POTUSterity

Trump Failure

Victor Juhasz: Rolling Stone

On the birthday of Walt Whitman it is interesting to note that the great American poet left some profound poetic tributes to the legacy of his president Abraham Lincoln.

How distant does this seem from the legacy that will follow the current POTUS?

O Captain! my Captain:  Walt Whitman (1865 on the death of Lincoln)

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
the ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
the port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
while follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
where on the deck my Captain lies,
fallen cold and dead …

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d:  Walt Whitman (1865)

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
and the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
and thought of him I love …

abraham-lincolns-death-picture

Riot or Rebellion?

Riot Language

The sun dawns after the third night of rioting in American cities, centered in  Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed by a policeman.  The incident was a mirror of a story arc in the hit TV Series: Orange is the New Black.  Poussey Washington is killed by a Prison Guard kneeling on her neck, and Litchfield penitentiary explodes into a riot and an inmate takeover.

It is doubly poignant that today is the birthday of Countee Cullen, a leading light of the Harlem Renaissance which wrenched a black cultural identity from the grasping hands of the white American establishment.  A movement created by the grandchildren of the freed slaves who were shown a glimpse of freedom before being re-enslaved in poverty, landlessness, segregation and a raft of penal laws known now as Jim Crow.

It is triply poignant that this is the anniversary of the memorial day massacre.  “On Memorial Day, May 30, 1937, police opened fire on a parade of striking steel workers and their families at the gate of the Republic Steel Company, in South Chicago. Fifty people were shot, of whom 10 later died; 100 others were beaten with clubs.” (Dorothy Day)

As cities across the USA burn the frightened middle class want the violence to stop.  They are saying that this is not the way to get the message through.  But lets face it – velvet revolutions are few and far between.  Rebellion generally ends up with blood on the streets.  The elite do not give up power easily.

Since 2016 Colin Kaepernick has refused to stand during the National Anthem at American Football Games.  For 6 years you white Americans have turned your backs and closed your ears to this Canary in the Coalmine.  Kaepernick was the gentle force for change.    “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”  The reaction of the white middle class was to criticize Kaepernick as being un-American.

There is a loaded term if ever you had one.  Remember the McCarthy Era and the Committee on un-American activities?

The problem of course is not the black people.  They just want justice and a fair society.

The problem is not the President, the Mayor or the Governor.  They are the grasping establishment who want to keep what they control.  Donald Trump defiles the presidency, tweeting the words of a famous racist from 1967, Miami police Chief Walter Headley who originated the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”.  Trump joins the ranks of the Emperor Nero who fiddled while Rome burned, and Marie Antoinette with “let them eat cake”.  But while he is a joke, he is not the problem.

The problem is the police.  In the USA as in no other nation the police are the henchmen of capitalism.  They are the oppressive agents of the establishment.  In other countries the Police Force is there to maintain civil wellbeing.  If the establishment acts against the people then the police eventually protect the people because the police are the people.

When the police in the USA wake up they will see they are standing on the wrong side of the riot.  That is the moment when the riot stops…. and the rebellion begins.

The Wise; by Countee Cullen

Dead men are wisest, for they know
how far the roots of flowers go,
how long a seed must rot to grow.

Dead men alone bear frost and rain
on throbless heart and heatless brain,
and feel no stir of joy or pain.

Dead men alone are satiate;
they sleep and dream and have no weight,
to curb their rest, of love or hate.

Strange, men should flee their company,
or think me strange who long to be
wrapped in their cool immunity.

Summiting new.

Conquer-Everest

As kids we had a 3 dimensional board game called “Conquer Everest”.  The big selling point was that pyramid shaped model of the mountain.

Climbing loomed large in the life of the poet Gary Snyder, so I have no doubt that he marked the day in 1953, when he was 23 years old, when Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay conquered Everest.  May 29th.

Can you “conquer” a mountain?  More likely the mountain conquers you.  Probably a question for Petrarch, the “Father of Mountain Climbing”.

Beneath my hand and eye the distant hills, your body ; by Gary Snyder

What my hand follows on your body
is the line. A stream of love
of heat, of light, what my
eye lascivious
licks
over watching
far snow-dappled Uintah mountains
is that stream
of power. What my
hand curves over, following the line.
“Hip” and “groin”
where “I”
follow by hand and eye
the swimming limit of your body.
As when vision idly dallies on the hills
loving what it feeds on.
Soft cinder cones and craters;
-Drum Hadley in the Pinacate
took ten minutes more to look again-
a leap of power unfurling:
Left, right-right-
my heart beat faster looking
at the snowy Uintah Mountains.
What “is” within not know
but feel it
sinking with a breath
pusht ruthless, surely, down.
Beneath this long caress of hand and eye
“we” learn the flowering burning,
outward, from “below”.

Power and Influence

demmap13

The USA trumpets itself around the globe as a cradle of Democracy, Human Rights and Personal Freedom.  Viewed from outside it can be seen as a dubious democracy where millionaires compete with each other for seats in what looks very much like a two party system.

This got me thinking about Power and Influence and how they can be balanced in some political systems and imbalanced in others, and a balanced power/influence dynamic is a symptom of a healthy government.

In short, if a small number of people have too much power and influence, and make decisions to benefit themselves this is a failure of Government.

In the USA it takes deep pockets to compete for election.  Political Candidates need funding and in the home of Capitalism there is no such thing as a free lunch.  To get power you need money, what you sell is your influence; your votes on topics sensitive to your funders.  As a result decisions in US Government are skewed in favour of the interests of big business.

The ordinary man in the street is left out in the cold.  Not exactly the American Dream, Mom and Apple Pie.  The USA is classified as a Flawed Democracy scoring only 7.96 on the Democracy Index.

But the ordinary man in the street does have a vote and can wield that vote as a weapon.  It is possible, if highly unlikely, to change the system for the better.

In a pure autocracy the man in the street does not even have a dream of changing things for the better.  Decisions are made by an inner elite. China is classified as Authoritarian, scoring only 2.26 on the democracy index, but over twice the 1.08 scored by North Korea. In 18th Century France the Kings taxed the poor to pay for a libertine lifestyle.  They eventually paid for this excess with their heads at the guillotine.  If you remove the potential for evolution you risk revolution.

This is why we have anocracy.  Anocracy is a form of government where you operate as an autocracy with the trappings of democracy.  You hold elections but they change little.  The people you elect into power are paper tigers with no ability to influence the really key decisions on issues like what happens the money, who you invade or who goes to prison.  Some of these are monarchies where the rulers retain powers, as in Morocco (5.10 democracy index) or they may be led by religious or military Juntas or partial dictatorships.  Called “hybrid regimes”

People who come from autocracies, anocracies and majority governments do not understand the attraction of multi-party democracies.  What they see in the likes of Italy, Ireland, Israel, Greece etc are floundering confusions of coalition run governments.  What the voter sees is different.

In Ireland I can join a political party and attain a considerable level of influence within that party for a fairly modest investment of my time; assuming I have the social, political and economic tools to hold my own in open debate.  The larger the party is the more difficult it is to gain influence within the party.

I can opt to be a small cog in a larger party, which has a greater chance of getting into power in government.  I would have little influence in a party with much power.  Or I could have greater influence in a smaller party which is more likely to be sidelined in government.  Lots of influence, but little power.

When I see this natural balancing act between power and influence I see healthy government.  As Abraham Lincoln pointed out: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

We score 9.24 in fully democratic Ireland, currently the 6th most democratic country in the world.

Democracy

 

 

 

Sail Oil

Kilkee

Kilkee in County Clare on the West Coast of Ireland has an amazingly scenic beach, Moore Bay.  The strand is a perfect horseshoe open to the vastness of the North Atlantic.  On the north fringe of the beach is a small pier and boat slip used by the local fishermen.  Fishing is heavily weather dependent and Kilkee is not a bay in which you can keep a fleet due to it’s exposure to Western Storms.  And most of the storms on this coast are Western Storms.

Growing up I spent many years on holidays in Kilkee and our days were planned around the tides.  We went swimming almost every day.  If the tides were high we would walk out the headland to the North side of the bay to Byrne’s Cove.  For low tide days the pollock holes came into play, natural rock pools that lie just below this photo above on the bottom left corner.

The long channel gives some protection to Moore Bay, but not much.  I have seen breakers ten feet tall on the beach.

Sail Oil was a nickname given to the local village idiot.  That term is not used these days, but Jerry McDermott filled that role in the town.  He attempted to be a fisherman, but had the good sense to remain on his little boat within the bay so he didn’t catch a lot.

My oldest brothers went out in his currach with him once when they were young teenagers.  Along the way they encountered a basking shark, the second biggest fish in the world.  Basking sharks are enormous but placid plankton feeders.  When the boys tried to attract the shark by splashing their hands in the water poor Sail Oil had a meltdown.

If they had a good catch the real fishermen would toss Jerry a few mackerel or pollock to sell on the street corner beside Hickey’s Guesthouse.  When he gathered a few shillings he would nip into May Naughten’s Pub for a pint or two.  When the money ran short he would throw cow eyes at the locals and tourists in the hope of scamming a free pint.

He had a wooden pole with a bent metal hook for crabbing at the Pollock Holes.  Apparently he knew all the best spots for the plate sized brown crabs you can find there.

After storms he would walk the strand beach-combing for anything valuable that might have washed ashore.  That was how he found the mysterious cylinder that was behind the Thresher Hoax.  But that’s another story.

 

 

 

Thresher

Thresher

Launched in 1960 the USS Thresher was the fastest submarine of its day.  It was a nuclear powered attack submarine – a submarine hunter killer.

This was back in the early days of nuclear powered vessels and a lot of experimentation was happening.  In 1961 while docking in Puerto Rico the Thresher turned off its Nuclear Generator (standard practice in port) and ran on a backup diesel generator.  Unfortunately the diesel broke down and she had to resort to battery.  When it became clear the diesel could not be repaired the officers attempted to restart the nuclear generator, but the battery charge was too low.  So the embarrassed Captain had to ask another ship for a loan of some cables and then connected them to the diesel submarine, USS Cavalla, for a jump start.

In April 1963 the Thresher was engaged in deep diving tests off the coast of Boston.  The lives of 129 crew and shipyard personnel were lost in one of the worst submarine disasters in history.

Subsequent efforts to recover the boat failed.  All through 1963 and 1964 the shortcomings of the USS Navy rescue equipment for deep dive situation became evident.  The Thresher was found in 1964 in five major sections spread out over a 33 acre wide area of the sea bed, and was photographed to ascertain the cause of sinking.

I grew up with the tale of the Thresher because of a subsequent prank.  I was born in 1963 so I have no direct memory of the events, but a bit of detective work will turn up the newspaper clippings of the day dated March 29th to March 31st or thereabout in 1966, three years after the sinking.

Thresher2

In those days we used to spend every summer holiday in Kilkee, County Clare in the West of Ireland.  So it was big news in March 1966 when a mystery enfolded.  A three foot cylinder bearing the name Thresher and with radioactive markings was found on the beach in Kilkee the far side of the Atlantic from the sinking.

The Irish police informed the US Navy as a precaution, but had already established that the object was not radioactive.  Two US Navy officers stationed at the Nuclear Submarine base in Holyloch in Scotland were dispatched to retrieve the “object” and it was a mini-media storm.  The events were widely picked up by news media around the world.

The truth, as I heard it, was that some local wags in Kilkee painted up an old barrel and decked it up with markings to make it look like debris from the wreck.  They then placed it on the beach to be found by a local beachcomber, Jerry McDermott.  Nicknamed “Sailoil” this simple man was, as we say in Ireland “a bit touched”.  Today we would say he is on some spectrum.  The traditional Irish rendition is “leag Dia lámh air” meaning “God laid a hand on him” or “God touched him” hence “touched”.  He was the perfect innocent straight man to perpetrate the prank.

Sailoil proudly bore his prize home and stored it under his mothers bed.   The news of the fine percolated out into town and caused a bit of consternation when people saw the nuclear markings.  So experts were sent for, armed with geiger counters to scan the object.  The press showed up and the hoaxers celebrated with pints as they watched the whole thing unfold on the News.  In 1966 this was the equivalent of “going viral”.

As I say my memory of these events is third hand hearsay.  If you know better let me know!

Free like Clancy

Clancy

In modern culture the cowboy is not just a man who works horses or drives cattle.  The cowboy is a symbol.  By definition a symbol is a thing that represents or stands for something else.  The cowboy is a complex symbol representing adventure, independence, freedom, a carefree life untroubled by the manners and conventions of civilized society.  He represents the polar opposite of living in a city, with a job, family, mortgage, car payments etc.  He is an escape fantasy.

When Philip Morris cigarette company advertised their Marlboro brand the ad agency, Leo Burnett, tied it to the symbol of the Cowboy.  It was an instant success because the target market identified immediately with all the meanings conveyed by that symbol.  The cowboy became known as the Marlboro man.

In Australia the free-ranging cowboy symbol has a name, which happens to be my own;  Clancy.  Inspired by Banjo Patterson’s poem “Clancy of the Overflow” the aussie cattle drover crystallized in the minds of Australians in the character of the eponymous hero.  So much so that Clancy inspired his own literary following.

Clancy appears in the poem, and in the movie “The Man from Snowy River”.  A less favourable view of the drovers life is given in “Clancy’s Reply” by Thomas Gerald Clancy and the popularity of the genre is mocked in the parody “The Overflow of Clancy” by the enigmatic HHCC.

The poem below is by well known Australian poet Dorothy Hewett, born May 21st 1923.  Her usage of Clancy is a clear nod to the symbology of Clancy representing the wild carefree and fun existence as a stark contrast to her Quaker roots.

 

Once I Rode With Clancy; by Dorothy Hewett

Once I rode with Clancy through the wet hills of Wickepin,
by Kunjin and Corrigin with moonlight on the roofs,
and the iron shone faint and ghostly on the lonely moonlit siding
and the salt earth rang like crystal underneath our flying hoofs.

O once I rode with Clancy when my white flesh was tender,
and my hair a golden cloud along the wind,
among the hills of Wickepin, the dry salt plains of Corrigin,
where all my Quaker forebears strove and sinned.

Their black hats went bobbing through the Kunjin churchyard,
with great rapacious noses, somber-eyed,
ringbarked gums and planted pine trees, built a raw church
in a clearing, made it consecrated ground because they died.

From this seed I spring—the dour and sardonic Quaker men,
the women with hooked noses, baking bread,
breeding, hymning, sowing, fencing off the stony earth,
that salts their bones for thanksgiving when they’re dead.

It’s a country full of old men, with thumbscrews on their hunger,
their crosses leaning sideways in the scrub.
My cousins spit to windward, great noses blue with moonlight,
their shoulders propping up the Kunjin pub.

O once I rode with Clancy through the wet hills of Wickepin,
by Kunjin and Corrigin with moonlight on the roofs,
and the iron shone faint and ghostly on the lonely, moonlit siding
and the salt earth rang like crystal underneath our flying hoofs.

And the old men rose muttering and cursed us from the graveyard
when they saw our wild white hoofs go flashing by,
for I ride with landless Clancy and their prayers are at my back,
they can shout out strings of curses on the sky.

By Wickepin, by Corrigin, by Kunjin’s flinty hills,
on wild white hoofs that kindle into flame,
the river is my mirror, the wattle tree our roof,
adrift across our bed like golden rain.

Let the old men clack and mutter, let their dead eyes run with rain.
I hear the crack of doom across the scrub,
for though I ride with Clancy there is much of me remains,
in that moonlit dust outside the Kunjin pub.

My golden hair has faded, my tender flesh is dark,
my voice has learned a wet and windy sigh
and I lean above the creekbed, catch my breath upon a ghost,
with a great rapacious nose and somber eye.

Peak Consumerism

Beaujolais_nouveau_wine

If you ask Irish people when they think consumerism was most out of control they will generally refer to the Celtic Tiger years of the early noughties, peaking in the property bubble of 2007 and the subsequent crash.

For me that was simply a repeat of the 1980’s.  My symbols of peak consumerism are Nouvelle Cuisine and Beaujolais Nouveau.

Nouvelle Cuisine was developed in France in the post war years in response to shortages of certain ingredients, but also in a quest for lighter, fresher and more elegantly presented food.  Nouvelle Cuisine attained its height of ridiculousness in the 1980’s when it reached the executive dining rooms of major corporations.  C-suite executives of the day were comparing heart bypass operations and it was clear that the culture of steaks, chips and pints after work was unsustainable.

Enter the Nouvelle Cuisine extreme version:  a fantastically expensive plate of up to a dozen ingredients presented like a work of art, but gone in two bites.

Nouvelle cuisine

Then, to go one further, we had the excesses of the Beaujolais Nouveau races.  Beaujolais Nouveau is a fresh wine, something to be consumed in the year it is made.  One wine critic described it as something unfinished, decadent and a bit naughty, like eating cookie dough.

It is a red wine served fresh and chilled slightly.  It is the perfect foil to nouvelle cuisine, new wine for new money.  Each year the producers set a day to release the wine, in November, and the races begin.  At the peak you would see helicopters delivering wine to restaurants in London, Concorde jetting it across the Atlantic to New York,  and a plethora of sports cars and private aircraft bringing caches to clubs all over Ireland and the UK.

Beujolais Nouveau was, and remains, an excuse to flash the cash for a fleeting fad.  Good wines cost hundreds of Euro because time is money and time in the bottle is required to ripen a claret or a port.  Beaujolais Nouveau costs hundreds because … loadsa money!  If you have it flash it.  Loadsamoney became a stock comedy character in the Harry Enfield show in the 1980s.  A barrow-boy become stock trader with no class but lots of cash.

In November 1984 nine Irish men died in the Beaujolais Crash in Eastbourne en-route to France to collect their stash.  On board were four journalists, a wine merchant, a restaurant owner,  hotel owner, hotel manager and the pilot.  For me that was the day when consumerism went out of control.

Stranger Children

ho-chi-minh

A friend of mine wrote a sci-fi story called Stranger Children based on the quote “Politics makes for strange bedfellows”.  She thought that strange bedfellows would make for even stranger children.  There is truth in that.  Some very strange situations have emerged from political couplings.  If it is strangeness you desire play on, if it is history you seek you will gain little satisfaction from this tissue of lies.

I digress; back to strange situations, and none stranger than the American relationship with a man born on this day in 1890 by the name of Nguyễn Sinh Cung.  In the course of his life and his travels the Vietnamese revolutionary leader claimed four different birthdays and dozens of names, aliases and nicknames, from 50 to 200 names.  To his own people he is fondly remembered as Bác Hó (Uncle Ho) or simply Bác (Uncle).

In the western world he is recognised by some as Colonel Saunders, and by people who know something about history as Hó Chí Minh.  Honestly he never worked in KFC, although he did work in the USA as a cook, and a baker and as a supervisor in General Motors.  That is possibly where he learned how to be a General.

Ho Chi Minh came to be recognised by the American people as the face of Vietnam during the Vietnam War.  That was a strange war indeed.  The Americans refused to accept it was a war and tried to classify it as a police action, or technical support to defend the democratically elected government of South Vietnam against global communism.

John McCain, the Presidential Candidate, learned to his regret the very rocky ground on which you stand as a US Bomber Pilot when you are shot down over a country with which you are not at war.  He spent almost 6 years under house arrest in the 5 star Hilton Hotel in Hanoi, North Vietnam.  But he put his time to good use and he invented McCain’s Oven Chips, possibly inspired by Ho Chi Minh’s Southern Vietnamese Fried Chicken.

To the North Vietnamese, and to many in the South this was simply a war of independence.  Ho Chi Minh himself said that his loyalty was to independence and not to communism.  And this is attested to by what happened during WW2.

Ho Chi Minh helped the Americans to defeat the Japanese during the second world war.  He hoped the Americans, that bastion of freedom and democracy, would help the Vietnamese to shake off the colonial chains of their French occupiers after the war.  So in the 1940’s the USA and Ho Chi Minh were strange bedfellows.  Indeed the USA saved Uncle Ho’s life by treating him for malaria.  They saved his life so they could fight him later.  The OSS officers may also have given him the recipe for Southern Fried Chicken during this period.

The origin of the strange bedfellows quote is actually William Shakespeare in the Tempest when Trinculo, a shipwrecked sailor, beds down with Caliban, a beast, remarking “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows”.

 

What have we here? A man or a fish?
Dead or alive? A fish.
He smells like a fish, a very ancient and fish-like smell,
a kind of not-of-the-newest poor-john.
A strange fish!
Were I in England now, as once I was,
and had but this fish painted,
not a holiday fool there but would give a piece of silver.
There would this monster make a man.
Any strange beast there makes a man.
When they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar,
they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian.
Legged like a man and his fins like arms!
Warm, o’ my troth. I do now let loose my opinion,
hold it no longer: this is no fish,
but an islander that hath lately suffered by a thunderbolt.

Thunder.

Alas, the storm is come again! My best way is to creep under his gaberdine.
There is no other shelter hereabouts.
Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.
I will here shroud till the dregs of the storm be past.

(crawls under gaberdine)

Венера-6

Venera6

On May 17th 1969 the Soviet Union dropped the Venera 6 probe into the Venusian atmosphere, one day after deploying the Venera 5 probe.  While the USA were focused on putting men on the moon the CCCP were continuing their series of explorations of Venus.

The Venera program ran from 1961 with the failure of Venera 1 until the successful  Venera 16 stopped sending data in 1984.

The Venera 5 and Venera 6 probes were deemed successful missions.  Each operated for over 50 minutes as they descended by parachute through the atmosphere, sending back data to Russia.

In 1972 the Russians recorded the first successful landing of a craft on another planet with the Venera 8 lander.  Venera 7 had landed successfully but rolled awkwardly and was able to send back only very limited data, so was deemed a failure.

In 1975 the Venera 9 lander returned the first images from another planet.

If Nasa and the Soviet Union had maintained the momentum of the 1960’s and 70’s we would have a colony on Mars today.  Now it seems that Mars may be the story of commercial space exploration.  SpaceX, the Elon Musk led agency is working on the Big Falcon rocket to ship cargo in 2022 with a plan to send men in 2024.

The Russians and Europeans have developed the EXOMARS2020 program combining an ESA Rover and an ROSCOSMOS landing platform.  To this day the Russians are still building the best launch vehicles.  If you want to put a man in space you talk to the Russians.

NASA have a rover mission on the books for 2020.

The Chinese plan a Mars landing in 2020.

The UAE Space Agency also plan a Mars mission in 2021.

It may now be time to start thinking about how the solar system will be carved up.  Will it become a new Antarctica, dedicated to science in favour of national or commercial interests?  Or will the solar system become another “Scramble for Africa” as nations and businesses compete to establish exclusive ownership of areas of planets, asteroids or even areas of space?