You just spent $120 on a ticket to something to which you had no idea what to expect. A guy, an actor, whom you’ve seen all your life is coming off what’s close to a melt down and announces he has a tour coming to your city. So you say whatever and you buy a ticket. You have no idea what to expect.
Your tickets are sweet, second row behind the old orchestra pit. As you’re walking up the aisle toward the stage you’re saying to yourself “holy shit we’re right up front”, but up front to what? You have no idea what to expect. But, you’re in high spirits and you’re with your friends and you’re enjoying the music. The sound system is impressive and they haven’t even jacked it up yet, it’s just grooving.
Then there’s an indication that the show is starting and out comes the first act. A comedian, if you can call him that, named Kirk Fox is the first guy to take the stage and warm up the crowd. He totally bombed. He was trying to tell an airport story about how the LAX airport staff had lost his shoe and it wasn’t working. The crowd, full of trolls, started in on the guy and he folded hard-core. He never really could get the airport story off the ground [bad pun]. I give him credit, he had no where to go and he stuck it out. But, he didn’t have any good material. I was rooting for him and wanted him to have something funny, but he just didn’t. The crowd wasn’t nice. They beat the guy up pretty good. In fact, Charlie was right there back stage and you could see him from where we were sitting and he was watching his buddy bomb. He came out to help the guy out and the crowd went sick. This was the first sighting of Charlie. He was still in a jogging suit. He said to the crowd to give the guy a break. But, the crowd wasn’t interested in the guy, they just wanted Charlie. Charlie said he’d be right back in a little bit and the comedian started in again on his bit. But, he still sucked. So the crowd got harsher and harsher. It was an ominous foreshadowing as it turns out. It would get ugly before it was over.
So, the comedian ends badly and now we’re to an interlude. Probably about twenty minutes later, the music fired up and the theater went dark again. A video started and this was probably the best part of the show. There were clips from all kinds of famous movies: Jaws, Apocalypse Now, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Animal House among others. There were a lot of war, death, and hardcore type clips that went into this video mash-up. All while these clips were showing, the music was bumping hard. The bass was so powerful that it was just shaking you. The bass was so powerful that you were numbed into submission as you watched the clips. This was for sure the best part of the show.
Getting home from work the other day, my wife showed me something that made me proud… My son had written down a complete sentence. The kindergarten teacher was dictating the words and the students were writing down what they heard. This fired me up to write a couple words myself and here I am to do just that. This made me think that I should start my second series piece and it’s going to be titled:
Learning To Read
Reading is most important thing anyone could ever learn to do and it makes a good ‘series’ feature for this blog. There were a couple of posts already in this vein and it just seems like a worthy topic of some additional journal entries and fits a series chronology well.
The idea behind this series is to follow the learning progress of my kids, now 5 and 3, and keep a journal on their development as they learn to read. It wasn’t but a handful of months ago my wife and I were meeting my son’s kindergarten teacher with about 50 other parents. The teacher was telling us about all the wonderful things we could expect to see through the kindergarten year. There would be leaps and bounds made in our kids’ writing and that we shouldn’t expect to see perfectly formed words but rather phonetic interpretations of them. For example: KR might spell car. That would be perfectly normal and would demonstrate good progress.
The best kind of advertising is this: a happy user telling people about your product unsolicited. This is why Dropbox will catch on. Because this post is written to celebrate something that has made life easier: Dropbox. Dropbox has satiated an enormous file organization O.C.D. and eliminated a time consuming backup process that together have eaten at my time for years. Organizing and backing up stuff is not something anyone really wants to do, they just want it done. This is very much like having a clean kitchen: you don’t want to wash dishes and wipe counters, you just want clean dishes and clean counters.
Let’s back up a bit and talk about life before Dropbox… In order to keep things straight before Dropbox, I created a folder and subfolder structure on each of four computers I use regularly; this one folder structure houses everything I care about. The same folder and subfolder structure was put onto a 16gb memory stick and a backup hard drive as well. There was a color-coded spreadsheet that got printed and a process of moving files from each computer to the memory stick, then to the main computer and eventually to the backup harddrive. The process had slowly evolved over a couple of years, and was working, but where things turned painful, however, was the dread of actually having to jump through all the hoops to keep multiple machines synced up (i.e. kitchen analogy).
Enter Dropbox: basically what Dropbox does is provide a central repository for your files that you can access from anywhere. In this regard, it’s very much like an old VAX system from when you were in college (if you’re old like me). The Dropbox folder, if used properly, can relegate your PC to a work-mule and keep your data centrally located. This is awesome if you’re always switching PC’s because of work, kids, travel, or whatever. I save a file in the kitchen because the kids are too loud, and go upstairs to a different computer to finish up and it’s like I didn’t miss a beat. I jump in the car to go to work and say “oh shit, I forgot my memory stick”? Nope, because my file is there. I pull out my laptop and say “oh shit, I forgot to save that to my memory stick”? Nope, because my file is there. I’m reiterating for emphasis because if this happens to you all the time too, you will love Dropbox and you see the point.
The caption on the cover of this movie sums it up best: “A whimsical, funny, moving film”. That’s exactly what it is. My wife, bless her heart, is always bringing home movies, books, and music that would slip by me. That’s one of the greatest things about being married to a teacher. She’s exposed to all those kids each year and knows what they’re reading, what they’re watching, and what they’re listening to. I’m not certain that all the kids are watching this movie, but she heard about it nonetheless. It’s a funny thing about this movie too, if you weren’t paying attention to it, you probably never would have noticed it. It was touching enough that I’m compelled to throw in my two cents on it.
Whenever you’re about to watch a movie you know nothing about, you embark on a risk of wasting a couple precious hours of your life. When you’re a busy parent, that’s a big risk to take. When that risk pays off, it feels just a little bit better than normal. It’s like when you’re kid and you reach into that bowl full of lollipops with your eyes closed with the mindset that you’re going to take whatever you get no matter what; and lo and behold you pull out a good one. If you like the same kind of candy I do, you’re going to like Lars and the Real Girl.
He steered Rome from a time of civil war and anarchy to a period of civility and prosperity. He took the title: Princeps, or first amongst equals (i.e. The Benevolent Dictator.) It’s hard in the end to judge what he did. These were such different times that they cannot be judged from 2010. Women were given away by men like commodities. People were executed. Children were executed. It’s so hard to process what it must have been like in 44 BC. Despite his participation in the debauchery and the executions and the battles where blood was spilled by many, there was an overwhelming reverence for Augustus which is what the title Augustus means: the revered one. Some people, in fact, believe that the Pax Romana brought to the people of Rome is the basis for the Anno Domini and is an allegory to Augustus. Perhaps this is because of his brilliant image campaign. Perhaps public opinion would have been different for Augustus if the common folks knew of what he did behind closed doors. Lord Acton once gave us a famous quote: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Augustus achieved absolute power.
Timeline Part 4 – Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus 63 BC – AD 14
He considered nothing more incumbent on him then to avenge his uncle’s death and maintain the validity of his enactments. – Suetonius
When Julius Caesar was killed there was a vacuum in the heart of the Empire. There was much uncertainty and there was unrest in the streets. Immediately, political jockeying was underway to see who would or could take over the Republic. Most held their ambitions close to the vest as no one could be trusted and confidence in the wrong soul would be met swiftly with murder.
This post about tequila will start out talking about absinthe. Why? Because it’s purported that Vincent Van Gogh’s drink of choice, absinthe, has hallucinogenic properties. The hallucinogenic properties in absinthe have their origins in a drug called thujone which is most concentrated in grand wormwood (genus Artemisia Absinthium) and what gave the old world absinthes their green color. The funny thing about Absinthe today, however, is that it really doesn’t have any thujone in it, but rather green food coloring. When people describe their trippy experiences with absinthe, they’re most likely having a placebo effect and getting drunk from some high proof alcohol. I think (and it could be my imagination too) that the blue agave from which tequila is derived actually gives you more of an hallucinogenic twist than just drinking regular alcohol. It’s non-scientific, but many years of personal research have led me to believe that there is something different going on after a couple tequilas have been consumed. So, why don’t we get started and talk about tequila and its history.
Similar to brandy, as we turn the pages of history backward, we find that we must again give thanks to the Spaniards. In the 16th century conquest of Mexico for the Spanish Crown, distilling technology crossed the ocean and wound up in Mexico City. The Mexicans were already on to something for centuries drinking the fermented juice of the Mezcal plant in the form of a beverage called pulque. For hundreds of years, however, only the highest authority figures in Aztec and Mayan culture were able to celebrate in this pleasure of drinking pulque. When Spaniards arrived, they were able to change the Indian process into a distillation process and put into production North America’s first commercially produced distilled beverage and bring this blessing to the people.
A lot of people in America today don’t realize the powerful influence Rome has had on their everyday lives. So many fundamental things such as our architecture, our laws, our policies, our religions, our constitution, and our democracy all have ties back to ancient Rome. When you consider Julius Caesar you might not think about his power and legacy as a military general and politician. But each year when your calendar reads July, have you ever wondered where the month got its name? That’s right – July is named after Julius Caesar. He’s still a part of your everyday life. Rome put a spell and a stamp on this world many years ago and its influence is still relevant today. Recognize that Rome hasn’t gone away and is still the origin of so many things you are accustomed to today. In this author’s opinion, the most pivotal and influential man in all of Roman history has to be Gaius Julius Caesar. This post is number 3 in a timeline series of posts that are all tagged Timeline.
Timeline Part 3 – Gaius Julius Caesar 100 BC – 44 BC
As a 15 year old, Caesar accompanied his father to the forum to get his first real taste of Roman politics. Rome’s fast acquisition of territory around Caesar’s time was partly why it was so treacherous toward the end of the Republic and the beginning of the Empire. Carthage had just fallen, Hispania was falling, and Gaul was coming into the control of the Romans as well; so much wealth was being acquired at an incredible rate. The governance of the Republic was enduring significant growing pains. To seek high office in politics in this time period was a dangerous thing. I can’t think of a prominent politician that died of natural causes during this time period. If you were elected into high office, it was likely you would die of murder, in battle, or of suicide.
Caesar’s dad died when he was a teenager and in the Greek tradition, he needed a male protector to help him ascend into adulthood. Enter Gaius Marius, a wealthy and powerful man that was Caesar’s uncle by marriage with political and military connections. Marius was a champion to the poor and underprivileged; particularly the plebs like our good friend Tiberius Gracchus. He had a significant influence on Caesar as a young man. Marius helped Caesar to grow into a very confident young adult. Caesar was already dressing differently and making a point to set himself apart from his contemporaries. In fact, he was already very vain as a teenager.
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.
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.
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.