The next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers or ask your own questions in the comments.
What’s the oldest thing you own?
It would be a few Roman coins from around the reign of the Emperor Julian (361-363 C.E.) which I picked up on eBay years ago. I’ve always been a big fan of Roman history, especially the period from Julius Caesar up until the division of the Empire into East and West after the infection of both by Christianity.
I was a big fan of Julian in particular, and you can probably guess why from his nickname, “The Apostate.” He came not long after Constantine (reigned 306-337 CE), who was the emperor who decided to make Christianity the official Roman religion.
Oh, it wasn’t a decision made lightly, and several other religions were in the running. But Constantine’s mother Helena had converted previously and was somewhat of a fanatic. Her thing was collecting pieces of the “True Cross,” and legend has it that in her lifetime, she had gathered enough pieces to reconstruct a True Cross over twelve feet tall.
Officially, though, Constantine had a vision before a battle in which he saw a flaming cross in the sky and the words “In hoc signo vinces,” Latin for “In this sign, you shall conquer.” (Well, “thou shalt,” since it’s informal you.)
He conquered, although for his part all he did for that sign, via the Council of Nicaea, was to decide which version of Christianity was the “right” one, since there were still all kinds of doctrinal disagreements on whether the Holy Trinity was actually a single entity, or three different entities and, if so, whether any one of them created either of the others or was “more eternal” than the others.
In other words, a whole lot of debate over a whole lot of unprovable bunk. But one version won out and Constantine adopted it, although not to the detriment of other religions quite yet. Rather, the Edict of Milan recognized Christianity as a legal and valid religion when, previously, it had been really just considered an underground cult that had broken off from Judaism.
Julian tried to undo it by rejecting Christianity as a valid religion, but then died after being stabbed by a lance in battle. It was alleged, but never proven, that it wasn’t actually a battle injury, but rather assassination by one of his own soldiers, who was a Christian — at least as asserted by Libanius, a friend of the emperor.
It could have also been a Saracen warrior, which was more likely given the shape of the injury, although Christians themselves at the time did attribute the murder to one of their own, Saint Mercurius — which would have been a good trick, since he died over a hundred years before Julian was born.
But, anyway, I found coins from the reign of Julian on eBay and bought four of them very cheaply, for around five bucks. You may wonder why such ancient relics were so readily available and so cheaply, and the answer is simple.
They’re actually as common as dirt, thanks to Rome’s bellicose ways. When mercenary groups and armies were called to Rome from the various provinces, the single soldiers getting ready to head off would put all of their money in the form of coins (no paper or crypto back then) into earthenware jugs or clay pots, and then bury them near some landmark at home that they would remember later, to be dug up when they returned.
If they never returned — and this was often — those hidden stashes remained that way for centuries. When they were eventually dug up, the coins weren’t always in the greatest of condition and didn’t really have that much value historically or economically, but did become an obtainable piece of the past, at least to those of us who aren’t archaeologists or major museums.
And that’s how a few nearly seventeen-hundred-year-old coins wound up in my possession.
Is it better to live where there are four seasons or where one season takes up most of the year?
Saying “one season is better” can be tempting if it’s the right one — a year-long temperate late spring where temperatures stay between 72° and 85° at the hottest part of the day with occasional days of moderate rain could be attractive. But it could also be boring.
People like to joke that Southern California doesn’t have seasons — or, rather, that our seasons are wet, hot, earthquake, and fire — but we really do have seasons. They’re just not as extreme as other places.
For example, the difference between winter and summer here is nothing compared to the same two seasons in Minnesota or Texas, and we’ll never really see an extreme weather change from calm and clear to violent storm in a single afternoon like you’d find in Pennsylvania.
But we do have perceptible changes, and that really helps us keep track of the year. It’s just another sort of clock, imposed on top of the long-term annual one, holding together the shorter-term ones, like phases of the moon, days of the week, and hours of the day.
If we only had one season, and it was always noon on Monday, January 1, life would get really boring — and confusing — very fast. I mean, for one thing, would we all only pay rent once, or have to pay it every day?
What would the adult version of an ice-cream truck sell and what song would it play?
This one depends upon whether it’s an ice-cream truck for adult me or for boring “normal” adults. If the former, it would sell all kinds of interesting and obscure books, objets d’art, ephemera, and other interesting stuff, and the song would be this one:
The song, by the way, is from a 1969 film starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr called The Magic Christian and, while audiences at the time didn’t get it, I suspect it’s much more relevant now. Sellars plays a billionaire (in late ‘60s money) who adopts a homeless man, played by Starr, to be his son, then proceeds to teach him the lesson: “Everyone has their price, if you’re willing to pay it.” It’s an absolute indictment of capitalism, more relevant now than ever.
It’s also never clear whether Sellers’ character is truly demonstrating to greedy people how bad they are, or whether he’s just the biggest troll around because he can afford to be.
The whole film is online, linked under the title above. But… let me turn my mind to what muggles would want, and come up with that ice cream truck.
Yeah, definitely selling margaritas in all flavors, maybe daiquiris, too, and of course the theme song is that abomination named Margaritaville.
Is poverty in society inevitable?
Not at all and, oddly enough, this calls back to The Magic Christian, and why you should watch it right now.
Poverty in society is only inevitable when there is income inequality, which is a flaw common in, but not limited to, capitalism. You’ll find the same inequalities in the current Chinese system, which seems to be some sort of oligarchic statism, and the Russian system, which is a complete kleptocracy.
Hm… funny how all three of these super-powers that play the game of having different and competing political philosophies all have the same damn problem: those at the top, whether running the government, corporations, or both, have the vast majority of the assets, while the rest do not, and have to rely on being incredibly underpaid and undervalued by the ones at the top of the pyramid.
There are really two pyramids if you think about it though. The pyramid of of labor is the normal one — big at the bottom and stretching to a point at the top, each level representing exactly how much true effort and energy is expended in order to support the system. So the ones at the bottom do all of the work, while the ones at the top do practically none.
Meanwhile, there is the pyramid of assets, and that one is standing on its tip, getting bigger as it goes up. Each level represents exactly how much in wealth and assets people on that level have. It starts with nothing at the bottom and gives everything to those at the top.
The only reason the latter pyramid is stable is that it’s integrated with the former, which is holding it up. But if you remove the pyramid of labor, then the pyramid of assets is going to fall over pretty fast — and we’re already getting hints of that with all the workers who are suddenly walking out of low-paying restaurant jobs, leaving behind signs to explain, “Nope. We’re not doing this shit for that shit they pay us anymore.”
The system is cracking — but we still have a ways to go.
Poverty is only inevitable when there are no limits on personal wealth, which makes income inequality inevitable. I could go on and on about possible solutions, but this piece is already long enough.
Suffice it to say, though, that there does need to be an upper limit on individual wealth and corporate profit, with the rest going back to everyone else (i.e. the workers who made that wealth possible) or back into the corporation (i.e. its employees). Those wealthy individuals and corporations can chose how to give it back providing that they start giving it out at the bottom instead of the top — or they can chose not to, and the government will take care of that part for them.
It could end poverty pretty damn fast without impoverishing a single billionaire or bankrupting any corporations. Imagine that.