They shoot Nurses, don’t they?

Happy Birthday to Edith Cavell, born Dec 4th, 1865. Edith was shot on Oct 12th, 1915 for assisting Allied soldiers and young Belgian men to escape from German occupied Belgium. A lifelong nurse, she gave aid to the wounded on all sides of the conflict.

Now for a roll-call of the scum, the names that should be preserved in infamy as a warning to people like Vladimir Putin today.

She was ratted out by Georges Gaston Quien, a collaborator subsequently arrested and tried for his role in betraying Cavell and her organization. High profile Germans argued that her sentence should be commuted to imprisonment, but the German Military Governor of Belgium elected to set an example. May General Traugott Martin von Sauberzweig be immortalized in perpetuity for what he did. Imperial Germany awarded him the “Pour le Mérite” also known as the Blue Max, the highest military and civilian award of the day. He deserves only herostratic fame.

The German foreign secretary Alfred Zimmermann justified her execution as follows:

It was a pity that Miss Cavell had to be executed, but it was necessary. She was judged justly … It is undoubtedly a terrible thing that the woman has been executed; but consider what would happen to a State, particularly in war, if it left crimes aimed at the safety of its armies to go unpunished because they were committed by women.”

Sorry Alfred, but that is complete and utter bollox. There is never a time when somebody “has to be executed”. You created a martyr, you fools. And you created a Saint, which is arguably worse.

Edith Cavell; by Ora May Hull

Where is your England now: cock robin
and the sparrow’s arms count the lamp-posts.

Leonardo and Icarus, tall from the flower bin,
shook the planet tree, and filled the cart with ghosts.

Once standing on planks and ropes and lifting
the stone beneath, they made the world more tall.

Pin-point England, alight a soldier’s drifting
scars by one soft match-light, nurse. Crawl

in from the valley that was your heel-
print running. Mender of maps, mender

of arms upon their planks and ropes, wheel
back the bird melted in the sun, defender,

say every ferried world goes round,
a carousel with runners bolted down.

Edith, where is home, now the moon’s our ground,
the emptied pools and fancied bust of Lincoln.

Before the wall of some fake hotel, a half flight down,
take in your arms our torn and laughing kite.


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The Virginia Creeper

Born Dec 3rd 1826 General George B. McClellan was a career soldier and later a politician. A small man with big ideas he raised and trained the force that became the Army of the Potomac, the most effective army in the Union cause during the US Civil War. He was given the nickname “Little Napoleon” in recognition of his excellent organizational skills and his drive and energy.

Unfortunately once he had his army of shiny new marching soldiers ready he was loathe to place them in any danger. He commanded the Peninsula Campaign in 1862 following the Chickahominy river from Williamsburg towards Richmond, the Confederate Capital. A bolder commander might have ended the Civil War in that summer. Instead McClellan inched his army forwards at snails pace. He insisted on detailed reconnaissance prior to any move. His scouts systematically overestimated Confederate troop numbers and his staff officers further rounded the numbers up, creating a mighty paper tiger of an enemy.

So frustrated was Lincoln at the pace of the operation that McClellan earned a new nickname, the Virginia Creeper. When he did meet the Confederates at 7 Pines Joe Johnson instigated an over complicated plan and his forces were soundly defeated. Again McClellan failed to take advantage and dithered for almost a month. This gave time for the little known General Robert E. Lee to take command of the Confederates and mount the 7 days battles. Lee showed how a good General using tactics of rapid movement and redeployment could run rings around McClellan’s monolithic monstrosity of an army. Supported by the “foot cavalry” of Stonewall Jackson, Lee drove the Union forces away from Richmond and sent them packing, tails between their legs. His partnership with Jackson was born and Lee became the preeminent Confederate General.

The confidence of Lincoln in McClellan was further diminished after Antietam when the Union General failed to follow up on a strategic Union victory, leaving the outcome inconclusive. It again appeared that the Union General was loathe to risk his shiny army. He was replaced as commander in chief, and instead ran for the presidency against Lincoln. He lost that one too.

What a contrast to General Philip Kearny, the bullish one-armed hero who was shot at seven pines by a Confederate Picket while returning to his lines. He lost his arm to a cannonball in the Mexican American war, was decorated by the French in North Africa and by the Austrians at the Battle of Solferino, both for personal bravery. Robert E. Lee had Kearny’s body returned to the union lines under a flag of truce out of respect for the General.

Kearny at Seven Pines; by Edmund Clarence Stedman

So that soldierly legend is still on its journey,
that story of Kearny who knew not to yield!
‘Twas the day when with Jameson, fierce Berry and Birney,
gainst twenty thousand he rallied the field.
Where the red volleys poured, where the clamor rose highest,
where the dead lay in clumps through the dwarf oak and pine,
where the aim from the thicket was surest and nighest,
no charge like Phil Kearny’s along the whole line.

When the battle went ill, and the bravest were solemn,
near the dark Seven Pines, where we still held our ground,
he rode down the length of the withering column,
and his heart at our war-cry lept up with a bound;
he snuffed, like his charger, the wind of the powder,
his sword waved us on and we answered the sign;
loud our cheer as we rushed, but his laugh rang the louder.
‘There’s the devil’s own fun, boys, along the whole line!’

How he strode his brown steed! How he saw his blade brighten
in the one hand still left, and the reins in his teeth!
He laughed like a boy when the holidays heighten,
but a soldier’s glance shot from his visor beneath.
Up came the reserves to the mellay infernal,
asking where to go in-through the clearing or pine?
‘O, anywhere! Forward! ‘Tis all the same, Colonel:
You’ll find lovely fighting along the whole line!’

Oh, evil the black shroud of night at Chantilly,
that hid him from sight of his brave men and tried!
Foul, foul speed the bullet that clipped the white lily,
the flower of our knighthood, the whole army’s pride!
Yet we dream that he still, in that shadowy region
where the dead form their ranks at the wan drummer’s sign,
rides on, as of old, down the length of his legion,
and the word is still ‘Forward!’ along the whole line.


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Land of the Blind

For a sailor Cork represents the finest natural harbour in Ireland and one of the finest in the world. Protected by the narrow choke at Roches Point from the wild Atlantic storms it opens up into a perfect broad and navigable haven. Unfortunately in the middle of that haven sits a broad shallow sand called the Spit Bank. Woe betide the vessel that cuts the corner in their rush to the City.

So a light was erected. But how do you build a structure on sand? The answer was provided by a Dublin born Irish Engineer; Alexander Mitchell. He came up with the idea of combining a screw with a piling and literally driving a massive screw into the sand. The Screw Pile was born. But incredibly, this engineer who gave sight to sailors was himself blind.

Mitchell moved from Dublin at the tender age of 7 in the year 1787 to Belfast where he was educated. He was a maths prodigy but by age 16 his eyesight had deteriorated to the point where he could no longer read. By 22 he was completely blind, due it is thought to a childhood smallpox infection.

He ran a successful brick foundry for much of his life which provided his family with a comfortable living. He regularly hosted renowned scientists such as George Boole of Cork University. He was 52 years of age when he came up with the idea for the screw pile. He tested a prototype in Belfast Lough before he applied for the patent.

The Spit Bank light was erected in Cork in 1852 approx. and still stands today. In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king.

Sonnet 19: by John Milton

When I consider how my light is spent,
ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
and that one talent which is death to hide
lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
to serve therewith my maker, and present
my true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent
that murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
and post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”


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Coolo Catsu

Where T.S. Eliot is the undisputed poet of cats the position of cat artist is hotly contested by Tsuguharu Foujita. Born Nov 27th, 1886 in Tokyo it was in Paris that he emerged on the avant-garde scene. He was trained in Japanese techniques and brought them to Montparnasse in Paris in the 1913. He was part of a scene which became known as the “School of Paris” and included Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Diego Rivera, Léger, Gris, Pascin and Soutine. Isadora Duncan, the dancer, was a frequent caller and got Foujita to dress in ancient Greek style.

WW1 arrived and broke up the school as various members enlisted. Foujita drifted to London, but was back in Paris by 1917. 1920’s Paris was his golden period when he painted opalescent white nudes and lots and lots of cats. He made a lot of money and lived the high life, but neglected to pay these pesky things called Taxes. In 1925 the authorities came after him looking for back taxes. His reaction was to tour the world.

The weight of his back taxes pursued him through the 1930’s and probably contributed to him accepting a job as an official War Artist in Japan during WW2. After the war he was pursued by accusations of being a fascist and was unable to sell his work. He eventually drifted back to the wellspring of his art, Paris, in 1950, became a citizen of France in 1955, converted to Catholicism and adopted the name Léonard.

Since his death in 1968 his reputation has gradually recovered, especially in Japan, and his work is not highly valuable and collectable. The four lessons you can learn from Foujita are these:

  • Don’t imitate others.
  • Don’t become a war artist for an expansionist fascist regime.
  • Pay your taxes.
  • Paint cats.


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The PR Father

When Uncle Sigmund showed his work on psychology to his nephew Edward Bernays it sparked a revolution. Edward, born in Austria Nov 22nd, 1891 was moved to New York in the 1890’s and was raised as a Jewish American. Graduating Cornell he began a career as a journalist but rapidly moved into the field of “Public Relations Counsel”.

He leveraged the psychological insights of Sigmund Freud to create compelling communications strategies for Government and Industry. He never saw himself as an ad man and he essentially created the field of PR. He went on to become one of the 100 most influential men in the history of the USA, if you believe the PR.

Sadly his legacy is coloured black by work he did to promote cigarette smoking amongst women and to justify the overthrow of the Guatemalan Government by the United Fruit Company, ably assisted by the CIA. Chiquita Bananas have not overthrown a government in decades. But it was Bernays who used his PR skills to present the legally elected Guatemalan government as a communist regime, providing the US government with a justification to replace them with a military dictatorship.

Bernays was also related to German poet Heinrich Heine, a man famous for his anti-authoritarian stance. Heine himself was related to Karl Marx and influenced the author of the Communist Manifesto. I feel the family would have been very disappointed in the role of little cousin Eddie in his support of aggressive Capitalist American colonialism.

Der Asra ; by Heinrich Heine

Every day so lovely, shining,
up and down, the Sultan’s daughter
walked at evening by the water,
where the white fountain splashes.

Every day the young slave stood
by the water, in the evening,
where the white fountain splashes,
every day grew pale, and paler.

Then the princess came one evening,
quickly speaking to him, softly,
‘Your true name – I wish to know it,
your true homeland, and your nation.’

And the slave said, ‘I am called
Mahomet, I am from Yemen,
and my tribe, it is the Asra,
who die, when they love.’


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The simple things.

Just back from a short week in Puerto del Carmen, Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. It’s a great time to get away from the cold wet misery of an Irish November to the eternal sunshine of the Spanish Isles. Each day brings a few more hours of daylight, many more hours of sunshine, plenty of walking and swimming, scuba diving and snorkeling.

Coffee and croissants on the balcony for breakfast. Long, languorous lunches picking over a tapas like selection of pate, cheese, bread, crackers, olives, tomato and onion. All washed down with the cheapest wine in Europe.

Yes there is fine dining, there are cocktails, there was sultry south-American samba dancing, but the big attraction is the really simple things. How often can we say we went a week without opening a computer or turning on a TV. That qualifies as a good week.

I finished “Flowers of Adonis” the novel by Rosemary Sutcliff about the Greek Admiral Alcibiades. Began “The Bottle Factory Outing” by Beryl Bainbridge which is laugh out loud funny. Completed by 22nd Scuba dive on Playa Chica. Walked to the Airport and watched a plane land above us – that’s an experience!


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The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal opened up in the Solomon Islands on the night of Nov 12th and morning of Nov 13th 1942. This was 2 days after the defeat of German forces in Egypt at the Battle of El Alamein. On the Russian front the Germans were bogged down in Leningrad and Stalingrad. The Axis could have used some good news.

Instead Guadalcanal became a graveyard for the Japanese and represented the southernmost culminating point of their expansion. The naval battles extended from Nov 12th to the 15th. By the time they ended the US and Allied fleet had lost 9 ships sunk and 6 heavily damaged, losing two admirals in the process. The Japanese lost 17 ships sunk or destroyed, which included 11 troop transports, and a further 7 heavily damaged. Two of the Japanese vessels sunk were battleships.

Many theorists would say the Japanese never had a hope in a long campaign against the USA, and their hopes for Pacific domination in the medium term were erased when they failed to catch the US Carrier fleet in Pearl Harbor. In Japan any residual illusions of Japanese Naval Dominance sank to the sea bottom in the seaway called “The Slot”. From this point on their war became an extended retreat.

The artists image above is not of Guadalcanal, but of Midway, but it gives a keen sense of the three dimensional nature of a Pacific naval engagement where carrier and ground based aircraft are engaged in the fighting. Guadalcanal was even more hellish because the two critical naval close encounters took place in the dark of night.

That night your great guns, unawares,
shook all our coffins as we lay,
and broke the chancel window-squares,
we thought it was the Judgment-day

from “Channel Firing” by Thomas Hardy


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They call it poppy love

Ukraine is repurposing the Poppy as a symbol of Russian exploitation of the outcome of WW2 and a symbol of repression instead of remembrance. As a result the poppy is losing its gloss. I have hijacked John McCrae to make his symbol of military sacrifice into a torch for Climate Change. Let’s leave Oil and Gas in the ground. The earth will abide but the fate of mankind is in the balance.

In Ukraine’s Fields: by John McCrae and Donal Clancy

In Ukraine’s fields the poppies blow
between the wheatstalks, row on row,
that mark our place; and in the sky
Iranian drones, still ominously lurking, fly
scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are media led. Short days ago
we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
loved and were loved, and now are lied to,
in Ukraine’s fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
to you from oil soaked hands we throw
the torch; be yours to quench it please.
If ye break faith with us who die
we shall cease, because no poppies grow
in Capitalist Ukraine fields.


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The aquatic ape?

Born November 7th, 1920 Elaine Morgan was a Welsh writer, feminist and amateur anthropologist. Her books were best sellers in the 1970’s to 1990’s although they have since been dismissed by serious anthropology as farcical. Good science benefits from dissenting voices who force academics back to the drawing board to re-examine the evidence. Morgan was in this mould. Her books were highly popular with the lay public and gained sufficient traction to force a reaction from the establishment.

Up to this point the prevalent theory of human evolution was the “Savage Ape” who descended from the trees, picked up a pointy stick and started to hunt game. Morgan observed this was a highly male chauvinist paradigm which made little or no reference to female sexuality or caregiving. It gave no role or credit to the women who invented the first calendar.

Morgan came across the now discredited Aquatic Ape Hypothesis which postulated our hairlessness came from our penchant for seafood. It was an early nod to the importance of women as gatherers being at least of equal importance to the role of men as hunters. Her books, including “The Descent of Woman” (1972) attribute the aquatic phase to a fundamental switch in human sexual practice from rear entry to front entry sex and the shift from the orgasm being a “natural sexual response” to becoming an elusive and shy creature. As one media review commented “Elaine Morgan may not win you over to her theory of the evolution of women, but you’ll enjoy letting her try.” Morgan admitted in 2003 that the book “was a thoroughly unscientific romp riddled with errors and convenient conclusions“.

If there is one lesson you can take from Elaine, as a serious Anthropologist it has to be that Sex Sells.


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The walls came tumbling down

November 6th, 447 CE is the accepted day when Constantinople was hit by a massive earthquake. The Theodosian triple walls on the landward side, already damaged by an earthquake ten years earlier, were severely damaged this time. 57 towers were damaged. Outside the walls the Hunnish army of Atilla was laying waste to any army put against it.

In response Theodosius II appointed his praetorian prefect, suitably named Constantine, to supervise the repairs. What Constantine did was very clever. He turned it into a competition between the supporter factions, the Demes, of the circus. The hotly contested chariot races has four supporter groups, Whites and Reds, Blues and Greens with the latter two being the really big rivals.

Imagine if you will a similar situation happening today in London City, and the Mayor calling on the fan clubs from Chelsea, Spurs, West Ham and the Arsenal to see who could rebuild the walls fastest. As a result of the competition it took only 60 days to restore the walls and towers. When pride is at stake fans can move mountains.


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