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Posts Tagged ‘Rome

“Losing my religion”*…

Shifting religious affiliations in the U.S. have generated lots of comment (e.g., Friday’s New York Times: “The Christian Right Is in Decline, and It’s Taking America With It“). It’s worth taking a comprehensive look at the data on which those takes are based; there’s even more to see…

Seven in ten Americans (70%) identify as Christian, including more than four in ten who identify as white Christian and more than one-quarter who identify as Christian of color. Nearly one in four Americans (23%) are religiously unaffiliated, and 5% identify with non-Christian religions.

The most substantial cultural and political divides are between white Christians and Christians of color. More than four in ten Americans (44%) identify as white Christian, including white evangelical Protestants (14%), white mainline (non-evangelical) Protestants (16%), and white Catholics (12%), as well as small percentages who identify as Latter-day Saint (Mormon), Jehovah’s Witness, and Orthodox Christian. Christians of color include Hispanic Catholics (8%), Black Protestants (7%), Hispanic Protestants (4%), other Protestants of color (4%), and other Catholics of color (2%). The rest of religiously affiliated Americans belong to non-Christian groups, including 1% who are Jewish, 1% Muslim, 1% Buddhist, 0.5% Hindu, and 1% who identify with other religions. Religiously unaffiliated Americans comprise those who do not claim any particular religious affiliation (17%) and those who identify as atheist (3%) or agnostic (3%).

Over the last few decades, the proportion of the U.S. population that is white Christian has declined by nearly one-third. As recently as 1996, almost two-thirds of Americans (65%) identified as white and Christian. By 2006, that had declined to 54%, and by 2017 it was down to 43%. The proportion of white Christians hit a low point in 2018, at 42%, and rebounded slightly in 2019 and 2020, to 44%. That tick upward indicates the decline is slowing from its pace of losing roughly 11% per decade.

The slight increase in white Christians between 2018 and 2020 was driven primarily by an uptick in the proportion of white mainline (non-evangelical) Protestants and a stabilization in the proportion of white Catholics. Since 2007, white mainline (non-evangelical) Protestants have declined from 19% of the population to a low of 13% in 2016, but the last three years have seen small but steady increases, up to 16% in 2020. White Catholics have also declined from a high point of 16% of the population in 2008, and their low point of 11% occurred in 2018. It is unclear if the bump back up to 12% in 2020 indicates a new trend.

Since 2006, white evangelical Protestants have experienced the most precipitous drop in affiliation, shrinking from 23% of Americans in 2006 to 14% in 2020. That proportion has generally held steady since 2017 (15% in 2017, 2018, and 2019).

Disaffiliating white Christians have fueled the growth of the religiously unaffiliated during this period. Only 16% of Americans reported being religiously unaffiliated in 2007; this proportion rose to 19% by 2012, and then gained roughly a percentage point each year from 2012 to 2017. Reflecting the patterns above, the proportion of religiously unaffiliated Americans hit a high point of 26% in 2018 but has since slightly declined, to 23% in 2020.

The increase in proportion of religiously unaffiliated Americans has occurred across all age groups but has been most pronounced among young Americans. In 1986, only 10% of those ages 18–29 identified as religiously unaffiliated. In 2016, that number had increased to 38%, and declined slightly in 2020, to 36%.

Americans ages 18–29 are the most religiously diverse age group. Although a majority (54%) are Christian, only 28% are white Christians (including 12% who are white mainline Protestants, 8% who are white Catholics, and 7% who are white evangelical Protestants), while 26% are Christians of color (including 9% who are Hispanic Catholics, 5% who are Hispanic Protestants, 5% who are Black Protestants, 2% who are multiracial Christians, 2% who are AAPI Christians, and 1% who are Native American Christians). More than one-third of young Americans (36%) are religiously unaffiliated, and the remainder are Jewish (2%), Muslim (2%), Buddhist (1%), Hindu (1%), or another religion (1%).

Americans ages 65 and older are the only group whose religious profile has changed significantly since 2013. Among Americans 65 and older, the proportion of white evangelical Protestants dropped from 26% in 2013 to 22% in 2020, and the proportion of white Catholics dropped from 18% in 2013 to 15% in 2020. By contrast, the proportion of religiously unaffiliated seniors increased from 11% in 2013 to 14% in 2020.

White evangelical Protestants are the oldest religious group in the U.S., with a median age of 56, compared to the median age in the country of 47. White Catholics and Unitarian Universalists have median ages of 54 and 53 years old, respectively. Black Protestants and white mainline Protestants have a median age of 50. All other groups have median ages below 50: Jehovah’s Witnesses (49), Jewish Americans (48), Latter-day Saints (47), Orthodox Christians (42), Hispanic Catholics (42), Hispanic Protestants (39), religiously unaffiliated people (38), Buddhists (36), Hindus (36), and Muslims (33). In the youngest groups, one-third of Hindu (33%) and Buddhist (34%) Americans and 42% of Muslim Americans are in the 18–29 age category.

Delving into the data of devotion: “The American Religious Landscape in 2020.

* R.E.M.

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As we ponder piety, we might send evangelical birthday greetings to Bardaisan; he was born on this date in 154. A scientist, scholar, astrologer, philosopher, hymnographer, and poet, he was the first known Syriac literary author. A key figure among the Gnostics, he founded the Bardaisanites and was central to the Christianization of Rome (indeed, he is said to have converted prince Abgar IX).

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“In a world of diminishing mystery, the unknown persists”*…

But what is it for?…

In the first episode of Buck Rogers, the 1980s television series about an astronaut from the present marooned in the 25th century, our hero visits a museum of the future. A staff member brandishes a mid-20th-century hair dryer. “Early hand laser,” he opines. As an observation of how common knowledge gets lost over time, it’s both funny and poignant. Because our museums also stock items from the past that completely baffle the experts.

Few are as intriguing as the hundred or so Roman dodecahedrons that we have found… In 1739, a strange, twelve-sided hollow object from Roman times was discovered in England. Since then, more than a hundred dodecahedrons have been unearthed.. We know next to nothing about these mysterious objects — so little, in fact, that the various theories about their meaning and function are themselves a source of entertainment.

So, what do we know?

Roman dodecahedrons — or more properly called Gallo-Roman dodecahedrons — are twelve-sided hollow objects, each side pentagonal in shape and almost always contain a hole. The outer edges generally feature rounded protrusions.

Most of the objects are made from bronze, but some are in stone and don’t have holes or knobs. The dodecahedrons are often fist-sized yet can vary in height from 4 to 11 cm (about 1.5 to 4.5 in). The size of the holes also varies, from 6 to 40 mm (0.2 to 1.5 in). Two opposing holes typically are of differing sizes.

Objects of this type were unknown until the first one was found in 1739 in Aston, Hertfordshire. In all, 116 have been dug up from sites as far apart as northern England and Hungary. But most have been found in Gaul, particularly in the Rhine basin, in what is now Switzerland, eastern France, southern Germany, and the Low Countries. Some were found in coin hoards, indicating their owners considered them valuable. Most can be dated to the 2nd and 3rd century AD.

No mention of the dodecahedrons from Roman times has survived. Any theory as to their function is based solely on speculation. Some suggestions:

• A specific type of dice for a game since lost to history. 

• A magical object, possibly from the Celtic religion. A similar small, hollow object with protrusions was recovered from Pompeii in a box with either jewellery or items for magic.

• A toy for children.

• A weight for fishing nets.

• The head of a chieftain’s scepter. 

• A kind of musical instrument. 

• A tool to estimate distances and survey land, especially for military purposes.

• An instrument to estimate the size of and distance to objects on the battlefield for the benefit of the artillery.

• A device for detecting counterfeit coins.

• A calendar for determining the spring and autumn equinoxes and/or the optimal date for sowing wheat.

• A candle holder. (Wax residue was found in one or two of the objects recovered.)

• A connector for metal or wooden poles. 

• A knitting tool specifically for gloves. (That would explain why no dodecahedrons were found in the warmer regions of the Empire.)

• A gauge to calibrate water pipes.

• A base for eagle standards. (Each Roman legion carried a symbolic bird on a staff into battle.) 

• An astrological device used for fortune-telling. (Inscribed on a dodecahedron found in Geneva in 1982 were the Latin names for the 12 signs of the zodiac.) 

The geographic spread of the dodecahedrons we know of is particular: they were all found in territories administered by Rome, inhabited by Celts. That enhances the theory that they were specific to Gallo-Roman culture, which emerged from the contact between the Celtic peoples of Gaul and their Roman conquerors.

Intriguingly, archaeologists in the 1960s have found similar objects along the Maritime Silk Road in Southeast Asia, except smaller and made of gold. They do not appear to predate the Gallo-Roman artefacts and may be evidence of Roman influence on the ancient Indochinese kingdom of Funan…

The first of many was unearthed almost three centuries ago, and we still don’t know what they were for: “Mysterious dodecahedrons of the Roman Empire.”

* Jhumpa Lahiri

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As we ponder the puzzle, we might send compressed birthday greetings to Aaron “Bunny” Lapin; he was born on this date in 1914.  In 1948, Lapin invented Reddi-Wip, the pioneering whipped cream dessert topping dispensed from a spray can.   First sold by milkmen in St. Louis, the product rode the post-World War Two convenience craze to national success; in 1998, it was named by Time one of the century’s “100 great consumer items”– along with the pop-top can and Spam.  Lapin became known as the Whipped Cream King; but his legacy is broader:  in 1955, he patented a special valve to control the flow of Reddi-Wip from the can, and formed The Clayton Corporation to manufacture it.  Reddi-Wip is now a Con-Agra brand; but Clayton goes strong, now making industrial valves, closures, caulk, adhesives and foamed plastic products (like insulation and cushioning materials).

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“Before the monopoly should be permitted, there must be reason to believe it will do some good – for society, and not just for monopoly holders”*…

From the ever-illuminating Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller), eagle-eyed sentinel against exploitative monopolies…

I write a lot about big tech, but today’s issue is about something so basic and fundamental we literally don’t think about it. Salt. Salt mining is one of humanities’ oldest industries, with wars fought over this commodity. Cities like Venice monopolized the salt trade in the middle ages for geopolitical reasons, and the British tried to block colonists from access to salt during the American Revolution to prevent their ability to preserve food. 

Today salt is still used in everything from chemicals to food preservation. Its main use is deicing our roads, because salt from mines across North America, and shipped in from overseas, makes it possible to drive in all sorts of weather. Salt saves lives, stops car accidents, and makes our economy run. 

And in the U.S. and Canada, salt mining is being monopolized, as we speak…

In the winter, when it’s really cold and snowy, what Americans need is not a competitive semiconductor industry or better app stores. They need salt. And not the kind of salt that flavors our food, but the kind that melts snow and ice. If we don’t have salt, no one can drive, because salt is what keeps our roads manageable. Without salt, trucks can’t deliver supplies, people can’t get to stores or work, and the economy comes to a standstill. 

And people die. A lot of them.

Every year, over 1300 people die in car accidents due to snowy, slushy, or icy pavement, with another 117,000 injured. Snowy weather is also a huge waste of time and money, costing roughly $500M a day, and 544 million vehicle-hours a year of delay. Road salt doesn’t eliminate this problem entirely, but it comes close, reducing collisions by up to 88% and injuries by 85%. Studies show that deicing salt pays for itself within the first 25 minutes after it is spread. Roughly 40% of domestic salt, produced largely from mining, is used not for food or chemicals, but for deicing. It’s a major expense for cities and states, and commercial customers like shopping malls. And because weather leads to demand spikes, and America tends to operate in just-in-time style inventory models instead of managing risk by storing surpluses of critical commodities, there are often shortages of road salt precisely when everyone needs it most.

And that’s why I paid attention when ex-convict and junk bond king Michael Milken’s alleged private equity firm, Stone Canyon, bought two major salt producers over the last year. Early in 2020, Stone Canyon acquired Kissner, a producer of deicing salt, private label consumer salt, and salt-related chemicals. Then, nine months later, Stone Canyon bought Morton’s Salt, the largest producer in the world, for $3.2 billion, and it is now awaiting antitrust approval. Kissner is itself a roll-up of the salt industry, having bought Central Salt and Lion Salt and turned itself from a small Ontario-based regional distributor of ice melt into one of the giants of the industry. So Stone Canyon is overseeing a roll-up of roll-ups.

This series of mergers should terrify cities across the upper Midwest, who have to buy salt in unpredictable spot markets and often deal with shortages when the weather gets bad. Minnesota, for instance, bought roughly 1.5 million tons of salt for the 2020 season. Salt is a regional business, it’s just not economical to move extremely bulky road salt over land more than 150 miles, so while port cities can get salt from abroad in ocean vessels, and salt can be barged up the Mississippi river, much of the upper Midwest and Canada has to buy local. (It doesn’t help that America’s rail system is monopolized.)…

The salt industry is an oligopoly, and the number of suppliers to Governments in regions of the Great Lakes markets will shrink from 4 to 3 and in some geographies from 3 suppliers to 2. There are two consequences of this consolidation of salt production. The first is that prices will go up, and municipal budgets will be stretched. 

Salt is sold in blind bidding processes. Governments put out tender offers, and then suppliers bid. When bidding, suppliers will set prices by considering the supply levels among competitors. If there are only two competitors in a market and one of them has committed their salt production for the year, then the remaining one is a monopolist who can just set the price. This is particularly true for a bunch of Midwestern states, like Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

But the much more serious problem is that of shortages. The industry manages demand spikes from weather not by having spare production capacity or lots of storage, but by overpromising salt deliveries. The rule of thumb is that one out of every five years will see a mild winter with few sales, three out of five will be snowy but normal, and one out of five will involve extreme weather and much higher demand. Of course, rules of thumb have gone out of the window now that there’s more extreme weather, which means demand drops and spikes will be more common. 

One of the best ways of winning market share is to bid low, and then if demand is high, to simply not deliver to Commercial customers (Landscapers that service residential and commercial customers are almost always shafted first, meaning driveways and sidewalks go unsalted.) There are penalties in contracts for doing this to government customers, but when the snow hits, it doesn’t matter and the producers often pay the penalties if they are even enforced by the government entities. All customers need the salt when it snows, and a contract dispute doesn’t get in the way. 

It’s quite possible, and indeed likely, that shortages will worsen. Without competition, it will be much harder to go to a different supplier, because there won’t be any other suppliers. And private equity takeovers in general are operational nightmares, which means that it’s likely Kissner and Morton will have problems with production and distribution purely because mergers tend not to work out. 

There’s one final piece of the problem. Because private equity firms have too much money and not enough acquisition targets, prices for mid-market industrial companies are really high. So Stone Canyon almost certainly overpaid for both Kissner and Morton’s. To justify its investment, Stone Canyon is going to have to cut costs and reduce capital spending, which will harm production, because salt mining needs a lot of investment. Then it will likely have to raise prices. In other words, if the merger goes through, the financial pressure of paying such rich prices for salt firms will force significant price hikes, and potentially shortages in the market… 

A private-equity salt roll-up suggests that we’re in for shortages and price spikes: “How a Salt Monopoly Could Spike Car Accidents in the Midwest,” eminently worth reading in full.

For other reasons to be paying attention to salt: “How America got addicted to road salt — and why it’s become a problem.”

* Lawrence Lessig

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As we study saline substitutions, we might recall that it was on this date in 37 CE, following the death of Tiberius, that the Roman Senate annulled Tiberius’ will and confirmed Caligula, his grandnephew, the third Roman emperor.  (Tiberius had willed that the reign should be shared by his nephew [and adopted son] Germanicus and Germanicus’ son, Caligula.)

While he has been remembered as the poster boy for profligacy, Caligula (“Little Boots”) is generally agreed to have been a temperate ruler through the first six months of his reign.  His excesses after that– cruelty, extravagance, sexual perversity– are “known” to us via sources increasingly called into question.

Still, historians agree that Caligula did work hard to increase the unconstrained personal power of the emperor at the expense of the countervailing Principate; and he oversaw the construction of notoriously luxurious dwellings for himself.  In 41 CE, members of the Roman Senate and of Caligula’s household attempted a coup to restore the Republic.  They enlisted the Praetorian Guard, who killed Caligula– the first Roman Emperor to be assassinated (Julius Caesar was assassinated, but was Dictator, not Emperor).  In the event, the Praetorians thwarted the Republican dream by appointing (and supporting) Caligula’s uncle Claudius the next Emperor.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 18, 2021 at 1:01 am

“Remedies are more tardy in their operations than diseases… it is easier to crush men’s spirits and their enthusiasm than to revive them”*…

 

 

It is time to bring Tacitus and the vibrant intellectual tradition that he inspired out of the shadows. Indeed, in an era in which the recrudescence of great-power rivalry has increasingly taken on ideological undertones, the Roman statesman’s rich commentary on the grim and stultifying nature of autocratic rule is more timely now than ever. Indeed, amid an intensifying battle over competing systems of government, the raw accusatory power that quietly ripples through Tacitus’ oeuvre constitutes a formidable force in liberal democracy’s intellectual arsenal.

Having served under several emperors, eventually reaching the rank of consul under Nerva, the Roman scholar-practitioner’s reflections serve not only as a lugubrious reminder of the gloom of a life shorn of genuine freedom but also as a warning against succumbing to complacency in the face of democratic corrosion within our own societies.

Of all the Roman historians, Tacitus offers the clearest understanding of how moral resignation forms the dank loam within which tyranny takes root…

Despite Tacitus’ towering moral and intellectual influence over the centuries, his works are only rarely consulted by contemporary students of authoritarianism; we should look again: “Thrones Wreathed in Shadow: Tacitus and the Psychology of Authoritarianism.”

* “Remedies are more tardy in their operations than diseases, and as bodies slowly increase, but quickly perish, so it is easier to crush men’s spirits and their enthusiasm than to revive them; indeed there comes over us an attachment to the very enforced inactivity, and the idleness hated at first is finally loved.”   — Publius Cornelius Tacitus, The Life of Cnaeus Julius Agricola

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As we learn from history, we might that it was on this date in 587 BCE that king Nebuchadnezzar II‘s  siege of Jerusalem ended in his victory, with the destruction of the Temple of Solomon (and much of the rest of the city).

Following an earlier siege (1597 BCE), the Neo-Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar had installed Zedekiah as vassal king of Judah.  But Zedekiah revolted against Babylon, and entered into an alliance with Pharaoh Hophra, the king of Egypt… to which Nebuchadnezzar responded by invading Judah again.

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Nebuchadnezzar camps outside Jerusalem. The citizens starve and are reduced to cannibalism. (Petrus Comestor‘s “Bible Historiale”), 1372

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“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced”*…

 

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Police advance through a cloud of tear gas on Aug. 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Mo.

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson called for a “War on Crime,” a declaration that ushered in a new era of American law enforcement. Johnson’s turn toward crime control as a federal priority remains his most enduring legacy—even more than the Great Society programs that scholars often herald as his greatest achievement—and continues to shape what is arguably the most important social crisis the United States now faces.

Until recently, the devastating outcomes of the War on Crime that Johnson began had gone relatively unnoticed. Then, last August, during the series of demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo., images of law-enforcement authorities drawing M-4 carbine rifles and dropping tear gas bombs on protestors and civilians alike shocked much of the American public. Ferguson looked like a war zone. Many commentators attributed this sight to the ongoing technology transfers from the defense sector to local law-enforcement authorities, which began during the War on Drugs and escalated in the climate of the War on Terror.

But the source of those armored cars is much older than that. It was the Law Enforcement Assistance Act that Johnson presented to Congress on March 8, 1965, that first established a direct role for the federal government in local police operations, court systems, and state prisons. Even though the Voting Rights Act is considered the major policy victory of that year, Johnson himself hoped that 1965 would be remembered not as the apex of American liberal reform, but rather as “the year when this country began a thorough, intelligent, and effective war against crime”…

As we witness (again) the deploying of martial materiel against citizens the vast majority of whom are peacefully exercising their constitutional rights to express all-too-understandable frustration and anger, we’d be wise to try to learn from our history and correct our mistakes: “Why We Should Reconsider the War on Crime.”

(TotH to EWW)

* James Baldwin

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As we pray for ploughshares, we might recall that it was on this date in 455 that the Vandals entered Rome, which they plundered for the next two weeks.  It was, as sackings went (this was Rome’s third, of four altogether), relatively “light”:  while the Vandals (who had destroyed all of Rome’s aqueducts on their approach) looted Roman treasure and sold many Romans into slavery, their leader Genseric acceded to the pleas of Pope Leo that the Vandals refrain from the wholesale slaughter of Rome’s population and the destruction of the Eternal City’s historic buildings.

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Genseric sacking Rome, by Karl Briullov

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