The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Thursday, September 23, 2004

NOTHING, OR THE TROUBLES OF THE ROMANS: The trouble with having nothing to say, of course, is not simply that I’ve really nothing that I want to write about or comment on, but that I am expending an extraordinary amount of time and effort on this dry patch. One would think that since I’ve nothing I want to say then I would simply stop writing now and go on to other things, but I’ve started now and the momentum is building and so having gone down the road this far I am more or less committed here whether or not I’d like to be. Just the breaks of the game, I suppose.

This leads inevitably, I think, to the concept of zero. Think about it for a minute. Well, actually don’t think about that; think about this: the Romans did not have a zero. In fact, they didn’t even have numbers; they had capital letters and used them for numbers, though to be fair to the Romans, they didn’t have lower case letters either, for that matter. So your average Roman had to use whatever was available. This is the sort of thing that happens when you spend your free time acquiring all the available beachfront property on the Mediterranean; you run into some smart real estate broker and before you know what you’re agreeing to you’ve signed on the dotted line and have a whopping big mortgage plus the wife, the 2.7 kids, the dog, and the car. And all because you were too lazy to listen to Mrs. Lindermann explain how to do percentages and long division in seventh grade math class. It’s no wonder that the Roman Empire fell, what with those guys trying to figure out whether MIX egg yolks is part of a recipe for lemon meringue pie or a fancy way of saying 1,009 egg yolks. One hopes for the former, because I wouldn’t know what to do with that many egg yolks; there is, after all, only so much lemon meringue pie that any one person can eat.

There is, of course, a certain snob appeal to using Roman numerals. For example, take a look at the Super Bowl. This is an event so constipated on its own importance that it practically begs for a Roman numeral. We’re up to the XXX’s now, and you have to pity the poor pervert who turns on his television on Super Bowl Sunday hoping to catch a good porno flick only to have a usually dull football game start instead; this year, of course, being a slight exception to the general rule.

Banks and other portentous financial institutions also like having Roman numerals inscribed on their buildings. They are there, I think, to advertise the financial solidity of the institutions housed within and to assure depositors and investors that there is at least one set of numbers on the premises that the accountants can’t finagle. This has a calming effect on many people, I’m told, and helps put them to sleep, so that they can be fleeced more easily. The numbers add a degree of pomposity that bankers seem to like a great deal. I am not sure why this should be the case, only that it is; I generally ascribe such quirks to a difficult adolescence, but I may be wrong about that.

My, my, my, I seem to have drifted into writing about something, after all. Well, that’s always a good thing, I guess; content clearly has its place in the overall scheme of things. I do seem to have gotten away from the zero, which is what I didn’t want to write about in the first place when I started down this somewhat winding path. There a lot of things one can say about the zero, but at the moment I don’t want to say them. What I really want to do now is stop writing, and you know what, I think that’s exactly what I’m going to do.


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