Not Quite Dead

I nearly died in my sleep last night.

I was having a dream. Not a happy one. It was mostly about the smell of rotting corpses.

The stench was so vile, I nearly vomited. For real. Which is not a great thing to do in your sleep, especially if you’re lying on your back. It’s a good way to choke to death.

There’s no end of disturbing imagery my brain can come up with while dreaming (or awake for that matter), but smells are rare. I woke up trying to remember where I could have smelled rotting corpses before. It felt like a memory, but I couldn’t quite place it. There was an image to go with it: a broken crypt, disturbed earth, and with that, the pungent stench wafting out.

I was beginning to believe it was a false memory. Just a dream that seemed real. I certainly couldn’t place what cemetery I might have been in to see and smell something so awful.

Until I did.

Paris. Four years ago. Père Lachaise.

The fact that it took me nearly an hour to narrow this down suggests I might spend too much time exploring graveyards and tombs. A damaged crypt emitting a desiccated putrid odour was far from the most noteworthy thing I encountered there, but that brief experience made an impression, and my mind ended up regurgitating it years later for a very special nightmare.

Not the first time my brain tried to murder me.

At least I successfully work up from this nightmare.

I think.

Frankly, my life has been a nightmare I can’t wake up from for years now.

Lately, I understand there’s some sort of bug going around. I haven’t really noticed. A global pandemic hasn’t cracked the top-ten list of things that are fucking up my life.

The body count has been high. None of them COVID related. Both my parents, my last remaining aunt, and one of my book-cover designers all kicked off in quick succession this past miserable year. Turns out the cover designer was only faking her death, but the rest were genuine fatalities. Not that the knuckle-dragging government bureaucrats will agree. I’m still waiting on one of the death certificates months after the fact, which leaves both the estates I’m handling in limbo, unable to move forward.

And the bills keep on coming. I’ve been shovelling money into a furnace, settling debts that aren’t my own, paying off all the parasitical agencies that come out to play whenever someone dies, and coughing up thousands of dollars in surgery fees to keep a cat alive. Again.

My kitchen cupboard is starting to look like a columbarium with so many urns of ashes. It’s like a sooty Pokémon collection. At least cremains don’t stink of corpse bile.

That scratches the surface. It’s the obvious stuff, but there’s so much more. I wake up some mornings disappointed I didn’t die in my sleep.

The only thing that keeps me going are all these books I have to finish writing. Not that I’m afforded much time to work on them lately. But when I do, it’s the best kind of escapism, and disappearing into fantasy is all I can do for my mental health at this point. Yes, there are books coming. Weird and astonishing stuff. And I’ll keep at it through this shitstorm, come what may, because it would be a pity if they never saw the light of day. Besides, I’ve reached that plateau of Zen when I just want to hang around out of morbid curiosity to see what horrible thing happens next.

11-11-11 + 100

This is my grandfather, Francis Simmons, in The Great War. He fought for England, working closely with the teams of horses that hauled artillery around the front. He survived the war and married Mary Wyatt in 1919. They left Bristol and moved to Canada, settling in Montreal in 1922, where he got a job with Dominion Bridge. They had eleven children, three of which didn’t survive infancy. In 1942, two years after my father, the last one, was born, Francis came home from work and promptly died of the family curse—heart disease. He was about the same age as I am now.

The Great War (renamed World War One after it got a sequel) ended 100 years ago today. I’ve been lax about Remembrance Day in recent years. I haven’t been out to the ceremonies at cenotaphs; I haven’t been wearing the new improved poppies (now with a more true-to-form black centre as opposed to the green of my youth).

Today I made the effort, freezing my balls off on a sunny but bitter November day. I walked out to Montreal West for the festivities there. Not a lot of people gathered around the park statue for the traditional 11:00 am start (the time of day the guns fell silent), but the main show was only scheduled to begin at 12:15. That’s when people gathered outside the United Church up the street. I joined the procession and the piper, returning to Edgar Davies Park, which was, by then, filled with several hundred more people. It was the biggest turnout I’d seen since my childhood, back when we still had First World War vets and plenty who had served in the Second World War and Korea.

As of a couple of years ago, the very last of the Great War vets died. Too young to have been legally enlisted at the time, they lived well past a century, some lasting long enough to see the 100th anniversary of the start of their war. But now it’s all passed from living memory. And today, the remaining Second World War vets are in their 90s or older. There were exactly two with us in the park. A rare breed, rapidly growing scarcer.

The showing was solid for this centennial. I thought about the grandfather I never met, tending his war horses, as I got to hang out with a couple of gorgeous police mounts named Wifi and Merlin, standing guard over the ceremony. It’s good to do this every once in a while, and I’ll try to go again next year. No promises, but it’s always on my mind, every November 11th.

We’re all told to remember the wars, the sacrifices, and the dead. And it’s an important tradition. But I know it won’t last forever. The World War Two vets, those who fought in Korean, those from more current conflicts…they’ll all go the way of the Great War vets eventually. And, like all traditions ultimately do, Remembrance Day will get swallowed up by the passage of time. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you heard of anybody going to a memorial for the terrible losses of the Punic Wars?

That’s as it should be. The goal isn’t to keep the memory of our wars alive forever. The goal is to go so long without a war, nobody remembers what they’re like at all, and nobody considers starting a new one as a solution to common human conflict.

No Time in the Present

So many updates, and no time to write it all down.

I could tell you about my work on the new animated TV show ToonMarty and link you to some of my episodes that have shown up on YouTube.

I could tell you about my trip to Paris and all the morbid history I got to hang out with.

I could tell you about my last three appearances on Cinema Smackdown and my pending chat about the Fantasia film fest tonight at 7:00 on CJLO.

I could even tell you how the sequel to Necropolis is coming along.

But mostly my time is occupied by a new/old project that requires me to produce nearly 300 pages of reformatted art—hopefully before the end of the year.

I’ll give you a clue what that involves.

Observant readers may extrapolate additional information from one of the file names appearing in that screenshot.

Yes, it’s for real this time. There’s a contract and an advance payment I’ve already spent.

What the hell have I let myself in for?

In honour of the passing of one of my personal favourite film directors, George Romero, newsletter subscribers will be receiving a brand-new exclusive short story—my one and only foray into flesh-eating zombie fiction. Sign up now to get it with the next newsletter, along with other unique content and exclusives.

Wet Feet

In an effort to better understand the eBook biz, I’ve gone and published my first book to Kindle Direct Publishing. It’s a test-balloon collection of all the articles I wrote about the Red Baron back in 1995 when I was doing a lot of research for a feature film I had in development. I’ll refrain from name-dropping the movie stars who were involved because, like so many projects that spend years in development, it never happened. All that really materialized in the end were these articles I pitched to a few magazines to make some extra coin. Selling options on screenplays isn’t much of a living. Neither is writing magazine articles, but I got a lot of mileage from that cover article for Aviation History. It was reprinted multiple times and paid a hell of a lot better than any comparably sized fiction story I’ve written for actual books. It seems facts and figures are worth more to the marketplace than imagination and story structure.

An Ace for the AgesThe plan is to roll out more short material in eBook form in the coming months in order to make some worthwhile out-of-print and brand-new stories and essays available for token sums of money. Right now, you can get “The Red Baron: An Ace for the Ages,” “The Baron’s Most Famous Mount,” “Dogs of War,” and “Laying a Legend to Rest: The Death of the Red Baron” on Amazon for your Kindle or Kindle software, all for mere $0.99.

I’ll be netting a whopping $0.35 U.S. per unit. With the Canadian dollar where it is these days, if I sell just a few copies, I should be able to pay off my house and maybe buy an entire Canadian province with the spare change. Not a good province, but a decent-sized crappy one like Saskatchewan (flat and boring) or Quebec (broken and French).

So if you have any interest in a 22-page overview of some German dude who’s been dead for nearly a century (or, pitched better, the most enigmatic and famous air ace of World War I – or any other war for that matter) shell out a buck and show me that all this fiddly HTML formatting I’ve been doing was worth the effort.

Hyperinflation Old-School Style

I spend too much of my spare time watching the global financial crisis unfold. It’s become something of a spectator sport for me since the clusterfuck of 2008, and at this point it’s more akin to watching a lingering piece of roadkill gasping for its last breath on the side of the highway than observing history unfold. It’s horrible and troubling but I can’t avert my eyes. With every nation on Earth facing insurmountable debt at the hands of a banking system that was never going to be able to sustain itself, collapse is in the cards and is coming all too soon to a planet near you.

Worst off is the United States which has come to play the role of both biggest victim and most egregious perpetrator of a corrupt and unsustainable system. Seventeen trillion dollars of debt, unrepayable as that obviously is, is just an hors d’oeuvres in this multi-course meal of financial malfeasance. Unfunded liabilities amount for another 200 trillion (no one knows the real number for sure, all we know is that it’s huge and comes to much more than all the money and wealth there is on Earth). The system has failed, the game is over, and it’s time to clear the board and start all over again with something new just as soon as our politicians are forced into so a narrow corner, they’re left with no more moves to keep the match going just one more turn.

After far too many years kicking the can down the road, the American Empire looks about ready to kick the bucket. Their unbacked fiat currency isn’t going to last much longer, but neither is anybody else’s fiat currency. When the American dollar finally goes belly up and the greenback is worth more as campfire fuel than money, everybody is going to feel the pain. The world’s global reserve currency is a terminal patient and the only option left is to keep printing it and digitally summoning it into existence until everyone collectively agrees they don’t want to deal with it anymore and goes looking for a new currency or commodity to do business in.

This is, of course, nothing new. Epic hyperinflation happened in Zimbabwe recently, culminating in the 100 Trillion Dollar Note. Last century it happened with the Weimar Republic and became a key ingredient in pushing Germany towards a Second World War. Track hyperinflation back far enough and you’ll see it’s been cropping up over and over again for millennia.

The collapse of the currency is just one thing in our current political situation that draws comparisons to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. The problem with these comparisons that keep cropping up is that most of them are factually incorrect. And as an ancient history buff, it irritates me.

Last night I watched the documentary Four Horsemen, which serves as a solid, but rudimentary guide to what’s going wrong in the world today for those who are just starting to wake up to this reality. In it, precious metals expert David Morgan, refers to the collapse of the Roman denarius, saying how it eventually ended up as a bronze coin with a silver wash. The point he was making about the debasement of money is valid, but his description is wrong. The denarius never had to suffer such an indignity. It was dead years before this happened to Roman coinage.

Maybe I’m just being nit-picky, like a Trekkie who wigs out about the technical inconsistencies of the recent J.J. Abrams Star Trek films, but I genuinely believe Roman history should be taught (and taught well) in every high school history class each and every year until students thoroughly understand how empires rise, thrive, decline and fall. It bugs the hell out of me when learned people, trying so hard to inform all the clueless worker bees out there about what’s happening right under their noses, get their ancient history wrong. Comparing America to the Roman Empire can be helpful and informative, but get your facts straight and your comparisons right.

Fact one, for example, is that Roman civilization never really fell, merely changed shape – from kingdom to republic to empire to split empire to eastern empire. The fall of the western half of the empire marked the beginning of the middle ages, but the eastern half persisted. It wasn’t until the Ottoman Turks finally developed big enough canons to smash through the walls of Constantinople, the most heavily defended city in the world, that the empire finally came to a real finish, marking the end of the middle ages. Fact two, it wasn’t pagan decadence or bread and circuses or Roman orgies that caused the decline to happen. The rot didn’t really set in until well after Christianity became the official state religion. Make of that what you will, but it seems to me the solution to Rome’s problems wasn’t fewer orgies or less sexual liberation. And fact three, the debasement of the denarius (and other coins) was a long process that took centuries before hyperinflation really got rolling. Sure, it ended up being a disaster, but Rome did a better job of managing its finances and remaining a solvent empire than we’re doing today. So watch where you’re slinging those comparisons. Rome deserves more credit than to be compared with the accounting mess the United States finds itself in.

For no other reason than I’m on a roll, allow me to give you a rundown on all the layman ever needs to know about ancient hyperinflation and the collapse of Roman currency. I am, after all, the comic artist who made a series called Money Talks featuring the portraits from international notes as characters. So I guess money is another one of those subjects I obsess about – just not in the productive “gotta earn some more of it” way.

The denarius made its first appearance during the Roman Republic, in the year 211 BCE. There had been a few other stabs at coming up with a silver coin denomination, but the denarius won out, probably because it wasn’t far off in size and weight from the silver drachm that had been issued by many Greek citystates and kingdoms for centuries. From the very beginning, it was a pure silver coin, weighing in at a consistent 3.90 grams (by current means of measurement). The design was limited at first, with not a lot of variation. The head of Roma personified or an occasional god appeared on the obverse, while various gods riding a chariot or the Dioscuri typically adorned the reverse.

A denarius from the good old days of the Republic. Roma adorns the obverse, while an ancestor of moneyer M. Sergius Silus rides around carrying a sword and the head of an unfortunate Gallic warrior (this despite having lost an arm in battle).

A denarius from the good old days of the Republic. Roma adorns the obverse, while an ancestor of moneyer M. Sergius Silus rides around carrying a sword and the head of an unfortunate Gallic warrior (this despite having lost an arm in battle).

Those holding the office of moneyer were eventually given more leeway to experiment with designs, and used their term in office to honour the feats and achievements of their ancestors on Roman coinage. The only rule was that no one currently alive could be depicted on a coin. That was what kings did, and Rome, which had been a small kingdom in its earliest days, did not look back on that period fondly once it became a senate-controlled Republic. In fact it was a denarius of Julius Caesar, during his dictator-for-life period, that is sometimes referred to as “the coin that killed Caesar.” He broke the cardinal rule. After a number of issues that only featured his name on the coin, he had a denarius struck with his actual portrait. This was pointed to as proof positive that he had become a full-blown tyrant. “Dictator” was merely a temporary office what was appointed by the senate during times of national emergency. “Dictator-for-life” was an office Caesar claimed for himself with the support of the people of Rome who saw him as a great hero. But tyrants had to go. One mass-stabbing later and the Republic was thrown into a power struggle as various imperators sought to become top dog. Eventually it was Caesar’s nephew Octavius who came out on top. He adopted the title Caesar Augustus and became the first Roman emperor. The senate was kept to fill its democratic role, but now that Rome had become an empire, there was no doubt who had absolute authority at the end of the day.

Julius Caesar was playing by the rules when he just had his name on his coins. His likeness, however, crossed the line.

Julius Caesar was playing by the rules when he just had his name on his coins. His likeness, however, crossed the line.

An imperial denarius of Tiberius, still a few emperors away from initial debasement.

An imperial denarius of Tiberius, still a few emperors away from initial debasement.

The denarius continued merrily through this tumultuous period, maintaining its weight and purity. The only exception to this was the debased legionary denarii that Mark Antony had struck for his men by a mint that travelled with his army. Everyone knew these coins weren’t as pure as the real thing, so nobody ever tried to horde them for their precious metal content. They saw circulation for centuries, and most examples that exist today are worn to the point that they’re barely recognizable.

A debased and unloved denarius from Mark Antony's military mint. Despite the wear, it's still easily identifiable as having been issued in the name of the 19th Legion.

A debased and unloved denarius from Mark Antony’s military mint. Despite the wear, it’s still easily identifiable as having been issued in the name of the 19th Legion.

This anomaly aside, the denarius remained untampered with until the fifth Roman emperor, (and one of the worst) Nero. He was the first one to start mucking about with the precious metal content of the coinage, but that’s the kind of shenanigans you can get away with when you’re treated as a god on Earth and have complete authority over everything, including the mints. Initially this was done on the sly, but future emperors became more open about it. The weights and silver content of the denarius became irregular, but it remained a handsome, well-struck coin. Only by the time of Commodus, a rather barking mad, egomaniacal, paranoid and psychopathic emperor, did the denarius start to look a bit rough around the edges. Quality standards, in manufacture if not silver content, were bumped back up during the Severan dynasty that soon followed. But the Severans would also usher in the beginning of the end of the denarius that had been, effectively, the ancient world’s reserve currency for four hundred years at that point.

Somewhat shabby, but good as a denarius from Commodus goes. Note the lionskin headdress and club that equates him with Hercules. He thought he was Hercules reborn. What an asshole.

Somewhat shabby, but good as a denarius from Commodus goes. Note the lionskin headdress and club that equates him with Hercules. He thought he was Hercules reborn. What an asshole.

It was Severus Antoninus (“Caracalla” to his friends, but he didn’t really have any friends because he was such a ruthless prick) who introduced a new silver coin in 215 CE. Larger than the denarius, but containing only the same amount of silver, it was put into circulation with the nominal value of two denarii. And the people rejected it. No one knows exactly what the coin was called in its era, but today it’s referred to as the antoninianus or double-denarius. A failure on its initial release, and citizens balked at using any money that claimed to be worth more than a denarius with no increase in its silver content. Caracalla got bumped off a couple of years later for unrelated reasons, and issue of the antoninianus grew spotty. The usurper emperor who followed, Macrinus, issued them, as did Elagabalus once the Severan family seized power again. But it became an on again/off again affair with subsequent emperors.

The antoninianus of Caracalla was defined by the larger size and radiate crown on his portrait.

The antoninianus of Caracalla was defined by the larger size and radiate crown on his portrait.

It wasn’t until the arrival of Gordian III in 238 CE that the antoninianus began to be issued in bulk. In fact, the denomination became so prevalent under this new boy-emperor, the denarius quickly faded away. Quality issues of the denarius did continue in his reign, but vanished utterly by the end of his time on the throne. There are some anecdotal instances of debased denarii making later appearances from various short-lived usurper emperors and breakaway provinces, but they’re exceedingly rare. As of 244 CE, the denarius was effectively dead and gone.

The antoninianus, however, despite being far from a pure silver coin, was still a nice, well-produced piece of currency. We’d be lucky today if our coinage had that amount of hand-crafted artistry and precious metal content. So I’m certainly not knocking the antoninianus. At least, not at this point. Trouble for the coin only really began during the reign of Gallienus. And for good reason. It was during this period, from 253 to 268 CE, that the Crisis of the Third Century kicked in with a vengeance. The Roman empire was beset from all sides – usurpers by the dozen, breakaway fledgling empires absconding with huge tracts of Roman land and wealth. It was a mess. Perhaps most telling for how bad things got was when Gallienus’ own father and co-emperor, Valerian, became the first and only Roman emperor to be captured by the enemy (in this case, the Sasanian shah Shapur I, who reportedly had old Valerian stuffed and taxidermied into a stepping stool that Shapur later used to mount his horse).

The last decent silver-content antoninianii were minted at the Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium mint in what is now Cologne, Germany. One by one, all the mints switched to minting smaller, shabbier, uglier coins. Quality control standards dropped through the floor. Not only did the coins look bad, they went from being largely silver, to almost completely bronze. A token 1-in-20 parts silver remained, making the coins technically billon (a silver-bronze alloy), but they sure looked bronze. Or at least they did once the thin silver wash the coins were coated in wore off in circulation.

One of the last nice antoninianii to be struck in Cologne before it all went to hell.

One of the last nice antoninianii to be struck in Cologne before it all went to hell.

This issue in the name of Salonina, Gallienus' wife, was more typical of the transition. The style and strike is notably weaker, the base metal more in evidence, but some of the silver wash remains. Example get much much worse from here on out.

This issue in the name of Salonina, Gallienus’ wife, was more typical of the transition. The style and strike is notably weaker, the base metal more in evidence, but some of the silver wash remains. Examples get much much worse from here on out.

This is actually one of the good examples of an antoninianus from usurper Carausius. His coins are generally so distorted and ugly, they're indistinguishable from contemporary barbarian imitations of Roman coinage.

This is actually one of the good examples of an antoninianus from usurper Carausius. His coins are generally so distorted and ugly, they’re indistinguishable from contemporary barbarian imitations of Roman coinage.

Eventually the crisis passed, the empire persisted, breakaway provinces were recaptured, and the quality of the coinage bounced back. At least in appearance. Nice designs and quality die-crafting resumed, although the 1-in-20 parts silver ratio persisted, as did the silver wash which made the coins temporarily shiny but added no actual value. When Diocletian came to power towards the end of the third century, he decided it was high time there was a major currency reform. After the better part of a century in circulation, the over-minted antoninianus was killed off, as was any pretence of precious metal content in the day-to-day currency. A cosmetic silver coating was retained, but most coins spent at the market became plain old bronze. The issues that came out of this period, through Diocletian’s Tetrarchy system of government and the subsequent dynasties that ushered the empire through the entire fourth century, remain somewhat mysterious. Again, we don’t know what the coins were called, but there was a lot of variation in size and weight (with coins that were probably worth the same amount shrinking in size over the course of decades, even though they were struck in cheap base metals). Today we call them AE1 through AE4, depending on nothing more than a few millimeters of diameter difference.

There were token attempts to issue nicer, more valuable coins. The occasional large bronze, clearly meant to be of a higher value than its contemporaries, is noted through to the end of the Constantinian dysnasty. Diocletian, during his reforms, also tried to revive a quality silver coin about the size and weight of the old denarius. It was called the argentus, and it was a very nice coin that only lasted a few years before disappearing. More successful was the later siliqua, yet another silver coin of decent purity and design. Unfortunately, by the time that one came along, precious metal in regular circulation was so rare, most siliqua suffered from coin shaving and clipping by people who tried to keep some of the silver content for themselves before spending the coin at face value. Some siliqua had their edges shaved so severely, the legend is completely gone and only the portrait remains (which, incidentally, is no help at all in identifying the emperor since realistic depictions eventually gave way to generic, idealized, one-face-fits-all portraits).

The argentus was a short-lived return to form for Roman silver.

The argentus was a short-lived return to form for Roman silver.

This siliqua of Constantius II survived to modern times without being clipped or shaved.

This siliqua of Constantius II survived to modern times without being clipped or shaved.

And what about gold, you might ask? Well, actually, in all this debasement mess, gold remained sound. The standard gold coin, the aureus, eventually gave way to the later solidus, but weight and purity never really suffered much for one reason, and one reason only. Emperors paid their militaries in gold, so they were the very last people to get screwed. An unpaid army is an unhappy army, and emperors ruled only so long as their generals were behind them. Once they lost the support of their soliders, it was knife-in-the-back time and the military coup would result in a whole new emperor, typically chosen from the upper ranks of the men. And the cycle would repeat, over and over again. Few emperors got the chance to die of old age, many reigns were short-lived, yet strangely everybody still seemed to want the top job. But they all knew to pay the army in sound money, no matter how shitty things got. Otherwise their headless body would soon be dragged through the streets and dumped in the Tiber.

The Fall of the Roman Empire is an event usually pinned to the year 476, but this isn’t really accurate. That was just the year when the last remnants of the declining western empire packed it in after years of puppet emperors and barbarian encroachments. The truth is, the power had long-since shifted away from the city of Rome and was now centred in Constantinople in the east. The emperor Constantine had made that the new capital of the Roman Empire back in 337 CE, and Rome itself was really only a nostalgic remnant of past days of glory. By the time it fell, east and west had become two different embodiments of the empire of old, with the city of Rome a rundown depopulated shell of itself. Despite this supposed fall, the eastern empire continued to live and occasionally thrive for another thousand years. We typically call that entity the Byzantine Empire, but it’s a misnomer they got saddled with by a much-later historian who kinda pulled the name out of his ass. What they were was a direct continuation of the Roman Empire (they would have called themselves Romaion and that’s what we would be calling them today if the Byzantine label hadn’t stuck).

By the time the Byzantines came along, the currency was absolutely pathetic. Most coins were tiny, sad little lumps of bronze called nummi, unidentifiable even when freshly struck. Bags of them were required to make purchases of basic goods and services. It was Anastasius, the first emperor to come to power post-Leonid dynasty in 491 CE, who finally sorted things out and stabilized the coinage system with a bunch of new denominations, most notable a large follis that was worth 40 of the discontinued nummi.

Only 11mm wide, this AE4 of Leo I goes to show why something had to be done about the pathetic remnants of a once-proud coinage. At least this one is identifiable by visibly monogram on the reverse. Rare for its time and type.

Only 11mm wide, this AE4 of Leo I goes to show why something had to be done about the pathetic remnants of a once-proud coinage. At least this one is identifiable by the visible monogram on the reverse. Rare for its time and type.

The fairly drab but serviceable Byzantine follis that help stabilize the sad state of late Roman coinage.

The drab but serviceable Byzantine follis that help stabilize the sad state of late Roman coinage.

It should be noted that Byzantine coinage is pretty damn ugly. Coins were recycled and restruck over each other, making for some jumbled mushy designs. And no one to this day has been able to adequately explain why the later trachy coins were cup-shaped. But given that this was now the middle ages (dark ages to some), everybody’s coinage was pretty shitty. Compared to the wafer thin hammered coins that would come to define the period, at least Byzantine coins felt substantial – even the low denomination spare change.

So in the end, despite screwing up their money, bankrupting an empire, hyperinflating and imploding here and there, the Romans still managed to keep their shit together and muddle through until the Ottomans delivered them their final defeat in the year 1453. If you’re keeping count, that’s well over two thousand years of consistent civilization if you look all the way back to the traditional rise of the Roman kingdom in 753 BCE. Not bad for a people who are, it seems, most famous for “falling.” If you really want to compare the woes of the American Empire to Rome, get back to me when they’ve had that kind of a run. Rome, for its flaws, is still one of history’s greatest success stories. And their money still survives to this day, dug up from farmer’s fields as a matter of routine by metal detectionists. Let’s see how much of today’s paper money survives thousands of years. And as for the digital money… That crap can all disappear as fast is it takes a banker to type the number “0” and hit enter.

There you have it, the not-so-brief history of Roman coinage collapse according to me. You know, I hadn’t planned on writing anything along these lines today. This is just me rattling a bunch of history off the top of my head and I do tend to go on. If you think this is bad, you should engage me in a chat about cinema some time. I simply don’t shut up.

I don’t know what brought it on. Maybe it’s because it’s November 5th, maybe it’s because the million-mask march is happening today. We all have issues with how things are being run, be it domestic NSA spying, TSA strip searches, drone assassinations, or the rise of corporate-controlled fascism. There’s a lot to fix and it’s hard to know where to start. But if we’re going to rewrite the rules of the game, maybe we should begin by reinstating a sound monetary system. At least it will be easier to know who’s winning if the score board isn’t rigged.

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes and his companions
Did the scheme contrive,
To blow the King and Parliament
All up alive.
Threescore barrels, laid below,
To prove old England’s overthrow.
But, by God’s providence, him they catch,
With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
A stick and a stake
For King James’s sake!
If you won’t give me one,
I’ll take two,
The better for me,
And the worse for you.
A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
A penn’orth of cheese to choke him,
A pint of beer to wash it down,
And a jolly good fire to burn him.
Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!
Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!

Infantilize This!

It comes as no surprise to informed insiders (and, let’s face it, everyone else in Canada who was just speculating blindly) that Justin Trudeau is announcing his candidacy for leader of the federal Liberal Party today.

This question is, is he ready? He’s only forty years old.

Well, as it turns out, I have an answer to that pressing question. And the answer is, “Fuck you.”

Exactly how old do you have to be these days to not be treated like an infant? Who decided the world needs to be run by a bunch of supposedly learned geriatrics who consider anyone not wearing adult diapers to be a silly child, unready and unprepared to step onto the world stage? Like these wizened elders have done such a great job running the planet. Last I checked, they’ve fucked up pretty much everything.

Let me do some fact checking and tally the numbers again. Yup, everything. Well and truly fucked. Good work, you old bastards.

It wasn’t always like this. In older, better days, life didn’t begin at forty. It ended.

You don’t have to go too far back in history to find a time when forty was your life expectancy. If you made it past that, you were living on borrowed time. And if you were going to get anything done, you had to move your ass and get to it. I don’t just mean starting a family. I’m talking about nation building. Back in the day, kids would routinely ascend to the throne in their teen years and be put in charge of entire empires. Alexander the Great spent a decade conquering the entire known world and was done and dead at thirty-two. These days, Alexander the Third of Macedonia would be stuck serving mochaccinos at Second Cup, hoping his Baby Boomer boss would hurry the fuck up and retire so he could get a promotion.

Yes, I blame the Baby Boomers or, as I call them, The Worst Generation. It’s all their fault. It always is. I come from the generation behind them, the X-ers, and living in their wake has involved eating lots of shit. They did all the fun drugs in the ‘60s, we got the “Just Say No” campaign. They fucked everything that moved in the ‘70s, we got AIDS paranoia to sexually terrorize us out of getting it on. In the ‘80s, they made boatloads of money, while today we get to live our peak earning years in a depression with mountains of student debt and 0% interest rates that make saving money fruitless. Come the ‘90s, they were still holding on to their sweet high-paying careers while the rest of us were wasting the energy of youth slogging away in the same entry-level positions we’d been holding for years. Come the new century, they finally started to collect their fat government pensions. By the time they finally die off, that fund will have been tapped dry, leaving us to live off our own savings that will still be drawing 0% interest if the Boomer-run central banks have their way.

So yeah, if a forty-year-young kid wants to step up and make a bid for the top job, good luck to him. I hope he smokes the grey-haired competition by using every advantage available to him. Not just the Trudeau dynasty name, but the vast youthful power of the Intranets, with its series of tubes, and The Twitter, and the Book of Faces, and The Google. May he employ such technology to run rings around the old farts while they’re still looking for their StairMaster’s “on” button.

Defeat Is Mine!

It’s good to be back in the student-protest hellscape of Montreal. I’ve been back for quite awhile now, but blogs have to take a backseat to important springtime activities like digging up the backyard, burying the evidence, and planting the vegetable garden over it. Thankfully the police are too busy pepper spraying kids and arresting random passers-by to come snooping around with intrusive search warrants and a backhoe.

Yes, there have been a lot of muddy pits in my life lately, but enough about the Writer’s Guild of Canada Awards — which I lost. Or won, if you tally the results by how many Steamwhistle Pilsners I drank at the open bar before they shut off the taps for the evening. What I really want to discuss is only tangentially related to The Industry, so I’ll skip the gory details of my crushing and utterly expected defeat and dish on some other (quite literal) dirt.

The hardest decision I had to make concerning the awards ceremony was not what to say if I had to get up on stage, but what shoes to wear. I ultimately wore my “dress” shoes, which can always be relied upon to look respectable, hurt my feet, and cut into my ankles by the end of the night. I really wanted to wear my more comfortable shoes, which were new enough and nice enough to see me through an evening populated mostly by writers (rarely noted for their fashion sense), but they were still caked with mud from the graveyard.

On the way to Toronto, I spent a couple of days in Port Hope visiting my cousin. The graveyard in question wasn’t a long commute — it was just across the street. The colonial-era church was undergoing renovations and they had hardly broken ground on the expansion when they discovered the bodies. This happened the day before I arrived. The police had already been on the site, making sure the corpses in question weren’t recent and worthy of a homicide investigation. Most of the graves on the grounds were pre-confederation and it turned out there may have been rather more space devoted to the dead than previously thought. The north side was still an active cemetery, but sections closer to the church itself must have become overgrown long enough ago that no one who remembered where the original parishioners were buried was left to say, “Hey, don’t dig there.”

Not long after I unpacked, I couldn’t resist the urge to go Scooby-Dooing around the grounds, looking to see if I could spot something nice and morbid in the newly opened graves. You never know. Sometimes when they disturb and move skeletal remains, they miss a finger or a toe. I wasn’t looking for a souvenir, I was just being nosey. Kind of like the history-nerd version of the rubber necks you see driving past car accidents at a snail’s pace, just in case they get an opportunity to see a bit of blood on the pavement. Or a head.

The truth is I rarely pass up the opportunity to explore vintage or forgotten graveyards, or go spelunking in ancient tombs and catacombs. I like to think this makes me an Indiana Jones type of guy, but I expect I’m more akin to the Cryptkeeper. I’m rarely more pleased with myself than when I’m doing something like sitting in the stifling humidity at the very bottom of the pyramid of Menkaure, in the depths of an ancient burial chamber.

Okay, yes, it is rather ghoulish. But if I were really going to go full-ghoul, it turns out I don’t have to go all the way to Egypt. Or even Port Hope. I can just go out my front door and take a not-very-taxing stroll to the scene of Montreal’s latest grisly murder. Pick through a few garbage bags and you too can come across a headless, limbless, partially cannibalized and post-mortemly sodomized torso. If that’s too much trouble, you can just wait around at one of our federal party headquarters for a unique campaign contribution to show up courtesy of Canada Post. A lot of Canadians would give an arm and a leg to see some political change in this country. It seems our newest top-billed serial killer, part-time porn star, and failed reality-show contestant, Luka Rocco Magnotta, would gladly give both. Just not his own.

After seeking fame and/or infamy for so many years, Luka has finally hit the jackpot with an international manhunt. And just in time too. Montreal was suffering from such a wealth of good press lately, we really needed to balance things out with a spectacularly vile murder that would grab headlines around the world. And because this is such a multi-media era, you don’t have to be satisfied with the hyperbolic news media reports. You can read all about it online, watch editorial videos on YouTube, or simply go watch the murder and dismemberment for yourself. It’s out there on the interwebs. And it’s not even particularly hard to find. Enjoy!

Meanwhile, this particular morbid ghoul will go back to appreciating death, dismemberment and other atrocities from antiquity. I always prefer to be separated from my horror by a couple of hundred or a couple of thousand years. Not a couple of kilometres.

Confirmed! 3D Film Is All A Nazi Plot

The next time you go to the cinema, put on your tinted glasses, and pay a premium to sit through a new 3D movie, understand that you are only furthering a fascist agenda. And I don’t mean James Cameron’s bank account. No, you’re getting into bed with Hitler himself. The recent discovery that Nazi Germany was at the vanguard of Stereoscopic Cinema back in the 1930’s, a full generation before Hollywood took its first stab at shoving 3D down an audience’s throat, shows that the format has always had its roots in evil.

Like a fourth, fifth and sixth Reich, neo-Nazi minions in Tinseltown have been trying to resurrect this sinister final solution again and again and again. When the Nazis first tried it out, they were only trying to show their technological superiority in an Aryan Wunderbarland. When Hollywood studios picked up the ball and ran with it in the 1950s, they were trying to rally against the competition their movies were facing in the form of the exploding television market. Thirty years later, the early 1980s saw the arrival of polarized 3D, apparently in an effort to rally against good movies because Jaws 3D was the best release of that bunch and Jaws 3D sucks ass. Today we have the latest incarnation of 3D cinema as Hollywood rallies against film piracy. Because you can’t pirate 3D movies. Yet.

If it weren’t for the current piracy concerns, why else would Hollywood be releasing all these shot-in-3D movies and retrofitted-3D movies? It can’t be because the audience demands it. I haven’t met a single person who particularly enjoys the gimmicky effect, but I’ve met boatloads of people who can’t stand the format. I now actively avoid any movie released in 3D and wait for the mercifully 2D DVD or cable broadcast. Call me old fashioned, but I like my movies to have clear images, bright picture quality, and vibrant colours. If I want to see darkened images flying at me in muted colours, I’ll wait for a cloudy day and then walk into traffic wearing a beekeeper’s mask.

So whether the motivation for 3D releases is money, more money, or world-dominating genocide, remember that pure unadulterated evil intent is always at the core of this recycled trend. And when you go to the latest blockbuster 3D spectacle, you’re sitting in the same row as Hitler, Goebbels, Goering and Jesse James. You should be keeping better company.

The Nazi salute looks awesome in 3D.

Nerds Of The World Unite!

The turmoil in Egypt has got me thinking — when is our revolution going to happen? I’m not talking about the imminent collapse of the United States (although the clock is ticking on that one) or Canada finally ousting Harper’s minority government after five interminable years of douchebaggery (the clock can’t tick fast enough on that one). Rather, I’m referring to the long-overdue uprising of the geeks and nerds of the world. It’s time we unite, and not just with each other, but with all mankind. Because, at the end of the day, we are all nerds about something.

Who is more pathetic? The guy who’s seen every episode of every incarnation of Star Trek multiple times and owns all the DVDs, or the guy who can rattle off every obscure baseball statistic from memory? Trick question. They are equally pathetic. Just because one of the nerds is obsessed with a manly sport full of testosterone and steroids doesn’t make him any less of a nerd. Whether you’re prattling on about Nimoy Spock versus Quinto Spock or Mark McGuire versus Roger Maris, I’m going to be equally bored and longing for a nap so I don’t have to listen anymore.

It’s time we leave people who are a little too much into Star Trek, Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings alone, and stop giving a pass to Civil War reenactors, fashionistas and Super Bowl superfans. You know who you are. I don’t give a shit who designed your shoes, you hear me? Only you and your fellow shoe-fetish nerds care anything about that crap. The rest of us are happy to wear sneakers that didn’t cost us three hundred dollars because they just happened to be the exact shade of green that matches our purse and eyes. If you want to obsess about it with your fellow fetishists, go right ahead, but don’t for one second think you’re superior to your next door neighbour who went to last year’s San Diego Comic Con dressed as his favourite character from Babylon 5.

So whatever the subject of fixation, let’s collectively agree we all pick our own poison and forgive each other our personal areas of trivial expertise. Except when it comes to religion. People who geek out about that and take it way too seriously need to be ostracized from civilized society for the good of everyone. Perhaps we could put them in special camps. No, not death camps — that’s too much like something religious zealots would do. I mean something more like their own Jesus Camps, only this would be Jesus Deprogramming Camps. Or Muhammad Deprogramming Camps. Or L. Ron Hubbard Deprogramming Camps. After a successful stay at one of these camps, the Christians and Muslims could downgrade their geekdom to simply being fantasy nerds (since they already believe in magic) and the Scientologists could go on fussing about science fiction like they always have, provided they agree to read something better than Hubbard’s dimestore bullshit. Maybe we can get them hooked on Asimov or Bradbury or something that doesn’t involve the galactic warlord Xenu — the worst sci-fi villain since George Lucas showed us Darth Vader’s origin as an annoying kid who spends three films whining about school, girls, pimples and the fact that his mom got raped to death by sand people.

By the way, as a self-professed history nerd, could I ask the Egyptian revolution to pretty please leave the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities and its priceless treasures alone? The relics of King Tut’s tomb really don’t need a Molotov cocktail to complete the collection. But should you end up burning down such a major respository of world heritage, thanks, at least, for not doing it in the name of religion.

My Scorched Earth Vacation

I still haven’t written about my Alaskan vacation two years ago like I promised. Now I can’t wait to not write about my Mediterranean trip as well. I didn’t say much to anybody beforehand about this epic voyage because blogging about a three-week absence is like saying, “Please, at your earliest convenience, drop by my empty home and rob the shit out of me.”

Although I’m likely to never get into the specifics of my day-to-day travels through twelve cities in four countries on three continents, recent events have prompted me to mention certain highlights. Mostly because disaster has dogged my heels at every turn. Timing in life is everything, and during the trip I managed to narrowly avoid all sorts of inclement weather. Rain, when it came, generally waited until I was indoors and then stopped in time for me to step back outside. But it was only after I was safely back home that the real cataclysms started to explode in my wake, including incapacitating snow, airport shutdowns, floods, embassy bombings, shark attacks, closed ports, violent seas, and all-out revolution.

You may have heard that Egypt is burning tonight. On some level, I fear it’s all my fault for having spent two days there. I’m sure thirty years of oppression has less to do with it than a nation-wide intolerance for yet another westerner violating the sanctity of their national monuments. By paying a fistful of Egyptian pounds to go crawling around deep inside one of the great pyramids like a latter day crusader, looking for something cool to loot from the gift shop, and contemplating lunch at the Pizza Hut that rests majestically in the shadow of the Sphinx, I may have triggered some ancient curse or other. I’m not sure which one, since there are so many curses involving mummies and scarabs and crazy drivers in Egypt, but I’m hoping a qualified Egyptologist might weigh in with a professional opinion — provided they’re not currently occupied torching government buildings and throwing teargas canisters back at riot police.

I hope this isn’t a trend. I feel like merely passing through places like England, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Egypt may have inadvertently caused all sorts of damage with my aura of cynical pessimism. But it’s not like any similar horrible disasters happened following my 2008 visit to Alaska.

Well…Sarah Palin. But that’s just… Aw shit, I’ve done it again, haven’t I?

Loot from the fourth crusade adorns St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. Seeing the statue of the Tetrarchy from Constantinople was a big deal for me because I’m a history nerd. And you probably don’t give a shit because you’re not. Just take my word for it. It’s fucking cool.

My homoerotic fascination with phallic obelisks was satisfied in Rome, which sports thirteen of these ancient monuments. More than any other city in the world. I visited every single one. And you probably don’t give a shit because you’re still not a history nerd. Just take my word for it. It’s fucking obsessive and weird to do that, even for a history nerd.

Me versus the Mouth of Truth. Mostly because I wanted to stick my hand in the same hole as Gregory Peck. And I don’t mean Mrs. Peck. I told a lie while my hand was in there and wasn’t maimed as promised — so it didn’t work and I totally want my fifty Euro cents back!

The Milvian Bridge. Not much of a tourist attraction, even though the fate of Christian civilization was decided here after Constantine squared off against Maxentius in the year 312. The signs on the site make no mention of what happened, which is fucked up. I guess when your entire city is overflowing with history, it’s easy to overlook a few minor details here and there. Like an event that swung the entire course of world history.Yes, as a matter of fact, it does look like I’m standing in front of a tourist agency poster.

The Pyramid of Menkaure is the one I went spelunking in. It was cramped and hot and miserable and AWESOME. Saladin’s son, al-Malik al-Aziz Osman bin Salahadin Yusuf and his crew spent eight months back in the 12th century trying to destroy the pyramids, starting with Menkaure. After barely denting it, they gave up. Losers.I wasn’t kidding about the Pizza Hut (left).

While in Istanbul, I visited the set of Tom Tykwer’s film, The International. I guess they left the facade standing after production wrapped.

Me sitting on an ancient public toilet in Ephesus. Pretty funny. But had no one been around, I would have dropped my pants and made a straining face. Because that’s what’s known as INTELLECTUAL comedy.

All over the Mediterranean, stray dogs and cats live in the ruins. I have to admit, it makes ancient history a lot more adorable.

Shockingly, in Greece, they treat their ruins with roped-off reverence. Everywhere else they pretty much let you climb around on their ruins like they’re two-thousand-year-old jungle gyms. Because hey, they’re just a bunch of rocks, right?

Casts of the remains of Pompeii’s volcano victims ratchet up the creepiness factor of the tour to eleven.

Winners of the Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman lookalike contests shake hands in Naples and vow to co-star in a buddy cop film at some future date. Box office gold guaranteed.