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Uploaded:2013-08-23
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In which Hank hangs out with Charlie in Charlie's home town. Charlie pretty much said "I won't take you to Bath if you don't make a Thoughts from Places video about it." So, yeah, this was a required assignment. :-)

Charlie: http://www.youtube.com/charlie
Charlie's mum: www.youtube.com/user/liliesarelike
Crowd: Good morning John!

Hank (voice-over): About a week ago I got on a train with Charlie McDonnell. We went through Swindon Town -- it was raining -- and the doors of the train scared me because you didn't have to touch them. When I asked Charlie if he wanted to hang out while we were in the UK, he said he wanted to take us to Bath, a city of 80,000 people that was declared by UNESCO in its entirety to be a world heritage site. So, yeah, I guess it's the world heritage Build-a-Bear there, and a world heritage Pizza Hut.

It is a world heritage abbey; it's a pretty nice abbey. I asked Charlie about the Bath Abbey--

Charlie: It was featured in an episode of Community.

Hank (voice-over): Indeed! We had lunch with Charlie's mum. We talked about inequity and happiness, and she drove us on the wrong side of the road up a hill so that we could get a nice view of Bath. Honestly, I should be saying Bah-th here because every time I said BA-th people had no idea what I was talking about. The view was indeed nice, though.

Then Charlie walked us down possibly the slipperiest path of all time--

Hank (in video): Where have you brought us?

Hank (voice over): Very dangerous. Then down to the river which was gorgeous. Then up a hill past a bunch of fancy, nineteenth-century houses and to the Royal Crescent. Then back down to the baths, which is what Bath was named for.

The Roman baths, constructed nearly 2000 years ago and still able to hold water! -- They are made of lead though, so don't drink it. Bath's hot spring made of up one of the principal resources of the Roman occupation of Britain. The Romans built what we probably the largest structure in England around the spring, converting it into kind of a tourist-attraction for wealthy Romans that was in continuous use for hundreds of years. So long that their wooden shoes wore through the stone floors. Wealthy Romans would come for relaxation and for prayer and to show off how rich they were -- who could afford more attendants, more luxurious scented oils, that kind of thing. The more things change, the more they stay the same, right?

But the baths were used by all kinds; people would inscribe curses on pieces of pewter and then throw them into the baths with notes like, "I think Jeff stole my gloves, could you please burn his eyes out of his head please?" 

It's kind of beautiful to see how petty and silly we were then, in the context of how petty and silly we continue to be. There's a wonder to that and to our continued existence despite it. The Roman baths and the abbey and the Royal Crescent and even the Marks & Spencer, all of those things in many ways are monuments to wealth. Sure, they take different forms -- housing, religion, relaxation, shopping -- but they're all a display of the very excesses that we rightfully complain about today. Income inequality, concentration of wealth, frivolous spending, the Roman baths, after all, were built by the enslaved survivors of a war of conquest. But in a way that's why we enjoy them today; they are exceptional now because they were exceptional then, and they were exceptional then because only a concentration of wealth and power made them possible.

Most of the things that we tend to observe from our cultural history are artifacts of concentrated wealth, and the greatest and most enjoyed objects of our age will likely be as well, whether we're talking about the Burj Khalifa, the iPhone or the Harry Potter movies or the Hubble Space telescope. All of those things were extremely expensive, and all of them required a humongous concentration of the world's wealth, mostly, it has to be said, here in America.

We talk a lot about the crazy income inequality within America, but globally that's a much more upsetting picture. To be in the richest one percent of the world. you need to make a whopping $35,000 per year. If you have $2,000 in the bank, you're richer than half the world. We have to take notice of the amazing creations of our own age and consider what the greatest cultural legacy would be, the answer of course, being peace and plenty and equality and awesome.

Charlie, thanks for taking me around Bath. John, I'll see you on Tuesday.