Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Two of my favorite things

Classical guitar and Dvořák.

Thanks, Jorge Caballero.

The Twelve Caesars - page 190, Claudius

Nevertheless, these honours did not protect [Claudius] from frequent insults. If ever he arrived a little late in the dining-hall, there was nothing for it but to tour the tables in search of a vacant couch; and when he took his usual after-dinner nap the company would pelt him with olives and date stones. Some jokers exercised their wit by putting slippers on his hands as he lay snoring, and then gave him a sudden blow of a whip or cane to wake him, so that he rubbed his face with them.

Now, this was a time before Claudius became emperor, so it is not surprising that his colleagues were not afraid of him. He didn't have his imperial power, yet. But it is a little surprising that he was treated so badly even though he was the brother of a very popular public figure (Germanicus) and the uncle of that public figure's popular son (Gaius Caligula), who just happened to be the ruler of Rome at the time and hadn't yet squandered the favor shown to him by the people.

If Suetonius's account of the practical jokes is accurate, then Claudius must have been a true dolt. Or, if not, then sufficiently timid to have attracted the constant attention of wiseacres.

OK, OK, I'll be your emperor! Just please, please stop slapping me!

Monday, November 28, 2011

"Pluto's Moons Could Spell Danger for New Horizons Spacecraft"

Let's hope this scenario does not come to pass for our Pluto-bound space probe.
When NASA's New Horizons spacecraft reaches Pluto in July 2015, it may find the region more hazardous than anticipated. The discovery of several moons around Pluto — and the potential for more — increase the risks during the probe's flyby.

The main problem is debris. The small moons are under constant bombardment from nearby space rocks called Kuiper Belt objects, but the moons' low gravity prevents them from holding on to chunks of dirt and rock that fly into the air when hit. The debris instead finds itself caught in orbit around Pluto, where it could pose a serious threat to New Horizons.

It'd be a shame if New Horizons meets an untimely end just as it arrives. I so want to see what that planetoid looks like close up.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Twelve Caesars - page 230, Nero

Nero's confidence in the resources of the Empire was not the only cause of his furious spending; he had also been suddenly excited by tales of a great hidden treasure ....

When this hope failed to materialize, Nero found himself destitute -- and his financial difficulties were such that he could not lay hands on enough money even for the soldiers' pay or the veterans' benefits; and therefore resorted to robbery and blackmail.

First he made a law that if a freedman died who had taken the name of a family connected with his own, and could not show adequate reason, five-sixths of the estate, not merely one half, s
hould be forfeited to the Privy Purse. Next, he seized the estates of those who had shown ingratitude to their Emperor (i.e., by not leaving him enough); and fined the lawyers responsible for writing and dictating such wills. ... His invariable formula, when he appointed a magistrate, was: 'You know my needs! Let us see to it that nobody is left with anything.'

Sound familiar? Like politics is all too universal? Human behavior constant throughout the eras?

I find it particularly interesting that Nero fined not just the writers of wills that fell short of his expectations but also those who dictated such wills, those poor people whose job was simply to write down what someone else had said. Even they felt the anger of Nero. I would have referred to those transcribing drudges as "dictators", but that would have reduced the proper infamy that that word carries in our language today. In this scene, only Nero would deserve that title, though the official position had already been abolished a few Caesars earlier.

Yes, I am dictating, but please don't say that word around me. You know, Dictaphone.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

What I am most thankful for on this earth:


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Getting a laugh out of me

I love it when something can make me laugh out loud -- literally -- even when I am alone. By myself.

This entry from's article "27 Great Moments in History If the Internet Was Around" is just one of those somethings:

Doubting Thomas's reaction is classic.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Checking out the neighborhood

Someday, this could be what our new home looks like.


Imagine that. Then read more about this fabulous shot of new real estate here.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Twelve Caesars - page 260, Otho

[Otho's] early wildness earned him many a beating from his father; he is said to have been in the habit of wandering about the city at night and seizing and tossing in a blanket any drunk or disabled person who crossed his path.

The interesting thing about this passage is Otho's apparent pastime in his youth: the practice of treating less fortunate people very badly by tossing them in a blanket.

Many years ago a very wise professor at the university I attended explained to the class that the strange practice of tossing someone in a blanket (which we had come across in a passage of Medieval writing, possibly Chaucer, where a character was treated in like manner) was actually a very violent act. It wasn't a simple celebratory act, which our modern, student minds had visualized as looking something like this:

Pictured: fun.
Image by Floyd Davidson

It was more an act where someone was wrapped up tightly in a blanket and beaten or tossed in the air, most likely to not be caught before hitting the ground. It was a very cruel act, and many, many years ago it was used as a form of punishment. Not something to be taken very lightly.

I found the information enlightening then, and when I came across this passage about Otho's young cruelty I remembered that old professor right away and all the bits of enlightenment he shared with me and my classmates. And those were good memories. The learning, that is, not the cruelty we learned about. Remember, the young Otho wasn't merely teasing those poor people on the streets; he was exhibiting a complete disregard for their welfare and safety.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Twelve Caesars - page 129, Tiberius

[Tiberius] was, moreover, quite unperturbed by abuse, slander, or lampoons on himself and his family, and would often say that liberty to speak and think as one pleases is the test of a free country. When the Senate asked that those who had offended in this way should be brought to book, he replied: 'We cannot spare the time to undertake any such new enterprise. Open that window, and you will let in such a rush of denunciations as to waste your whole working day; everyone will take this opportunity of airing some private feud.'

Though Tiberius is infamous for his depravities, he seems remarkably pragmatic in this situation. Just as modern politicians need to be thick-skinned when it comes to public criticism, so too did ancient Roman public figures. There's a certain amount of futility in trying to punish every single bad comment that is directed at politicians, and that amount is a whole truckload. Besides, if you were to try to chase down all of the sneers and jeers against you (assuming you are a politician) you would be so occupied with this endeavor that you would get bogged down and have absolutely no time for the job that your constituents elected you to do. Tiberius recognized that, sick creep that he was.

Tiberius also raises the idea of free speech and freedom of expression (though only for Roman citizens, I'm sure) as an example of a good thing for a thriving society, and we here in the United States are certainly no strangers to this concept. He welcomed criticism, and we can only hope that our modern political types would follow his example.

Imagine that: Me, the paragon of free speech! Who'd a thunk it?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Why the Milky Way May Be Facing a Midlife Crisis"

Does this mean it will want a really big Corvette, then?
Our Milky Way galaxy and its neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy, seem to be going through a midlife crisis.

New research reveals that both galaxies are in the middle of transitioning from young, star-forming regions into older, stagnant ones, a transition that is revealed by the galaxies' color. Generally, such a change comes after two galaxies collide, astronomers said, but this pair seems to be making the shift on its own.


But the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy are shifting from blue to red without a collision, which was a surprising discovery, the researchers explained.

Since they are already slowing down, when they crash into each other in the future, the collision most likely won't generate a new powerhouse.
(from Nola Taylor Redd at

"When" they crash into each other. Folks, our galaxy is doomed. But don't lose any sleep over it. It won't be for another five billion years or so. Plenty of time to engineer a new empire.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Honoring those who served

And those who still do.

Let's remember them on this Veterans Day. And, if you get the chance, remember to thank them, too.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Twelve Caesars - page 253, Galba

At about this time a ring of ancient design was discovered in the fortifications of the city that [Galba] had chosen as his headquarters; the engraved gem represented Victory raising a trophy. Soon afterwards an Alexandrian ship drifted into Dertosa, loaded with arms, but neither helmsman, crew, nor passengers were found aboard her -- which left no doubt in anyone's mind that this must be a just and righteous war, favoured by the god.

So the other day, I found a piece of lost jewelry (probably Kathy's), and Galba went apeshit. Called it a "sign". Thinks he's an emperor now, or somethin'.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Passing by

Welcome to the neighborhood.


NASA has captured a new radar image of 2005 YU55, the huge asteroid due to make a close approach to Earth tomorrow (Nov. 8).

The agency's Deep Space Network antenna in Goldstone, Calif. snapped the image at 2:45 p.m. EST (1945 GMT) today (Nov. 7), when the aircraft-carrier-size 2005 YU55 was about 860,000 miles (1.38 million kilometers) from Earth, NASA officials said.

2005 YU55, which is 1,300 feet (400 meters) wide, will get quite a bit closer still. It will come within about 201,700 miles (324,600 km) of our planet at 6:28 p.m. EST (2328 GMT) tomorrow — closer than the moon, which orbits 238,864 miles (384,499 km) from us on average.

A space rock of this size hasn't come so near to Earth since 1976 and won't again until 2028. But there is no danger of 2005 YU55 striking Earth or the moon on this pass, or any other passes for at least the next 100 years or so, researchers said.

Don't be a stranger. But, still, don't get too close.

I hope you understand.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Twelve Caesars - page 78, Augustus

In one period of exceptional scarcity [Augustus] found it impossible to cope with the public distress except by expelling every useless mouth from the city, such as the slaves in the slave-market, all members of gladiatorial schools, all foreign residents with the exception of physicians and teachers, and a number of household-slaves.

Slaves? Useless mouths? I would have thought that slaves would actually be quite useful. You know, as free labor. That's kind of the reason they were made slaves in the first place, right? Sure, get rid of the foreign residents, I can understand that, but why cast out all the slaves?

And really, the gladiators, too? C'mon, Augustus, what were the people supposed to do without their sports?

Next year, I go free agent, and then I'm takin' my talents to South Beach.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Developing tractor beams

The concept of tractor beams just might make the leap from science fiction to ordinary fact.


Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Twelve Caesars - page 51, Julius Caesar

The entire Senate then dispersed in confusion, and Caesar was left lying dead for some time until three slave boys carried him home in a litter, with one arm hanging over the side. The physician Antistius conducted the post mortem and came to the conclusion that none of the wounds had been mortal except the second one, in the chest. It had been decided to drag the dead man down to the Tiber, confiscate his property, and revoke all his edicts; but fear of Mark Antony, the Consul, and Lepidus, the Master of Horse, kept the assassins from making their plans good.

This, of course, is the assassination of Julius Caesar, rendered most famously by Shakespeare in the play of the same name that actually focused on one of the conspirators, Marcus Brutus. What I like in particular about this passage is the bit about the removal of the body, another example of Suetonius's penchant for curious detail.

In talking about the aftermath of the assassination, Suetonius takes the time and space to record not just that Caesar's body was carried away but that it was carried away by slaves. Boy slaves. And there were three of them. And one of the arms was hanging off the side of the stretcher, perhaps left there due to the carelessness of the boys. There's no explanation of why the boys were there or who prompted them to collect the body of the Emperor of Rome and carry it away, but there they were. Curious bits of detail, and it's writing like this that grabs my attention, holds my interest, and makes me keep reading works like The Twelve Caesars.