The Eternal Sea

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Politics is the “sea that consantly rages with turmoil and revolution”, and is interpreted by Biblical Theologians as the medium from which the anti-christ will come “I looked and saw a beast coming up from the sea” (Revelations 12:13).

Most people have become far more au fait with this quote which is taken from a poem recited by the priest Father Brennan in the film “The Omen”

When the Jews return to Zion
and a comet rips the sky
and the Holy Roman Empire rises,
then You and I must die.
From the eternal sea he rises,
creating armies on either shore,
turning man against his brother
‘til man exists no more.

Yesterday in Ireland we had a General Election.  Today the votes are being counted.  Storm Ciara rages across the country and knocked out our electricity for an hour.  It has just come back, but it does all feel a bit ominous and biblical.

I’ll take a break from all the madness and watch Italy host France in Rome in 6 nations rugby.  Rome, isn’t that where the Omen began?

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Happy Birthday Hadrian

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Roman Emperor Hadrian is probably best known for his walls and his beard.  He sits right in the middle of the good times as the 3rd of the five “good” emperors: Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius.

One of the reasons the emperors were considered good is because they chose good successors, not family.  On this measure Aurelius failed and the lot is reduced to four.

Hadrian was the second Spanish emperor after Trajan, he was born 24th January, 76 AD   in Italica, which is just outside modern day Seville in Spain.  I visted in the summer of 1978.  It was hot.  There was no shade and I am no daywalker.  Bring water – wear sunscreen and a hat!

After the expanision of the empire to its greatest extent by Trajan there was a period of consolidation by Hadrian – hence the walls.  The most famous of which spans northern England.  Less famous but equally impressive are the walls erected in Africa.

Hadrian is responsible for naming Palestine.  His reputation amongst the Jews is not very nice and his name in Jewish texts is often followed by “may his bones be crushed”.  This is because Hadrian put down the final Jewish uprising in the Province of Judea – the Bar Kokhba revolt.

If you look at it from Hadrian’s point of view it is clear that the Jews were a major problem and the empire had been fighting revolt after revolt since 66AD and the reign of Nero.

After the Bar Kokhba revolt was put down the Romans pulled down the fortifications from 50 Jewish cities, leaving their populations exposed to danger.  The Roman provinces of Judaea, Galilee and Samaria were reformed and renamed as “Syria Palestina”.  This is seen as a calculated insult, to rename Jewish lands for their ancient enemies; the Philistines.

The Jews date the Diaspora from the end of the war with Hadrian, and it was the spread of the Jewish people accross the Roman Empire that led indirectly to the flowering of Christianity in the Empire.

Hadrian was also openly gay in the modern sense.  He loved all things Greek, earning him the nickname “The Greekling”.  This love extended to his boyfriend Antinous, a Bythinian Greek Youth who was deified by Hadrian when he drowned in the Nile on an Egyptian holiday (not joking).

The poem below is said to have been inspired by a poem of Emperor Hadrian: Animula, vagula, blandula.

Animula; by T.S. Eliot

‘Issues from the hand of God, the simple soul’
To a flat world of changing lights and noise,
to light, dark, dry or damp, chilly or warm;
moving between the legs of tables and of chairs,
rising or falling, grasping at kisses and toys,
advancing boldly, sudden to take alarm,
retreating to the corner of arm and knee,
eager to be reassured, taking pleasure
in the fragrant brilliance of the Christmas tree,
pleasure in the wind, the sunlight and the sea;
studies the sunlit pattern on the floor
and running stags around a silver tray;
confounds the actual and the fanciful,
content with playing-cards and kings and queens,
what the fairies do and what the servants say.
The heavy burden of the growing soul
perplexes and offends more, day by day;
week by week, offends and perplexes more
with the imperatives of ‘is and seems’
and may and may not, desire and control.
The pain of living and the drug of dreams
curl up the small soul in the window seat
behind the Encyclopædia Britannica.
Issues from the hand of time the simple soul
irresolute and selfish, misshapen, lame,
unable to fare forward or retreat,
fearing the warm reality, the offered good,
denying the importunity of the blood,
shadow of its own shadows, spectre in its own gloom,
leaving disordered papers in a dusty room;
living first in the silence after the viaticum.

Pray for Guiterriez, avid of speed and power,
for Boudin, blown to pieces,
for this one who made a great fortune,
and that one who went his own way.
Pray for Floret, by the boarhound slain between the yew trees,
pray for us now and at the hour of our birth.

 

 

The wretched way.

bowery-new-york-city

Below is the poem of the week courtesy of the Guardian from Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay.  Ireland settles into a second week of political campaigning for the 2020 General Election on February 8th.

In the USA Andrew Yang continues to push his model for Universal Basic Income.  For me this has to be the model for the future.  As robots relieve us of the requirement to carry out boring, disgusting or dangerous work how will we fund the lives of those who lose their jobs?  Without low level workers paying their taxes how will we fund public works?  I believe society is on the cusp of a new economic model.  Tax robots perhaps, and deliver a universal basic income to every citizen.

The old constant growth model of economics is dead.  Climate change and resource depletion are seeing to that.  But also we are seeing a plateauing of population growth.  China is concerned that their one child policy has been too effective and they need to raise their birth rate.  The Chinese are not having it.

We need a move to economic planning on the donut.  Kate Raworth’s economic model has us living in a planned band that lies between delivering on the basics for life without consuming beyond a sustainable rate.  That is a good template on which to plan the global economy.

Most of all we need to move society away from the current capitalist dystopia where the majority are exploited to serve the unfettered desires of the few.  Which reminds me that this week the World Economic Forum gets underway in Davos.

 

Harlem Shadows; by Claude McKay

I hear the halting footsteps of a lass
in Negro Harlem when the night lets fall
its veil. I see the shapes of girls who pass
to bend and barter at desire’s call.
Ah, little dark girls who in slippered feet
go prowling through the night from street to street!

Through the long night until the silver break
of day the little gray feet know no rest;
through the lone night until the last snow-flake
has dropped from heaven upon the earth’s white breast,
the dusky, half-clad girls of tired feet
are trudging, thinly shod, from street to street.

Ah, stern harsh world, that in the wretched way
of poverty, dishonor and disgrace,
has pushed the timid little feet of clay,
the sacred brown feet of my fallen race!
Ah, heart of me, the weary, weary feet
in Harlem wandering from street to street.

First Gay Novelist?

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James Bayard Taylor was born Jan 11th 1825.  A poet, a writer, travel writer, diplomat and a most fantastically travelled man.  Many of his travels were made on foot.  He explored the White Nile, he reported on the Californian Gold Rush and he was at the opening of Japan with Perry’s fleet.  Mark Twain was envious of the quality of Taylors German when they travelled together to Prussia.

A highly successful writer in his own lifetime he has seen a rebirth of sorts.  His book “Joseph and his friend: a story of Pennsylvania” is by many considered to be the first American Gay Novel.

Storm Song; by James Bayard Taylor

The clouds are scudding across the moon;
a misty light is on the sea;
the wind in the shrouds has a wintry tune,
and the foam is flying free.

Brothers, a night of terror and gloom
speaks in the cloud and gathering roar;
thank God, He has given us broad sea-room,
a thousand miles from shore.

Down with the hatches on those who sleep!
The wild and whistling deck have we;
good watch, my brothers, to-night we’ll keep,
while the tempest is on the sea!

Though the rigging shriek in his terrible grip,
and the naked spars be snapped away,
lashed to the helm, we’ll drive our ship
in the teeth of the whelming spray!

Hark! how the surges o’erleap the deck!
Hark! how the pitiless tempest raves!
Ah, daylight will look upon many a wreck
drifting over the desert waves.

Yet, courage, brothers! we trust the wave,
with God above us, our guiding chart.
So, whether to harbor or ocean-grave,
be it still with a cheery heart!

Lawyer, Liar!

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Crassus was the Millionaire, Pompey Magnus was the Soldier, Caesar was the Politician and it can be said that Cicero in his day was, as an Orator, the equal to those big three.  He was offered a seat at the big table and turned it down.

I grew up in a world that pronounced his name Sissero, but now Kickero is more widely deemed correct.

Born on this day in 106 BC to a family with no prior political standing he was immensely proud of his record of rising up the Greasy Pole of Roman Politics; the cursus honorum, achieving each step “in his year”.  That is to say that he attained each step on the ladder of promotion at the earliest possible juncture.

A self admitted coward he shunned military life.  His fight was in the courtrooms and the senate.  His influence on latin was immense and it was he, not Caesar, who was the model for written and spoken latin.

He was a great lawyer and a great liar.  He maintained that no argument was so weak that oratory could not make it believable.  If he had no argument he attacked the defendant, or he made one up.  “I criticize by creation; not by finding fault”.

His greatest lie was his defence of the Roman Republic.  He sided with the Senate.  He defended the “republican” rights of ordinary Romans while at every step he opposed the reforms proposed by the Caesar camp to provide land and voting rights to the commons.  In public he defended the rights of a class of poor people that in private he despised.  In this he serves as the posterboy for that class of politician who adopts populism to mask an extreme capitalist agenda.  The kind of politician who tries to sell trickle down economics as an excuse to tax the poor and exempt the rich.

Every plutocrat and oligarch should study the works of Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Modern Slavery

Prison Labour

The news broke about Florence Widdicombe, the 6 year old from Tooting, south London, who opened a box of Tesco charity Christmas cards to find a note inside:

We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qinqpu prison (China) 

Forced to work against our will.

Please help us and notify human rights organization.

Contact Peter Humphrey (former prisoner and journalist)

The details of the story are all over the news.  Tesco has suspended its supply contract.  But this is the third time in so many years that Tesco has been suspected of engaging in supply contracts where forced labour forms a part of the supply chain.

Tesco will tell us that they, like all other multi-national and global supply companies, regularly inspect the factories that supply their goods in China.  But anyone who knows China and the business world there can tell you that the facilities the foreigners are permitted to inspect are the model factories.  Even there the staff who work 14 hour days are warned to tell the foreign auditors that they work 8 hour days if they are asked.

We, as consumers, are trusting the global corporations to carry out these audits properly.  We do not want to confront the ugly reality that our goods are manufactured by slaves, forced prison labour, child labour and highly exploited workers.

The global corporations are breaching their contract with the consumer, because they are under pressure to deliver shareholder value.  If the “markets” take a dim view of the company they will downgrade the investment rating and the corporation will lose money.

The billionaires who own the shares in the corporations will shift their shareholdings to less scrupulous companies, who will turn a blind eye to slavery, and will win consumers with low prices.

I can boycott Tesco this Christmas, but what do I achieve?  If I take my money to another supermarket, or even to a local store, how do I know that I am not funding slavery somewhere in the supply chain?  I might even be penalising a company that does its very best to clean up the supply chain in favour of a company that does not even attempt to identify the links in their chain.

In the 18th and 19th Centuries boycotts of slave produced sugar succeeded in ending slavery on sugar plantations.  The campaigns were driven not by governments, not by the billionaires, but by ordinary people, small people who fought to make a difference.  We need to recapture that personal focus on consumption.  Our daily consumption decisions can make the world a better place for millions of people, or they can make the lives of those people a misery.

How are you spending your money this Christmas?  In your wallet, measured in dollars and cents, you hold the power to change the world for the better.  Spend wisely.

 

 

 

 

Bloody Christmas

Nicosia airport

Abandoned Airport in Nicosia, Cyprus

On the night of the 20th and 21st of December, 1963 the newly independent Republic of Cyprus erupted into a frenzy of violence between the Orthodox Greek Cypriots, Armenian Christian Cypriots and Turkish Muslim Cypriots.  The events became known as Bloody Christmas (Turkish; Kanli Noel).

The violence was sparked by increasing tensions from Greek Cypriot demands for Enosis; union with Greece.  The gradual build-up of tensions erupted when Greek Cypriot police tried to search the persons of Turkish Cypriot women in a taxi.

By the end of the violence Turkish participation in the Cypriot parliament ended.  Deaths included 364 Turkish and 174 Greek Cypriots.  Isolated properties became too dangerous for their inhabitants and the rural populations became displaced into enclaves.

The ultimate outcome of the divisions between the communities resulted a decade later in the Turkish invasion of 1974, dividing the Island north and south to the present day.  The “green line” keeps the two parts of the island divided and in the middle of the green line, and in the middle of the capital city the airport of Nicosia is a permanent reminder of the invasion.  The aircraft grounded on that day by the Turkish invasion remain rotting on the tarmac.  The Departures and Arrivals building crumbles away with disuse.

EU Membership is hoped to encourage the Turkish North to reunify the island but the most recent talks stalled over rights of return and property ownership.  Over the years access through the green line has improved and more crossing points have opened.  But it may take another generation before a stettlement can be agreed.