Camera Obscura

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Officer and a laughing girl by Johannes Vermeer was the painting that started the controversy.  The American artist Joseph Pennell first raised the theory in 1891.  It was during the 1880’s that George Eastman of New York invented a photographic process accessible to the masses.  The slogan for the Kodak camera was “you push the button, we do the rest”.  Eliminating the need for glass plates, dangerous chemicals and home-brewed photographic emulsions and fixers opened the process to the world.

Pennell noticed that the paintings of Vermeer had a photographic quality.  They had the kind of proportions you saw in photographs.  The Officer is twice as large as the girl.

Now it is widely accepted, but still unproven, that Johannes Vermeer used a camera obscura, a primitive pinhole camera, to sketch out his interiors.  Many versions have been used over the years, the best probably being the camera lucida in many variants, which is still in use today.

When you compare an earlier work, with a tiled floor, like Christ Healing the Blind by El Greco (1570) you can see the foreground is almost linear.

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How different to the distance created by Vermeer in his interiors, such as the Lady playing a Virginal (or The music lesson).  El Greco tries to create depth by having his background recede, but the foreground is flat.

Vermeer’s interior is bounded by a wall of the room, but he creates great space and depth in the foreground.  this is further enhanced by the perspective given to the room by shadows from the natural light entering the windows.

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Johannes Veneer was born on this day, Oct 31st 1632.

My Uncle; the madman.

Swastika laundry was founded in Dublin in 1912 by John W. Brittain from Manorhamilton in County Leitrim.  A pioneer of the laundry business he was postively futuristic in his selection of delivery fleet.  The swastika laundry fleet were all electric vehicles a century before electric was cool.

He also designed a brilliant graphic as a logo, using an ancient Sanskrit symbol for good luck.

In 1909 Alois Hitler Junior, the older half brother of Adolf Hitler, came to Dublin to work.  While attending the Horse Show in the RDS he pretended to a gullible Irish girl, Bridget Dowling, that he as a wealthy hotelier.  In fact he was working as a waiter in a Dublin Hotel.

In 1910 they eloped to Liverpool and Bridget gave birth to Patrick William Hitler.  The marriage did not last long.  It is well known that the Hitlers came from an abusive family and the pattern continued with Alois.  The marriage was effectively over by 1914 when Alois returned to Germany.  Some say he insisted on returning as the countries moved to a war footing but that she refused to move further from here Dublin origins.

In any case Alois was well positioned, only a mailboat away from Dublin, to observe the flash fleet of swastika laundry vans that hit the streets of the Irish capital.

There are some who suggest that the graphic was communicated, either overtly or subliminally to Alois younger brother, the failed artist and budding politician Adolf.  It was Adolf who claims ownership of the Nazi swastika design with its classic field of red, circle of white and black swastika.  The Nazi version is of course nothing like the Irish laundry van version.  It is tilted on its axis.  Totally different.

As for the young half Irish Paddy Hitler, he visited Germany in 1927 to meet the father who pretended to his family to have died in the War so he could remarry.  Alois was charged with bigamy as a result.  Paddy was introduced to uncle Hitler during his visit.

Patrick and his Mother departed from Liverpool to the USA in 1939 just in time to avoid a second world war.  He gave some lectures about his “madman uncle” until the USA joined the war, when he enlisted in the medical corps.

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Swastika laundry continued to use the sanskrit symbol, and made a point of publishing their foundation date, 1912, predating the Nazi’s.  They share this honor with no less than Carlsberg brewery, where the gate is supported by two great elephants, bearing the swastika symbol.

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Encounters

Elevator

Robert Frank – Elevator – Miami Beach

 

Meeting In A Lift; by Vliaimír Holan

We stepped into the lift. The two of us, alone
We looked at each other and that was all.
Two lives, a moment, fullness, bliss.
At the fifth floor she got out and I went on up
knowing I would never see her again,
that it was a meeting once and for all,
that if I followed her I would be like a dead man in her tracks
and that if she came back to me
it would only be from the other world.

 

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What is Erasmus?

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Born Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus ; Erasmus of Rotterdam in Netherlands was to the Northern Renaissance what Petrarch, the Father of Humanism, was to the Italian Renaissance.  For this reason Erasmus was called the “Prince of the Humanists”.

Erasmus trod the “Middle Way” between the corrupt Conservatives of the Catholic Church who resisted all reform, and the Protestant revolutionaries who wanted to tear down and rebuild the rotten edifice of Christianity.

The EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students is a very tenuous acronym for the EU programe which aims to integrate students from EU member states at a time of their life when people are most open to meeting people from different backgrounds.

Erasmus grant funds students to study in Universities outside their home country, and to meet and integrate with students from other European countries.  The aim of the programme is pan-European integration, the formation of a “European Identity”.

The Erasmus Mundus programme is a parallel initiative aimed at integrating Europeans with students from outside the European Union.

In 1987-88 some 3,244 students participated.

In 2006 150,000 students took part.

In 2016 330,000 participated.

With association comes understanding and this goes hand in hand with a reduction of xenophobia and the fear that arises from a lack of understanding of the positions of distant populations.  It is highly significant that the “Vote Leave” campaign in the UK received greatest support from older, more insular and less educated people.  The young and educated are far more open to an integrated Europe.

Brexit is an initiative of old people, who will suffer none of the consequences, to make life difficult for the next generation, and possibly for generations to come.  If the UK had postponed the Brexit vote by just 5 years sufficient old people would have died, and young new voters would have registered to swing the vote the other way.

Today the EU agreed to an extension of Brexit to January 31st.  Today happens to be the Birthday of Erasmus who was born Oct 28th 1466.

 

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Dying is an art.

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Today is the birthday of Sylvia Plath, born in 1932 and dying of suicide in 1963, aged only 30.  Forever young, forever turgid with what may have been.

The poem below is a description of her relationship with suicide.  The death of her father when she was 8 years old remained with her all her life.  He died of complications following the amputation of his foot from diabetes.  Does the reference to her own right foot reflect this in the poem below?

Her father Otto Plath self diagnosed his illness – incorrectly.  Is this “Herr Doktor”?  This poem and “Daddy” are imbued with German imagery, Nazi imagery, Holocaust Imagery.  Having a German father and an Austrian mother during WW2 clearly carried a weight of guilt for the young Plath.

Her success in suicide was achieved ironically in an oven, gassing herself to death, a parody of the gassing and burning of the Jews in death camps.  Those were the days when we used towns gas, made from coal or naphta, which was poisonous.  These days if you stick your head in a gas oven you will simply get a headache.  Natural gas is not poisonous.

Lady Lazarus is one of Plath’s most analysed poems.  You will find analysis that claims it as a holocaust poem, survivor guilt, a feminist tirade against the patriarchy, a commentary on the vampire like demands of the audience on the artist, the legacy of her fathers early death, the abusive relationship with her husband Ted Hughes, the pressures on women to conform to a societal ideal, and so on.  It is a rich soup of imagery for any critic.

 

Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it——

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
bright as a Nazi lampshade,
my right foot

a paperweight,
my face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?——

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
the grave cave ate will be
at home on me

and I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
and like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
to annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
shoves in to see

them unwrap me hand and foot——
the big strip tease.
Gentlemen, ladies

these are my hands
my knees.
I may be skin and bone,

nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
to last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

as a seashell.
They had to call and call
and pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Dying
is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.
It’s the theatrical

comeback in broad day
to the same place, the same face, the same brute
amused shout:

‘A miracle!’
that knocks me out.
There is a charge

for the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
for the hearing of my heart——
it really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
for a word or a touch
or a bit of blood

or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
the pure gold baby

that melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash—
you poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there——

a cake of soap,
a wedding ring,
a gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer
beware
beware.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
and I eat men like air.

Happy Birthday Andrew Motion

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UK poet laureate from 1999 to 2009, following in the footsteps of Ted Hughes (husband of Sylvia Plath).  The top choice for that gig was Seamus Heaney, but the Irishman ruled himself out.

Born Oct 26th 1952 Motion had the good fortune to study under W.H Auden in Oxford and to have Philip Larkin as a colleague at Hull.  He followed Malcom Bradbury as professor of creative writing in University of East Anglia.  Now esconced at Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, USA.  A brilliant poet from a stable of brilliant poets.

Andrew Motion shares a birthday with Dublin Poet Trevor Joyce, but we’ll give this page to Andrew on the day England defeated the All Blacks in the 2019 Rugby World Cup Semi-Final in Yokohama.

Diving; by Andrew Motion

The moment I tire
of difficult sand-grains
and giddy pebbles,
I roll with the punch
of a shrivelling wave
and am cosmonaut
out past the fringe
of a basalt ledge
in a moony sea-hall
spun beyond blue.
Faint but definite
heat of the universe

flutters my skin;
quick fish apply
as something to love,
what with their heads
of gong-dented gold;
plankton I push

an easy way through
would be dust or dew
in the world behind
if that mattered at all,
which is no longer true,
with its faces and cries.

Realpolitik and American Apple Pie

Klaus Barbie

Klaus Barbie

You can get Malibu Barbie, French Barbie and Bootcamp barbie in her cute military uniform.  But I have searched high and low and Mattel don’t seem to have produced a Klaus Barbie.  I wonder why.  He is, after all, a good all american guy.

Born Oct 25th 1913 in the Saar region of Germany (happy birthday Klaus) Barbie joined the SS in 1935 and became a Nazi party member in 1937.  In 1940 and 41 he helped to round up Dutch Jews and transport them to concentration camps.  But his real work got underway in 1942 when posted to Dijon.  He was transfereed to the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police, and took over the personal duties of torture and interrogation.

In one case after beating one of his “suspects” he had him skinned alive and immersed his head in a bucket of ammonia.  For his service to the Reich the French gave him the sobriquet “The Butcher of Lyon”.  And it was not for the quality of his Cervelas.

So, you would imagine that a cruel and inhumane monster like this would be hanged, or at the very least would end his life in jail?  How wrong can you be?  Enter the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Corps, the CIC.  They recruited the Butcher of Lyon as a spy, beliving that the French Government was infiltrated by communists.  When the French demanded the monster they had already sentenced in absentia what did they US Army do?  Did they hand over the Butcher?  No.

Instead the CIC thought it would be a good idea to sneak Barbie out of Europe to South America.  He lived a life of wealth and luxury in Bolivia, consorting with the ruling elite.

When, at last, the Bolivian dictators were deposed the democratically elected government extradited him to France in 1983.  Indicted in 1983, sentenced in 1987, Barbie died in a French prison in 1991.

Good job USA, good job.  Hoo-ah!

 

Europe’s first female engineer.

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Galway girl Alice Perry was the first woman in Europe to graduate with a degree in Engineering.

Born on this day in 1885 she graduated from Galway Queens College in 1906.  She replaced her father in his role as Galway County Surveyor, and remains the ONLY woman to work as a County Surveyor in Ireland.

Alice moved to Scotland where she met and married John (Bob) Shaw in 1916, coverting from Presbyterianism to Christian Science.

As a factory inspector in this time Perry enforced laws that protected the many women working in armaments and war industries who were handling some very dangerous substances and chemicals.

Bob Shaw died in WW1 on the Western Front only a year later.  Alice became interested in poetry in the early 1920’s.  She left her job in Glasgow and moved to Boston, the HQ of the Christian Science Foundation where she wrote and edited poetry.

Sadly there seems to be none of her poetry easily available online.  Some volumes of her poetry were donated to NUIG library.  Perhaps some poetry nut will transcribe a few of them onto the internet thingy and give me a link.

Galway University is suitably proud of their first in engineering and named their Engineering Centre the Alice Perry Building in 2017.  Now we need to see to the task of appointing the second woman in Ireland to the post of County Engineer.

Rules for breaking the rules

Protesters in Hong Kong have learned a thing or two as protests escalate against the erosion of the 1997 agreements by the Chinese government.

Rule 1:  You need your colours.  Protesters have adopted black outfits and yellow items.  The supporters of the authorities adopted blue to represent the police.

Rule 2:  Break your colour rules.  People wearing black and yellow were being arrested on the subway on the way to protests.  So you mix things up.

Rule 3:  Steed knew what he was doing.  The front man from the Avengers never left home without his umbrella.  Protesters use umbrellas to keep off the rain, to express solidarity, and to deflect tear gas canisters and plastic baton rounds.  They also protect you from the irritant and blue dye in the water sprayed from police water cannon.

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Rule 4:  Gas masks are great if you can get them to the protest.  You can buy a gas mask online.  But if the police find it in your backpack in a random search you will be arrested.  So many protesters opt for the less effective surgical mask.  Someone just needs to invent a backpack with a sneaky gas mask sized false bottom.

Rule 5:  Understanding how Roman Maniples interchanged during conflict.  Protest organisers are understanding that you can only be at the front for so long.  You need to rotate your front line troops.  The Roman legionary maniple system is a great model.  It was “a phalanx with joints”.

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Rule 6:  Some armour is better than no armour.

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Rule 7:  Non-violence hurts.

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Rule 8:  If you keep it up, and keep it up, and keep it up, you will win.

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Rule 9:  The police do what they do with our permission.

A totally lawless society cannot be kept in check by the police.  The police rely upon well meaning citizens to keep society running.  Police are specialists who are appointed by society to deal with the worst crime, the worst violence.

Politicians who believe that the police are a tool they can use to oppress the people are forgetting that the police too are the people.  Once the police (and the military) awaken to the fact that the groundswell of opinion lies with the people, and not with the rulers, the police and military act on behalf of the people.

The politicans can order the security forces against the people for a short time, but when they lose that authority they lose it for all time.

UPDATE:  31st October

Rule 10:  Protest in unexpected places and unexpected ways.  Turn up everywhere.

HongKong

Guy Fawkes – the Hong Kong Gunpowder Plot

Napoleon died in Moscow!

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Napoleon by Delaroche painted in 1845 long after his death.

Claude François de Malet, a general of the French revolutionary wars, resigned his commission when Napoleon became Emperor.  On Oct 23rd in 1812 Malet presented papers that showed Napoleon was killed in Russia.

Malet attempted to take control of France, but his coup was defeated by supporters of Napoleon.  As we all know Napoleon was still alive and returned from Moscow.  Or did he?

Before Moscow Napoleon was the undefeatable General.  Yes his marshalls lost battles, but not the master himself.  One month before his supposed death he defeated the Russians at Borodino.  After Moscow what do we see?  French forces driven backwards out of Russia.  Then defeat after defeat in Prussia and Germany culminating in the disaster for the the French at Leipzig.

A year on Elba and this weak copy of the Emperor raises his army again in the 100 days to Waterloo, and is again defeated.

Which begs the question; was Malet correct?  Did Napoleon Bonaparte die in Moscow.  Did the Napoleonic inner circle hide the truth and replace their leader with a body double?  A double who looked the part, but with none of the military genius.

“But wait” you say “everyone knows what Napoleon looks like”.  Really?  Do they?  His most famous painter Jacques-Louis David could not get Bonaparte to sit as a model.  He reported the following conversation with the Emperor:

Napoleon: ‘[Pose?] For what good? Do you think that the great men of antiquity of whom we have images posed?’

David: ‘But I am painting you for your century, for the men who have seen you, who know you: they will want to find a resemblance.’

Napoleon: ‘A resemblance! It isn’t the exactness of the features, a wart on the nose which gives the resemblance. It is the character of the physiognomy, what animates it, that must be painted. Certainly Alexander never posed for Apelles. Nobody knows if the portraits of great men resemble them. It is enough that their genius lives there.’ 

When we look at the traditional image of Napoleon we see a short dark haired and defeated man.  How different from images captured from early in his life.  A tall, slim man with flowing blonde hair.  Could it be true?  Could the French Emperor have died in Moscow?  Could this be one of the great conspiracy theories of history?

 

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Young Napoleon by Antoine-Jean Gros