Friday, November 14, 2014

Stairway to Heaven



The iconic rock song Stairway to Heaven has been re-released once again. BBC News interviewed Page recently to discuss how the song was created, and it's a must-watch for anyone who likes Led Zeppelin.

From the interview, Jimmy Page discusses the finale of Stairway to Heaven and the country setting in which it was created:

"And by that point it's really, it's, it's really motoring, it's not racing, but it's just the passion of it, it's just unfolded on every aspect of the lyrical aspect of it, about what it inspired. It was really an inspired period of time. I think it sort of shows the lasting quality of this music, over all these years, is the fact that everyone's playing so honestly and with such conviction, that it sort of shows."

Stairway to Heaven is the most requested song in the history of radio, according to experts. It's so well known that it has become a target of parody and ridicule. Sure. Yet, the human mind is capable of being wiped clean, so listen to Stairway to Heaven again, with a clean slate, and hear one of the greatest pieces of music composed for guitar. As all Led Zeppelin songs, it was composed for guitar by Jimmy Page, with lyrics added afterward. This doesn't disparage Plant, it elevates him. How do you overlay perfect lyrics onto something like this?

Certain flapjacks overstuffed by broiled lobster tail and imported beer and all-important portabello mushrooms -- folks prone to delusions of grandeur -- will say classical guitar and flamenco represent the pinnacle of the instrument. Pah. I believe anyone who listens to Stairway to Heaven with open eyes (and an open heart?) will agree that this song belongs in the pantheon.

When you're done eating elitist food that tastes good because wealthy aficionados say it tastes good, try this new interview with Page at medium.com.

From the interview:
    So these releases will be coming out through next year, and during that time I’ll be working, working, working. The prospect of actually coming back and showcasing the music that I’ve done all the way through my life, but also the new music that I’ve done, which will have some serious surprises in it—that’s fascinating. Because I love playing live, and that’s the next step, really.
That's interesting, because a guy who lives for playing guitar hasn't given the world, or sold it, a single piece of original music since one acoustic number that appeared as an Extra Feature on the It Might Get Loud DVD nearly 10 years ago. Where is this new music from Jimmy Page? If ever there was a man resting on his laurels, it's JP. He's stayed in the public eye, but in terms of output, Jimmy Page is another JD Salinger.

For aficionados, here are three versions of SWTH. The first one is from 1983. It's good, but not his best. People who knew JP said he was addicted to heroin in the late 1970s through the mid 1980s. He has never admitted this, but his playing is sloppy...



This is the 2007 Celebration Day reunion concert. The uploader says 2012, but it's really 2007. This version is better than the 1983 version above. It's fantastic, but Plant can't hit the high notes, and Page's fingers aren't as fast. Skip to 1:18:28 for SWTH:



And here's the best live version, from 1973. Everyone is in their prime. I could be wrong about the year. Maybe be slightly later than '73. It's the best live version existing on video.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Asimov's Foundation story set for HBO series

Media is reporting this as fact, like The Wrap and The Verge. The best news is that Christopher Nolan is writing the adaptation for HBO. Nolan wrote Memento and Interstellar. I think those are serious chops for getting the show done right.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Swedish prisons, the alternate view

For years, even decades, I've been hearing that prisons in Sweden are utopian. These reports always come from die-hard socialists promoting a socialist vision. A new Guardian story about the experience of one of the Pirate Bay founders, Sunde, tells a different story. He's saying things like prisoners are "deprived of their humanity."

The Guardian story doesn't dig into the larger issue, but it remains the heart of the matter: is facilitation of file sharing a crime? Governments say it is, but the Internet generation, at least the current version of that, says not. It is a crime to download copyrighted material without paying for it, as all but the most foolish would agree, but what about facilitation? When jewel thieves are arrested, does the corner hardware store get indicted for selling the tools used to break into vaults? Does Ford get indicted for making the car used in the getaway? Strangely enough, individual downloaders -- the folks who are most obviously breaking the law -- are no longer prosecuted. The RIAA in particular announced that they are no longer going after individuals. In other words, the authorities have stopped going after jewel thieves, just the people making available the tools of the trade.

The other super-high-profile case is Kim Dotcom in New Zealand, who remains free on bail as the US government attempts to build a case against him. The main thrust of the FBI's argument is that Dotcom knew people were using his filesharing / hosting site for illegal purposes, and even encouraged it. If this was a case involving jewel thieves, the FBI is saying Ford custom-made a car, knowingly, for the purpose of escaping the scene of a crime. Once again, the authorities are going after a facilitator, not those who are clear lawbreakers. It's a steep learning curve for pioneers who want to facilitate file sharing.

While on house arrest, Dotcom started a new service that is encrypted to the point where he and other company officers can't see what is being stored. Good idea, but it may work against him during his current legal problems. Why make this version of storage when, as he claims, the other version was perfectly legal?

Dotcom has talked about Safe Harbor, the concept that facilitators aren't responsible for misuse on the part of individual users of an online service. Google used this successfully with YouTube, but there is a major difference: Kim Dotcom didn't initiate relationships with copyright holders to issue warnings and takedowns. Most fans of YouTube are familiar with videos disappearing on copyright grounds. I've lost a couple myself -- once the entire video, and once the audio (I have more than a million views on my most popular channel). I believe there is a legal gray area with Google. They're allowed to operate as long as they make a reasonable attempt to police copyright violations, which are initiated by the copyright holders. Dotcom didn't do any of this, to my knowledge.

Government strategy to ignore individual lawbreakers and go after larger players has been tried in another industry, at least in the U.S.. Gun manufacturers have been sued / prosecuted for gun violence. In those cases, advertising from manufacturers was used as evidence -- some of the ads seem to indicate the manufacturers knew their products would be appealing to gangs and would be used for violence. In the case of Kim Dotcom, the FBI is holding up emails seeming to show Dotcom knew and reveled in the fact his file sharing service was being used illegally.

Gun manufacturers successfully defended themselves against the legal actions. The Pirate Bay founders failed, and are all in prison (except the last one, who is now in the legal process in Sweden). Kim Dotcom has not yet had his trial.

The main question in my mind is, What is really happening here, and why? I believe the RIAA and the U.S. government backed away from going after individuals because it was unpopular with the public, as most downloaders are just ordinary college students, etc., and also because individuals don't have deep pockets. The government is swimming upstream to bigger targets with more assets and a greater ability to pay big fines. The added benefit for government is that the public doesn't get nearly as upset when a large corporation is sued compared to an ordinary citizen.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Goat joke

Found this online, of course...

What do you get when you mix human DNA with goat DNA?

Kicked out of the petting zoo.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Republicans win

Everything I'm hearing on the radio and seeing online is how the Republicans have won. Right wing folks are saying, "Everything's going to change now." No, it will not. Watch and see. These parties are nearly identical.

1. Obama's wings have been clipped, and he always refused to work with Republicans. That runs contrary to what the leftist press claims, but it is reality. Obama has been ruling by fiat for a long time.

2. The two power-parties are more alike than different. Case in point, and there are many others: warrantless wiretapping began in earnest under Clinton with bi-partisan support. It was greatly expanded under Bush, with bi-partisan support. Under Obama, it increased five-fold, with bi-partisan support. Another case: deficit spending was doubled under Bush, and it was quadrupled under Obama. Our debt stands are nearly $20,000,000,000,000. Both of these parties are to blame for causing severe harm to the nation and our liberty.

3. Republicans lack the spine to attempt big changes, and it's doubtful they'll have enough votes to override presidential vetoes.

Press turned on Obama

What I find shocking is something that began six months ago. Obama's champions -- WashPo, NYT, APM, etc.  -- turned on him. These same "journalists" were saying things like "he's a Lincoln-FDR-JFK" triple-combo six years ago. Today, six years too late, they finally started covering stories unfavorable to the prez. The why of it is what I can't understand. The only thing I can think of goes to the darker side of human nature. People attack the weak, and Obama has become weak in light of ten major scandals. Try as they did, the left-wing press couldn't ignore all of it. If his adoring press turned on him because they perceive him as weak, it's awful to see, even though I approve of the end result.

Amnesty

Here's the most interesting part of tonight's results, in my view, for the short term: Will Obama still take executive action to grant amnesty to more than 12,000,000 illegal aliens? Obviously, he's waiting until after the election, and would be a fool to do anything until the Media Dead Zone between Thanksgiving and New Year's (because the nation is deeply against something that will cause so much harm). Will he still do it after losing the Senate? It's going to be interesting to watch. If he carries through with his plan, I predict it will happen on a Friday night somewhere in the Dead Zone.

Single, 6-year term

I also feel vindicated in something I've been saying for years now, although I don't recall putting it online: any president would be a fool to seek a second term because the nation turns against presidents midway through the 2nd term. It happened to Clinton, it happened to Bush, and now it's happening to Obama. My solution, although it's far from a 100% solution, is to switch to a single, one-time term of 6 years. No other term possible, even after a gap. It's a once-in-a-lifetime slot.

Pros

A president can preside instead of campaigning for re-election.

He/she will be out before the nation turns against them. Division and hatred and lack of faith makes a president ineffective, which is usually harmful to the nation.

It's probably the most difficult job on Earth, and six years would be far easier than eight. I'm talking about the toll the job takes on the mind and body of any president. Eight years of major stress is excessive, to the detriment of the nation. Six is far better.

Cons

The last two years of a six-year term will be spent campaigning for candidates of his/her political party. Most politicians, and certainly 99.9% of all Republicans and Democrats, place the interests of their party above the interests of the country. This will not change with a single, 6-year term.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

The birth of a new phrase

Supervised isolation has replaced quarantine, as of today. We can thank our beloved friends on the left for this little gem. The new official term is true to the left's nature: it is non-offensive. As soon as somebody objects to "supervised" or "isolation", they'll have to come up with a new term.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Battle for Keene makes national news

I've been following the Battle for Keene for a while now. That's Keene, New Hampshire, home to Free Keene, a group of peaceful libertarians who are opposed to big government and sometimes seem to be opposed to any government. What they call peaceful, others, like opposition group Stop Free Keene, calls harassment.

The Free Keene folks and their battle to stop parking tickets just made Fox News. Stopping the tickets -- called Robin Hooding -- is only a part of what the group is fighting for.

Fox News video

2nd Fox vid, with written article

Free Keene

Stop Free Keene

The latest at Stop Free Keene's website talks about Ian, one of Free Keene's leaders. He changed his name from Ian Bernard to Ian Freeman (if I have that correct), but the SFK folks still call him Bernard, which is kind of funny on its own. From SFK: "The special snowflake leader of Free Keene has petitioned the court to let him make a charitable contribution to local service providers in lieu of actually getting his hands dirty or committing the mortal sin of “voluntaryism”: placing the welfare of others before yourself."

Meanwhile, the Free Keen website has a recent clip from RT doing a story about the Pumpkin Festival riots, which also made national news. And there's a mention of Jared Goodell, somebody associated with Free Keene. Goodell made it onto WGN Chicago, Fox News and CNN. He was filming during the Pumpkin Festival when the organizer of the fest seemed to take a disliking to him, which resulted in some funny video.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Darknet and Deepweb at Foxnews

I was surprised by an article today at Foxnews.com. I don't work in IT, presently, but I have read most books published on hackers -- currently known as the realm of the darknet and deep web. It's kind of funny how terms change, fueled by media pseudo-knowledge. What were once crackers became "hackers", and now they're "users" of the "darkweb" and "deepweb". Whatever floats your boat, I suppose. Whatever sells articles. FYI the best book so far is Kingpin by Kevin Poulsen. I rarely see these kinds of terms used in articles for the masses. Well done, Fox, and I'm surprised that Brazil cracked this kind of network. Somebody must have neglected to pay a bribe to a government official. This Fox translation of complicated things for the willfully uninformed public is rather good:
    The ring was buried deep inside a “darknet” – private networks built from connections between trusted peers using unconventional protocols.
    Darknets are just one part of what is known as deep web – a vast network which is not indexed by search engines such as Google and Bing. While most of the deep web is not mired in criminality - resources such as academic databases and libraries are said to make up much of its content - darknets typically run on the fortress-like Tor network.
    Tor, which stands for ‘The onion router,’ started out as a military project, but now functions largely as a highly clandestine civilian network.
For anyone curious, Tor is the public face of networks that can be nominally concealed from "authorities". It's general knowledge now that DHS / FBI has substantial inroads to Tor, so users beware. There are other schemes that are never made public, though. Food for thought, heh.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

'US-led' strikes on ISIL

As everyone knows, a coalition of at least 10 nations are conducting air strikes against ISIL in Syria and northern Iraq. I've noticed something at the BBC News website: the term "US-led" is used so frequently it seems odd. It really stands out, like the BBC has an agenda. Were they told to keep that piece of info at the forefront of viewers' minds? British government? It's used so much, to the point where it's unnecessary, that it can't be standard journalist writing.

I'm sure it's true to say US-led, but why is it being pushed to the point of absurdity? We're the world's policemen, like it or not, but our president went out of his way to get other nations involved, such as the UK and many Arab countries, like this recent BBC story says, "Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates." That's an unprecedented coalition. Is the BBC trying to assure the UK people that the UK is not leading a deadly military campaign? Are they trying to emphasize the warlike nature of the USA, which is something they love doing? It's all weird.

CNN

I quit watching CNN during the Iraq War because they sided against my country during a war. For that, there is no forgiveness. I don't mind seeing the "enemy" side of things, and I don't mind alternate points of view, but when a socialist media company openly hates America and hopes it loses a war, that's the end, permanently.

Now, I'm getting spammed by CNN. It's possible somebody other than CNN put one of my email addresses on a list to receive breaking news. But, if I learn that CNN is slamming, I'm going to sue the MOTHERFUCKING SHIT OUT OF that fetid socialist company. If that happens, I won't accept a settlement if it means a non-disclosure agreement. Those fucks.

Excuse my language. And, as I said, I don't know if CNN is slamming, or if some DB is messing with me. But oh boy would I love to take a swing at a garbage media company pushing an anti-American message. That would be raison d'etre.

Kindle Unlimited from Amazon

This is a blatant plug, for which I'm not ashamed. I'm on month two with the $9.99 service (1st month was a free trial), and I recommend it for anyone who reads a lot. I've been reading almost 3 books per week since I got it. In fact, I just found another good book in the 600,000 title collection: The Second Ship by Richard Phillips.

Here are a couple of others I plowed through on Kindle Unlimited, but there are many more I'm forgetting: The Atlantis Gene and the two sequels by Riddle, and all Michael Lewis books (yes, all of them). His Flash Boys blew me away. Fantastic.

The program offers unlimited reading of the titles on the list. Most current best-sellers are not included, but there are still tons of great books available. As a reader, it was an easy thing to do. It's like an all-you-can-eat buffet, except I'm not getting fat.

Unbroken, the movie

After I finished Unbroken a couple of years ago, I couldn't believe it wasn't already a blockbuster movie. Turns out, it's being made now. It was one of the best books I've read, and I read a minimum of two books per week, and have done so for many years. What really shocked me: the Cohen brothers are making it. Didn't seem like their kind of story.

Unbroken at IMDB

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Elon Musk thinking beyond Earth

It's funny, I've been saying this for a long time, longer than Elon Musk has, but nobody listens. I guess when you're a dumbass blogger -- nobody from nowhere -- nobody listens. Don't get me wrong, I rarely say these things to anybody. I'm not a soiled homeless guy who stands on a vegetable crate on the corner and screams at passersby. I simply learned long ago that if humanity doesn't venture beyond earth, the species will cease to exist at some unknown time in the future. All those sci-fi novels dealing with this topic aren't sci-fi at all, they're futurism.

When you are Elon Musk, a billionaire with an electric car company and a space company, people listen. It's not at all like being Nobody F. Nowhere. The basic idea is this: if we stay here, we all die. That's a fact, based on current knowledge, which is subject to change. It may not be for 50 billion years, so there's no need to panic, but it's true according to all valid sources. Eventually a catastrophe will happen to Earth, and then it's curtains. An x-flare from the sun, or the sun aging and expanding, which will incinerate the planet. A dozen other things can, and statistically will, occur, and each of these things will end humanity. It's not a question of if, it's a question of when.

Here's Musk in a new Aeon interview:
    ‘I think there is a strong humanitarian argument for making life multi-planetary,’ he told me, ‘in order to safeguard the existence of humanity in the event that something catastrophic were to happen, in which case being poor or having a disease would be irrelevant, because humanity would be extinct. It would be like, “Good news, the problems of poverty and disease have been solved, but the bad news is there aren’t any humans left.”’
Aeon is a great online magazine, btb, but be wary of the political stories. From what I've seen, they're buying stories from hard-core socialists. If you don't like stories extolling the virtues of weak, emasculated men, you may not like their politics. The other stuff is fine.

The last time I said to a friend we're doomed if we stay on Earth, I said we need to develop substantial colonies off-planet (not Mars specifically), and I admitted the looming castrophe(s) may not happen for a billion years or more. He looked at his watch-less wrist and said, "That's right around the corner." That friend is a bright guy, and he's right that we don't need to become paranoid. Still, we know it's coming at some point.

Musk's answer is to colonize Mars, mine is to live in space. My idea is better, by the way. If we have groups on Earth and Mars, we have doubled our chances of survival, but that's not nearly enough for the distant future. We need to be in space, in multiple places. Space cities can be turned away from x-flares, Mars cannot. Space cities can be moved out of the path of a giant asteroid, Mars cannot. I admit that Mars is the next logical step, and since we probably have hundreds of millions of years or more to develop escape plans from Earth, I'm not criticizing Musk. On the contrary, I'm glad somebody people are willing to listen to (not me) is talking about this. On the other hand, the catastrophe could happen tomorrow, and Mars will not suffice.

More from Musk:
    Musk has a more sinister theory. ‘The absence of any noticeable life may be an argument in favour of us being in a simulation,’ he told me. ‘Like when you’re playing an adventure game, and you can see the stars in the background, but you can’t ever get there. If it’s not a simulation, then maybe we’re in a lab and there’s some advanced alien civilisation that’s just watching how we develop, out of curiosity, like mould in a petri dish.’ Musk flipped through a few more possibilities, each packing a deeper existential chill than the last, until finally he came around to the import of it all. ‘If you look at our current technology level, something strange has to happen to civilisations, and I mean strange in a bad way,’ he said. ‘And it could be that there are a whole lot of dead, one-planet civilisations.’
He's probably right, except there's no way to be sure. It's entirely possible that only one planet in the universe has life, and that's ours. Either way, all life on this planet will come to an end one day, and we can prevent that only by leaving. That's why all this talk of preventing climate change is moot. It may have meaning in the short term, but in the long run we're only "saving" a planet that is utterly doomed.

Pleasant dreams.

One source of comfort, I suppose, is that we don't actually know anything. "Know" is a tricky word. It's slippery like an eel. If you read the Aeon article, you'll see the author discuss what will happen to the Earth as the sun begins its expansion in 5-10 billion years. Well, we don't know for sure that the sun will ever expand as it ages. This has not been observed directly in other stars. We haven't had telescopes long enough for certainty. The author is taking theory -- albeit the latest theories of the universe, sourced from well-respected scientists, same place I got my own "the planet is doomed" ideas from -- and discussing everything as fact. The truth is, we don't know for sure. Every time a learned scientist gets traction with a new theory, which almost approaches scientific law, 10-15 years later that theory is overturned, and we all follow, cult-like, a new set of "facts". We've seen this with astrophysics, and most areas of science, and astronomy and ideas about stars are no different. It does seem certain, though, so Musk is right to talk about the distant future and the things we must do for survival.

Here's another bit from Musk (and there's still a lot more in the article). Here he's defending human space exploration instead of relying exclusively on probes:
    ‘Well, we are sending probes,’ Musk told me. ‘And they are very expensive probes, by the way. They aren’t exactly bargain-basement. The last RC car we sent to Mars cost more than $3 billion. That’s a hell of a droid. For that kind of money, we should be able to send a lot of people to Mars.’
It's obvious he's thought about space exploration. I'm sure he also thought about India's recent Mars success. India last week became the first nation to send a probe to Mars successfully the first time. Their budget was only $74 million. Both of those things -- success on first try and for only $74m -- are astounding. India did something so fantastic it's almost absurd. Those facts undoubtedly got Musk's wheels turning. SpaceX, after all, is a private American company that is way ahead of India in terms of budget and technology (and capability).

There is one giant flaw in Musk's dream of a large colony on Mars, in my view. He can't do it on his own. One company, SpaceX, with on visionary, Musk himself, won't succeed. Many titans, and I mean tech titans, need to come together. Mars One is already way ahead, it seems, in planning. Can't Musk sit down with them, and also Gates and Ellison and Allen and Zuckerberg and Branson, to make a joint project? All of them together, with many I didn't name, could easily pool a trillion dollars (or 3T) and do a Mars colony properly, and without waiting 50 years. NASA is a victim of failed U.S. leadership, which values getting people on welfare more than space exploration, but there are plenty of billionaires around who could unite if they chose to make things happen.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Robin Hood of Greece

The BBC has produced a fine piece about a notorious criminal in Greece. By all accounts, he lives frugally and gives stolen money to the poor, hence the comparison to Robin Hood. He has been captured and imprisoned twice, and each time he escaped by helicopter. Today he is free and on the run, or in hiding.

Story here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

MIT ranked No. 1 university on Earth for 3rd time in row

MIT is ranked No. 1 and has been in the top spot for three years running. The U.S. claimed 11 out of the 20 top spots. BBC story here. I always see these kinds of rankings, and when you couple that with some of the achievements here -- 1st silicon chip, internet, man on the moon, etc. -- you immediately see the disconnect between reality and the western media, which never misses an opportunity to mention how fat and stupid we are.

Another interesting tidbit: every new Ferrari sold today has GM shock absorbers, according to car magazines. Technically, Ferrari licensed the electromagnetic ferro-fluid patented by General Motors, and invented by Cadillac engineers. The shocks are filled with an oil permeated by microscopic metal flakes. When an electrical current is run through the oil, it can compress and decompress many times per second, which works well for modern stability control. Ferrari couldn't make better shocks, so they bit the bullet and licensed GM technology. Not bad for ignorant fat people, eh?

Also, the reason you don't see many Cadillacs or Corvettes in Europe is because of socialist taxation rates. A new Corvette Stingray starts at $52,000 in America, but starts at around $110,000 in Europe because of taxes there. The western press says the lack of American muscle and luxury in Europe is because the quality is lower, but that's not reality. The quality of Corvette in particular is legendary, hence the many Le Mans victories. The brand has overall victories, too, not just class victories. Car people know what that means. It's taxes, and that is protectionism. If there was parity, Porsches and Mercedes would start at $200k in the U.S.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

YOLO SWAG 420 BLAZE IT

Liberty is a big deal to me, but it's bigger for some people in Keene, New Hampshire. If you haven't heard of this, check it out. There's something of a Battle for Liberty taking place in a small city in NH, with Free Keene on one side, and Stop Free Keene on the other. A candidate for state rep in NH named Cleaveland is associated with the Free Keene movement. His campaign motto is YOLO SWAG 420 BLAZE IT. The opposition movement, Stop Free Keene, said this about Cleaveland: "I’m sure the people of Keene want their representative to enable college kids to spend four years perpetually drunk, stoned, and pissing in their neighbor’s garden."

The Free Keene folks are Libertarians, but far more radical than I am. Their videos and activism are entertaining. Watch them at their website freekeene.com.

Here's a taste:



I believe in liberty, but I don't think I could do this to a parking enforcement worker.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Obama v. ISIL

The official term for the new terrorist group is ISIL, formerly IS or ISIS. They're the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, sometimes called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and sometimes just the Islamic State. Their goals and methods are the same as al Qaeda, basically -- to kill or convert all non-Muslims while recreating the ancient Caliphate, a Muslim empire that existed a thousand years ago.

I just watched Obama's speech, all 14 minutes, at whitehouse.gov, and agreed with it. After six years, our president finally said something I agree with. There were a few details I could criticize, but I won't do that. This is no longer a political blog, and the general message from Obama is something I agree with: Force, with allies, limited to airstrikes and a few other limited activities, and nothing more. Massive invasions with ground forces and nation building is a lost cause with Muslim countries. We learned that the hard way in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their culture is 1000 years behind the mindset of having a modern, peaceful democracy, so we shouldn't be in the business of pushing them. Anybody who thinks that's bigoted or "xenophobic" can fuck off. People who routinely hang people for being gay, behead people who follow a different religion or even a different faction, sentence female rape victims to whipping, and cut off the clits of 95% of teenage girls, are worth less than my morning constitutional.

When they're ready to evolve, they'll walk that path on their own. In the meantime, bring in the supercarriers and give our F18 aviators some real-world training. And give us some great video of American firepower. There's nothing so satisfying as infrared video footage showing stone-age creeps with Iranian-funded weapons getting blown into the afterlife.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Solution to the California water shortage

I believe this is a solution to water problems for the entire Southwest region of the United States. Build pipelines from the Great Lakes to the Southwest. If anybody knows why this wouldn't work, speak up. I don't know much about pipelines, but I know that we already have a lot of them, and we're really good at making and maintaining them. People have been good at this since Roman times.

Is there enough water in the Great Lakes region? I don't know. All I know is that in addition to the lakes, anywhere in that region you can sink a well 15-feet into the ground and have unlimited fresh drinking water. Nothing is truly unlimited, but I believe that region is as close to unlimited as we can hope. Minnesota license plates say 10,000 lakes, but the USGS says they have 23,000. I checked. The place is drowning in fresh water. Now throw in Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and the rest. Towing massive icebergs from Antarctica to Los Angeles may not be feasible, nor desalination plants, but I think pipelines from a waterlogged Upper Midwest is doable.

For starters, here's proof that the general concept of pipelines is sound, even over long distances. The pic below shows current pipelines running across the USA.


Most of the pipelines in the image are for fossil fuels, and a few convey water. Living in California, I'm very aware of the Mulholland Aquaduct, built in the 1930s, if my memory is correct. It is a pipeline that runs from the Hoover Dam in Nevada to Los Angeles, then branches off to San Diego. At the end of the line, San Diego gets 1/3 of their fresh water from this pipeline. I believe this proves that water pipelines work.

To my limited knowledge of pipelines, the only problem is funding. If this is true, I think the cost of building a few pipelines from the Great Lakes to the Southwest would be relatively low, considering that several Southwest States, plus contributing money from the federal government, would be pooled. Also, tech companies lately, especially Google, have been doing public works for a long time, like hyperfast internet. I realize they're looking at things from a profit standpoint, but from a PR standpoint, I'm guessing it would be good business for a consortium to arise: Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Intel, Apple, and a few others could fund half of the pipeline, and reap the PR rewards. If they made the offer, I think the affected states and the fed would respond and get the project done.

If corporations, plus maybe a few individual fatcats like Buffet and Gates and Ellison, came onboard, they could offer their financial contributions in terms of an unenforcable social contract: "We'll supply half of the money in exchange for you, the people of the Southwest, to be good citizens and learn about how to conserve water, every day, and apply that knowledge immediately." The corporations involved could even be inspired to develop new technology to conserve water -- better low-flow toilets, water reclamation systems designed for household use, etc.

On the topic of individual fatcats, here you go:

Bill Gates net worth: $79 billion
Larry Ellison: $45 billion
Paul Allen: $16 billion
George Soros: $26 billion
Warren Buffet: $65 billion

With that list in mind, and the wealth, how big are the problems we need to solve, and how much will they cost? I understand that, from a global standpoint, malaria is a much bigger problem than allowing Los Angeles people to continue hand-washing their $104,000 Teslas and over-watering a postage stamp-sized parcel of green grass. On the other hand, do we wait until nothing happens when the tap is turned on? I like a morning shower, and if these fatcats, plus corporations and government, get together to keep that happening, I'll show my appreciation in my portfolio of stocks and government bonds. I may even omit a legal tax deduction or two. (Not likely because government is a disease.)

I bring all this up because I see this as a viable solution, until I'm shown otherwise, to a problem that is, by all accounts, grave. If global warming is real, and if it's going to make problems like the Southwest water shortage even worse over time, then I believe the time is now to consider unconventional partnerships for solving the problem. It could be used as a model elsewhere, around the world, too. If nothing else, public-private partnerships are already common. In other words, I'm not presenting something born of genius, and it's not even unprecedented. Since I'm rambling now, I believe that non-tech companies who have bought into the hoo-haw of "social responsibility" would be willing to join the consortium: Starbucks comes to mind. As much as I criticize Starbucks, they offer most of their employees health insurance and tuition reimbursement at Arizona State University. They did that in part because of altruism and social responsibility, but also because it pushes up the stock price. What could possibly push up stock prices more than joining a consortium that can, and will, forever solve water problems in the United States?

What are we waiting for? Instead of discussing this, people in Southern California are getting tickets for washing cars in their own driveways, and for watering lawns. Not discussing pipelines connecting places with unlimited fresh water to states that are dangerously low makes me think there's some great flaw with the pipeline idea, but I can't see what that flaw might be. Who knows about this stuff? Who can tell me I'm an idiot and should just shut up about it? I will, but first I need to know why.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Kevin Poulsen

Video below is a talk by Kevin Poulsen, the best hacker in the history of the world -- who got caught. Period. Details start at 3:05, and pay particular attention to 15:21. Spend 50-odd minutes to learn about one of the most inventive criminals in U.S. history. If you want context and more information, read the stuff I provide below. If you're not interested, no problem.

Most criminals, when hunted by multi-jurisdictional experts (FBI, Secret Service, and phone company security personnel), flee. They go on the run. Not Poulsen. No reason to. He had the upper hand, and stayed put in his home town of Los Angeles. He was better than them, right up until he got caught, of course.

Poulsen was featured on Unsolved Mysteries with Robert Stack. Mysteriously, when the show broadcast the toll free phone number for the public to call in tips, the phone system failed. Surprise, surprise. Part of his deal with the government was certain aspects of his case can be revisited, and that's why I believe he doesn't cop to all he's done, such as mysterious large-scale phone outages. I wonder if the deal he made explain why he hasn't written his memoirs? Too bad, because it would be great reading.

Lots of our best drama is crime drama: Heat, a cinematic masterpiece, was loosely based on a real criminal. Escape From Alcatraz, likewise, and Scorsese's masterpiece The Departed, loosely based on real criminal Whitey Bulger. Goodfellas, based on a real criminal. Also there was Catch Me If You Can, based on the true story of Frank Abagnale. All of these audacious criminals, even fictional crime stories like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction fall short of Poulsen's real exploits.

Poulsen has gone straight as a journalist for Wired, and he wrote one of the best books on hackers, called Kingpin. Well written and researched, it's a must read for anyone interested in technology and entertaining true crime. For Poulsen's full story, see Jonathan Littman's book, The Watchman. Judging by the current prices, I'm glad I bought my copy long ago. Watchman is probably the best book about hacking, detailing the best hacker in history who got caught -- Poulsen. It's fitting that the best hacker, Poulsen, wrote the best book about hacking. There can be no doubt that Poulsen's criminal past allowed access to Max Vision aka Kingpin.

This video below shows some of what Poulsen did, and he also discusses Kingpin, which is almost as interesting as Poulsen's activities. Until I found out about Poulsen, I thought Frank Abagnale was the most audacious criminal. Because of Poulsen's past as a hacker, and present as a great tech-security writer, I was disappointed that Snowden didn't choose Poulsen as one of three sources for the recent NSA leaks. He would have been the best candidate of all. Mostly, I'm disappointed that a great writer who understands technology hasn't written his own memoir. The legal ramifications are the only explanation for the lack of this great memoir. I think he should pull an Assange, or Snowden, and travel somewhere for asylum, and tell us his version of events.




Monday, August 18, 2014

Death of Aramaic

The language of Jesus may be dying after thousands of years, thanks to ISIS. I'm not invested in religion, but I do find languages to be interesting. For instance, I watched The Passion of the Christ not for its story or religious importance, but because I wanted to hear Aramaic spoken. According to a Foreign Policy article, ISIS may be crushing Aramaic out of existence. From the FP article:
    Beyond the urgent humanitarian crisis lies a cultural and linguistic emergency of historic proportions. The extinction of a language in its homeland is rarely a natural process, but almost always reflects the pressures, persecutions, and discriminations endured by its speakers. Linguist Ken Hale famously compared the destruction of a language to "dropping a bomb on the Louvre" -- whole patterns of thought, ways of being, and entire systems of knowledge are among what is lost. If the last Aramaic speaker finally passes away two generations from now, the language will not have died of natural causes.
As much as I like language, I find most of the article to be sensationalized in the typical media fashion. Languages come and go, and it is most certainly not like "dropping a bomb on the Louvre". Things change, some things die and fade away, to be replaced by other things. No reason to go into hysterics.

Writing the emperor

A poet named Florus wrote a letter to Hadrian, emperor of Rome from 117-138 (source), and Hadrian replied. An ordinary citizen wrote an emperor, and got a written reply. An emperor's power and responsibilities make an American president seem feeble, btw.

Florus to Hadrian:
    I don't want to be a Caesar,
    Stroll about among the Britons,
    Lurk about among the...
    And endure the Scythian winters
Hadrian's reply:
    I don't want to be a Florus,
    Stroll about among the taverns,
    Lurk about among the cook-shops
    And endure the round fat insects
A couple of statues of Hadrian are below, and I'd like to mention something interesting about Roman statuary, and also explain my interest in this ancient culture. Rome is known to us, among other things, by its white marble statues, things that now stand in museums around the world. Despite the iconic white marble of the statues, they were never white. The base material, marble, was white, but the statues were always painted in a lifelike manner, with many realistic colors. The sculptors were famous and wealthy, as is well known, but the painters were famous as well. Our perception of Rome has been diminished, or at least suffers an inaccuracy, by looking at white-marble statues, when, in fact, they looked realistic at the time of creation. Even the columns were painted. Time eroded the paint, but not the base material. We need to be careful with our inferences.

As for Roman culture, and the people who populated it... they were 1700 years ahead of the rest of human development. That alone makes them worth studying. They are worth emulating, too, minus the obvious mistakes. None of that is exaggerated. The Romans had ships in the 1st century that carried 700 tons of cargo, and 300+ people, and routinely made passages of 1200 miles non-stop. That's roughly the distance from northwest Africa to the horn of South America. That wasn't a trade route, but two Roman ships did, in fact, arrive in South America in the 1st century AD, intact. One was discovered off the coast of Venezuela, and another off Brazil.

Most aspects of the culture, down to the anchors of those great ships, were not duplicated until just a couple of hundred years ago. A lot of historians have recently disputed the moniker Dark Ages, which generally refers to when the Romans disappeared (Western Empire), but don't believe it. The Dark Ages were far brighter than we've been taught, perhaps, but the the light of Rome really did shine on the Western world, and by comparison everything went dark for at least 1700 years after that light ceased to shine. Any westerner who doubts this can look to language. These people are still with us: July refers to Julius Caesar's favorite time of year, so he renamed a month after himself. July is for Julius, plain and simple, and true. His adopted son Octavian, who attained the title Augustus, claimed a month for himself, which we call August. We're in August. Think about that. Will there be a Reagan month 2000 years from now? Not a chance.

The rest of our months are misnamed because of these two Roman people. September means seventh month, but it's the ninth month. October means eight, but it's our 10th month. November comes from nones, which means nine in Latin, but it's our 11th month. December is obvious, meaning 10, yet it's our 12th month. This is because two real Roman people had the power and influence to insert two months into an existing calendar, which is our calendar, and  let the rest of the months ride (Rome had 10 months until Julius, July, and his adopted son Augustus, August). Who since then has had such influence, or power? Such impact on the world? Genghis Kahn, Alexander the Great, Gandhi, George Washington? Nope. Nobody has marked the world like these people, at least the Western world, and it was more than power and influence -- it was impact.. Also of note, the Romans only respected one culture, and that was the Greeks, another culture worth studying. Personally, I believe the ancient Chinese are worth studying for their independent advancements in many areas.

Ships and anchors, calendars, architecture, engineering, statuary, military, a democratic system of government, and no less than 1000 other things, are only the tips of gigantic Roman icebergs. To sound arrogant, although provable, the United Sates is many decades ahead of the rest of the world, and we're nothing compared to Rome. Iran sent a monkey into space three years ago, something the Soviet Union and the USA did decades ago. The Soviet Union, the first in space, has failed in 7 of 10 attempts to Mars, where the USA has been successful 9 of 10. The Ruskies are our closest competitors in space, and they're not even close, despite Sputnik. Arrogant or not, facts are stubborn things (heh), and reality cannot be denied. Statistics don't lie -- the USA is great by every measure conceived by man, but this only has meaning compared to other cultures. As much as I can discuss -- and prove -- American greatness, we are nothing next to Rome, if "greatness" is defined by comparison to others. That's a big "if", but there it is.

One of countless examples: our GPS constellation is mature, and the ESA Gallileo constellation is only now halfway deployed. Good for them, but remember who preceded that by a few decades. America preceded the Europeans by a long ways. This is especially meaningful because the Europeans are a great people by every measure except one: comparison to us. Now think about who preceded everyone by almost 2000 years. By my own metrics, the USA is the greatest country now in existence, present leadership excepted, but by my own metrics, we are very small and unimportant compared to the Romans. Now, 2000 years after the most important events of Rome, I wonder who will remember us in 2000 years. Nobody, probably. Hopefully, we'll be mentioned in history books, but I think that's all we can hope for -- first nation founded on personal, guaranteed liberty (1776), development of the first integrated circuit (Texas Instruments, 1958), the Moon landing (NASA, July 1969), and the microcomputer revolution and Internet (1970s). What else has the USA done that will be remembered in 2000 years? Our achievements are 50 years, or at least 20 years, ahead of our closest competitors, but that is nothing compared to Rome's 1700-year advancement. That is many things -- stunning, shocking, unprecedented, unduplicated, and well worth studying.

Hadrian, the emperor who hand-wrote a sarcastic letter to a poet, in marble, minus the paint:



A little bit about Hadrian: Most famous for Hadrian's Wall in the north of England, he was considered one of the Five Good Emperors, along with Nerva, Trajan, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius. I never liked this list. I believe two good emperors are missing -- Augustus, the first emperor, and Vespasian. That last one, full name Titus Flavius Vespasianus, is my personal favorite for several reasons:

1. According to the lore at the time, Vespasian was a general who followed orders of the emperor, not part of an imperial family, and never wanted to become emperor himself. During a time of upheaval and instability and civil war, others begged him to declare himself. We won't ever know if this is true, because many leaders throughout history have found it advantageous to portray themself as a reluctant hero, even though they privately lusted after power. Then as now, the anti-hero is even more popular than the hero. There's little doubt that Vespasian believed he would be a better emperor than the three upstarts who declared themself emperor in 69 AD, and Nero, who was emperor until 68. Then again, the average Roman citizen probably thought themselves more qualified than those men. They probably thought their dogs would be better emperors than Nero. (National Geographic recently examined Nero, wondering if he is unfairly portrayed by history.)


2. While proconsul in Africa (Roman province in North Central Africa, between Egypt and Mauritania), Vespasian didn't do what most proconsuls were infamous for -- he didn't pillage the locals. This will be a sizable digression... By law, a proconsul (Provincial Consul, person the Senate appoints to govern a province) must collect taxes for Rome, at the rate decided by the Senate. If you think the U.S. tax code is detailed, investigate the Romans. We are an indirect extension of that culture -- and I won't detail all of that because I'm not in the business of writing a 20-volume set of books.

Importantly, an additional tax could be levied on the local population, and this additional amount was kept, personally, by the proconsul. A license to steal, as most proconsuls did. It was legal and expected, with some limits and excesses. Wealthy provincials commonly sued former proconsuls, in Rome, because of what they did in the provinces. There was a common joke at the time about a proconsul needing to make the extra tax massive because it must do two things -- it was used to make him rich and defend himself from corruption charges on his return to Rome. In other words, the wealth must be great enough to pay the necessary bribes to defeat charges of corruption, and still leave the newly returned proconsul immensely wealthy. Many of the names famous today from Rome are known specifically because of the wealth gained by the massive personal taxes placed on the shoulders of the helpless populations of the provinces, and what they did with the wealth skimmed from those people. For an interesting picture of proconsuls dealing with provincials, read the correspondence of Cicero. The senate ordered him to a province, something he hated. In private letters to friends and relatives, he details the arduous task of governing a province, right down to the intricate details of travel in the ancient world.

Tacitus, writing just after the death of Vespasian, sheds light on provincial rule by relaying the events of his father-in-law, Agricola, a general in the conquest of Britain (not a proconsul). Some details about the early days of provincial rule, per Tacitus:
    His object (Agricola) was to accustom them to a life of peace and quiet by the provision of amenities. He therefore gave official assistance to the building of temples, public squares and good houses. He educated the sons of the chiefs in the liberal arts, and expressed a preference for British ability as compared to the trained skills of the Gauls. The result was that instead of loathing the Latin language they became eager to speak it effectively. In the same way, our national dress came into favour and the toga was everywhere to be seen. And so the population was gradually led into the demoralizing temptation of arcades, baths and sumptuous banquets. The unsuspecting Britons spoke of such novelties as 'civilization', when in fact they were only a feature of their enslavement.
The game of provinces is one of the more interesting elements of ancient Rome. The rise of Cicero, a novus homo of all things, to the position of Father of the Senate, came in part because of his orations on the merits and pitfalls of provincial consuls. Even when Cicero lost in open court, his arguments were so good, and his presentation so memorable, he rose above his social status -- a feat nearly impossible in Roman culture. His political writings, and advice given him by his brother Quintus during one of his campaigns, are studied by politicians worldwide today, and for good reason. Karl Rove gave a copy of Quintus' campaign advice to George Bush when he first ran for president, saying it's good advice. My favorite part:
    Make sure that your election campaign is one long parade, magnificent and splendid, appealing to popular taste, presenting a grand and dignified spectacle. If at all possible, you should also arrange for some scandal to be stirred up against your competitors, involving either criminal behavior or sex or bribery, depending on their character.
How much has really changed? We may have electricity now, and nuclear submarines and spaceships and electronic computers, but little else has changed. The Romans were the first modern human beings, nearly 2000 years ahead of everybody else.

Later, Quintus was appointed proconsul. Cicero wrote him a letter chastising him about reported abuses of power. In the typical eloquent style of Cicero, he admonished and cautioned his brother while flattering him. It's a ridiculously long letter, and one must read between the lines, as Quintus undoubtedly did.

Vespasian, like Cicero before him, was fair and generous with the people in his province, which made an extremely rare figure. In the Rome series on HBO this was glossed over when Cicero contemplated going to his country villa and giving up on his allegiance to Pompey Magnus. He said something to the effect that he did not have a name old and glorious like Brutus, so he would stay with the opposition party. This was partly true, especially about the old name. Reality was that Cicero was a moderate in the Senate, and didn't side with either party, the Caesarians or Pompeiins. He went to the country from the beginning, feigning illness. Some, even at the time, thought this was cowardice, but time showed the wisdom of his hesitancy. When he finally took sides, during the war between Caesar's adopted son Octavian and the forces of Brutus and Cassius, he chose the latter -- and during the proscriptions following Octavian's victory, he was murdered, with his hands cut off and nailed to the door of the Senate building in Rome. Picking sides in a civil war is a dangerous business, and he held off as long as possible. Wisdom and dying for a cause are not necessarily the same thing.

The people of Vespasian's African province loved and respected him because they knew well all of this history. Rome had libraries, and between 10% and 25% of people were literate -- not matched until the middle 18th century. To learn about history, all one had to do was venture to the library. Most, however, learned history from common conversations, corner theater productions, and readings sponsored by the wealthy elites (readers were paid to read propaganda and news items on street corners by torchlight in large cities of the empire). People like Cicreo and Caesar and Octavian were famous and often discussed by the latter half of the 1st century AD, and for all time to this day. The people of the African province were lucky to have Vespasian as a proconsul, and they knew it well. Fortuna, the god of good luck, smiled on them. Most proconsuls were corrupt and greedy, where Vespasian allowed the locals to keep their productivity and wealth. To me this sounds like Lucius Cincinnatus or George Washington or Gandhi. Not surprisingly, Vespasian had a lot of support from his former province when he later declared himself emperor. Then as now, popular support was the primary requirement for power, and Vespasian had earned their support by being fair, when he could have raped them, and was even expected to do so. By all contemporary accounts, he thought the people were entitled to the fruits of their labor, even though, by Roman law, Vespasian could have taken much of the wealth.

3. Vespasian was down to Earth, by all accounts. Some say this is because he was a simple soldier, lacking the sophistication and education of most other emperors. I'm not so sure. Two anecdotes illustrate Vespasian's character and, perhaps, simplicity.

The first is his response to a negative reaction to a new tax he imposed on the city of Rome. He put a tax on public toilets, the ones where the urine would be used for tanning. When an official complained about this, Vespasian held up a coin that had been collected from the tax and smelled it, declaring something to the effect, "It smells fine to me." Because of his association to public toilets, one of the French words today for public toilet is Vespasienne.

The second were his final words. Some of his contemporaries claimed he said this, and some thought it was folklore. Just before he died, Vespasian said, "I think I'm becoming a god." He was mocking the tradition of deifying emperors after their death. An emperor who mocks the ostentatious traditions of imperial families was destined to be loved by the people.


4. The Colosseum, which everyone knows about, was officially called the Flavian Amphitheatre, named after the man who approved the funding and pushed the project through -- Vespasian. Unfortunately, he died before the project was completed. The building was the first modern sports arena, and the only one of its kind for a couple of thousand years. Humanity would not catch up to ancient Rome, and Vespasian's creation, for more than 1900 years.

5. Stability and financial reforms. Nero committed suicide in the year 68, and in the following year four different people declared themself emperor.

From Tacitus:
    Welcome as the death of Nero had been in the first burst of joy, yet it had not only roused various emotions in Rome, among the Senators, the people, or the soldiery of the capital, it had also excited all the legions and their generals; for now had been divulged that secret of the empire, that emperors could be made elsewhere than at Rome.
Those words were written approximately 25 years after Vespasian became emperor, and 15 years after the death of Vespasian. Tacitus, himself a high-ranking statesman, admits that his rise was greatly aided by Vespasian's liking of him. That's another interesting facet of studying ancient Rome -- what is real history, and what was written to gain favor with the current person in power? Josephus' book, War of the Jews (available free at Amazon), included glowing passages about Vespasian, and was written after Vespasian granted him amnesty for his role in the Judean revolt against Rome. How much was true, and how much was aimed at showering goodwill on his benefactor?

Back to Vespasian, the results of the warring factions in the year 69 were the first civil wars in Rome in a hundred years or so (Marc Antony fought Augustus in the 1st century BCE, where Augustus prevailed). Vespasian was one of the four to declare himself emperor in 69, and he was victorious. After one of the worst periods of their history, Vespasian marked the beginning of a new trend -- stability and sanity. He may not have been an Augustus or Aurelius, but compared to previous emperors like Nero, and the bloody civil war that followed him, Vespasian was exactly what Rome needed.

A few links pertaining to this post are below, for anyone who wants to know more. Most of the info I included is from memory, but memory is a fleeting and biased thing, so don't trust mine. If you have an interest, begin with popular productions like the movie Gladiator and the Rome TV series, and read (not watch) I, Claudius. These are the most realistic productions. Then graduate to source material, like Caesar's two books that remain to us. Caesar wrote seven books, which we're aware of because many ancient Roman writers referenced them. Five are lost to time, but we still have two -- Commentary on the Gallic War, and Commentary on the Civil War, which detail, respectively, Caesar's conquering of Gaul (France), and defeating Pompeii and his senatorial allies in the civil war. Each shows the greatness of Caesar on the battlefield, when most of what's discussed about him is his dictatorial and administrative control of Rome (and his murder in the Senate house). This was a revalation to me when I discovered the books. It is this other side of him, his abilities as a general -- the reason he gained the popularity and wealth to challenge the other powerful men of Rome -- that makes him great. It's the reason we still know his name. I've read about Alexander, and I've read about Caesar, and I have no doubt that if the two lived in the same time, and met on the field of battle, Caesar would utterly annihilate Alexander. Alesia and the other battles have convinced me of that. Several times Caesar was outnumbered and destined to perish utterly, as predicted at the time by the senators and people of rome. Instead of perishing, he crushed his enemies decisively. In the Rome series on HBO, his greatness in battle was glossed by Marc Antony: "The man is a prodigy."

If you look for books written by Alexander the Great, going into great detail about how he accomplished his many military victories, you won't find anything. The same is true of every great ancient general, with the exception of Caesar. I was blown away, years ago, when I discovered that I could read an account of major ancient wars, written first person, by the commanding general. What is that? Stunning is the only word that comes to mind. I can buy two books today explaining battles, complete with local politics and details like logistics and fortifications, penned by an actual battlefield commander who fought before the time of Jesus. I can only shake my head. Why doesn't everyone know this? Everyone needs to read Caesar's books. I keep hoping we'll discover the other five books under an old cellar in some modern Italian city.

Next, read Ceasar by Adrian Goldworthy, and his Augustus, and other historians like Grant. Also read Cicero's correspondence and other writings that have survived, and Tacitus and Pliny and other Roman writings that are still available -- Marcus Aurellius, Martial, Juevenal, etc. There's even a cookbook. Not surprisingly, a menu painted on the wall of a Pompeii restaurant shows hamburgers -- roasted beef slabs sandwiched in bread, with a vegetable topping and mustard. As different as they were to us, they were surprisingly similar. You could drop by a pub and order a drink and a hamburger, then visit a brothel and play a game of Dogs & Robbers on your way home.

Also read Robert Harris' Imperium series about Cicero, which details three important phases of Cicero's life. Imperium isn't quite what people today think it was. Imperator, rendered in modernity as emperor, didn't mean "emperor" back then. Imperium was a right granted to a Roman citizen by the Senate, and it meant the right to raise and employ troops in battle. It was a mark of great respect and trust because the Romans were acutely aware of the dangers of a popular general becoming king with the support of military troops. Then as now, a coup is the greatest fear of a democracy. Because of the right's power, it morphed into the modern concept of emperor -- leader of an empire. Augustus, the first emperor, had around 10 different titles, including princeps, meaning first among equals, and augustus, which means the same thing today, and also imperator. Because Imperator implied the most power, and Augustus was the most powerful person in the Western world, an association was created between the leader of Rome and the title Imperator -- giving us the modern concept of emperor. His first and foremost title was not emperor at the time, but princeps.

The Imperium series by Harris is fairly simplistic, despite what the LA Times says (liberal journalists are fucking idiots), but it's a good look at life in ancient Rome and one of its greatest statesmen. It's amazing how much we know about a culture that flourished 2000 years ago, and earlier, and Cicero was one of the greatest people that culture produced. I keep waiting for Adrian Goldsworthy to write a biography of him. As much as I like Caesar, I believe Cicero was the greatest of the Romans. Caesar, though born relatively poor, was of the Patrician class, where Cicero was an Equestrian. Moving from a lower class to become Father of the Senate based on merit was extraordinary.

I better stop there because I could talk forever on the topic of ancient Rome. Greatness is worth studying. I believe America is the greatest now, and demonstrably so, but we're second fiddle in the history of humankind (because of bad leadership).

More on the Five Good Emperors at Encyclopedia Britannica
Hadrian
Vespasian