Why climbing Mt.Fuji is a waste of time (according to someone who has never done it)

Why climbing Mt.Fuji is a waste of time (according to someone who’s never done it)

So, for those of you who live under a rock and don’t know what Mt.Fuji is, here you go:


Also, ‘Mt.’ is short for ‘mountain’ – the more you know…

Mt.Fuji is – after Everest and maybe that chocolate one in Switzerland – just about the most famous mountain on earth. (sorry Disney, Splash Mountain doesn’t count) Mt.Fuji has been a much vaunted symbol of Japan for about 1,500 years and appears on everything from tourist books to mountain-shaped cookies and everywhere in between. For those of us actually in Japan, there is no escaping it. On a clear day it is visible from my balcony down town. On every other day, the relentless forces of capitalism and the rampant consumerism on which it’s based ensure it is plastered – in one form or another- everywhere you look.

The Japanese are (rightly, one might argue) proud of venerable “Fuji-san” despite having had nothing to do with its creation some 100,000 years ago and being utterly at its mercy as an active stratovolcano should it decide to “act up” all volcano-like.
(It’s last hiccup was in 1707/08, but it’s overdue)
It is however a very picturesque mountain – a solitary dome of awesome proportions in the center of the largest habitable plain of mainland Japan.
School children are made to give presentations about it (“Mt.Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan. It is 3,776 meters high. Etc ad infinitum”) and generally everyone agrees it is just a top-notch mountain.
Even the people at UNESCO have deemed it worthy not just of heritage status, but as cultural heritage (as opposed to natural) – so significant is the mountain to the Japanese.

Naturally then many people choose to climb it. The reasoning is simple enough: Mt.Fuji is good, therefore climbing Mt.Fuji is good. Moreover, when people ask you “have you climbed Mt.Fuji?” you can obligingly answer in the affirmative. Swell. Top marks. Way to go.

There is however a slight issue. Mt.Fuji is not a particularly interesting climb. Being a textbook example of a stratovolcano means it is a relatively featureless mountain, sans pointy peak, and despite some snow near the top five months a year, it is festooned with a gift shop that sells duly over-priced merchandise, and – further down – even a small ski area.

Worse than all of that though is that the iconic beauty of the mountain – visible from as much as 200km away – is utterly lost once the mountain is beneath your feet. This is why pictures of Mt.Fuji are taken in profile, usually from the shores of of one of the lakes, and cropped so as to include something to offset the mountain, as is the case here:


And here:


And here:


(This image courtesy of the author)


Climb the mountain and these images disappear as you gaze down upon the mass of gray that represents the built-up area of Eastern Kanto, including the main highway and shinkansen lines. In fact, the most remarkable thing (if you can call it that) is the fact that from the mountain one can see the sea – something of a novelty not familiar to other famous mountains. Beyond that, the mountain itself is made up of igneous rock (obviously), devoid of vegetation, and since there is no peak but rather a caldera, you don’t even get a simultaneous 360-degree vista. Nor will you have the top to yourself as the climbing season is short, regulated, and – due to the accessible nature of the climb itself – quite crowded.

So, better to buy a postcard I say, or – if you are so inclined – a leisurely trip around the lake district, stopping off at a traditional Japanese inn (ryoukan) for a dip in the equally traditional hot springs (onsen), as pictured here:


Let the masses trundle up the zig-zag trail to the top, single-file, as they disappear into insignificance in your majestic view, alone, as you indulge in the comfort of the warm water of the springs, and a nearby glass of sake. Arigatou! Thanks a million.


-A discerning hiker



The end of Truth

In the New York Times this week a former conservative radio host from Wisconsin made the compelling argument that in Trump’s ‘alternative facts’ world, lies – even when they are blatant and proven to be untrue – do nothing to discredit the man due mostly to the fact that he has taken the label of liar, so often levied at him, and flung it back at those media sources who dare dissent from the White House line.

This has essentially broken up the world of journalism into two de facto camps: those who acquiesce and those who don’t.

The ones who side with the President get preferential treatment – as Breitbart has with the elevation of Steve Bannon – and those who defy the myriad lies emanating from The White House find themselves further alienated from the public at large, already weary and suspicious of media, as the President of the United States calls their credibility into question.

To say this is not how that is supposed to work may well turn out to be the defining legacy of this administration. Trump/Pence 2017: the year truth was assassinated.

On the conservative right, this is nothing new. FOX news has a long history of heavy bias and demonstrable falsehoods which has done nothing to curtail its popularity in those parts of the country where echoing preconceived notions has traditionally been highly effective.

Yet on the left – the people supposedly more rational, more intellectual, more open to changing their minds based on evidence – this new world wherein there exists so much information and yet so little truth is relatively new. It is not difficult to change minds in this demographic with demonstrable, quantitative facts, but there is division within the party over subjective truths, and even what, now, constitutes the greater good.

This is due in no small part to Hillary Clinton losing the election and Bernie Sanders being snubbed by the Democratic National Convention denying the United States both the best candidate for the Presidency, but also heralding the rise of Donald Trump. Yet those are not the only factors in the chaos. In-fighting over where the Democratic platform should be in terms of the issues and confusion, frustration, and even bewilderment at the (bad) news coming from the White House like a torrent is diverting attention to individual issues while the roots of those issues remain a step removed from the backlash.

Trump, and Bannon, are masters of this game. If, tomorrow, news emerged that the Trump administration were to allow the harpooning of manatees in Florida estuaries, some part of the Democratic party base would be out in force making a lot of noise as pictures of a butchered protected species would be plastered on the news 24/7 and clogging up social media feeds. Behind that smokescreen Trump could single-handedly appoint the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan to his team and it would someone garner less attention and less outrage. If pressed he would likely deny all or part of that reality and the story would be the lie rather than the fact.

I am afraid there is no easy solution. We must all strive to be clear-headed and discerning as consumers of news, but that is not an option that is likely. Similarly, expecting news media outlets to do all the heavy lifting for us is a recipe doomed to fail as news organizations are businesses just like any other and popular lies sell more add revenue than the truth.

The only people who are – and have been – doing a good job with the news are, ironically, comedy news shows whose satirical take on events is often more insightful, and more fun, than the horrible, dry, mainstream news. Jon Stewart was the King of this for years, but in his wake Stephen Colbert, Saturday Night Live’s Alec Baldwin, Trevor Noah, and Britt-come-American John Oliver on “Last Week Tonight” have taken up that torch and run with it. Yet these shows too – for all their tremendous value – are democratic echo chambers. Their message, and their humor, are not reaching those places where they most need to be heard. Though, even if they did, I doubt they would change many minds, not least because that demographic has – ironically – a hard time telling satire apart from lies.

Again, in the era of “your facts are no match for my beliefs” we cannot reasonably expect to get anywhere by hammering those who are unwilling to hear reason with more reason as though there exists a tipping point for the zealot where his double-down, fingers-in-the-ears, adherence to what he is “supposed to” believe will suddenly give way to an intellectual awakening. Some are not thusly blessed, others are willfully defiant, and their masters fan the flames of the latter whilst legislating the perpetuation of the former.

To trot out a tiresome, oft-quoted, but difficult to source observation*:

“Religion is perceived by the wise as false, by the foolish as true, and by the powerful as useful.” (Or some derivation thereof)

So now the religion is skepticism of the truth, and you’ll note the powerful (or rulers, as the quote is oft written) find that very useful indeed.

*see: https://en.m.wikiquote.org/wiki/Talk:Seneca_the_Younger

The First 10 Days

imageThe White House stands at 1600 Lexington Ave., Washington DC, but there’s no need to Google that; just follow the crowds. Another day, another protest, as “the Donald” continues to confuse the Presidency of the United States with CEO of America, Inc.

In today’s installment of the bat-shit crazy show going on over there, acting Attorney General Sally Hates was fired for doing her job. Namely, she was fired for refusing to legally defend the President’s illegal ban on immigrants based on their religion – something that is illegal by virtue of the Constitution of the United States as well as the Geneva Convention insofar as it applies to those fleeing persecution during times of war. Pair this with the installment of former Breitbart douche nozzle Steve Bannon on the National Security Council and you get the distinct impression that the “draining of the swamp” rhetoric from the campaign is part of the psychological warfare strategy called ‘gaslighting.’ (Google that. Please. Read up on how you are being lied to – don’t just accept that you are and move on)

There is also a baffling false equivalency argument being made with regard to the unprecedented number of executive orders emanating from the Trump/Bannon White House. See if this sounds familiar: “Obama did this for eight years!” or “You lost (democrats) get over it.” This childish position is easy to take of course, but it fails to account for the fact that not all Executive Orders are created equal.

The Affordable Care Act for instance was ultimately passed by Executive Order only after the Republican Senate blocked it out of spite. With the ACA Americans got healthcare. With Trump’s Executive Orders we get headlines. I will not pretend to be a proponent of Executive Orders; they set a dangerous precedent and ultimately are a tool to undermine the (theoretical) democracy in place. Worse, as we have now seen, Executive Orders can be devastating when penned by a moron on behalf of a psychopath. Finally, Executive Orders are short-term governance in a world of long-term impacts. Unless the Republicans stay in power indefinitely, at some point a Democratic President is going to undo past Executive Orders with his – or her – own. That becomes a vicious cycle and is useless in terms of long term stability and the welfare of the American people, as each administration seeks to undermine the work of the previous one if for no other reason than “because we can.”

Bannon – who has called himself a Leninist – wants to bring the establishment down (and replace it with a dystopian theocracy) and Trump thinks he’s playing monopoly with a hand in the bank. As always with shameless opportunists that means doing what they can get away with rather than what is right, just, good for the people, or even legal. So with rapid-fire headlines screaming bloody murder the world descends once more into fascism and those of us who say so will continue to get nowhere with that message in the same way a surgeon’s scalpel is a terrible tool for stopping a charging rhino.

Olympus is burning

So here it is, the torrential downpour of insanity that is the Trump Presidency. Morning coffee-ruining news reads like a casualty report of liberties as the Fuhrer in the White House signs record numbers of executive orders with a record low approval rating. With each stroke of his pen Mr.Trump further unravels the fabric of democracy. His Whitehouse – with its alternative facts and its Looney Toons cabinet – is eroding what is left of “the greatest nation on earth.” American exceptionalism, which has long been based on a false premise that it is the best at everything and the one indispensable nation on this pale blue dot in the cosmos, is eroding before our very eyes.
Where are the checks and balances?
Where is the outrage from the Republican establishment that their President has abused from his very first day in office the power of the Presidency, mandating by decree in the form of executive orders wild, potentially ruinous changes to America’s foreign and domestic policies? I ask because President Obama was openly chastised for using the very same power to sign the affordable care act into law – a measure he undertook only after the Republican congress blocked the efforts of his administration to bring about a much-needed change in the way America thinks about healthcare. Where are these nay-sayers now that the narcissist in the Oval Office is living his fantasy of being King?

The border wall, a punitive but highly selective ban on muslim-majority immigration, the assignment of his counselors to the National Security Council, priority for Christian refugees over others, the green light for the Keystone oil pipeline – in stark defiance of the will of the people which halted its construction under a far more popular President more in tune with the electorate – and thus the list goes on.

Where, now, are those who told us our fears – being realized and compounded on a daily basis – were premature, alarmist, pessimistic, and paranoid? “Give him a chance” they said, against the better judgment of everyone with even a passing knowledge of history and in possession of their full mental faculties.
Their absence, their silence, their acquiescence to the despot on Mt.Olympus is telling. Whilst Zeus hurls lightning – to carry on the metaphor – they are nowhere to be seen. Embarrassed perhaps they were fooled. Taken in by the world’s most successful con-man – the charlatan masquerading as leader of the free world. Or maybe they are hoping this will all blow over, like a hurricane, which despite the damage we always survive. This is not that kind of storm. Nature does not take aim at specific places or people intent on their destruction. That is a quality of man, and a particular forte of belligerent narcissists like Trump.

Where, too, are the evangelical masses who supported the divorced, womanizing, compulsive liar in his bid for the Presidency because he is God’s chosen representative of the people? The man who is against refugees unless they adhere to the correct imaginary friend. The man who is so judgmental he can’t fully dedicate himself to the role of POTUS because it gets in the way of his Twitter time, picking fights with his many dissenters – even if those dissenters are the very people who possess the facts. The man who the Pope called a hypocrite not twelve hours ago. That guy is the one they wanted. Surely there is no greater argument in favor of atheism than Donald J. Trump being the best God can do.

Finally, and by extension, we must ask ourselves what is next? What other madness must we endure by Presidential fiat? Where indeed is the line? What must Trump do – what must happen – before we put a stop to this? Here, too, there is cause for concern; if the current system is powerless to stop Trump and his cronies, who – or what – will? The match flame has become an inferno, and still we watch transfixed, as though the flames will not burn us all. As though the conflagration will not suck the oxygen out of the very air we breathe. As though the guy with the flamethrower and a nigh-endless supply of fuel will, after 60 years of shameless self-aggrandizement, learn humility and restraint. If you believe that you are fooling none but yourselves.

No White Lies in Politics

It is strange to think that when we are lied to we come to trust again. It is counterintuitive at best, and is likely representative more of necessity than good faith. We live not as individuals in a vacuum but rather as a highly inter-dependent collective. We call it society, even civilization – wherein we both aggrandize ourselves and belittle the barbarism of history to which this word is an antonym – as we forsake personal liberties in favor of the strength and safety of a collective greater than the sum of its individual parts. We are social animals after all. Thus, so as to secure our place within the interwoven mesh of our society, we safeguard our connections with kindness – both real and contrived – with our actions of friendship, and comradery, and with mutual respect, if not for each other, at least for the laws to which all must subscribe for this harmonious coexistence to work.
At times, even often, we tell “white lies” for this very purpose, and by design, opting for words of comfort that bring us closer together (or at least preserve the status quo) rather than pushing us apart, thereby fraying the strands of our social network. But let’s be clear; these are not the lies emanating from the Trump White House. More to the point, it is no longer possible for President Trump to utter “white lies,” beyond those he makes in private to his family and friends, by virtue of the fact that he is – against all odds and reason – President of the United States of America and when the President speaks we listen. Moreover, we expect – perhaps naively – that the President concern himself with the business of the people, the affairs of state, and conduct himself as such. By definition, falsehoods uttered on matters of such grave importance and solemn purpose cannot be “white lies.” Lies at this level have consequences. They are not opinions, nor are they personal. They are not a matter of perspective or open to debate wherein your beliefs are equally important to mine or those of another. They are the words of the people, as spoken by their elected leader, by way of the machinations of democracy, and – importantly – demonstrably, quantifiably, consequentially ruinous. When the President lies, he undermines not only his own credibility, but that of the nation. His words have the power to sink the NASDAQ and the DOW JONES indexes. His words affect international relations and trade which in turn affect prices back home. Ultimately his words are the first means by which a President is measured and the last by which history will remember him. When they are shown to be false, when they are known to be false, their weight is lessened, their power undermined, and their impact disruptive. Yet, paradoxically, not disruptive enough. Sometimes even highly beneficial; his lies did elect him after all.
What recourse is there? Politicians lie, often and well, perhaps even justifiably, but how do we know which lies are justified and which are not when we don’t know which are the lies and which are the truths, to say nothing of consensus on such matters. And therein lies another problem. “Make America Great Again” is a pithy slogan, but it requires its adherents forego challenging its core premise: that America was not (in the time before Trump’s Presidency) “great.” I suppose that rather depends on your perspective, or how you would seek to measure ‘greatness.’ It also depends on when America was great, as inferred from the inclusion of the word ‘again’ in the same slogan. These are question to which answers will span the gamut, but the campaign for the Presidency was not just a matter of slogans; words were spoken with purpose. That purpose was to win, and in so doing, despite being on the record often, and unrepentantly as having lied, President Trump has shown us a reflection of ourselves that is deeply troubling. It means, ostensibly, that we do not collectively care when we are lied to. It means, by extension, that facts matter less than perceptions, beliefs, and ideologies. It means, worryingly, that the verifiable truths of reality are allowed to play a secondary role to the whims of (to some) a charismatic man to whom that same reality is somehow inconvenient or inconsequential.

Some lies are great both in scope and consequence. Climate change being a hoax perpetrated with malicious intent by the Chinese government springs to mind – a Trump whopper from the campaign. In polite conversation between ordinary people such a wild, paranoid, conspirational claim would immediately be followed by a burden of proof. In this new era of alt-truths however, such claims propel people ever upwards for reasons that imply deeply troubling trends in how we conduct ourselves in defiance of scientific consensus, especially with regard to the process of democracy. That burden is our own. But the burden must also fall to our elected officials. These people must be held accountable for their lies even if they are told from a position of ignorance or misinformation. We must demand, at all times, and unrelentingly the best possible information. The demonstrable truth, whenever available, and – critically – we must admonish those who lie. We must punish those who lie on purpose. We must banish from the public forum those who lie habitually.

Many of those who voted for Trump may feel betrayed as his lies catch up to him. Not merely the casual lies, nor the ‘unimportant’ lies, but the false promises, the broken promises, and ultimately not only untruths but reversals of positions.
It is important to understand that lies should carry a cost. If you lie on your taxes, you can go to jail. If you lie in court, you will go to jail. If you lie to the people, you should rightly lose their confidence and with it your privilege to represent them, to say nothing of legislating them, or sending them to die in wars of your own making.
When you lie to the people their forgiveness and willingness to trust again comes more slowly each time, and – more than just the individual – sours the milk for the next man or woman to take up the mantle.
Trump is so septic, so wholly loathsome in every way, that he may well have set democracy itself back by eroding its power – the voice of the people.
When the number of people who did not vote for you is greater than the number who did, if the number of people who showed up to protest you is greater than the number who came to celebrate you, when you take the office will a record-low approval rating, and when the world at large fears what will happen now that the ‘tweet’ button has been replaced with the bully pulpit of the White House Press Briefing Room, you might tread softly, but of course the President has demonstrated time and again he is unwilling – and perhaps incapable entirely – of showing that much restraint. Thus it comes as no surprise that the first official briefings from the Trump White House continued the trend set during the campaign; more lies, more “alt-truths,” and – equally tellingly – continued scorn and derision for the dissenters. And dissent we shall.
We shall defy your hateful rhetoric and crony politics. We shall defy your blatantly self-serving cabinet. We shall defy the very notion that you are, as the 45th US President, amongst equals when so much as mentioned in the same sentence as the other 44. But best of all, we shall defy you in the end by virtue of time, for we the people will be here still, long after you have gone, resigned to the wrong side of the stained pages of a dark history. We will still be here, working to make the world a better place in spite of you.

For my small part, I start today. I am quitting my job and I shall be devoting my time to making sure that your bigoted, misogynistic, narcissistic bluster is not the only voice. I will be here reminding people that there are no “white lies” in politics and that “alt-truths” are heinous lies by another name but none the more true because of it. I will be here consigning you to the annals of posterity with the mother of all footnotes which shall state, unequivocally: read here of Donald J. Trump, liar, enemy of truth, propagator of falsehoods, deceiver of the people, and King of a misbegotten throne.image


This summer I fulfilled a life-long dream; I went to Italy. Ah, Italia! You beauty! You land of history, food, and culture. Let me drown in you!

In preparation for our trip I did some research. As it quickly turned out we were set to go during the height of the tourist season – the very busiest month in fact – as well as during the midst of summer which translates to 40-degree days (120 for the nonconformists) and only the mildest respite in the shade.
No matter – what is a little sweat in exchange for a sun-bathed journey through the land of living history? (Incidentally I did the math. There is an exact exchange rate for water intake cost. The intake formula is 30ml/kg on a normal day. Increased to 60ml/kg on a hot day spent walking around Rome or Florence. For me that works out to four-and-a-half liters a day. A 500ml bottle of water anywhere near a tourist hot spot costs at least 1 Euro. Ergo I am drinking 9 Euros of water a day at the minimum and most of that collects on my forehead in beaded form.)

So it was hot and busy but no matter how large the crowd, it is not going to make a building like the Vatican, the Colosseum, or the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral any less dominant a feature that cast long shadows over all who gather before them. We would not be thwarted. That is to say we spent not a single moment in line anywhere; you don’t have to enter the Colosseum to appreciate the fact that even the husk that now remains – resigned to a life as a photo magnet and tourist turnstile – was built XX centuries ago by people whose understanding of personal hygiene and sanitation was in its infancy but whose understanding of architecture and aesthetics transcend out modern patience and fiscal ambition.
Similarly, you need not see a single painting hanging in a church or museum to realize the profound effect the Renaissance had on Italy, Italians, and Italian life; the evidence is all around you.

Even so, Rome is a broken city. The name rings with echoes of a fallen Empire. The mere word ‘Roma’ – once thunderous – is now empty, spoken casually, so long ago its associative glory that it is impossible to imagine how it once was. Oh, how I tried.
I tried as I touched the brittle, broken, pock-marked marble of the Rome that no longer exists. I tried as I walked the length of the Circus Maximus and gazed upon the nothing that was once not merely something but something extraordinary. I tried again when I stood upon the remnants of the fortress walls of San Gimignano overlooking the famed rolling hills of Tuscany, bathed in the golden light of the summer sun, with cicada chirping contently in the hot, arid air laced with lavender. I tried and I tried but I could not conjure the Rome of antiquity. I could not imagine the people who walked here before Italy was Italy, before the republic became an Empire, and before the Empire converted to Christianity. I could not differentiate between ruins merely a thousand years old and those some two-and-a-half thousand years old. The fact that any of these buildings remain at all – some having stood where they stand even today – almost ten times as long as the United States have existed as a nation, is nothing short of joyous.

It is upon the rubble of these humble beginnings that the Rome we can see today was built – a city spanning the long ages of antiquity – with each successive generation building upon the legacy of the last in a truly literal sense. The archeological excavations exposed to the casual passer by bear no resemblance to a city of white marble such as we imagine it in fiction and film. Bricks are heaped haphazardly upon one another, caked with mortar, weather-worn and formless. Upon these time-ravaged foundations stand recognizable walls, with other bricks, which in turn give way in places to the work of yet younger generations, as archways and sculptures still protrude from the rubble.

Yet Rome – ROMA CAPUT MUNDI – does yet remain. It is here, broken, yes, but defiant of its long years of decline, degradation, and abuse. Its words, its deeds, its monuments, and even its people exist in much of the Western world, changed but similar, in some form or another. We heed rules of law that first found favor on the floor of the ancient Roman Senate. We walk upon streets whose very use was pioneered and mastered long before there were air-conditioned cars and Google maps to guide us along them. We eat food and drink wine in Rome, doing – as we are fond of saying – as the Romans do.
Every building not labeled a historical monument or important cultural property has been re-purposed. Ancient ruins are concert spaces, old churches are museums, castle battlements are tourist walkways, and the towers souvenir shops. Even if you Photoshopped them all out, what remained would look nothing like the city once did when it yet was the center of the known world, nor would it necessarily be better. Less cluttered perhaps. Less distastefully commercial, certainly, but better, no. The Italians – modern Romans – enjoy the privilege of living in a country strewn with history. They have added to this delicious food, and lucked out with the weather as well. These things combined make for a $130 billion a year tourist industry – the fifth highest in the world. That means a colossal service industry replete with an army of waiters, bar tenders, taxi drivers, and junk peddlers. These people – on the surface – don’t give two shits about the fact that Rome was Rome before the invention of every convenience they now take for granted. To them the colosseum is just an obstruction to drive around, and the ruins of the Empire – and the Republic before it – not but places full of tourists to be avoided when possible and to be crossed, when necessary, as quickly as possible. How much different then would it be if we, collectively, set our minds to restoring those structures of ancient Rome that remain to their former glory. Let us have a functional colosseum, restored right down to the sand of the arena and the flags in the rafters. Let us have a Circus Maximus that seats 250,000 people – as it once did – in the place now merely market on tourist maps as such. Let’s have roman baths – the termae Romanus – and soak in the sun as well as the water while the business of modern Rome passes us by. Is that not better? Is that not a sound investment in a country that makes shoes, cars, wine, and pizza but otherwise depends on tourism to survive? We can’t all have Bruno Males and Armani suits. We can’t all drive Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Maseratis, but we can all enjoy cappuchinos, pizza, and the Colosseum as it once was: epic.

Of course this won’t happen. It’s too expensive, it’s taboo, it’s all far too ambitious in a recession economy and a social culture that values a talentless camera whore like Kim Kardashian at $XX million but where you cannot name a single contemporary architect capable of designing a colosseum, or a sculptor who can produce a modern ‘David.’ So, I am sad to resign myself to the fact that we will likely have Transformers V: CGI warriors, another trillion dollar war, and a bank bail-out or two rather than the glory of Rome – in any form – as it once was.

Then again, we – as a people – are not worth it. In that sense Michael Bay and the talking heads on television know us better than we know ourselves. They pander to our collective average, which is depressingly low, amusing us with explosions, what nipple slipped out of what celebrity’s dress, and how the other side is trying to turn our country into a Marxist state. They will continue to feed us the intellectual and cultural equivalent of junk food because when they give us nice things, like the treasures of Rome, we cover them in graffiti, we festoon them with souvenir shops, and we treat them like a child treats a Christmas present; amusing for a week and then we move on to newer, shinier things.

(I am especially amused when hordes of Chinese tourists descend upon a souvenir shop and spend their money on “I love Italy” paraphernalia made in factories in Xianzheng.)

But, of course the real reason is cost. It would all cost too much. Who would pay? Governments never have enough money unless the banks need a few hundred billion… twice, or some country most people can’t point to on a map needs a healthy injection of freedom in the form of the 101st Airborne and all the toys the boys at the Pentagon keep handy for just such an occasion. Suggest spending tax money on these things and the conservatives scream bloody murder about irresponsible government spending and the liberals question whether restoring ancient monuments should take precedence over educating our children.
That leaves private funding – or the mother of all Kickstarters – which would work except then you run into who covers loss of revenue of having the Colosseum wrapped in rafters and off-limits to the aforementioned tourists for a few years. You also run into problems with advertising (read: self-aggrandizing) because as we see with modern stadiums, raising the money is one thing, but calling it the Coca-Cola/McDonalds/IGN Colosseum leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. Rather than banners adorned with the laurel wreath and the eagle of the Empire – the letters ‘SPQR’ below – the banners will sport the golden arches, the letters will read ‘Enjoy Coke,’ and the alcoves where once statues stood will be filled with television screens showing you a non-stop assault on the senses in the form of advertising.
No, not privately either then. That leaves just one option: re-instating the Empire itself. We pick a guy (or girl) and dress him in a toga and give him a golden crown. Then we hand him the reigns to five million square kilometers of Europe, Northern Africa, and the Middle East and all who live there as he sets about improving the lives of everyone involved, as his predecessors did.
You laugh, but the Empire (even the much shorter-lived Western half) lasted over half a millennia and gave us innumerable technological advances and quality of life improvements. What I am trying to say is that there is nothing as effective as cutting through bureaucratic red tape as disposing of the government that produces the tape. To return to my original premise: there is no need to imagine how things might have been if Ceasar could make it so again. By having one guy make every decision, we will soon discover the joys of expedited reform without such ideas having to pass the pork barrel buffet or the cronies of big business Americans call congressmen and senators.
Like in ancient Rome checks and balances would exist in the form of military coup d’├ętat and/or assassination, whilst unemployment would be 0% as there is always work for slaves and gladiators. Best of all, the first round of fights to the death in our newly renovated Colosseum could be between the now redundant politicians. Better still, since these bouts would be open to the public, no matter who won in the arena the people would come out on top. Hail Ceasar!

So you see, we can have nice things, we just can’t have nice things and a democratic government. We can restore Rome to its former glory, but we can’t do that and fund 500,000 “peacekeeping” troops abroad. We can ban guns, smoking, and even Justin Bieber, but that means bypassing a few (indeed all) of the judicial system’s laws and political limitations of power. As such the job of Emperor would be one of both awesome power and unprecedented responsibility, but you’ll be pleased to know, I’d be happy to do it. Hail Ceasar!

The awkward moment between hearing and understanding

This morning I woke up to news of NASA’s supply mission to the International Space Station having come to a premature and spectacular end in the form of a giant fireball to the tune of 100,000,000 dollars. It is a story like any other I suppose; good intentions marred by budget restrictions, management vulnerable to human error and ego, and an unhappy ending tempered only by the fact that no one was hurt. A lot like your average divorce then.

Still, I don’t write simply for the sake of writing. I am not enslaved to a corporate paycheck, and I have no vested interest in pleasing a particular customer base. I am a literary ronin. I fear no deadlines and answer to no editor. The words before you are unmarred by the censor’s pen. Thus I am permitted by default to speak the truth as others are simply not. Good. Fuck them. Fuck them and their corporate sponsors.

It is a tragedy of our time that kids like Justin Bieber are more popular than humanity’s collective efforts to better ourselves by pushing back the veil across the universe so omnipresent yet so inconceivably distant. The Indian Mars mission cost less than most Hollywood blockbusters, and yet it received little attention in the West beyond a thoroughly collectively surprised: “whoa! India has a space program?” Yeah, also, after this morning it appears to be better than ours.

Meanwhile we lose our minds over the most trivial crap – usually whatever is showing on MTV and FOX “news” or whatever Bill Maher said that makes uncomfortable amounts of sense in a world so pacified by political correctness it has lost the ability to be true to itself. Global warming? Not real. The younger generation? Doomed. Terrorism? ISIS is in our schools, and let’s not forget to enjoy life because Ebola is going to wipe us off the planet.

I advocate – whenever I can – that everyone take a deep breath, count to 10, and stop relishing the flawed nature of their humanity quite so thoroughly.