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’état 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.

Social media advertising and the human condition

Social media is ruining more than just little league try-outs; the gaming companies have all gone mad. Before we get stuck in and I give the industry the meat and potatoes on this subject, I want to make it plainly understood I am not some agoraphobe sitting at home lashing out at a changing world. I think social media is neat. Being connected to people with whom you otherwise may not be able to keep in touch is great. Similarly, social media as an extension of ‘the information age’ is only natural.
Sadly, we’re all unscrupulous capitalists and as such cannot be trusted to behave ourselves and indeed we have not. Now besides pop-up adds, fake ‘download’ buttons, a minefield of link bait, and aggressive spam bots, companies are actively seeking (and – annoyingly – finding) ways into our online social lives. Being who I am, I naturally object to this intrusion, although not for the reasons you may think.
I am no fool; standing in the way of profit margins in our society is as dumb as it is futile. Companies are always going to try and squeeze every last cent they can out of people (iPhone 6 anyone?) but – as unenlightened and annoying as I find that – this is not news. What is new is the way in which (gaming) companies have taken to belligerent harassment of their customers (player base) by incentivizing ‘liking’ their Facebook page (something never intended for companies to use) and subscribing to their Twitter feed. Doing so almost always nets the players some small gains but comes with a hidden cost; incessant, unrelenting, shameless, and ultimately highly annoying spam.
I do not use that term lightly; I use it to articulate in no uncertain terms the level of heinousness this has reached.
The problem is not merely the constant intrusions into my Facebook feed, but moreover the fact that most of what they post may be categorized as either ‘flogging’ – the shameless, self-aggrandizing marketing of said company or product – or as ‘information-based announcements’ – almost always a pretext to the former. It’s shit.

Most egregious of all of this are the ‘chance-to-win’ posts wherein the players are unapologetically told to provide de-facto word-of-mouth advertising by posting, re-posting, or absurdly hash-tagging something related to the product with a minute chance they will get some dubious prize which costs the company nothing. It is an insult to anyone halfway intelligent, but the marketing departments know their audience well; retards, every last one.

For all of us who have ever received a Candy Crush invite, it us all too clear that the negative impact of being a shameless corporate whore is drastically off-set by the extra revenue generated by aggressively manipulative social media campaigns. This is not unprecedented. We do this to ourselves. In short: we cannot be trusted. We cannot be trusted with the freedom to say whatever we want, nor can we be trusted with the freedom to do whatever we want.

More and more I long for a system of accountability that simply does not exist. A safeguard for basic morality and irrefutable logic that would prevent companies from saturating our lives with the half-truths, blatant lies, and creatively insidious marketing strategies we are inundated with on a daily basis.

I found out today that ‘skin whitening’ products will constitute a 20 billion business in 2018 with 80% of women in Nigeria already using such products on a regular basis, 20% of women in Korea have undergone at least one cosmetic surgery procedure, and perfectly good looking people are having their wedding pictures professionally photoshopped, and that tells you everything you need to know about marketing right there.

Japanese Sophistication

Are the Japanese becoming more sophisticated? Wine consumption is on the rise, in my neighborhood alone there are now three French bistros where once, not so long ago, there were none.

In answering this question I realized that its premise is wrong in that it is misleading. It preposes that the Japanese have not been sophisticated all along.

Let us not forget that as an ancient and long-time isolationist nation, Japan is a uniquely rich place with regards to culture and history. As any decent sociologist will tell you, sophistication – and its trademarks – are directly informed by the cultural and historical precedents of a particular people or region.

With that said, what we might consider the pinnacle of sophistication in the West may have no meaning elsewhere.

I will be the first to admit that a French bistro seems more sophisticated to me than knocking back beers, high balls, and shochu with chain-smoking, drunk businessmen at an izakaya, but as with most things in Japan, all is not as it seems.

The sophistication if Japan is not inherent in food or drink nor even a certain activity but rather in the rich nuance surrounding such matters. The tea ceremony comes readily to mind where the end product is no more important than the ritual by which it is made. Now let us remember that some of the most expensive, award-winning, snobbiest wines are still made by having some people stomp grapes with their feet. Hardly a model for sophistication.

It is my contention that the Japanese are a tremendously sophisticated people – masters of the subtle hint, and easily misunderstood by those unable to distinguish the myriad nuances into which Japanese life is inexorably woven.


I know my posts lack all semblance of consistency. I will not apologize for this; the muse descends at such a time and place as she sees fit. Also, I have bills and stuff and no one pays me for this.


Placeholder until I get a real post up: my Godzilla review




Surfing the right wave of feminism

It was brought to my attention that there is such a thing as “second wave” and “third wave” feminism. This troubled me immediately. For one, the implication of metaphor is that this is the type of thing that comes on strong, breaks, froths around a bit, wets some ankles, and then subsides. As a feminist (as per the correct, dictionary definition of the word) myself, I find that worrisome.
Secondly, there seems to be some confusion what the differences are between these ‘second’ and ‘third’ waves. What do they stand for? What was wrong with the other waves?

Sparing you the (frankly embarrassing) details, suffice to say these people missed the boat quite completely.

Better – I think – to give you some examples of what has been going on through blogs, twitter, facebook, and the web as browsed by bored, stay-at-home moms.

Several women write that they disagree or oppose the (unhelpfully ambiguous) tenants of this new feminism if for no other reason than it being a massive help having a man around the house who can un-tighten stubborn jar lids.

This prompted me to stop ignoring this issue as the fringe lunacy of a few misguided Queens of entitlement and actively make fun of them instead.

Ladies, no one here is denying it is nice to have a man around the house who can help you do the things you can’t just as it is helpful to have a vibrator in the house to help you do the things he can’t.

I often hear pe…

I often hear people say “the future is here” usually followed by some contrite example of how some singular thing defines the now as the future we tell ourselves we were promised and entitled to. It is a self-congratulatory statement as it implies that all of existence as it is known to us – some 14 billion years or so – has been a prelude to the latest innovations of man.
“Duuuude! Flying cars, man!” someone will say, and the universe would mock our trivial smallness, our utmost insignificance if only it were an entity with such petty emotions capable of doing so and not a personified construct called into being to mock my fellow man. Even then it might decide it is better off ignoring us entirely because frankly it can’t be bothered.
There is another problem with proclaiming “the future is now:” the future being referred to is quite often (if not always) the purview of a desperately small percentage of the population. Flying cars exist – they are not particularly practical or anywhere near as sexy as we would like them to be, but they are around. The reason you have never seen one is because there are a number of hurdles beyond the development stage of these flights of fancy. Assuming you are part of the much ballyhooed 1% and can afford to buy one (there are no production models available), there are laws and regulations governing things that leave the sweet embrace of mother earth and take to the heavens. Don’t believe me? Ask someone at the FAA who Icarus was and how his gossamer wings relate to why you need to switch off your Kindle when you board an aircraft, to say nothing of flying cars.
No, friends, the world is a far less simple place than the chaotic hopefulness of our dreams and desires.
Even terrestrial cars – things we might all recognize as such – exist in categories ranging from economy to luxury and classic cars to space-age hyper tech. Looking at the inspired design of a Lamborghini Aventador in stark contrast to the Lada Niva for example or the humble London cab it is easy to believe the future is here, now, roaring past firing on all twelve cylinders, but again that is a privilege few among us will ever now. Worse, if you are the proud owner of a nice Lamborghini or even the latest electric cars whose engineering represents the cutting edge of what is possible in a production car you would still be driving on a road – not flying through the sky (something specifically requiring dedicated aerodynamics and a massive spoiler over about 135 miles an hour) as well as sharing the road with people who are all still driving relics of a past. You may have cocooned yourself in a little bubble of the future, but the vast majority of people couldn’t give a damn about the design or engineering of the future; they are in their hatchbacks and minivans on their way to work to pay the bills. They have very real concerns in the moment that must take precedence over their desires for the future.

Often times the products and services we use have very little to do with being an accurate, contemporary representation of where the scientific or aesthetic frontiers are and everything to do with what is practical, dependable, easily mass-produced, and ultimately expendable. We have aircraft equipped with scramjets that are able to traverse the diameter of the earth, dipping in and out of suborbital altitudes at theorized speeds of Mach 24 (29,000km/h) and tested speeds of Mach 5.1 in less time than it takes you to fly to a different state. Worse still, the Concorde first flew operationally in 1969 and air travel has since slowed down significantly. The future was here, but now it’s gone.

None of this gets us closer to the point however; be happy with what you have, now, and let the future bring what it may, when it may.

The author does not drive a push-rod suspension, carbotanium, intuo-drive hypercar. No flying car for me, no personal jet pack, and long lines for an even longer flight with “modern” air travel, but you know what, it’s fine. I’m happy.

I will continue to marvel at the innovations of science and the groundbreaking designs of engineers, architects, artists, and visionaries, but I am in no rush for the future to find us at some artificially accelerated pace; time passes inexorably, all that remains is to enjoy it.