Author, advertising and
publishing consultant, former
editor of Chicago and other
magazines, former creative
director of Campbell-Ewald and
other advertising agencies. For
more information, click here. Or
see Who's Who in America or
Consulting editor, historian, poet
and author of several books. For
more information, click here or
BLOGS and GLOBS: I have
been writing a blog since 1966,
only I didn't know it. In those
days, it came out in the form of a
newsletter on paper. Remember
paper? It never got lost in
cyberspace, although if it got wet
enough blog turned into glob. I
called it The Uncommentator,
and tried to make it amusing. To
read some of my favorites, see
Recent Books by the Frisbies.
didn't really think they were trying to poison me at the Library of Congress. The lunch was merely tepid when it should have been served hot.
What put macabre thoughts in my head was the overwhelmingly Roman atmosphere of Washington. Not having traveled there in several years, I had forgotten how much the Founding Fathers had modeled their vision of the new government upon the virtues of republican Rome.
This time when I walked past the government buildings, the predominant architectural style forced me to recall strolling through the ruins of the Roman Forum. Since then, I had also watched all of the episodes of I, Claudius on videotape. They relentlessly depicted one prominent Roman after
another being poisoned off in the competition for succession as emperor. (The Romans didn't have mass media to do the job, so they had to slip extra ingredients into the sauce for the nightingale tongues.) I was able to notice things that would have escaped me before.
For instance, the marble treads on the staircase in front of the U.S. Supreme Court were torn up. I had read talk in the papers about how some of the current justices wanted to limit access to the federal courts. I didn't realize they had gone so far as actually taking the front steps off the building.
I was reminded of a family story about a relative who tore the front steps off her house during the Depression. That wasn't ideological. She was merely trying to discourage bill collectors. Like the Supreme Court, she had a motto on the facade. But it didn't say anything grand like ``Equal Justice Under Law.'' It merely said ``Beware of Dog.'' I hope the Supreme Court fixes the steps and doesn't tamper with the facade. I think ``Beware of Dog'' carved in marble would be tacky.
The Internal Revenue Service is right next door to the U.S. Justice Department. That saves the IRS time when they select some poor wretch to be flogged and sent to the galleys. Given the current political climate, I don't think it does the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners much good to have their national headquarters snuggled up to the U.S. Labor Department. ``Joiners'' is an
archaic word when used to refer to workmen who know how to put salt on the dovetail and capture the elusive rabbet.
Washington is full of another kind of joiner. Everywhere you look is the headquarters of another association. I once helped organize one of them myself. The main objects of Washington-based associations are to encourage legislation favorable to the members, block unfavorable legislation and generally make life easier for the dues payers. Also to avoid indictment for conspiracy in restraint of trade.
People who travel to Washington all the time probably no longer think about the parallels with ancient Rome. After all, Rome fell. Some people fear the end is near for the U.S. One former president said, ``What astonishing changes a few years are capable of producing...From the high ground we stood upon, from the plain path which invited our footsteps, to be so fallen! so lost! it is really mortifying!''
You may be cheered to know that was George Washington in 1786. His view was widely shared at the time. Benjamin Rush thought the American people were on the verge of ``degenerating into savages or devouring each other like beasts of prey.'' Maybe things don't really change much. Critics decry the decline of morality, civility and other attributes of civilization. But most people manage to get on with their lives as usual. Mostly, government departments do their work.
Even though the Library of Congress could do better at food service, officials there are performing their basic functions quite well. It's too soon to write off the American experiment with a casual, ``Sic transit gloria,'' as the Romans used to say in Latin. Still, as I was leaving for home, I did notice a lot of barbarians in the airport terminal.