Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Extinction of Compassion: A Tale of Empires and Elephants 2/2

by Nomad

Here's the conclusion of the historical tale of the last days of the Roman Republic and the revenge of the slaughtered elephants. We will also compare those brutal times to our own.

In the first of this two-part series we recounted how the ambitious masters of Rome were step by step destroying the Republic. In public spectacle in 55 BC, the audience, so used to bloodshed, were suddenly unexpectedly repulsed by the cruel slaughter of 18 elephants, who had begged in vain for mercy. Instead of applauding Pompey, the sponsor of the celebrations, the disgusted citizens of Rome denounced and cursed him.  
Let's watch the rest of this classic tragedy play out.

Destinies Fulfilled
It didn't take long for the Gods to answer the calls of revenge from the dying elephants and the curses of the Roman public. Within two years, the First Triumvirate tottered and collapsed.
The intermarriage ties between Caesar and Pompey- Pompey was married to Caesar's daughter Julia- dissolved upon her tragic death in childbirth.

First to die was Marcus Crassus, one third of the three-way alliance. After a military disaster in the East against the Parthians, his troops mutinied in Syria, and was later murdered while trying to arrange a humiliating peace negotiation. According to accounts from one Roman historian, his particularly gruesome death at the hands of his enemy was meant to be a testament to his greed. Molten gold was supposedly poured down his throat while he still alive.

A showdown between Caesar and Pompey now seemed all but inevitable.

For five more years, Pompey managed to hold onto Rome. That all quickly unraveled when Caesar returned from successfully conquering of Gaul (modern day France) with his sizable armies and considerably more wealth. Certainly enough to bribe whomever stood in his way.
In open defiance of Senate orders to bring his troops into Rome and to come alone and unprotected, Caesar and his armies continued a march south, crossing the Rubicon. That act was a declaration that he would no longer take orders from the Senate.

The political crisis had now become an all-out civil war. After losing battles in Spain and Greece, Pompey's hold on power became less and less convincing. With the Roman people' and the city armies' allegiance unreliable, Pompey had little choice but to flee (along with much of the Senate) to Egypt, with hopes of later re-establishing control. From there, he presumably planned to cut all grain shipments to Rome and force Caesar into negotiations.
It was not to be.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Extinction of Compassion: A Story of Empires and Elephants 1/2

by Nomad

In this first of a two-part post, I want to go back to one of the most important moments of Western history, when the Roman Republican was beginning to unravel  and the small but surprising part that elephants had to play in the story.

History has all kinds of hidden treasures. One thing that I find exciting is discovering some forgotten tale with a nice mix of drama and effect.

The one I am about to tell takes place in the last years of the Roman Republic. It involves the cruel and arrogant politicians, a desensitized public that suddenly awoke and the lamenting tears of elephants preparing to die. First of all, we need to set the stage. 
Literally, in this case.

Roman Politics and the Theater
Politics in ancient Rome down through the centuries was rarely very stable, the situation at Rome In the spring of 55 BC, was  particularly strained. The Roman Republic was in disarray and many worried, (rightly so, as it turned out) that it could not be restored.

The Roman general and consul Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (better know as Pompey) was preparing the dedication of his great theater project the first stone theater in Rome. 
To prevent Rome falling into tyrannical monarchy- something that patriotic Romans feared above all else- a joint rule was established between the generals. It was called by later historians as the First Triumvirate. It was made up of Pompey, Marcus Licinius Crassus, who was also the wealthiest man in Roman history, and Gaius Julius Caesar

That arrangement was never official approved by. the Senate. Out of necessity, the three-way leadership  was for some time kept secret from both the people and the Senate.
Actually, that alliance was much more like modern day gangsters agreeing on territories. than a military overthrow. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cooking the Books: How the Conservative Best Seller Scam is a Free Market Hypocrisy

by Nomad

When is a bestseller not a bestseller? A lot of bestselling conservative authors have found a way to turn horse manure into gold. It's a testament to their actual commitment to the free market system.  

Ever wonder who buys all those books written by people like Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity and Sarah Palin? Somebody has to be purchasing them, right? How else can their books be making it on the best sellers lists so often?

John Iadarola, known for his work on The Young Turks, offers this insight into what can only be called a publishing scam.

It's a credible theory. In 2010, a reporter for Salon suggested the same thing:
The sales of books by awful right-wing authors like Jonah Goldberg are boosted by an entire industry dedicated to … boosting the sales of books by awful right-wing authors. Conservative book clubs purchase tens of thousands of copies and right-wing think tanks order right-wing books in bulk.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bush's Unending Lies: Why Deceptions about Iraq May Be His Only Legacy

by Nomad

Former president George W. Bush's recent comments about Iraq demonstrated that his skill at deception and self-deception is undiminished by time. 
It will probably be the only thing he will be remembered for.

The other day former president George W. Bush was on NPR plugging his book on his father, 41: A Portrait of My Father. While presumably whitewashing his father's career, Bush took a moment to whitewash his own. 

In that interview Bush was asked whether he thought Iraq was safer now compared with when Saddam Hussein was in power. What would Iraq be like today if we hadn't invaded?  
"One could envision a nuclear arms race between Iran and Iraq. The man, Saddam Hussein, would have a lot of revenue as a result of high prices of oil."
Actually this is an outright lie. 
Since 1991, sanctions on exports and imports administrated by the UN had made all exports of oil tightly controlled. Admittedly it wasn't perfect and Saddam was able to find some loopholes. (This is the Middle-East where no rule is entirely fixed and black markets can be found everywhere.)

However, to claim that Iraq could have found the financing for a atomic weapons program is absolute nonsense. In fact, The government of Iraq declined UN offers to ease sanctions which would have enabled Iraq to sell limited quantities of oil to meet its people's needs. Saddam refused in order to effectively hold his own people hostages and to have all sanctions removed. 

The UN did not let up the pressure on the Iraqi government and set up the much-criticized Oil for Food Program in 1995.  Corruption might have been rife in that program but there was never any evidence that money was diverted for any atomic weapons project. 

In fact, 25% Iraqi oil export proceeds allowed under the sanctions were used to the Compensation Fund for war reparation payments, 2.2% went to United Nations administrative and operational costs and 0.8% for the weapons inspection program. The rest (72%) went to humanitarian purposes.
That doesn't leave very much to spend on a clandestine nuclear weapons research program.

Breaking it Down
Immediately after this statement, to preempt reality from wrecking his myth- he added
"And even though there wasn't, you know, a -- we found a dirty bomb, for example -- he had the capacity to make chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. And so there's -- you know, it's all very hypothetical."
The statement is typical of his fumbling oratorical style but there's more to it than mere incoherence. Bush tries to cram so much misrepresentation in one remark, it's hard to know how to break it down.
Let's give it a shot.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Dog Owners in Iran To Receive Lashing for Walking their Pets

by Nomad

If Iranian lawmakers have their way, dog owners could face harsh penalties for taking Spot or Fido for a walk to the park. 

The French News Agency, AFP, recently had this odd and rather unhappy news item for all animal lovers

If the conservative parliament of the Islamic Republic of Iran has its way, dog owners may have to pay a heavy price for their pets. Hardliners have proposed a draft bill, that would keep at dogs at home and forbid owners from walking dogs in public. 

That proposal has already been signed by 32 members of the parliament. Violations to the law would see dog owners face up to 72 lashes and heavy fines ranging from 10 million rials to 100 million rials ($370 to $3,700 at official rates).
The law states that:
"Anyone who walks or plays with animals such as dogs or monkeys in public places will damage Islamic culture, as well as the hygiene and peace of others, especially women and children."
Dogs (and monkeys) would, the laws states, be confiscated and held in zoos, or left in forests or other wilderness areas. Even before this law, Iran's morality police were stopping dog owners and warning or confiscating the animals.