Also ...

I have a great idea for collection and recycling of valuable space junk that could make someone a mint. Anyone wanna spot me a few mil for research?


Please ... ?

The Best Thing I've Heard All Week ...

Ze Frank said, "You kill more terrorists with honey than you do with vinegar."

Good stuff.

From the show with Ze Frank. Always incredible. Always pertinent.


When in Rome ...

This was in this weekend's NYT. I couldn't find a link (read: didn't try), so I figured I'd post the whole thing. For those of us who already know our history and have an opinion on the current state of affairs, this is an affirmation. For the rest of you, this will be too long, boring, and not contain nearly enough of whatever it is that compels you to watch Prison Break.
In either case, enjoy!

Pirates of the Mediterranean

Kintbury, England

IN the autumn of 68 B.C. the world's only military superpower was dealt
a profound psychological blow by a daring terrorist attack on its very
heart. Rome's port at Ostia was set on fire, the consular war fleet
destroyed, and two prominent senators, together with their bodyguards
and staff, kidnapped.

The incident, dramatic though it was, has not attracted much attention

from modern historians. But history is mutable. An event that was merely
a footnote five years ago has now, in our post-9/11 world, assumed a
fresh and ominous significance. For in the panicky aftermath of the
attack, the Roman people made decisions that set them on the path to the
destruction of their Constitution, their democracy and their liberty.
One cannot help wondering if history is repeating itself.

Consider the parallels. The perpetrators of this spectacular assault

were not in the pay of any foreign power: no nation would have dared to
attack Rome so provocatively. They were, rather, the disaffected of the
earth: "The ruined men of all nations," in the words of the great
19th-century German historian Theodor Mommsen, "a piratical state with a
peculiar esprit de corps."

Like Al Qaeda, these pirates were loosely organized, but able to spread

a disproportionate amount of fear among citizens who had believed
themselves immune from attack. To quote Mommsen again: "The Latin
husbandman, the traveler on the Appian highway, the genteel bathing
visitor at the terrestrial paradise of Baiae were no longer secure of
their property or their life for a single moment."

What was to be done? Over the preceding centuries, the Constitution of

ancient Rome had developed an intricate series of checks and balances
intended to prevent the concentration of power in the hands of a single
individual. The consulship, elected annually, was jointly held by two
men. Military commands were of limited duration and subject to regular
renewal. Ordinary citizens were accustomed to a remarkable degree of
liberty: the cry of "Civis Romanus sum" -- "I am a Roman citizen" -- was
a guarantee of safety throughout the world.

But such was the panic that ensued after Ostia that the people were

willing to compromise these rights. The greatest soldier in Rome, the
38-year-old Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (better known to posterity as Pompey
the Great) arranged for a lieutenant of his, the tribune Aulus Gabinius,
to rise in the Roman Forum and propose an astonishing new law.

"Pompey was to be given not only the supreme naval command but what

amounted in fact to an absolute authority and uncontrolled power over
everyone," the Greek historian Plutarch wrote. "There were not many
places in the Roman world that were not included within these limits."

Pompey eventually received almost the entire contents of the Roman

Treasury -- 144 million sesterces -- to pay for his "war on terror,"
which included building a fleet of 500 ships and raising an army of
120,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry. Such an accumulation of power was
unprecedented, and there was literally a riot in the Senate when the
bill was debated.

Nevertheless, at a tumultuous mass meeting in the center of Rome,

Pompey's opponents were cowed into submission, the Lex Gabinia passed
(illegally), and he was given his power. In the end, once he put to sea,
it took less than three months to sweep the pirates from the entire
Mediterranean. Even allowing for Pompey's genius as a military
strategist, the suspicion arises that if the pirates could be defeated
so swiftly, they could hardly have been such a grievous threat in the
first place.

But it was too late to raise such questions. By the oldest trick in the

political book -- the whipping up of a panic, in which any dissenting
voice could be dismissed as "soft" or even "traitorous" -- powers had
been ceded by the people that would never be returned. Pompey stayed in
the Middle East for six years, establishing puppet regimes throughout
the region, and turning himself into the richest man in the empire.

Those of us who are not Americans can only look on in wonder at the

similar ease with which the ancient rights and liberties of the
individual are being surrendered in the United States in the wake of
9/11. The vote by the Senate on Thursday to suspend the right of habeas
corpus for terrorism detainees, denying them their right to challenge
their detention in court; the careful wording about torture, which
forbids only the inducement of "serious" physical and mental suffering
to obtain information; the admissibility of evidence obtained in the
United States without a search warrant; the licensing of the president
to declare a legal resident of the United States an enemy combatant --
all this represents an historic shift in the balance of power between
the citizen and the executive.

An intelligent, skeptical American would no doubt scoff at the thought

that what has happened since 9/11 could presage the destruction of a
centuries-old constitution; but then, I suppose, an intelligent,
skeptical Roman in 68 B.C. might well have done the same.

In truth, however, the Lex Gabinia was the beginning of the end of the

Roman republic. It set a precedent. Less than a decade later, Julius
Caesar -- the only man, according to Plutarch, who spoke out in favor of
Pompey's special command during the Senate debate -- was awarded
similar, extended military sovereignty in Gaul. Previously, the state,
through the Senate, largely had direction of its armed forces; now the
armed forces began to assume direction of the state.

It also brought a flood of money into an electoral system that had been

designed for a simpler, non-imperial era. Caesar, like Pompey, with all
the resources of Gaul at his disposal, became immensely wealthy, and
used his treasure to fund his own political faction. Henceforth, the
result of elections was determined largely by which candidate had the
most money to bribe the electorate. In 49 B.C., the system collapsed
completely, Caesar crossed the Rubicon -- and the rest, as they say, is
ancient history.

It may be that the Roman republic was doomed in any case. But the

disproportionate reaction to the raid on Ostia unquestionably hastened
the process, weakening the restraints on military adventurism and
corrupting the political process. It was to be more than 1,800 years
before anything remotely comparable to Rome's democracy -- imperfect
though it was -- rose again.

The Lex Gabinia was a classic illustration of the law of unintended

consequences: it fatally subverted the institution it was supposed to
protect. Let us hope that vote in the United States Senate does not have
the same result.

Robert Harris is the author, most recently, of "Imperium: A Novel of
Ancient Rome."