in feudal times tenant farmers would pay their rent by handing over a set percentage of what they produced.  Grain, eggs, whatever.  Well, what do you know....keeping most of your cheese hidden in a haystack will actually lower your tax rate!  Lower taxes, very good indeed!

If you think I am inferring something about the dysfunction of the current Italian economy here you are very perceptive.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Murder in the Palace

My archaeological journey to Rome is now months behind me and going through my notes and photos I am down to a few topics where I have to admit....I was just looking at amazing things and not knowing what they really were.

One of the hardest places to interpret was the Palatine Hill, essentially an entire hill devoted to the Imperial Palace.  So much history, so many remarkable men, women and events.  So few explanatory sign boards....

It struck me as a perfect place for one of those slightly cheesy "ghost tours" where enthusiastic, under employed actors hold forth on all manner of Dark Deeds committed in the general area and in a fashion somewhat akin to how they tell it.

For purposes of our Murder in the Palatine tour I have converted a few of my photos to black and white.

Scene One 96 AD

Domitian was one of the more paranoid of Roman Emperors, and that is saying quite a bit.  In addition to the usual measures - torturing suspected plotters for instance - he went so far as to keep a sword under his pillow at all times and to have metal surfaces around the Palace polished to a bright, mirror like burnish so that he could see the reflections of anyone sneaking up on him!

It did him little good in the end.  A trusted servant approached him claiming to have a document that outlined yet another plot.  Taking it eagerly Domitian did not see the servant pull a dagger from under bandages on his arm.  But he probably did notice when the servant, Suetonius tells us his name was Stephanus, stabbed him in the groin.

History does not record what was actually written in the distracting document.

Scene Two 212 AD

Caracalla and Geta never got along.  Only 11 months apart in age perhaps they never settled into the usual older brother - younger brother dynamic that often, but not always, establishes boundaries.

When their father Septimus Severus died there was going to be trouble.  The boys did try to rule jointly but their animosity eventually became too much to contain.  They divided the Palace up into halves, each guarded by their adherents.  Supposedly each tried to have the other's cooks finish the job with poison.

Probably Geta was not without fault, but it is Caracalla who is remembered by history so his foul deeds are recorded.  After an attempt to kill his brother during Saturnalia festivities Caracalla sent word to Geta asking that they meet in their mother's private apartments.  Lulled into letting his guard down, Geta turned up....only to be murdered in his mother's arms by Caracalla's henchmen.

Scene Three 238 AD

The sons of Septimus Severus are widely blamed for ushering in an era of imperial chaos.  Indeed, Caracalla himself was assasinated in 217 and the next three Emperors met similar fates after fairly short rules.  But that was nothing compared to the year 238, when no fewer than six men exchanged the Imperial Purple for a burial shroud.  Maximinus and his similarly named son, were respectively Emperor and Caesar.  Both were murdered.  Gordian II died in battle and upon hearing the news his co-emperor Gordian I committed suicide.  That left the Senate in Rome with a deterioriating situation.  Between barbarian incursions and additional Usurpers something had to be done.

So they appointed two of their own, Pupienus and Balbinus to rule as Co-Emperors.  Balbinus was to muster troops to defend Rome with Pupienus was to run the civil administration.  After some initial success - they did bump off Maximinus - the two men fell out.  Again, they occupied separate wings of the Palace, each fearing the other's dagger.  With things going to Hades in a hand basket the Praetorians stormed into the Palace.  Finding the two Emperors futilely arguing with each other they decided to kill them both.

The full list?  It is hard to judge just how many Emperors were killed in the Palace.  For sure there were more in the early part of the Empire, despite those being more tranquil times in general.  Later Emperors usually ruled from the saddle and met their deaths far from Rome.  And the very late ones had abandoned the Eternal City altogether for Constantinople or Ravenna.  But in addition to the above, one might reasonably expect a Ghost Tour of the Palace to also encounter the shades of:

Caligula.  Stabbed to death in 41 AD while addressing a troupe of actors.

Claudius.  Widely felt to have been fed poisoned mushrooms by his wife in 54 AD.

Commodus.  After an earlier attempt to poison him failed, conspirators took the more direct route and had him strangled in his bathtub by his wrestling partner. This event in 192 AD seems to have set up a pattern...

Pertinax in 193 AD was met at the Palace gate by some Praetorians who claimed they had only gotten half pay.  Efforts to negotiate with these malignant trick or treaters did not go well at all...

Didius Julianus.  After the murder of Pertinax the Praetorians decided to have an auction.  The highest bidder would get to be Emperor.  Didius probably should not have participated in this fatal ancient ebay.  His prize was three months on the throne before soldiers decided that he was only a spineless puppet and killed him too.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Latest Scientific Poll from Iowa

Just back from a nice road trip with my brother.  Three days of wandering about Iowa watching minor league baseball and scouting out various historic oddities.

When we crossed the Iowa state line we started looking for evidence of the political furor said to be roiling the state.  Surely we would see legions of Angry Voters toting signs backing The Donald or Red Bernie....

Ah, no.  The sum total of all political activity we observed (and winner of the first ever Det of Emp straw poll!) was two signs for novelty candidate Dr. Ben Carson.

Look, Iowa is not what you see in the traditional media or read about in the chattering sections of the Internet.  Yes, you see lots of corn, lots of churches, probably a few more American flags per capita than some places.  You also find that most small towns have Mexican groceries and in one place we even encountered a large Somali community.  Odd to see tall, east African folks walking down the Norman Rockwell streets of Postville Iowa in flowing robes and with traditional head coverings.  I half expected some of them to be wearing Seed Company hats.

But Iowans of all pigments that we encountered were unfailingly polite, friendly and seemed absolutely uninterested in politics.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Long Term Mocking

Our street got torn up by the city.  It needed it, there were lots of potholes and the curbs had crumbled away.  Our sidewalks needed some help too, so while things were being demolished and rebuilt those got done too.

All this comes with a price tag, and not a small one I might add.

So I was displeased to see this bit of mockery, one that I will have to gaze upon for many long years to come.

I don't get cute kid hand prints.  Or even dog paw prints.  I could deal with that.  No, its the squirrels. They mock me.  And will continue to do so until the next major re-do.  Damn, I may see these insolent little foot prints when they roll me out for the Last Roundup.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Mosaics in Ostia

Ostia has lots of mosaics.  They are mostly monochrome, and they are said to be partially the creation of their restorers.  Also, it would help if they got a quick swish of soap and water now and again, like much of Italian archaeology the place suffers from inertia and lack of funds.  If the Soprintendenza happens to read this I could give him/her a list of Roman fans willing to live on site for various stretches of time and willing to do a bit of light housework.  Put my name on the top.

Ostia is another one of those sites where even the well prepared will become disoriented.  So like my post on the Forum I will not attempt any comprehensive discussion.  Just a few of what I call "Shiny-Pretties", which as I said, could be a bit shinier.

This is from "The Baths of the Coachmen".  These guys were a guild of sorts and had the job of transporting passengers from Ostia up to Rome.  Cargo went, one assumes, by barge.  Here we have preserved for the ages the names of two mules.  PUDES - "Modest" and (I think) BAROROSUS - "Silly".

A nice little decorative touch from the floor of a fish shop.  The inscription reads "Envious One, I tread on you."  Dolphins were held to be the friend of sea going man, and the octopus he is chomping on represented the dangers of the depths.

Sometimes you have a problem of scale showing these things but in the case of The Baths of Neptune there is a nice observation point.  It is has large mosaic floor with all manner of sea critters.

The so called Square of the Corporations occupies a central point.  These seem to have been the offices of various businesses and consortia that operated out of Ostia.  Since most of these were connected with the maritime trade you get recurring themes. This first one is dedicated to NAVICUL(ARII) ET NEGOITIANTES KARALITANI. the shipowners and merchants of Cagliari.

NAVICULARIS GUMMITANI DE SUO the merchants of the North African city of Gumma.  They dealt in grain as represented by this modius, or grain measure.  De Suo means they did this at their own expense.  Government subsidy for businesses being perhaps less of a deal back then.

A nice picture of fish, palm trees and an amphora.

A nice little bird, found in a back corner of one of the many seldom visited residential buildings.  I am planning on going back with some of my digging cronies one day.  We will hide out at closing time and camp over night in the place!

I did have this Visitor's Guide to work off of on my trip to Ostia, but it was not enough.  Next time, perhaps I would even spring for an audio guide.  Perhaps if my offer to be an early morning mosaic cleaner is accepted I could even be an unpaid tour guide for other pilgrims.  The unprepared miss so much.  For instance I never did find the painting of the Seven Greek Sages with graffiti of them making crude observations about each other!

Here is an overview of all the advertising mosaics in the Square.  Worth a look for their remarkable diversity.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Various Vices in Old Ostia

Ostia is a must see site if you are in Rome and fascinated by things Ancient.  It was Rome's main port in Republican and early Imperial times and became a thriving city of perhaps 50,000 people.  Floods, earthquakes, banditry all took their toll, and eventually when Rome atrophied after the Fall there was no need for Ostia.  It silted up and became a largely forgotten ghost town.

There was periodic scavenging of course, at first just for the stone, later for statuary and other marketable antiquities.  But the real boom in excavating at Ostia did not come until the 20th century, specifically when Mussolini took an interest in the place.  He was planning a sort of "World's Fair" not far from this site - it was supposed to happen in 1942 - and wanted as an attraction something similar to Pompeii, but with less aura of doom and death.

You would be, and will be, surprised how much Fascist archaeologists can get done in a short time! Perhaps not always with acceptable scientific technique, but they sure created an awe inspiring site.

Today it is a short train ride out from Rome.  In our case short and interesting due to some odd characters in our train car.

Now I have written on more than one occasion about how archaeologists seem to be fascinated by the baser aspects of human life.  But at Ostia I kept running into reminders that Ancient times really were rather naughty!

Ostia has a lot of mosaics, most of them as in this case just black and white. This one reads:

"Fortunatus says, drink wine from the vessel because you are thirsty"

Presumably this was a wine shop, although it is possible instead to detect a crypto-Christian message in this...

Now, here we have a proper tavern!

For the record I am just drinking water on a sizzling hot day in May.  The broken vessel on the top of the bar was found on site.  Here and there you can see panels that preserve bits of painted plaster that once adorned the walls.  I think a good weekend of tidying up could have this pub ready to reopen without much trouble!

Here is a decorative element from the 4000 seat theater.  This guy has seen it all.

Septimus Severus was once recorded as chastising the members of the Senate.  He said, presumably in reference to events at this theater, "...yet at Ostia only the other day one of your number, an old man who had been consul, was publicly sporting with a prostitute who imitated a leopard".

The theater later saw darker emotions released.  In 269 AD a group of 18 Christians were martyred here. Like many such structures it became a fortress in post Roman times, a secure place for the last of the Ostians to take refuge until the menace of Saracen pirates finally drove them out in the 9th century.

In the seldom visited back streets of Ostia we ran across The Ninfeo della Eroti.  Now, a Nymphaeum, to use the English version, is a religious structure usually built around a fountain or water source.  Eroti are saucy little imps, something like our concept of Cupid but more, well, Erotic. As to what actually went on in a place like this I profess no knowledge, but if you look down at the pavement.....

Somebody was keeping score.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Woolly Bear Caterpillar Weather Forecast - Fall of 2015

Time for the annual prognostication regards the severity of the upcoming winter.

For those of you not in tune with rural folk lore it is generally believed that Woolly Bear caterpillars are somehow "in the know" about the cold weather season ahead.  They are usually a two tone color scheme with the lighter central band being the relevant oracular sign.  The wider the light brown center stripe, the milder the winter.

Here for your long range planning is the first Woolly Bear I encountered in the predictive season (actually it was 6 August, a little early for these guys)

As you can see the entire 'pillar is light brown. That's it folks, mildest winter on record coming our way.  Cancel that February trip to the Caribbean.  Consider Minot North Dakota as a toasty alternative.

Of course the little vermin have lied to me a few times in recent memory.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Incarcerated in Ancient Rome - Part Two

If you set out to do a "prison tour" of ancient Roman sites you of course would start with the Mamertine Prison we visited last time.  But there are a few other noteworthy stops on this odd and rather specialized tour.

Some of them are spurious.  In the Roman Forum a short distance from the Mamertine there is a building labeled a "supposed Carcer".  The signage basically admits that this was simply a misidentification of the site of the Mamertine.  If I read it properly there seems to have been suspicion that it was actually a brothel.

On a somewhat more uplifting note, there are numerous sites that relate to the known imprisonments of Saints Peter and Paul.

Although it is seldom open and in a very seedy neighborhood, a quick stop in to visit the Basilica of Saint Peter in Chains would be in order.  It has a set of ancient chains said to be from Peter's captivity in Jerusalem.  Yes, the very ones that miraculously fell away when an Angel of the Lord told him to stand up and walk away from his imprisonment.  There is also a rather nice statue of Moses by Michelangelo.

Since "house arrest" was actually more common in the Imperial era it is not surprising that several sites claim to be the location where Peter, Paul or both were held while awaiting trial.  Any such private dwelling would of course become an early place of pilgrimage and worship.  The Church of Santa Maria in Via Lata makes a plausible claim but without solid documentary or archaeological evidence.

For a site that is a lot more fun, and which has tons of history piled up in layers, I highly recommend San Nicola in Carcere, literally, Saint Nicholas in Prison.

It is a fabulous example of continuity and recycling.  Here is a photo showing the church literally built into the ruins of several Republican era temples.

San Nicola is actually built of, into and over the ruins of no fewer than three Republican era temples, specifically those of Janus Bifrons (260 BC), Juno Sospita (circa 195 BC) and Spes (date uncertain but restored in 213 BC).  Spes is one of my favorite pagan deities.  The name means "Hope" and her depiction on coins is generally a winsome lass in a long skirt....which she is slightly but intentionally lifting!

San Nicola is a quiet little place, it took me a while to find someone who would let me into the crypt area beneath the church.  There was a small fee and you got a brief guide pamphlet to help you out. OK, lets get down and Roman!

The crypt entrance is suitably creepy.  And down below I was able to wander about as I pleased.  

Unlike most such sites in Rome there is no prohibition on photography.  And having the place to myself I got to experiment a bit with flash and non flash options.  The flood lights did complicate lighting somewhat, and in one location I actually encountered this:

Standing inside an ancient Temple I am looking out past a Republican era column.  Light peeks in from a tiny niche.  A hardy weed grows in it and the raucous sounds of Roman traffic faintly intrude on the general silence.  I was unable to find this spot on a careful survey of the outside areas.

Now, what would you actually expect to find in a "Carcer", a prison?  Something like this perhaps?

Sure, why not.  There are in fact piles of human bones laying about.  The green color is from algae that always grows in underground places where, as in this case, a flood light has been installed for your viewing convenience.

Alas for dark, Gothic mystique.  These are not the bones of prisoners. In Medieval times it was a burying place for monks.

In fact, San Nicola quite likely was never a prison at all.  The initial dedication was to St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, who as the initial inspiration for Santa Claus is not generally associated with "doing hard time".  The addition of "Carcere" came later.  There is a single reference in Pliny to there being a prison somewhere in this neighborhood, but it would have been centuries before the first church was established here (felt to be very early, but with an architectural Frankenstein like this, who can say!). As this was a part of the city that was occupied continuously, there is also a notion that during the Gothic Wars it may have been a place where unreliable folks, or those unwilling to contribute money to the defense of the City, may have been held.  And finally the series of small rooms you can see above made those with imaginative minds - and a few historical hints to play with - see jail cells when in fact they were most certainly small offices associated with the cult worship.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Incarcerated in Ancient Rome - Part One

For all its high drama and dynastic strife, it was actually unusual in ancient Rome for anyone to spend much time in jail.  High status prisoners awaiting trial were usually put up in various levels of comfort in private homes.  Low status prisoners never got trials.  And even after conviction the Roman state did not have the concept of locking people up behind bars.  You might be exiled. You might be executed.  You might be sent to toil in the mines or as a galley slave.  It seems to our later, more modern eyes to be a bit harsh although there is a certain austere economy to the system. You don't cost the state money before your trial.  Or after it.

But there was a small role in Rome for what was called a Carcer, a temporary place of confinement from which our later and more inclusive word "incarceration" descends.

Rome's most famous ancient lock up of course is the Mamertine Prison, sometimes called The Tullianum.  Neither name is fully understood, the former is of Medieval date and might refer to a nearby and now lost Temple of Mars.  The latter is a reference to one or another of the late Kings of Rome who had similar names.  But whether they or someone else actually built the place is unclear.

In any event it was built early, perhaps 6th Century BC, and held some famous prisoners over the centuries.  Sejaunus, the scheming Praetorian Prefect (memorably played by Patrick Stewart!) was held here before being strangled and his body torn to bits by a mob on the nearby Forum. Vercingetorix the Gaul was atypically held here for five years before his execution.  But that was less of a sentence than a waiting period...he had to be displayed in a Triumph to Caesar before being eliminated.

There is actually an upper and a lower room to the Mamertine Prison.  Captives were lowered down into these, doors you see below were for the benefit of later pilgrims.  The round grate in the floor was the original entrance to the lower chamber.  Prisoners were just thrown down to the lower cell.

A bit of graffiti.

The lower room probably started out as a water cistern.  It is a claustrophobic place to be sure.

The column supposedly is where Saints Peter and Paul were chained during their traditional but unconfirmed stays in the Mamertine Prison.  There is also a "miraculous" spring that they used to baptize their fellow prisoners.

I assumed this outer door depicted Saint Peter, but he does not have the traditional keys that would identify him.  He does have a sword, perhaps recalling his defense of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.

According to this sign in the lower chamber, you can still see the dent in the rock where Saint Peter's head hit when he was thrown down!

There were some other interesting sites that I didn't get decent photos of.  An altar with an upside down cross for instance, also recalling Saint Peter.  But because the site is so small it does not take long to visit.  I entered by an entrance off of the long stairs coming up from the Forum to the Capitoline Hill.  It is not well marked, so you have to go out of your way to find it.  I think there is also access from the church built over the Carcer.  It is San Giuseppe dei Falagnami , Saint Joseph's of the Carpenters.  A small admission fee is charged.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Will Work for Ice Cream

Although I mostly work ER these days in my earlier career I was primarily a clinic based family physician.  And I still do the rare day in clinic when the local outfit needs a hand due to vacations and such.

Usually there are Dairy Queen Dilly bars in the break room when I arrive.  It's kind of in my contract.

It all started a few years back when I was filling in for the clinic on a more regular basis.  At the end of the summer the work load was back to normal levels for them and I went back to doing ER.  But oddly there was an error in the payroll department and they kept paying me.  This is all electronic deposits these days so it took a number of months before I figured out what was going on.

I tried to give them their money back.  Its not after all as if I had blown it all on rum and wenches. They refused.  Told me it would screw up their accounting system I guess.

Instead they said I had to keep working for them.  Until we were square.

So, in the first decade of the 21st century I was an Indentured Servant, working off my debts.  I like these folks so that was not really a problem, but I told them that they had better have Dilly Bars for me when I worked, as they were not paying me any other way!

That was some years ago.  My clinic shifts are infrequent these days as their staffing situation has improved and I am actively trying to avoid extra work.

But sometimes, not always, but sometimes,  when I do turn up Administration remembers our informal arrangement and when I peek in the freezer I see a couple of boxes of Dillys!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Stump Speeches and Real Debates

There is going to be a debate tonight.  In two groups the approximately 350 men, women and harder to characterize life forms vying for the Republican nomination are going to sit on a large stage and talk.

Most of what you get out these events is not useful.  Candidates try to hog as much time as they can, and to hammer all questions into something they can answer with their standard "stump speech".

For those unfamiliar with that term it goes back to an earlier, simpler, perhaps better era in American politics.  Out on the just tamed frontiers a candidate would often be going from one newly founded town to another, giving pretty much the same talk to different batches of voters.  The talk was new to each group because this was before radio, TV....even in the dark times before Twitter.  And it was called a stump speech because the most common place for a candidate to stand when addressing a crowd was on the stump of a newly cut down tree.  There was probably a barrel of whiskey on another nearby stump, but that is another matter.

Having two or more candidates "debate" by reciting their rote "stump speeches" may not sound like a useful exercise, and in fact it is not.  Debates have of late become more a matter of wondering if the moderator is biased to one side or another; or if one or both of the participants has been given the questions in advance; or if the inevitable slip ups represent "the mask slipping", or lack of mental capacity, or just human fatigue and stress.

As a format it is lousy.

I suggest we keep the stump part, but borrow one, and only one, aspect of German culture for this ritual.

In Germany when people sit around and have a free wheeling discussion of life, politics, and whatever, it is called "Stammtisch".  It literally means "stump table" and reflects a tradition not unlike our early American political campaigns.  People - OK, just guys in this tradition - would go out to the woods, set a keg of beer up on a stump and argue philosophical matters.

I don't advocate alcohol be involved in Presidential debates but would not hold it against any candidate who eschewed the traditional sip of water for a smallish swig of beer between answers.

But what we really need to do is scrap the current debate system entirely and make it more: 1. interesting 2. relevant to the job of President, and 3. fair

I suggest this.  We get Abe Lincoln's hat from the Smithsonian for the occasion.  Set it onto a stump. Into the hat go 50 or so questions.  These are not known to the candidates in advance but of course are mostly the sorts of things they ought to be prepared to discuss.  Each question is clearly marked as to where it came from.  The sources, like America, need to be diverse.

Perhaps something like this:

15 questions from the organization sponsoring the debate.  I don't care if it is Fox News or the League of Women Voters, or whoever.
10 questions from the Republican National Committee and 10 from the Democratic National Committee.
5 questions each from the campaign staff of the two debaters.  Obviously in a larger field you would have to modify this, one each from 10 participants for instance.
5 questions from an internet based poll.

The entire job of the moderator would be to draw the questions from the hat and keep track of time.  I think we would learn a lot more about the future Commander in Chief if he or she had to think on their feet; to be prepared for both the expected and the unexpected challenge.

There would have to be an honest way to put the questions into the hat.  I propose that representatives from each of the above categories walk onto the stage and put all the questions onto a table.  Sharp and interested eyes from the campaigns agree that all questions are clearly marked as to origin and into the hat they go.

Sure we would get the necessary if tedious stuff.  We should hear from our future leader on matters of entitlement reform, climate change and so on.  Those questions would be there.

But so would other stuff.

Moderator. "We have drawn the number two question from the internet poll, which as you recall is 'Should marijuana be legalized nationwide.' Discuss."

Candidate A. "Well, I have just been given a question from my opponent's campaign staff. My position on the Cecil the Lion issue is that both of us have more important things to discuss."

Candidate B. "Folks, my opponent and I decided over a glass of beer this afternoon that we would take a scissors and snip off part of some of these question cards.  So this one is from one or another of the national Campaign Committees, but I don't know which.  It is a fair question either way..."

Candidate D. "It is my good fortune, and America's, that I happen to have drawn the one question my campaign staff was allowed to submit.  My opponents have been silent - suspiciously silent - on the issue of Mind Control Lizards from the Moon, but I have some extensive comments prepared on this most important issue of our times...."

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Help Wanted - President. 2015/16 Edition

As I have to say every time I do a political post, I don't think very many people care about this stuff. But here at Detritus of Empire it is recognized that there is a real world out there, and on occasion I feel a need to divert from robotics, archaeology and general weirdness.

A few years back I did a post called Help Wanted, President. It maundered around a bit about the general background qualifications of what are considered our more successful Chief Executives and suggested that perhaps there might be a few resume entries that We the People should be looking for.

Now it is four years later and the number of legitimate (which is not the same as serious) Presidential candidates is somewhere around twenty.  Oh, and there are some absolutely delightful minor candidates who deserve a little attention another day.

Clearly this is too big a field to deal with on an individual basis.  There is an old saying "You can't tell the ponies without a score card".  I aim to provide you with one.

I intend this mostly for my UK readership.  Our political system here in the Colonies must seem very peculiar.  In your system there is always a clearly defined successor waiting in the wings.  This nonsense of letting just anybody qualify for the job of Most Powerful Person on Earth must seem quite chaotic and haphazard compared to how you do it; simply a civilized handing over of the keys to Number 10 between leaders of outgoing and incoming Parties is the norm.

Qualifications to be President of the United States of America

Have already been President once.  5 points.  Nothing like doing a job to show that you can.

Vice President.  Held the office once 3 points.  Twice 4 points.  In theory, but not always in practice, VPs are being trained for the possibility of taking over.

US Senator. Elected once 2 points.  More than once 3 points.  First timers don't generally get assigned to the real power committees.  And for good or ill, the longer you are in Washington the more connections you make to useful people.

US Congressperson.  Elected once 1 point.  More than once 2 points.  Same rationale.  But our Congressional districts are so strangely drawn that it is possible to be a frequently elected office holder that the majority of people even in your home state regard as a loony.

Governor. Elected once 2 points.  Elected more than once 3 points.  This has traditionally been the training ground for Executive experience in the US. I should really go with 3 and 4 here but to be fair some states are less impressive to run than others.  By that I mean no disrespect to tiny states. A bigger issue are states that are atypical (Alaska, Utah, California) or that are political monocultures where you never have to negotiate with other viewpoints (too many examples to list).

Military Experience.  1 point.  I used to think it would require a high rank to get a point.  But the guy or gal who is Commander in Chief has to consider sending our troops into action.  Having once been a grunt would be a solid point in my book.

Significant Business Experience.  1 point. Often maligned but I think unfairly so.

Significant Cabinet Office.  1 point. Setting aside the question of whether they were any good at their job of course.

Other. 1 point.  My place to reward those with varied life experience.  I prefer being positive when possible.  An alternative view would be penalty deductions for various things.

So, here is the current list of Declared and Everybody Knows they are Running candidates ranked by the Experience Points on their resumes.  I am ranking by points, and within a point category, alphabetically.

6 points

Bobby Jindahl my goodness, multi term Governor and Congressman.  Earned his bonus point by being accepted to both Harvard Med and Yale Law.  Rhodes Scholar.  Currently polling at undetectable levels of support.

James Webb a distinguished military career, later Secretary of the Navy and U.S. Senator.  Extra point not for being an author, this listing contains several, but for writing actual readable novels rather than ghost written political works. Level of current support also near zero.

Bernie Sanders here is where red and blue color systems break down.  Bernie is an avowed Socialist, so should be RED.  But he is running for the Democratic nomination.  One point for honestly expressed and apparently heartfelt opinions way out of the mainstream.  Also a multi term Congressman and Senator.  I understand he has really bad arthritis and that the campaign trail is an ordeal for him. I would award a point for this but my scoring system only allows one bonus point.

5 points

Lincoln Chafee I had to give this guy his own color as he has been elected variously as a Republican, Democrat and Indie.  One term each as Gov and Senator.  Gets the bonus point for studying to be a farrier at Montana State University and spending 7 years shoeing horses!  Level of support: he is a trivia question for Politics nerds.  And by no means an easy one.

Lindsey Graham many years a Congress critter, but you only get two points for that.  At some point diligence morphs into lack of higher ambitions. Senator once and a point for military service.  A random selection of American citizens would probably be unable to tell you anything when given this name....not even gender.

John Kasich from Ohio, which is by God the most Middle American of middle American states. Congressman, one time Governor. I hesitate to give him a bonus point for being a top exec at the disaster causing Lehman Brothers brokerage firm.  But lets be honest, if one can learn from mistakes one could in theory learn a lot from big ones.

Rick Santorum Another multi term Congressman and Senator.  Appears to have little relevance to current political affairs but ran surprisingly well four years ago.

4 points

Hillary Clinton OK, halfway down the list we are actually getting to a few individuals with realistic chances of being the nominee.  Friends and foes agree that Mrs. Clinton has a lot of experience in the political culture of Washington DC.  They differ as to whether that is something to be proud of.

Rick Perry a bit too "Texan" for most Americans, but that's why he kept getting elected Governor of what is more or less a medium sized Nation-State.  Also a military pilot.

Rand Paul might be the GOP version of Bernie Sanders.  He has lots of ideas that run the spectrum from crazy to visionary.  Will never be elected President with that ridiculous poofy hairdo.  I reluctantly give him a bonus point for his medical degree.  But really now, an ophthalmologist?

3 points

Jeb Bush major asset and liability is his last name.

Chris Christie an entertaining fellow, his politics are actually fairly centrist.  But more of a novelty candidate really.  Think of an energetic Falstaff willing to call his political opposite numbers jackasses.  Which undeniably, many of them are.

Ted Cruz one term Senator with a point for actually being editor of the Harvard Law review. I guess that is some kind of accomplishment.

Mike Huckabee not a cartoon character despite the name.  Used to be Governor of Arkansas.

Martin O'Malley a fairly average politician whose mini boom in popularity stems entirely from being brave enough to stand in front of a juggernaut. Which is commendable but not quite enough for an extra point.

George Pataki also not a cartoon character.

Scott Walker from my home state, so a pol whose career I have followed.  Said to be a very nice man he has political instincts that enable him to trounce his political enemies with regularity.  This does not endear him to said enemies.

2 points

Marco Rubio youthful one term Senator.  I think we tried this recently.

1 point

Ben Carson a neurosurgeon.

Carly Fiona another former exec who is said to have crashed a company.  Is the "anti-Hillary" and seems to relish the role.

Donald Trump a large angry man with orange hair.

If there is a message here it would be that becoming your party's nominee is not an easy task.  If current polling can be believed - and I see little reason to think it should be - there is not much correlation between actual life experience and your chances of one day getting a brief case full of nuclear launch codes.

My opinions of course count.  For exactly one vote.  And we should never forget that we have had some very good and bad Presidents whose evident qualifications for the job would surprise you.

Consider James Buchanan, generally considered Worst President Ever.  He was in Congress multiple times, elected US Senator once, was ambassador to both the United Kingdom and Russia,  and - ominously in some eyes - was our last President who had previously been Secretary of State.  I make that to be six points and I could in theory give him a bonus point for being nominated as a Supreme Court justice (he declined).

Buchanan slunk from office and was replaced by an under qualified "one pointer" who had served a single undistinguished turn in Congress.  I wonder what ever became of that Lincoln chap?

Monday, August 3, 2015

Here and There in the Roman Forum

The Roman Forum is one of the great archaeological sites of the world.  So much history, so many memorable figures.  And very unusually a lot of it is documented in hallowed ancient texts.  There were probably some fascinating things going on in Borneo in the 1st Century AD, but nobody will ever read about them.

The Roman Forum is also a preservation nightmare, a place where treasure hunters and stone scavengers and ham fisted early archaeologists (with less difference between the three than you might think) have rendered the site almost uninterpretable. I went prepared, homework done and guide book in hand....and still found it puzzling.  So instead of providing a Grand Tour of this mighty concentration of Detritus of Empire, I am just going to show you a few odd side lights.

The best way to visit the Forum is actually to enter by way of the Palatine Hill.  The lines are short to non-existent, you get to marvel at the huge, shattered corpse of the Imperial Palace, and get some great over views of the Forum.  Then you go down the hill.  This puts you in the middle of the Forum but in terms of understanding the place I suggest a brisk walk to the left which brings you to the base of the Capitoline hill and the earliest part of the Forum.

Here's whats left of the Temple of Saturn.  The original version was very early, with construction starting back in the days of Roman Monarchy.  It was dedicated circa 498 BC, completely rebuilt in 42 BC, burned down and rebuilt again in 283 AD.  There seems to have been another 4th century renovation...the columns you see here have apparently been salvaged from other structures as evidenced by their variable dimensions.  The traces of bronze lettering you can see read:


Most of us have enough rudimentary Latin to figure that one out.

Near the foot of the Temple of Saturn we find another little spot:

The good folks who run Rome's archaeological sites would have you believe that this is the base of the Miliarium Aureum which was literally the Golden Mile Stone.  Yes, all roads led to Rome and all distances were reckoned from right here.  Or somewhere close to here.  On the basis of rather sketchy accounts of the size of the Mile Stone this is not legit.  Anyway, the decorative touches look more like what you see on the pediments high up on temples.  Guess it was just laying in the right spot.  A more plausible marble cylinder was dug up somewhere nearby in the early 1800s, but its whereabouts seem to be unknown.  Too bad really, I like Mile Stones.  Later echos of this central mileage point can be found in Washington DC, Constantinople/Istanbul, and  London (dubiously).  There are evidently quite a few Kilometer Zero markers around the world if you care about such things.  I don't.

This tacky pile of brick snugged up against the Arch of Septimus Severus appears to be the Umbilicus Urbus. The "navel" or exact center of Ancient Rome.  It presumably had nice marble on it back then.  From being the symbolic center of the Eternal City to its current sad situation...quite a Decline.

Below you see the Lacus Curtius, literally the Lake of Curtius.  Here you have your choice of legends.  Pick the one you prefer.

1. It was the site of a swamp where the Sabine leader, Mettius Curtius fell while riding his horse during a legendary war between the Sabines and the Romans, who were then still a minor power.
2. In response to an Oracular warning, a Roman knight named Marcus Curtius threw himself into a chasm that opened at this spot, thus saving Rome from an unspecified doom.
3. A consul named C. Curtius on the order of the Senate built an enclosure here in 445 BC to enclose a spot struck by a lightning bolt.  This last may seem less fanciful, but how often does lightning strike in a deep valley between tall hills?  Might have been a bit of Jovian aiming involved.

The panel depicting a rider is a reproduction of an original found on site and now preserved in a museum.

I feel badly not showing a wider view of the next Temple, that dedicated to Antoninus and Fausta. Antoninus Pius, remembered as one of the Good Emperors, built this in circa 141 AD to honor his recently deceased wife.  His name got added later.  It is a nicely preserved Temple, and for the usual reason; a Christian church was built inside its super structure.  But lets focus on a tiny detail.  Notice the odd grooves at various spots near the tops of all these columns?  Some claim it was from ropes place by stone robbers trying to pull the whole shebang down.  Unlikely, that.  A more plausible explanation would be anchoring grooves for some sort of sun shading canopy.

My last spot on the odds and ends tour of the Forum is actually pretty well known.  This is a detail from the Arch of Titus, a triumphal structure put up in honor of his conquest of the rebellious Jews. Note that the procession is carrying off all sorts of sacred swag including the great Menorah from the Temple of Jerusalem.  We have very good historical evidence that this actually happened, and that the Temple treasure was deposited in the nearby "Temple of Peace".  This mostly vanished structure was once one of the Forum's grandest buildings, and was another monument erected to commemorate the ever elusive concept of  "Peace" in the Middle East.

Titus himself by the way was already dead when this arch was dedicated by his brother Domitian some time after 81 AD.  The arch has a very colorful history.  In the middle ages a representative of the Jewish community had to stand under it once a year and pledge good faith towards Christians. In later times it was buried under a maze of post Roman structures including, alarmingly, a powder magazine.  Once it was freed from encumberances it became a model for many other emblems of Nationalistic insolence including Paris' Arc de Triomphe.

For those of you inclined to conspiracy stuff, I should mention that the final resting place of the Menorah is uncertain.  Various rumors over the years claim that the Pope keeps it in a secret store room at the Vatican.  Most likely nonsense but interesting nonsense.  For a discussion of what is and is not known regards the Menorah after its arrival in Rome, this monograph makes an interesting read.  And it only tests trace positive for Dan Brown level skulduggery.