Tiberius Gracchus 168BC – 133BC

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This post is part two in a timeline series of posts.  The goal of this post is to examine the impact of Tiberius Gracchus on the republic of Rome.  His life would forever change the complexion of Roman politics as he was the first person to really recognize and leverage the power of the “mob mentality” upon the Senate.  We will also draw some parallels to our American republic as there are some definite similarities.  In the end, as you will see, it is very difficult to ever discern whether a human being’s actions are rooted in evolutionary morality or their self-serving lust of power guised as such.  Although all evidence points to the latter, I have this naïve hope that human beings will one day treat each other ethically, coexist peacefully, and be prosperous.  In that spirit, I choose to believe that Tiberius Gracchus was a man of nobility and magnanimity.  But in truth, we’ll never know and logic tells us that this is unlikely when considering his species.

Timeline Part 2 – Tiberius Gracchus 168BC – 133BC

Like many of his era, his birth year cannot be confirmed.  Tiberius was born sometime in the 2nd century BC.  He was old enough to fight as a junior officer in the third Punic war (149 to 146 BC) pitting Rome against Carthage.  Tiberius was born into political power and influence as was any Roman you will ever read about.  If you were not born with the proper pedigree, you had no chance of being “somebody” in the Roman historical record.  And if you were, your chance of being somebody usually rested on your military success.  Your political success was also hinged upon your military success.  So to recap, your chance of being written about in Roman history rested on 3 basic criteria occurring in this specific order:  1)born into the right family  2) successful military career  3) successful politician.  Each criterion’s opportunity was predicated upon the previous criterion’s occurrence.  Most people were disqualified at step one which is out of their control.  My friend Kirk and I have always referred criterion #1 as “the lucky sperm club” of which, unfortunately, neither of us are members.  Let’s begin with Tiberius’ military career to understand his rise as a politician.

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The Switch

I love movies.   I love to watch:  new movies, classics, kids movies, all kinds of movies.  One of my favorite things, however, is when I have a ho hum attitude about a movie going in and then I really like it.  This is the case with The Switch starring Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman.  To top it off, critics had said they disliked this movie or it wasn’t worth the money or whatever it is they said.  I hadn’t really read a critical review, but I’d heard snippets on the radio and overheard rumblings from people checking out reviews in magazines and whatnot.  Well, I’ve never really trusted critics and this is one more example why.  Critics can sometimes factor in and can sometimes be right, but for the most part, they suck.  Critics have also put Jennifer Aniston into the Tom Cruise Zone.  Critical acclaim has never come Tom Cruise’s way yet I seem to enjoy a boat load of his films:  Top Gun, Cocktail, Risky Business, A Few Good Men, Collateral, and the list goes on.  I find that Jennifer Aniston is treated in similar regard in the sense that no matter what she does, the critics say it stinks or find some other trivial point to harp on.  On the other hand, for this critic, there are plenty of Jennifer Aniston movies that are worth watching and enjoyable.

My wife and I missed celebrating our anniversary this June because we’re both so busy with the kids and home improvement projects and a million other things.  So when my mother-in-law said she could watch the kids and we could go out, we thought of our standard 4 hour adventure of dinner and a movie.  The question was what movie to see as we felt like there wasn’t anything out there we were dying to see.  I voted for the The Switch and she agreed.  I didn’t know much of anything about it except that it starred Jennifer Aniston, was about artificial insemination, and critics said it wasn’t very good.  When we walked into the atrium and saw the marquee, I was very pleased to see that the movie also starred Jason Bateman because I have been liking him more and more over the past couple of years and he’s been putting out great stuff.

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The Republic of Rome

This is the beginning of a “Timeline” series of posts for the purpose of trying to write out a linear chronology of certain historical events to give to my son and daughter so they can understand some basics of western history from their dad’s perspective.  I don’t know:  how long it will take me to write, when they’ll get around to reading it,  or where it will take me.  The gist of this exercise is to go back around 2,000 to 2,500 years and use Rome as the crucible starting point as to where we are today in America.  The goal is to follow a generic timeline from Roman times through the dark ages, crusades, middle ages, Renaissance, and the birth of the USA.  There will possibly be some posts that bop around as certain topics lead to a desire to learn more about a certain subject and lead toward some tangential movements in this process.  To get an idea on any disclaimers about the view of history presented here, click on the page link titled Historical Disclaimer at the top of the page or click here.  Lets get started. 

Timeline Part 1 – Setting the Stage for an Empire

In the Etruscan region of Italy (today called Tuscany) there was a she-wolf that raised two young brothers who had been cast out of their family: Romulus and Remus.  Romulus is said to have killed his brother and named the city of Rome after himself.  The people living in this area of what’s now Italy were the Etruscans.  It was an Etruscan society that the people of Rome were born out of.  It was a safe haven or asylum for slaves and pirates.  It was the diversity of the people that brought about the right ingredients for the best minds in the world to share their ideas and forge a society that would in a few short centuries control 25% of the world’s population. 

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Vampire Weekend

Most people from my work that go to Mexico City don’t like it. I suppose I like going because I long to see the world’s cities but don’t have the financial means to do so.  So when the opportunity to travel on the company’s dime comes up, I grab it. The coolest things about Mexico City have to be its culture and history.   One of my favorite simple things about being there is MTV in Mexico City.  They’re cutting edge when it comes to music.  Music is a passion of mine and I have picked up on some great bands while watching MTV in Mexico City in my hotel room.   In fact, when I’m watching it, I always have a pen and paper handy.  A band that I was introduced to in Mexico City through MTV  is Vampire Weekend.

The video A-Punk was playing and I was grooving to it.  It was a rich sound the likes of which I hadn’t really heard and it was fresh and captivating.  I wrote down the name of the band and song at the end of the video and added it to my list of songs to look up when I got home to Detroit.  This was in April of 2008. 

I added A-Punk to my playlist as soon as I got home.   My like of the song never really waned and I enjoyed it whenever it would pop into the mix.  I never really pursued the band, however, and couldn’t have told you anything else about them…  That is until now.

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Loss Gravitas

The Hamburg plant is closing June 8, 2010 and 126 people (white & blue collar) will be let go.  They will be released into the Michigan unemployment ranks in one of the toughest job markets our state has seen for a long time.  This is another bellwether event for our state and our union:  a plant, after existing for 40+ years of prosperity, has lost its way.   Design engineers, manufacturing engineers, quality engineers, managers, administrative clerics, CNC operators, supervisors, human resource personnel, maintenance managers & technicians, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, et al, will be unemployed.  There were over 240 people that worked at this plant as little as 2 years ago and that is a more accurate number of people unemployed as a result of this closing.

The employees of this plant are productive members of society.  These people exemplify what hard work in our American factories and markets mean to the health of our society as a whole.  There was never a time when there wasn’t a struggle at the Hamburg plant, but as I have said about markets and life before, there is always a struggle.  But, this time it’s different.  This time, the struggle will end for this plant that has seen 20% margins for decades.

Why did the plant die?  What are the internal and external factors that rang the death knell for this plant?  Our markets today are subjected to a confluence of events that make it impossible to name one cause to any one event.   We have to look at the prevailing head winds facing our manufacturing industry in America and our economy in general to understand the basic root causes.  That is to say, things like the export of labor to “low cost” nations.  And, the global purchasing strategies of our global business models that leverage the lowest possible price for any and all components in any given bill of materials.

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The Communist Manifesto

I’ve spent a good part of my life talking about how great it is to live in America and how Communism is bad.  I studied sociology and knew that there were different political systems and different economic systems, but I never really ventured to study them in depth.  I never contemplated a bigger meaning of it all or how it all fits together.   One day, while talking smack about Communism and the Communist Manifesto I was asked “have you ever even read it?”  Ah, such a simple question.  It was hard to make an argument about something I hadn’t even read.  The answer was obviously no;  I had not read the Communist Manifesto.  Now that I have read it, I’d like to give my take on it.

There is a fundamental flaw in the Communist Manifesto in that it is not a stand alone idea.  It is not an idea conjured from a blank sheet of paper.  It is born as an “Anti-Capitalist” philosophy.  In order to succeed, a philosophy should fundamentally parallel a natural process in some manner and be able to stand alone.  This is no different than the evolutionary principles of natural selection in the wild:  those which are not best adapted to succeed eventually die off.  A sociopolitical philosophy based entirely on unnatural principles while intoxicated with a hatred of Capitalism is one that is destined for failure.   It’s not entirely difficult, however,  to see the seductiveness of a “new” concept when the discord of the “old” concepts are described so accurately and succinctly.  But, the Communist Manifesto does not do much more than describe the struggles of previous ruling class / working class dichotomies.  I find weakness in this document in its utopian sales pitch even as I cannot find much argument in the cycle of proletarian uprisings and revolutions that are evidenced within it.  My belief is that the struggles and revolutions of all the societies that have gone before us are perhaps better viewed as part of our natural evolution as human beings.  An analogy comes to mind to describe what I think I would say to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels if they were alive today:  don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

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The Blind Side

It’s been hard for us to put a movie into the DVD player lately for fear of it sucking.   My wife has been busy grading school papers after we’ve put the kids to bed.  My work is non-stop.  We do our best to make time for the kids to get outside, et cetera.  When The Blind Sidecame from Netflix, I was squeamish.  It was that same monotonous feeling I’ve been having about how I can’t afford to waste time on movies that suck.  My watch/return ratio (i.e. the number of movies I watch to the number of movies that don’t suck) is somewhere around 5 to 1 and that is with a lot of upfront diligence on reading reviews, talking to friends, and listening to opinions on the radio.  And, I’ve only written a handful of movie reviews and I usually only write about the ones that really strike me; this is one of those movies.

Was the movie trite?  No.  Was it predictable? Yes.   The word tritekept occurring to me again and again throughout this movie.   I enjoyed the movie right from the beginning and I knew exactly how the story was going to go.  I had an inkling of what the movie was about with regard to Michael Oher’s story and the fact this movie was based on that true story.  Yet, even if it wasn’t, you would have been able to guess exactly what was going to happen.   This story was a just a real life example of a 100 year old tried and true Hollywood formula.  But, and this is a big but, it didn’t matter.  The story was brilliant.   I suppose this is why the word trite kept popping in my head.  How can a story so realistic (forget about the Hollywood dramatizations – the story in general) be trite?  How can human compassion for others in need be trite?  How can this story be considered trite?  It can’t.  It isn’t.  And, it’s dismissive to think so.

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Castro: The Psyche Of A Megalomaniac

Megalomania is defined as a delusional mental disorder that is marked by feelings of personal omnipotence and grandeur.  In today’s world there are too many narcissists to count, yet there are far fewer people that are truly megalomaniacs.  Of those that are megalomaniacs, there are even fewer that wind up in a circumstance whereby they can rise to absolute power and have free reign to execute their deranged vision.  In the history of the world, however, it seems like there are many examples of how megalomaniacs with the right amount of genius, character and gall can come into power and kill with impunity (i.e.Hitler, Stalin, etc…).  In this post we’ll look at the psyche of one of these megalomaniacs:  Fidel Castro.

Castro viewed himself as the destiny of Cuba and he was bent on becoming the country’s dictator.  There can be little doubt about his brilliance in executing power and his talents in positioning himself to rise to the top.  This is especially true with Castro’s  understanding of propaganda and using the media to sway public opinion .  But, what was not known during his ascent to the top was the lying, bluffing, and deceit he was committing to propel himself. The most striking example of Castro’s hypocrisy has to be his political manifesto titled La Histroria Me Absolverá (History Will Absolve Me).  You may recognize the title or it may ring a bell with you; this is because it’s a rip-off from Adolph Hitler’s Rathaus Putsch speech in 1924 when Hitler said “Pronounce us guilty a thousand times over: the goddess of the eternal court of history will smile and tear to pieces the State Prosecutor’s submissions and the court’s verdict; for she acquits us.”

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Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba

Cuba has been in a constant state of struggle since the Spanish crown slaughtered the Taino Indians.   Learning about the plight of Cubans since that time (over the last 500 years) is something that can’t help but evoke many emotions and thoughts about society, socialism, revolution, freedom, and justice.

I just finished the book titled “Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba”.  I have to say it was terrific.  It chronicled the last 150 years of Cuba’s history from the vantage point of the Barcadi family.   Based on the level of detail in the book and the exhaustive amount of sources used to tell the story, you can only imagine it was ten to twenty years in the making for author Tom Gjelten.  The book provoked much thought and provided many “jump off on tangent” points to go back to and dive into related historical events.  I truly look forward to chasing down more detail on some of the anecdotes presented and have already done so in some cases.

I suppose the most interesting thing about Cuba’s history to me was how much has been propagandized by my upbringing in suburban Detroit.  As a youth in metro Detroit, our school system didn’t touch on Cuba much.  We’re raised to know that: #1 Castro is bad   #2 Socialism is bad  #3 Communism is bad.  We’re also told that Castro seized people’s private property and murdered people without due process of the law.  That’s it.  Then we move on to the next subject.  Heck, kids today might not even get that much of the story.  So when I read the book, I must admit that my ignorance was profound.  Perhaps my ignorance on the subject is what made this book so much more thought provoking.  After all, a dry sponge soaks up more water than a wet one.

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Bill Watterson & Your Kids

Bill Watterson is an artist.  He is one of my favorite artists.  He is the creator of the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes.  We can be thankful to have enjoyed his art while we were growing up.  I can remember waking up each morning, going through my morning ablutions, getting dressed, grabbing a bowl of cereal, and heading straight for the Calvin & Hobbes strip while sitting across the breakfast table from my mom while she worked on her crossword puzzle.  These are the kind of memories that are some of the fondest.

When you’re a child, this comic strip isn’t ‘art’ or political or sage, it is just fun.  You don’t really know as much as you think you do at that age, but you generally know what’s the good stuff and what sucks.  And, Calvin & Hobbes was the good stuff.  I can honestly say that reading the those three blocks of this comic was the best thing about my morning routine.    This activity that took less than thirty seconds was something to be looked forward to more than anything else each waking day as a child.  It would be a bummer on those off chance days that the paper didn’t come or was soaked with rain or what-have-you.   Saturday’s where extra special because the comics were in color and it was generally a six-block strip.  Although Watterson was one of the first artists to turn his six-block real estate into one drawing or two normal size blocks and one taking up four spaces or any combination he felt like, he would sometimes do the customary six block strip.

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