finem respice

Calculating the Present Value of the Eternal Flame's Gas Bill

Submitted by ep on Sat, 11/12/2011 - 14:08
long live the eternal flame of the german democratic republic

Whatever other concerns may occupy contemporary readers of finem respice, the novelty of bearing witness to the decline of a civilization might, for the existentially minded, offer a measure of "witness to history" solace. And then again, probably not. Of course, not all great declines are created equal. Historically, it was primarily in the ancient world that whole civilizations could find themselves remembered as not just slowly slipping beneath the surface tension and into the dark waters of chaos, but suddenly confronted by an existential crisis that literally consumed the whole culture. Only in the past could a civilization be recalled with tales of its only city swallowed by the malevolent seas that surrounded it, or an entire sovereign devoured and buried in a hot, sulfur-laden ash loosed by the wrath of angry deities real or imagined.

It is perhaps instructive to note that almost all of the "dead" languages that met with recent extinction were possessed of decidedly less historical-cultural significance than their ancient ancestors. One does not mourn, for example, the death in 1952 of Martha's Vineyard Sign Language or the 19th century passing of the last speaker of Crimean Gothic in the same way that one wonders after the practical end of Ancient Egyptian, Sumerian, Ugaritic, or, certainly, Latin (though perhaps in the strictest sense the annihilation of Tamboran by the Volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 is an exception to the general case).1

"Civilization," to be coarse, seems a bit more resilient today than it once did. And interesting that we now refer to "civilization" in the singular and as a single bit. One is either in it, or in the jungle with Colonel Kurtz at the head of an isolated tribe with cannibalistic tendencies. True, one returns "back to civilization" in the modern world, though in this idiomatic use one first "takes a break from civilization" by flying a jet aircraft to whichever airport is closest to Hedonism II or Burning Man.

One does not today wander between the civilizations of Greece, Rome, Persia, India and China. Yes, the likes of Samuel Huntington, whose primary credential in this area appears to have been that he was once the White House Coordinator of Security Planning for the Carter Administration's National Security Council (though in his defense he did co-found "Foreign Policy") may try to convince us that the "Western World" is a civilization distinct from "The Post Soviet States" and "Latin Civilization," but this seems to slip beyond the sphere of mere enhanced social science interrogation techniques to actually torture the definition of "civilization." No, the dying gasps of modern civilization probably sound much different, and likely take on the highly sclerotic attributes of chronic disease or oxygen starvation, instead of the brutal and bloody acuteness of murder, suicide or sudden misadventure that characterized, for instance, one or another of the Sackings of Rome.

As it happens, hypoxia is an oddly and disarmingly congruent comparison. The deprivation of oxygen to the body causes mixed and confusing symptoms of increasing severity. Headaches and fatigue give way to euphoria mixed with equal parts nausea. Cyanosis (a blue discoloration of the skin suggestive of Massachusetts or California) and eventually seizures, coma and death follow prolonged oxygen starvation. Other symptoms, such as priapism, invite ruder and, ironically, more apt comparisons which, finem respice readers will be delighted to discover, are discussed further infra.

It is perhaps the immediate urgency of the human need for oxygen (amusingly also shared by combustion) and the parallel importance of fire to civilization, that prompts so many analogies (ranging from "the spark of life" to the legend of Prometheus, to modern phrases like "sucked the air from the room" and "steal a baby's breath") to air and fire as essential ingredients for life and progress. A common refrain repeated in military survival training reminds troops that humans can survive as a combat effective soldier only for: "three minutes without air, three days without water, three weeks without food."

It is somewhat unsurprising in light of all this that societies quest for immortality along side the robust display of life, vigor and progress as evidenced by flame. Roman conquest, and the expansion of the Empire was intricately linked to the sacking, razing and enslavement rituals that accompanied victory. And, after all, what good is immortality as a flaccid and weak fossil of an empire? It is endemic of this hybrid of urges that societies also engage in the most rank self-deception and pathological denial in their oft-repeated self-assurances of their righteousness, their worthiness and their permanence.

Absolutism was, and is, a central feature of divinity and the favor of the divine was thought the surest way to touch some of eternity (and, as an added benefit, vanquish your foes forever). In reflecting on the differences between ancient and modern empires in this context it is illuminating to observe that even the National Socialists were at least modest enough to limit their vision to a "Tausendjähriges Reich" (it lasted 12) but the fires and torments of hell are still said to last for eternity.

One imagines then that it must certainly have come as something of a shock to the armies of Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem that the relic of the True Cross carried before them by the Bishop of Acre offered scant protection against Saladin's forces during the Battle of Hattin, and to the "invincible" Teutonic Knights that a bunch of Polish-Lithuanian rabble could so decisively defeat them at the Battle of Grunwald. But it is the duplicitous nature of relics that they enjoy the credit for victory, even while they are excused the ignominy of defeat. They are a powerful, and almost universally deceptive, tool of inspiration.

In this connection it seems helpful to reflect on the life, times and fate of Aelia Galla Placidia, the daughter of Theodosius I ("Theodosius the Great"), who was the last Roman Emperor to rule over both the Eastern and Western segments of the Empire and, perhaps relevantly, the source of the Imperial decrees that made Christianity the state religion. A brief treatment of Theodosius will prove instructive here.

Of course, the mechanisms he used to stamp out paganism included the banning of pagan rights, particularly haruspicy,2 which was to be punished by death, and the proscription of pagan sacrifice, visits to temples, or the display of sacred items, and, most dauntingly, the express declaration of paganism as a religio illicita.

One cannot judge Theodosius I too harshly, however, for he is also rumored to have abolished the Olympic games, which then remained thankfully dormant until (depending which revival attempt one counts as authentic) 1859.3

It would, however, be difficult to absolve Theodosius for his crimes against the Vestales, the sacred priestesses of Vesta. For the uninitiated, Vesta was the virginal Roman goddess of family and home whose temple crowned the Roman Forum and housed the Sacred Fire of Vesta, the eternal flames of which where thought (apparently correctly, as may be seen infra) to be directly tied to the fortunes of Rome and the Empire.

Of course, the task of keeping an eternal flame lit is a difficult and thankless charge, and the polar opposite of the deal given to the holy relic: your many successes pass unrecognized but a single failure and everyone is a critic. In fact, permitting the flame to be extinguished could easily be not just a career limiting move but also fatal. To highlight the difficulty it is perhaps unsurprising to learn that keeping the flame in the Temple of Vesta caused the structure to catch fire on at least six occasions, two of which resulted in it being razed to the ground. On one occasion there was no need to execute the offending Vestal as all were burnt alive.

By the time of Theodosius, there were at least six and perhaps seven of the priestesses. They enjoyed salaries from the public treasury, freedom from the obligation to marry, and exercised monopoly over the many religious rituals for which male participation was forbidden. While they could travel freely, their movement was only permitted in a covered carriage which enjoyed absolute right of way on the streets it traveled, a grant that was likely enforced by a burly, rod-bearing lictor of notoriously ill humor. The Vestales also played a role in the safeguarding of wills of prominent Romans. (Both Mark Antony and Caesar's final wishes were reportedly safeguarded by the Vestales).

In exchange for these privileges they swore thirty years of celibacy (enforced on pain of being buried alive, as spilling the blood of a Vestal was strictly forbidden) and it is this last feature that causes the Vestales to be more commonly recognized as the "Vestal Virgins."

Theodosius disbanded the College of Vestales in 394 and, over the wailing protests of those Vestal Virgins present, Centurions extinguished the flame on his orders. Close students of Roman history among the always astute readership of finem respice will likely give significant credence to the rumor that the Vestal Virgins were then methodically defiled to prevent a Cult of Vesta from arising in secret under their leadership. Without being too crude, one suspects that few calls would cause Roman soldiers to rise to the occasion more quickly than the virginal siren song intoned via the lamentations of white-robed, former priestesses.

In September of 408, Alaric I of the Visigoths had laid siege to Rome, a blockade which continued almost unabated until the summer of 410 when slaves opened the Salarian Gate and handed the city to the Visigoths, who burned, pillaged, raped and looted for three days (though perhaps not in that order). Placidia was inside the city walls for most of the siege until she was somehow captured by the Visigoths prior to the fall of Rome and hauled off to Narbonne in Gaul where she became a war bride by marrying Ataulf, who by then was King of the Visigoths.

One imagines the plight of Placidia in the two or so years bounded by 408 and her capture before 410, a devout Catholic, rare among women in that she is thought to have received a classic education, and eventually would become Regent for Emperor Valentinian III, crowing her significant and life-long political influence. It took a mere two years for the Eternal City to open its veins to the waiting Visigoths.4 One suspects that the experience of watching an existentially challenging siege unfold from within the city walls might be called "memorable."

Such was the shock and alarm of the Empire at the sack of Rome (despite the fact that the capital had since been moved to Revenna in 402) that thousands of citizens left the city, which never really recovered economically. Many fled as far as Africa, but because Rome's first sacking in over 800 years had come to pass only nine years (and therefore well within the living memory of many Romans) since Theodosius I's ban on paganism and effective destruction of the central religious traditions of classical Rome, the misfortunes of Rome were increasingly linked not just to Theodosius' decrees, but the quenching of the Sacred fire of Vesta. So severe was the brewing public backlash in this realm that, along with other aligned cultural clashes, Augustine of Hippo was prompted to pen his twenty-two book work "City of God," of which he says:

However, this great undertaking was at last completed in twenty-two books. Of these, the first five refute those who fancy that the polytheistic worship is necessary in order to secure worldly prosperity, and that all these overwhelming calamities have befallen us in consequence of its prohibition. In the following five books I address myself to those who admit that such calamities have at all times attended, and will at all times attend, the human race, and that they constantly recur in forms more or less disastrous, varying only in the scenes, occasions, and persons on whom they light, but, while admitting this, maintain that the worship of the gods is advantageous for the life to come.5

The work can be said to admonish its readers to remember that paganism doesn't offer eternal salvation, that the "City of God" is distinct from the cities of man (and thus the fall of the latter implies nothing about the former) and that, you know, paganism never really protected Rome in the first place anyhow.

To simplify Augustine: "one should not over-dramatize the import of 'eternal flames.'" This would seem sage advice. A quick study of even the most basic thermodynamic principals would give the lie to the "eternal" part. Nothing is less eternal than a process which must constantly, and laboriously be fed with expensive fuel. Still, as "eternal" flames go, the Temple of Vesta did fairly well. Consider:

On millennium eve British singer Sir Cliff Richard, OBE6 who will be absolutely no more recognizable to finem respice readers even after they are reminded of his song "Devil Woman," lit the "eternal flame" atop a monument to world peace and harmony (no... really) set above a massive spinning globe in Centenary Square in Birmingham.

By spring of 2004 the flame, dubbed the "Flame of Hope" situated on the GBP 70,000+ monument was shut off by the gas company when the Birmingham City Council refused to continue to pay GBP 12,000 a year for the energy bill. (Plus, as the Council added in a well-settled statement, it contributed to global warming). Far from being a premature cut, it is somewhat surprising the flame lasted as long as it did. Only the comically absurd sponsorship of the flame in 2002 by "FireAngel," the Coventry-based smoke alarm company, kept Hope alive to that point (ignoring for the moment a six month gap in 2002 also related to the gas bills).

One cannot blame the Council. The contingent from the United Kingdom would become the second largest troop commitment in the newly launched Afghanistan campaign "Operation Enduring Freedom" a few months after the thing was lit, so the flame probably wasn't particularly effective in its sphere of dedication in the first place. One is reminded today of certain Nobel Peace Prizes... but we digress.

Slightly-less-than-eternal eternal flames actually have a prestigious history with a long and glorious tradition. True, this particular tradition is best characterized by absurd hypocrisy and a certain penchant for societal self-delusion, but one supposes that one must occasionally allow civilizations their rituals. And once Augustine up and decouples the Eternal City (and wasn't this an unfortunate name for Rome) from the City of God, you need a more practical and (with the increasing skepticism of the population) more pragmatic and sustainable local portals to eternity. One can, therefore, see the slight of hand of the eternal flame (for it is ultimately a bit of trickery) as a token facilitating the suspension of eternal disbelief.

It is in this fashion that the Birmingham City Council could find itself persuaded to accept the gift of a GBP 72,000 Flame of Hope in exchange for obligations with a present value of GBP 624,000.7 Of course, it helps that they quit paying after the very first year. And herein lies the rub. The crux of the problem is persuading General Claudius Destructus Maximumus that he should face death because "What we do in life echoes in eternity." That's fine when Rome has simply to pay for the upkeep on the "eternal monument of Claudius Destructus Maximumus" (and by "monument" we mean "statue in the forum" and by "eternal" we mean "until the Visigoths sack Rome and tear it down").8 But more elaborate interfaces to eternity are proportionately more expensive.

Of course, even the Ancient mind began to grow skeptical of the actual preset value utility of a perpetual flow of reputation capital. That jackass Augustine segregating the mortal world from the divine didn't help leaders today motivate their subjects with sweeping phrases like "For the glory of Rome," a phrase which carries even less weight today than it did even just some weeks ago. (Just ask any German). So what do you do when people catch on to the fact that, even in perpetuity, purely ethereal cash flows have disappointing present values? What any good sell-side banker does. Muck around with the revenue model.

The promise of heaven (and the threat of hell) fit the bill nicely and it can be no accident that, because the promised cash flows were so far in the future, the positive cash flows from salvation, and the negative cash flows from damnation were made infinite. (Eternal bliss. Eternal torment). What's the present value of an infinite sum using a 2% bliss growth rate in perpetuity? (You didn't think the risk free rate in paradise was zero did you?)

The Age of Reason throws quite a number of sandals into the works, however, and by 1960 and 1970 you are back to eternal flames and "World Peace" again... oh and don't forget, of course, the satisfaction of being of useful service to the state.

Still, even in the face of a great abundance of polite and charitable critical restraint, it is difficult not to take cautious note of the extreme popularity of eternal flames with autocratic powers and therefore regard with cold distaste such examples as:

The Eternal Flame of the Memorial to the Victims of Fascism and Militarism:
First lit in 1969 in the Neue Wache building in central Berlin by the entirely non-fascist and pacifist government of the German Democratic Republic. Extinguished sometime after the reunification of Germany in 1990.

The Eternal Flame of the Bronze Soldier of Tallinn, Estonia:
Erected by the Soviets and formerly named the "Monument to the Liberators of Tallinn," which takes on a dark, if amusing, connotation for erudite readers of finem respice familiar with the arrival of the Red Army in Tallinn in September of 1944 and the fact that the Germans offered no resistance and merely melted away in the face of the advancing Russians, who celebrated by capturing, deporting, or summarily executing members of the National Committee of the Republic of Estonia which attempted to take control and declare Estonian independence after the German retreat. Gleefully extinguished when Estonia shook off the yoke of Soviet control in 1991.

The Eternal Olympic Flame:
Which exists mostly to ply the uneducated with the myth that it has been kept burning since the "first Olympics." This is alternatively defined as the Ancient Olympics, the flame's first appearance in the modern games in 1928, or the beginning of the tradition of transporting the damn thing across long distances on foot (invented for the Berlin Olympics in 1936 by Carl Diem, who later found himself defending a "complex" relationship with the National Socialists). Extinguished after every Olympics.

The Eternal Flame of the Temple of Delphic Apollo:
The embers of which Greek cities would purportedly take to light their own temple hearths and which burned more or less continuously until the sack of Delphi. Extinguished by forces of the Roman General Sulia in 87 BC. (The Temple itself survived until 390 AD when Theodosius the Great's pagan prohibition took hold).

The Eternal Flame of the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship:
In the monument sited on the former location of a Russian base before the attack on Varna in 1828 during the Russian-Turkish War. 27,000 volunteers constructed the monument in 1978. Extinguished in 1991 by simple neglect. (Literally dozens of "eternal flames" were added in the 1970s and 1980s during the Soviet re-purposing of monuments and historical sites important to Bulgarian independence. None still burn today, and Bulgaria was but one Soviet client state subject to the tradition. The performance of former Soviet eternal flames is somewhat underwhelming when one realizes that a tire fire near Knighton, Powys, Wales burned unassisted for fifteen years).

It is fashionable today to opine that the Soviet Union collapsed under the weight and expense of fighting an arms race with the West. This may be true and there is, of course, also a strong case that the centralized management of planned economies badly compromised the ability of the Warsaw Pact to continue investing vast sums of capital in military hardware. But though the West is outstandingly richer than the Soviet Union was (and touts this credential loudly at every opportunity) the assumption of a large enough mass of perpetually growing liabilities is no less impractical- it is just sustainable for a wee bit longer. Of course, this hasn't stopped the West from assuming these "political payoff now, social cost later" liabilities with increasingly reckless abandon. The West lights any number of its own eternal flames and their implied promise of eternal burning is today just as implausible as the promise of the Eternal Flame of the Bronze Solider was in post-war Estonia and, in some cases, born of premises just as fraudulent.

Consider, how much more absurd is it to lionize the accomplishments of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (particularly in the realm of romantic conquest) with an eternal flame than to light one in honor of those brave soldiers of the Red Army who liberated Tallinn from its liberators (and were only slightly more accomplished conquerors of the local female population)?

Jacqueline Kennedy is generally said to have requested the eternal flame for the President's grave site having been inspired by the eternal flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, which the Kennedys visited in 1961, and which, after having purportedly burned continuously since 1921, was ignominiously extinguished in the summer of 1998 by a stream of urine emanating from a certain Mexican national, one "Rodrigo Rafael Ortega" in the drunken aftermath of his devout soccer fandom. (France had defeated Brazil 3-0). If this last detail did not play into the equation for the Widow Kennedy, it should have. What is more fitting than the legacy of a Kennedy flame extinguished by urine with a UAC of 0.32%? (Always patient finem respice readers will find this analogy hauntingly prophetic a mere two paragraphs hence).

Kennedy's flame only lasted a two and a half weeks before a gaggle of Catholic school children quenched it while sprinkling it with holy water in 1963. The permanent system set up to replace the hastily assembled mechanism used during the funeral (which, unlikely the Kennedy clan, couldn't even survive a few Catholic schoolgirls) includes an automatic static-ignition device to assure that nothing at all will snuff its precious flame. Certainly, then German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder might have wished for such a system back in October, 2000 when, while in Jerusalem, he turned a gas lever that extinguished the Yad V'Shem Holocaust Museum's eternal flame memorializing the millions of Jewish victims of the holocaust.

The new Arlington National Cemetery system was tested in the wet and frigid wee-hours of November 27, 19829 when a lone drunk (also, as Samuel Huntington would say, from the "Latin Civilization," specifically, El Salvador) penetrated the perimeter of Arlington National Cemetery and lumbered along slick ground through the graves. One imagines that, in the midst of the gloom, the light of John Fitzgerald Kennedy's eternal flame shone like a homing beacon in the distance. Upon wandering closer, perhaps making out the large block letters through the combined gloom of night and Boone's Farm, it would have been easy for our wayward hero to feel a great affinity for the honoree. After all, Edward Kennedy is the patron saint of Beltway intoxication, and it is pretty hard to read anything in front of the "Kennedy" at night, in the rain, and on a dark slab of stone anyhow. And how very thoughtful was it of Teddy to endow a warming way-station for his many graveyard-wandering constituents? On that note our hero, perhaps leaning down to light his cigarette on the flame, collapsed on top of it. Fortunately, the ignition system worked perfectly and the flame was not, on that particular occasion, extinguished by the alcohol-soaked body, which was instead found, hideously burned and picked at by some animal, by a caretaker the next morning. Opinions vary on the cause of death (burns or heart attack) but either way this means that flame is now tied with Edward Kennedy's Oldsmobile in the body-count category. You can say many things about the Kennedy family, but you have to admit that on the eternal flame call... Jackie had nailed it cold.

All of this is an elaborate demonstration that eternal flames... aren't. They are the embodiment of elaborate fictions, some composed of lies significantly more adroit than others, some bent on weaving deceit, others on self-deception. They are also, as it happens, expensive and occasionally even deadly. But they have two properties that make them intensely useful to their builders. First, maturity period mismatches. Eternal flames have a significant maturity mismatch between their positive and negative cash flows. The give the builder benefits today, and string out the cost of the benefits to the viewer over many many years. Second, the discount rate implied by the diminutive scale of negative cash flows, or the ability to scrap negative cash flows entirely midstream (we're looking at you Soviet Union), is exceedingly favorable to the builder. Is it any surprise planned economy advocates in all their variety are possessed of a literal obsession with eternal flames?

But there's no such thing as a free eternal flame, and eventually one has to worry about practical matters. Matters like fuel and oxygen.

The reality is that the Western world has lit such a cornucopia of eternal flames that hypoxia is a real fear. And, in this context, it is simple to see the symptoms. Headaches, fatigue, euphoria, nausea, cyanosis and, most recently, seizures, and, of course, priapism, which brings us back to Senator Edward Kennedy.

The pages of finem respice have, as regular readers well know, been the site of Kennedy queries before:

Given the sudden change in the winds, observers might even be tempted to point out that between Edward, Joseph II and John Jr., Kennedy bucks operating heavy machinery have managed to kill three woman and paralyze a fourth in just three short decades. (That's three easy installments of one fatality and .33 spinal injuries every ten years, but Marilyn doesn't count, obviously). But then, recollections that tend to upset the reality distortion field that surrounds and protects the Kennedys are not generally spoken of in polite company.

[...]

In fact, when wading through the lionizing even deifying miasma of Edward's ongoing and seemingly never ending eulogy, it is easy to forget that Massachusetts elected to office nine times, and thereby granted a forty six year tenure in the United States Senate, a reckless driving, alcoholic, womanizing, Harvard expellee who couldn't muster the energy to best the dauntless political juggernaut that was Jimmy Carter's campaign in a 1980 primary challenge.10

And the present discussion evokes similar images. On January 8, 2010, during the debate between Martha Coakley and Scott Brown, moderator David Gergen (and doesn't that phrase actually inflict pain to encounter?) was heard to quip:

Mr. Brown, you said you're for health care reform, just not this bill. If this bill fails, it could well be another 15 years before we see health care reform efforts again in Washington. Are you willing, under those circumstances, to say, "I'm going to sit in Teddy Kennedy's seat, and I'm going to be the person that's going to block it for another 15 years?

Of course, Brown's answer, "With all due respect, it's not the Kennedys' seat, and it's not the Democrats' seat, it's the people's seat," became a rallying cry for his supporters. But the reason this sentiment resonated as it did is more subtle than rank partisan politics. This attitude, the dynastic ownership of a political position of such steadfast and powerful tradition that the surviving family would presume (and with good reason) that they might have leave to read the gestures signed by the decaying, gin-soaked hand of the dead Senator to anoint his successor, would perhaps be curious in other contexts. But in contemporary times, it is so engrained that I expect David Gergen remains to this day blissfully unaware of how rankly partisan he smelled during that debate. But even this aside, for decades no one deigned to offer the question: "How, exactly, would the living properly divine these intentions?"

One pictures a veil wearing, black-lace clad Victoria Reggie Kennedy leading a midnight séance (she is a graduate of Tulane Law School after all) in the dank basement of the abandoned townhouse, formerly the Frenchy confines of La Brasserie (site of the famous "Waitress Sandwich" between Senator Edward Kennedy, Senator Christopher Dodd, and Carla Gaviglio and the most likely place the spirit of the tumescent Senator- and here finem respice means Senator Kennedy- is likely to be found lingering, mournfully and endlessly searching for the long since removed private bar installed specifically to serve the table he and Dodd frequented) the gloom pierced only by a ring of vanilla scented candles (received from some anonymous donor several Valentine's days ago and mistakenly forwarded to Vicky's residence by a naive junior staffer- all that was available on such short notice) hands joined with Joseph P. Kennedy II and Joseph Kennedy III (the latter mostly to keep him from taking advantage of the dark to grope the 20 year old blonde who someone said was Teddy's former aide, but who can keep track anymore, and who invited her anyhow?)

Of course, this is absurd. But only slightly absurd when one remembers that the Widow Kennedy literally channeled the Senator during the endorsement ceremony at the Medford Senior Center:

"We need Martha. We want Martha," the senator's widow, Vicki Kennedy, said in endorsing Coakley at a Medford senior center, at one point mimicking her late husband's deep grumble.

"As Ted would say, 'Jan. 19 is the date,'" she said, lowering her chin and her voice. "'Martha Coakley is the candidate.'"11

The language used throughout the Brown-Cokley morass wasn't laden with subtle signals to the constituents of Edward Kennedy, the Liberal Lion of Largess, it was laden with blatant ones. In this connection it is instructive to revisit another bit of Kennedy-Dodd lore outlined in Michael Kelly's piece on Kennedy in GQ:

At [the restaurant La Colline] in 1985, Kennedy and drinking buddy Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut did a "Mexican hat dance" on their own framed photographs. According to The Washingtonian magazine, which broke the story, "Kennedy spotted Dodd's framed photo [on the wall] and shouted 'Who's this guy?' Laughing, he grabbed the photo from the wall and threw it on the ground, breaking the glass in the frame. Dodd, not to be outdone, located Kennedy's photo and returned the favor." A new Kennedy photo adorns the wall today, inscribed with "Laissez les bons temps rouler—Let the good times roll."12

And this is the eternal flame promise that plagues the Western democracies and it seems entirely proper that Edward Kennedy's name should find itself emblazoned on the accompanying plaque. What other conclusion is possible when one watches the drunken masses lumber around, flirting with violence, rape, public indecency and assault, mostly immune from real arrest or prosecution because of the political inexpediency of actually putting a stop to their conduct and the fact that their political allies are both powerful and indulgent? True, there are signs that the left feels threatened by "Occupy this," but, very much like the friends of Senator Edward Kennedy, aside from some oblique references to treatment and civil behavior no one is willing to call them on it.

Michael Kelly, again, explains:

Kennedy's only real grown-up job has been serving as a U.S. senator, and the greatest men's club in the world became his second family, giving him the same kinds of special privileges and protections as his first. Michael Barone, coauthor of The Almanac of American Politics, sees Kennedy as a victim of environmentally induced inertia. "In the old days, you could get away with this stuff," says Barone. "The senator would be at his desk and there would be a pair of high heels sticking out from underneath and you weren't supposed to notice it. Maybe Ted Kennedy didn't realize times have changed."13

Uh, that's the definition of an eternal flame. Duh.

And so [Kennedy|Occupy] are free to careen through society, man handle prospective (if unwilling) mates, invade and disrupt restaurants, wreck automobiles, cause injuries and fatalities, and generally drive around drunk with the full expectation that their entitlement to free fuel and oxygen is an inviolable right granted them by the universe itself. And really, who can blame them when, for decades, we have rewarded this behavior with deference, averted glances tinged (maybe) with an embarrassed wince or two, defined benefit plans with guaranteed 8% annual raises, 3.00% on college loans to fund the first four years of the party (or 0.00% and 100.00% debt forgiveness on four years plus three more of law school if you are Victoria Reggie Kennedy, whose entire education was funded by "a political ally of her father [Judge Edmund M. Reggie]") and, finally, a hero's burial and (another) eternal flame? Well, hell... "let the good times roll!"

But now, Hypoxia is setting in, and with three fatalities in a week at Occupy [fill in the blank] protests, the "death" symptom appears to have reared its ugly head finally. And since the fuel bill for all these eternal flames is starting to look daunting it seems safe to assume that things are going to get very ugly when they start winking out. But when you use the promise of the eternal flame to induce behavior today, and turn off the eternal flame before the heat death of the universe (this is still somewhat short of "eternal" of course) you better expect some issues.

Coming full circle, finem respice will just remind readers that they should consider themselves privileged to be within Rome's gates during the latter stages of a siege. Hopefully, others will derive on their own the lesson thereof: If you're going to link an eternal flame to the welfare of the Empire you better damn well be prepared to pay the gas bill. And for the love of all things Fisher, do not command your Centurions to extinguish it. And, finally: you better find an Augustine to write to, for example, Chicagoans (and the citizens of about every other major US city) about the irrelevance of the impending collapse of their many bloated pension plans under the weight of $45 billion in unfunded liabilities. (Certainly, Mayor Rahm Emanuel will insist on the title "City of God.")

Or, better yet, you could just stop lighting eternal flames, you bloody idiots.

  1. 1. The eruption of Mount Tambora was the only eruption since Lake Taupo in 180 AD to be listed as a "7" on the Volcanic Explosively Index. Mount Vesuvius, which destroyed Pompeii, only rated a "5". Some 70,000 people were killed by Mount Tambora, making it the most deadly eruption in recorded history.
  2. 2. It would be difficult to express to the modern intellect the horror and shock that would grip such Romans as found themselves prohibited from divining the future by the ritualistic examination of entrails.
  3. 3. Lest finem respice readers be afflicted by the erroneous view that Olympic corruption is a modern development, it seems at this moment prudent to quote the 2nd century Greek historian Pausanias: "Sotades at the ninety-ninth Festival was victorious in the long race and proclaimed a Cretan, as in fact he was. But at the next Festival he made himself an Ephesian, being bribed to do so by the Ephesian people. For this act he was banished by the Cretans." Pausanias, "Description of Greece", 6.18.6.
  4. 4. There has been some speculation that the slaves who opened the gates were frustrated pagans.
  5. 5. Augustine of Hippo, Introduction to City of God (c. 410 AD).
  6. 6. Sir Cliff is best revered for having inaugurated in 1995 the irritating habit the British Empire has since adopted of knighting rock stars. Paul McCartney, Elton John, Mick Jagger and Tom Jones followed in 1997, 1998, 2003 and 2006 respectively.
  7. 7. GBP 12,000 in gas and maintenance bills lasting... well... eternally, and growing in perpetuity at 4% with a 6% discount rate.
  8. 8. One wonders what discount rate would be appropriate to use for long-term liabilities assumed by the Imperial Treasury.
  9. 9. Farmer's Almanac reports the minimum temperature that night as 37.9 F.
  10. 10. Private, Equity, "This is Too Easy," Finem Respice (January 20, 2010).
  11. 11. Viser, Matt, "Coakley wins Kennedy Endorsement," The Boston Globe (January 7, 2010).
  12. 12. Kelly, Michael, "A Sober Look at Ted Kennedy," GQ (1990).
  13. 13. Ibid.
[Art Credit: Koard, Peter "Berlin, Neue Wache Unter den Linden," Photograph (September 30, 1970), Deutsches Bundesarchiv. The "eternal flame" was lit in the East German capital by a youth group on their trip from Dresden on the occasion of the German-Soviet Youth Festival. Purportedly the flame was carried from the Tomb of the Unknown Solider in Moscow but, like all such myths from the Soviet era and most "eternal flame" legends, it is difficult to credit this claim.]

Entry Rating:
Your rating: None Average: 4.765 (17 votes)