“I was in Shanghai recently, where Twitter is blocked, and yet there were ads and billboards across town with hashtags on them.” – Dick Costolo

The Bund is a 1.6 km riverside promenade in Shanghai, along the Huangpu River (you might know the Huangpu due to Chinese farmers dropping dead pigs in it in 2013 – Careful, this article does actually show pictures of dead pigs). The Bund is pretty famous for it’s view of the Pudong (east side of Shanghai) skyline.

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What fewer people seem interested in photographing are the buildings along the other side of the promenade. To be fair, most of them are banks, with heavily western-influenced façades. But I want to talk about this one:

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This is the Jardine Matheson building. Pretty unassuming, right? You can read more about the multi-billion dollar conglomerate here, but I won’t give you the whole history in one post. What you need to know about Jardine Matheson is that they started their trade business in Shanghai by smuggling a few commodities like tea and cotton. Oh, and also opium.

That’s right, opium. The stuff heroin is made of. (To be fair there are plenty of valid, medicinal uses for synthetic opioids, but I doubt the good Misters William Jardine and James Matheson were the Robin Hoods of the Opium Trade.)

The University of Edinburgh grads (where my brother studies, incidentally) quickly diversified their business, which, given that opium smuggling does generate a lot of untaxed capital, isn’t all that surprising.

Anyway I’m not condemning the conglomerate or even the founders: I just felt like sharing a little history. The message here is also NOT “just sell opium, guys.” Your respective governments WILL catch you, and I don’t want you saying “Samwise told me to!”

Though I guess if you could go back in time, smuggling opium could eventually get you a company worth almost $60 billion.

If you need a reminder of the scale of 1 billion dollars, see this Tumblr post)

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“I’m sure when they partied when Rome was burning, that was a really great party.” -Adam McKay

(Author’s Note: Due to this post I have added a new Category, History Shmistory, now found on the Navigating the Blog page.)

We’ve all heard the phrase “When in Rome…” which is short for “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” In American culture, this quote is generally used to excuse a lavish or indulgent act, like drinking before noon or deciding to take the day off from work. (Is that also the reason government buildings tend to mimic Roman architecture?)

Anyway, Ancient Rome was a place of great beauty, where the rich lounged and drank wine under the light breeze from their slaves’ palm-leaf-fanning. These slaves also probably curtsied meekly, because otherwise what’s the point? Rome was the height of civilization and culture.

But they also made slaves fight to the death, and ate until they threw up, because, you know, why not? So, as beautiful as Ancient Rome was, it was also a pretty weird place.

You may remember that last Thursday I had an encounter with my new favorite tool, the Strigil (thank you Chris), which is a hand-held, curved piece of metal used to scrape off dirt and sweat after applying perfumed oils. This seems pretty weird to us, but to be fair they didn’t really use soap so at least they came up with some sort of cleansing process. Also, the strigil is only the tip of the weird Roman iceberg.

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I could use a good strigil-ing.

Another commonly known fact about Ancient Romans is maybe how the color purple was considered royal, making it treason for anyone but the Emperor of Rome to wear all-purple clothing. Or maybe how left-handed people were considered unlucky, which also happens to be the origin of the word sinister.

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Little known fact: Lil’ Wayne is Roman royalty.

You might even remember the Roman obsession with phalluses, if you had a particularly liberal history teacher in High School. The phallus was considered a lucky object, which seems to have been a good choice seeing as men have controlled society for the past several thousand years. You may not have known, though, that sculpted phalluses were worn as charms and necklaces.

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Romans let it all hang out.

Another interesting tidbit: Roman bathhouses were a social environment. This may not seem weird at first, but just imagine sitting next to someone else who is actively using the toilet and having a conversation with them. This obviously didn’t last, and I’m starting to think Rome may have actually fell out of sheer awkwardness.

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Guys today don’t even make eye contact at the urinal.

And then there’s Caligula.

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Side Note: This picture is accurate. Greek and Roman sculptures were actually painted to be life-like, back in their day. Which probably would have made for the creepiest walk around the city, like, ever.

Emperor Caligula, or Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, was Emperor of Rome from 37 AD to 41 AD. He was also the first Roman Emperor to be assassinated, meaning he lasted a whopping 4 years before someone decided he was just too freaking weird to continue living.

Did I mention he was crazy? Aside from frequently dressing up in what was considered women’s clothing, which to be fair isn’t all that deserving of death, he was known for his “cruelty, sadism, extravagance, and intense sexual perversity, presenting him as an insane tyrant.” Yes, I just quoted the same Wikipedia article I linked to two paragraphs ago. I’m that kind of person. But in my defense it’s a good Wikipedia article, and I highly suggest reading it. Especially the section on “Scandals.”

Like most people who go mad with power, Emperor Caligula did not come to a pleasant end, and there was much rejoicing once they sorted out who would be Emperor next. But I’m not a Caligula fan simply because he had a Julius Caesar-esque death. I also appreciate that he really loved his horse.

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It’s recorded that Incitatus, Emperor Caligula’s favorite horse, was living in a stable made of marble and ate out of a manger made of Ivory. Also, Caligula also supposedly had plans to make his steed a Consul, otherwise known as the highest elected office of the Roman empire. Which is usually either regarded as plain insanity or a clever joke about how a horse could do a Senator’s job. Or maybe both.

So, thank you Ancient Romans. Thank you Emperor Caligula. You did more than your part in making history a fun thing to learn about. I appreciate you all dearly.

“The idea of capitalism is not just success but also the failure that allows success to happen.” -P. J. O’Rourke

You may have seen in the news recently that there’s been some outrage at the new developments around the 9/11 Memorial building. To me, this sounded pretty similar to back in 200? when victim’s families were outraged that a non-affiliated group wanted to build a mosque in the area nearby. I was only a little surprised that the mosque was ordered not to be built, but I do understand that prejudice is hard to argue against in the face of a tragedy.
It has, however, been more than a decade and while I don’t expect that we should forget or forgive the tragedy, I can’t imagine that any addition to the Memorial would be that offens-
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Oh wait, s***, seriously?
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… seriously?
Okaaaay. Okay. I take that back.
Wow, that’s really offensive. Like super-duper offensive. Like, I don’t support the idea that a person being offended is a valid reason that we have to change things, but holy wah, that makes me cringe.
Just…. Just…. What?
What are you going to sell? At best, I guess it’ll be models of the original twin towers like the picture above. But I mean that’s the only thing I can think of that would be okay.
But that got me thinking: How bad could it be? What would be the worst thing to sell?
(Jenga©. Jenga would be the worst thing to sell. Yeah, I’m sorry about that.)
Anyway, I could make terrible jokes for a while at this point, because I’m a terrible person. But even I have limits, so I’ll stop there. But this whole “9/11 Memorial Gift Shop” thing is, in my opinion, horribly insensitive at best. So I’ll leave you with a scathing Haiku.
Our capitalism
Is a weed, growing wherever
Our blood in the soil
Scathing.

“A piece of spaghetti or a military unit can only be led from the front end.” -George S. Patton

Happy Memorial Day!

Since this is a holiday, I figured I’d use this time to update you on the blog. Not to Clear the Air will continue it’s meandering course and continue to update every weekday, don’t you worry (I know some of you were worried.)

I’m introducing a couple of new elements, the first of which is the “Navigating the Blog” page (found at the top of my blog, next to “Home” and “All about the Blogger.”) This page explains the categories which my posts have been and will continue to be sorted into, and hopefully help you, the reader, find similar posts to the ones you like. You can visit the “Navigating the Blog” page at any time and click the name of the category, which will link through to all the posts in that category. The categories themselves are also found on the right side of the site if you’re reading this on a desktop.

The second element has already been kind of introduced, which is the “Challenge” category of posts. I am planning on doing a challenge post every thursday, and providing prompt for the next week’s challenge at the same time. (This coming Thursday won’t be a challenge, but I’ll give you a prompt for the next week.) Please, please, please respond to my prompts for challenges, because otherwise it’s kind of a useless effort. Kind of like the rest of the blog. Also, you have ideas for challenges, just leave me a comment either on WordPress or Facebook or Twitter. I will find it.

Anyway, that’s all I have for the update.

Oh, and in the spirit of Memorial Day I have some military funnies. If you’re like me, Memorial Day is excellent because you get a three day weekend. Oh, and you support the troops and stuff, because it’s unpatriotic not to.

(Click the photo to get to a funny Cracked.com article. What? Did you expect me to work on a three-day weekend?)

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