PRATIE PLACE

Thursday, March 10, 2005

"Fiddling While Rome Burns Button" initiated

I invoke this burning violin as a reminder of the ways things are falling down around us while we quibble over interest rates.

The media, and hence we the consumers of their product, have such short attention spans. Do you think the hole in the ozone layer is gone? That the polar ice caps are no longer melting? That Darfur is no longer a disaster? That the incredible amount of trash we have ejected into space has disappeared? That global warming is a myth? That farmland and forests are not being bulldozed into housing developments every day?

Well, no, duh, it's just that we lose interest so quickly. Why is Michael Jackson bigger news than the "stories" above? The pictures are funnier, I guess.

A fable as good as the one about Nero fiddling on a hill while watching Rome go up in flames can't be completely true. For one thing, the fiddle wasn't invented until the 1500s. (According to Mailbits, "The first reference to Nero's fiddling appeared in the mid-1600s. The word "fiddle" seems to have been used to mean "engaging in frivolous activity," not "playing a violin.")

The way we use the fiddling-while-Rome-burns cliché (engaging in an unimportant or frivolous pursuit while intentionally ignoring disaster) may not have been what was playing out in real time. Nero might have been making a political statement. Who2: The historian Suetonius states that Nero himself ordered the fires set, and that Nero watched the flames from a tower while singing about the destruction of Troy."

On the other hand, maybe he was just crazy and willful. I'm going with this second interpretation.

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