What was the Roman empire really like?

Of all the periods of earlier times, we are probably most familiar with (or more accurately think we are familiar with) that of the Roman empire because of the heavy focus of commercial films dealing with it. But how accurate are the perceptions we gleaned from them? Dave Davies of Fresh Air has a fascinating interview with historian Mary Beard about her new book SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, where she discusses some of the myths about the rise and fall of Rome and describes what life then was really like, and discusses the many films and TV series made about that period.
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Blogging hiatus

It is time for me to take a break from writing in order to recharge my writing batteries so I will not be blogging for the next week to ten days and instead doing other things. I am hoping to spend much of that time completely absent from the internet to see what it feels like! Given the rapid speed of information flow in these days, being away for even 10 days may make me feel like Rip Van Winkle when I return.

See you all when I come back!

Planned Parenthood, sex education, and LGBT inclusivity enough to get people mad

A meeting of the Omaha Public Schools board drew about 1,000 people and ended up in a screaming match that resulted in the meeting ending early. Why? It turned out that the school board was making some minor revisions to its existing sex education course (which is optional) by making it more gender inclusive and word had been spread that this new curriculum was being designed by the latest incarnation of evil, Planned Parenthood (which was a totally false rumor) and was going to be glorifying all manner of sex, and the abstinence-only crowd was up in arms.
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In defense of the indefensible

Consider the following scenario.

A Muslim terrorist has got hold of a massive nuclear weapon that can be triggered by remote control and has placed it in a secret location in the heart of New York City. You are his prisoner in a room where he has his finger on the detonator button. He gleefully tells you that he is going to set off the weapon killing and injuring tens of thousands of people unless you agree to his demands. What demands? He points to a woman cowering in the corner and says that if you rape her, he will not blow up the bomb and will give himself up peacefully.

Wouldn’t rape be justified in such a situation?
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Incredible bamboo houses

Via reader Norm, I heard about this website that shows photos of houses that have been built using bamboo. What I had not expected was how spectacular they are. The accompanying article says that the houses are sustainable but what impressed me was that bamboo, something that I always thought of as a flexible plant, seems to be strong enough to support such large structures with plumbing, etc.
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They really don’t care about growth, they just want to cut taxes on the rich

Russell Berman describes yet another example of the old sleight of hand practiced by supply-side politicians, this time in the state of Kansas, where the governor Sam Brownback came into office promising that tax cuts would boost the economy of that state so much that it would more than compensate for the loss of revenue.
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How to finely chop an onion

I am not a foodie. I do not seek out gourmet eating experiences and am happy to eat pretty much a limited range of dishes cooked at home, do not watch any of the many cooking shows on TV, nor am I particularly interested in talking about food. But ever since I read the book Soul of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman that I wrote about here, I have been impressed with how rigorous the training is that chefs receive and the precision operation of restaurant kitchens.
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