Thursday, June 26, 2014

Rome and Carthage: What might have been.

The military struggle between Rome and Carthage that commenced in the First Punic War, circa 264 BC, was an inevitable clash of two expanding powers vying for dominance in the western Mediterranean.  I would not however consider the story of the Punic Wars a study of dead history. Its ramifications reflect, for one, in the Latin tongue rooted Romance languages spoken in Europe and South America today.

Depiction of Roman legionary soldiers

Our mode of thinking in the West, our world view originated, grew and took root in a long standing Roman world that valued even application of law, systematic order and strict organization. Carthage and Rome 2,300 years ago were giving birth to different types of babies in two different cradles of civilization.  One would be the cradle of civilization from which we would emerge.

Carthage was a Phoenician sea-faring power that traded extensively. It was ruled by a collective of merchants. It was a multi-lingual culture, learning the languages of its possessions rather than imposing its own tongue.
Rome was a land based power that had by this time fully subjugated the Italian peninsula. Its people were mostly farmers and soldiers ruled by an elite Senate. As opposed to Carthaginians who more valued literacy and science, Romans more valued practicality and efficiency.

Could Carthage have defeated Rome? It had sufficient capacity. At the start of the First Punic War, Carthage held sway over economically vibrant territory, including the north coast of Africa, the southern coast of Spain and most islands in the western Mediterranean, in addition to the southern half of Sicily.

Rome and Carthage at the start of the Second Punic War

How would the West be different if Carthage had destroyed Rome?

I surmise the idea and practice of democratic government would be more alien to us. It would not be in our blood as much because the Roman outlook revered values of political representation and public discourse. Carthage concentrated on commerce and trade. Its government was more oligarchic than republican.  If Carthage had erased Rome from world history, it would not have continued to expand to the length Rome eventually did. Carthage didn’t have the same aggressive spirit as Rome. If Rome had been totally vanquished, barbarian tribes from Gaul and Germania would most likely have invaded either Spain or Italy, checking the northward advance of Carthage. This would have prohibited the enclosing, nurturing and protecting process of assimilation of Roman culture in the provinces from which we in the West spring. The imprint on us by Rome would never have been made. For instance, the system of Roman roads throughout the Empire would not have been built and this would have compromised the spread of Christianity. We would not have had the architectural influence which inspires so many of our state buildings.

The trigger that launched the First Punic War took form in the manner of an appeal.  A Greek city in Sicily appealed to Rome for military intervention in a war, and when Rome obliged, the two regionally dominant powers struggled the next 24 years for control of the island. Despite the powerful Carthaginian navy, Rome won. It induced the North African power to pay an almost crushing war fine. Taxes began to flow into Rome from Sicilian towns and villages. Rome built a strong navy and Sardinia and Corsica were added to Roman jurisdiction.

The First Punic War was a prelude to the much more antagonistic and widespread conflict between Rome and Carthage in the Second Punic War. It began in 218 BC, and many scholars believe during this war Rome might very well have succumbed to Carthage.

Doing the research for this post captured my attention, as I've long read books on Roman history as a hobby.  My next post will focus on the Second Punic War and how Rome was almost permanently brought to her knees.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Furniture finishing and antique restoration

If you like working with your hands to make things look good, you might like the topic.  If you like decorating interiors you might like the topic as fine furniture displayed in homes reflects taste, culture, wealth--- and is an essential to design.

I’m well acquainted with furniture re-finishing. More than that---a good finisher requires an intimate knowledge of the trade to do work exceptionally well. Now as an aside, most writing gurus advise bloggers to write about what they know. Tagged! I’m doing that now! For 15 years I re-finished, finished and did antique furniture restoration.

And I’m wondering.  How ought I to fashion the post into something useful and interesting to you readers?

I’ve always thought furniture finishing had lessons to teach not only about the workings of the trade but about life and how to live.

When spraying lacquer onto new kitchen cabinets, for instance, it’s important to maintain the gun at the same distance from the surface throughout the activity. This ensures even application.  What’s the life lesson? Be cool. Don’t make more work for yourself by creating drips you’ll need to sand off later. Be careful. Be a steady person.

When the job nears completion, human nature urges the re-finisher to speed up. It’s almost done. Hurry and finish.  Again, best to be cool.  Keep your head and do the work at a steady pace throughout.  Life lesson?  If you rush the chores you must do in your life, you’re more likely to make mistakes.

Now what we have here is a remarkably well constructed walnut table. As the finisher it’s your job to create a finish to enhance the table until its beauty shines.

You stain the wood. You shoot sanding sealer. You sand the sanding sealer. You apply applications of lacquer. One coat---two coats. Three coats if needed to fill the grain of the wood. Between each coat, it’s time to wet sand. You sand with your eyes constantly on the surface, evenly, often wiping off the wet with a rag so you can see, and being vigilant. You don’t want to sand through to the bottom layer of lacquer. Yet your goal means you sand the top layer until it’s completely erased. The bottom and top layers congeal into one surface of finish. Rub the table now with rag, oil and rotten-stone to produce the fine finish you want. Life lesson? To produce steadfast character, be patient and concentrate. The more you do, the better you do the job of self improvement.

You’ve never tried this before. But you have an instinct. If the white powder gets dashed over the pinewood of the hutch, it will color and leave traces of white over the piece in a pretty way. So you do it and the piece of furniture ends up on display in a gallery of fashionable design.

Life lesson? Trust instincts. They often reward. Follow them because they’re the most real parts about you.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The low tide of Chivalry

What transpires in the human search for the Holy Grail of the soul? I believe a journey ensues to follow the path of Chivalry. Chivalry respects women. It protects women from harassment. It never accosts women. It doesn’t hit women despite felt provocation. Chivalry defends women from men who abuse them.

I read social media complaints about the way men treat women. I’ve noticed black eyes on wives and heard the rants of despotic husbands in next door apartments. I’ve called the police. I’ve intervened to protect women from maltreatment. I hope a decent portion of other men have done so as well.

Still, I fulminate against the feeling in some women that being a man equals being a jerk. The vast majority of my men friends over the years have treated women with decent respect. I have to ask. How could women love so many men if most men are jerks? Most men must not be jerks. I surmise that a large enough minority of jerk men spoils the atmosphere between the genders. But they didn’t come from my circles. In my younger years in respect to women I was more interested in getting laid than anything else. I’ve hurt the feelings of a few women in my past by jumping from one bed to another. In my older years I’ve simmered down considerably, as age will bring about. But no matter how elderly I get, I am a man enamored of beautiful women. I thank attractive women out in public who welcome my smiles and appreciative glances.

So what does the Holy Grail have to do with Chivalry? The cup from which Christ and the apostles drank at the Last Supper represents in its originality the Holy Grail. It represents the way to eternal life and timeless beauty. It represents a beauty which doesn’t exist on earth, yet perfection and beauty that men long for in the depths of their being. I suspect I glimpsed a precognition of the Holy Grail when once I beheld a sky so redolent of nature’s beauty that I stood for long moments transfixed. It’s beauty representing every virtue. It’s solemnity representing every desire within to be good. And it deeply hurts because we realize we can never fully attain these virtues. We can only try and sometimes succeed but far too often fail.

In the Middle Ages, people celebrated in song and poetry the idealisms of Chivalry. The ideals imbued society. They were meant to order behavior and instill willingness for right conduct. These ideals for nobility, honor, justice and love may have had some influence, but moral behavior in reality was very seldom practiced. “A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century” by Barbara Tuchman reveals extraordinarily barbaric details about the age when Chivalry reigned as high ideal.

In our own time, Chivalry loses influence the more time passes. My 90 year old aunt told me that in the 1950s she would walk unafraid at night on Market Street in downtown San Francisco. Let me explain. A central value of Chivalry is to act with courtesy towards all high or low. I wonder. How much of the downward spiral---the school shootings---the general fear women have of men---the abuse of the elderly---how much of these trends started with the devaluation of courtesy?

I offer a tip. Don’t only give a homeless man or woman a dollar. Linger and chat. Don’t reply to an insult with insult. Be courteous because courtesy will build the foundation of a long lost sense of Chivalry.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Don't fear defending your boundaries.

How do you react to the idea of sweeping only your side of the street? If I have discarded paper cups, cigarette butts and tossed candy wrappers littering what’s within my boundaries, my side of the street, I’ll sweep it up. Or not. But it’s not the responsibility of someone else to barge into my territory and try to clean up my garbage. Besides, that would be an impossible venture. No one can change another person. If everybody doesn’t know that, everybody should.

Bridge spanning the borders of U.S.A. and Canada.

People with rapid speech retort defend their boundaries well. If someone flings a subtle insult, they fire back with a witty remark that disarms the verbal assailant. It’s like the ramparts which defend their boundaries have sharp, accurate and verbally loaded crossbows.

Boundaries erect borders between states and people. They exist to define lines of difference. They exist to separate. Boundaries cannot fully separate sometimes because circumstances disallow. Despite all efforts to contain illegal immigration, widespread impoverishment in Mexico guarantees movement across the United States border. In the waning decades of the Roman Empire, barbarian tribes peacefully settled within Roman boundaries because the legions lacked vitality to stop it.

Boundaries allocate areas of responsibility for individuals and nations. It’s not anyone’s prerogative to enter another’s personal border unless invited. But what if you’re driving a hundred miles an hour? I don’t care whether it’s your job to drive or not, I’ll tell you slow down. It’s not my job to paint your house or mow your lawn, but maybe it’s your job to help maintain community property values. Maybe it’s not. I think clear and distinct boundaries however fortify the chances for accord between people and nations. When an entity violates a definite boundary alarms signal. A response ensues. When an alarmed client questions an expert on how to do his job, more than likely he’s excessively worried.

Historical events often germinate into confusion and disagreement between nations over boundaries. Ecuador and Peru, with roots of conflict dating to early 16th century Inca history, fought two 20th century wars over boundary disputes. Undefined areas of demarcation and desire for valuable natural resources contributed to the outbreak of hostilities.

Some people violate personal boundaries as a matter of course. Maybe someone repeatedly steps on your toes. Maybe he deliberately bumps into you time and again. And maybe he’s bigger and stronger. A kid in grammar school was treating me like this. I eventually challenged him to fight. We fought in a green field with spectators watching. I hurt him as best I could, but he slugged until the fight in me was exhausted. I had defended my boundary with complete abandon, gained my opponent’s respect, and the maltreatment ceased.

Nazi Germany plunged Europe into war by sending its armies across the boundaries of numerous nations, beginning with Poland in 1939. Germany had an alliance with Japan. When Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, the United States declared war on Germany. I know it is obvious, but no less worth repeating. Respecting national and personal boundaries fosters peace between people and nations.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Escort the days with a Plan of Action.

You’re no longer employed. You’ve retired and most of the day’s hours belong to you. You don’t want your senior years to bore. You don’t want to atrophy. You want a vital, energetic life.

A Plan of Action organizes your day and allocates those hours into categories of tasks.

Without a Plan of Action, the hours don’t utilize time in any direction. Without goals to strive for in the senior years, motivation and vigor lose reasons to exist. Time as it were sits still. It’s not occupied.

Goals contain the aspirations of the heart. In retirement years, goals enliven. They spur on.

A Plan of Action lists the tasks that work towards attaining the goals.

It builds a structure that holds the day in place. It also charts how well you’re doing with following your Plan of Action.

My Plan is printed on 8.5 x 11 in letter size office paper. The Task column on the far left spells out eight activities from top to bottom. The row of days extends out to the right. Each activity or task has its days marked, and I’ve chosen to perform those activities on those days. It’s in black and white. I sheath the Plan into clear plastic and pin it over my desk.


Write Food Plan: To attain and maintain a healthy body weight.
Morning Prayer: To draw spiritual sustenance to live a better life.
12 Step Work: To enable me to be clean, sober and abstinent.
Study Spanish: To become a fluent Spanish speaker.
12 Step meetings: To enable me to be clean and abstinent.
Brain Exercise:                To build up memory and other mental attributes.
Blog work: To practice my writing skills.
Gym: To keep physically fit.

After I’ve completed a task, I put a black dot in the slot for that day and task. At the end of the day, I see a picture of how much effort I’ve put into the achievement of my goals. At the end of the week, I see by looking at how many black dots on the Plan of Action, how well I did on doing my allocated tasks. If I’m slipping on doing tasks, I can see that because I’m monitoring.

I find I go through phases. Some periods of time I’m energetic and willing to tackle my tasks with enthusiasm. It doesn’t take much effort or discipline. Other periods of time, my energy slows. I’m less willing to work my Plan of Action. It’s all kind of like a sailboat. When the wind blows, the sails catch the wind and move the boat forward effortlessly. But when the winds die, the sailboat must switch to an engine to move the boat forward. The engine is like personal strength and discipline necessary to progress when one feels in the doldrums. An engine is like when you need to stretch yourself.

The chart of a Plan of Action informs and guides on the journey towards goals.