The last king of Rome

800px-Gentile_Bellini_003

When he was 21 years of age the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II conquered the unconquerable city:  Constantinople.  He is known as Mehmed the Conqueror for this reason.

What is less known is that he presented his rule as a continuation of the Empire of Rome  instead of a conquest.  He named himself Caesar of Rome – Qayser-i Rûm intending his rule to be a continuation of the Roman Civilization that began some 2,206 years before the capital fell to him in 1453.  His successors did not continue the practice, but we may say that Mehmed was the last Caesar, the last Emperor of Rome.

When a man who besieged and conquered the greatest city on Earth comes to your pesky little fort in Wallachia you pretty much know that there is little to be gained by hiding behind the walls.  This was the astute assessment of Vlad III Dracula known as “The Impaler”.  This is how the Night Attack at Targoviste was born.

On June 17th, 1462 the Wallachian Prince threw the dice in a winner takes all gambit.  He assembled his knights and launched attack after attack on the Turkish encampment in an attempt to assassinate the Sultan of the Turks.  It was a night of confusion and slaughter as the mounted knights made charge after charge into the encampment.

Ultimately the attacks failed because they did not kill Mehmet that night.  Ultimately the attacks succeeded because the Ottoman Army withdrew.  Faced with such passionate and suicidal bravery Mehmed realised that his life was in very real danger.  A number of Pashas; senior officers in Tents very close to the Sultan, had been killed.  So the Turks made for home and steered a course south.

On their retreat they encountered a further demonstration of the resolve of the Romanians.  They passed through the “Forest of Death” where Vlad had impaled 23,844 turks (he recorded the exact number in a letter to Matthias Corvinus).  The Sultan and his troops filed past the corpses of tens of thousands of men, women and children.  It was a clear and unequivocal statement of intent from the Romanians to the Turks.

Mehmed II was a poet who wrote under the pen name Avni and many of his poems are dedicated to his lover, a beautiful foreign boy:

The roses of your cheeks, they made my tongue a nightingale.
The locks on your forehead, they made me desire, lose my mind.

If the fruit of love is for lovers, the worry and grief,
thank God, they have many for us, the fruits of your love.

The breeze is powerless to untangle the ends of your locks.
No, it is not easy to resolve the difficulties at all!

What is the relationship came between us, as the nectar from the lips of the beloved,
this poison of grief is halva for me, but for the rival, the poison of assassins?

How many enlightened men became insane by your love!
How many sensible men have gone mad with desire for you!

To what good is the saying: “Let the arrows of his eyelashes murder you!”?
They are brave inexperienced people who hold such remarks.

O Avni! If one day you were on a pilgrimage to the temple of the Magi*
you would have seen the lights of the wine candles illuminating the company!

 

 

 

Stay the course

Stay the Course

Sun Tzu and Terence McSwiney agree on this point.  It is not the side that can inflict the most, but those who can endure the most who will conquer.  It is a constant source of argument in military theory:  which side suffers most casualties; winners or losers?

In ancient Greece when battles were decided head to head on the field by two infantry armies it was accepted that the winning side often lost the most men.  By the time one side broke the winning side was so exhausted they were in no fit state to give chase.

This dynamic changed dramatically with the introduction of cavalry.  No horse alive will charge a well formed phalanx, but a routed enemy is manna to the cavalryman.  Any enemy who could not retire from the field in good order was sabre fodder.

The dynamic changed again with the introduction of artillery, especially mobile horse artillery, to the battlefield.  A solid infantry square was safe against marauding cavalry, but sitting ducks for artillery.  Dispersing to avoid the cannon fire opens your lines to the cavalry.  The Napoleonic wars were choreographed by the interplay between infantry, cavalry and artillery.

With the development of the rifle musket in the 1850’s the dynamic changed again.  The effective rifle range switched overnight from 3/4 rounds per minute at around 50 yards to 5/6 rounds per minute at 1,000 yards range.  The days of bright coloured lines of infantry standing toe to toe on the open field were over.  The US Civil War demonstrated that in such circumstances a defensive force with prepared earthworks could wreak havoc on forces attacking over open ground.

In WW1 the Western Front signaled the death of the horse on the battlefield.  The swan song of the horse in modern warfare was probably the charge of the Australian Mounted Infantry on Turkish Positions in Palestine.

Then at the end of the First World War the tiny forces of the IRA fought the all conquering British Army and Militarized Police to a standstill in Ireland, by enduring the most.

By the end of the Second World War it appeared that the infantryman with his rifle was almost redundant in a world of fighters, bombers, A-bombs, Aircraft Carriers and attack helicopters.  And then there was Vietnam when the people demonstrated again that it is the side that can endure the most who will conquer.  Despite overwhelming superiority of the USA in kill ratio and military technology they still lost.

Given the lack of appetite of the American people for losses in war raises many questions for the presence of US forces in far off battlefields like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq or Somalia.  If you are prepared to quit, don’t start.

 

Don’t Quit; by John Greenleaf Whittier
When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
when the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
when the funds are low and the debts are high
and you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
when care is pressing you down a bit,
rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is strange with its twists and turns
as every one of us sometimes learns
and many a failure comes about
when he might have won had he stuck it out;
don’t give up though the pace seems slow —
you may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out —
the silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
and you never can tell just how close you are,
it may be near when it seems so far;
so stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit —
it’s when things seem worst that you must not quit

Black Irish

Black Irish

On June 7th 1832 the Asian Cholera arrived in Quebec.  The devastating disease took the lives of some 6,000 people, which was bad for the French and English Canadians who died.  It was worse for the Irish Canadians who were blamed for the disease.

It was not only in Canada that Irish were blamed for the Cholera.  All over the USA Irish Immigrants were held responsible for outbreaks of the disease.  Where Irish communities were absent the White Anglo Protestant ascendancy blamed the blacks.

From the caricatures above you can see that the Irish Immigrant on the right is portrayed with many of the features of the black reconstruction era politicians on the left.  Thick lips, vacant protruding eyes, aggressive postures; stupid, violent people.

The second cholera pandemic, also known as the Asiatic Cholera Pandemic, originated in Asia and spread to Eastern Russia.  From there it was tracked across the European continent.  The British Government quarantined vessels from Russia and Poland in 1831.  The symptoms were reported to the British Government from St Petersburgh, Russia by two English Doctors.

Yet when the disease reached Canada and the USA it was blamed on the minority groups of Irish and Negroes.  This is still happening today.  The English people want to blame the Coronavirus on Asian students.  Irish nationalist idiots attacked a fruit farm for employing Bulgarian strawberry pickers.  Donald Trump wants to blame the Chinese.

Populists harness diseases to push their agendas.  With Cholera this was quite easy.  Poor immigrants tend to live in the cheapest slums in the most unsanitary conditions.  They suffer worst from a water borne disease like Cholera.  It is easy to point the finger at them as a source of the illness.

This racism of 1832 was to have enduring consequences for the Irish.  When the Great Hunger struck in 1845 with the collapse of the Irish Potato Crop one route for the starving people was across the Atlantic to the New World.  But the memories were fresh of the Cholera outbreak and nobody was welcoming starving Irish to the Americas.

No_Irish_Need_Apply

 

The Pen and the Sword

lesmis

The 6th of June has seen many great days and is, currently, best known for D Day because we still have among us some of the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy in 1944.

Back in 1832 the 6th of June saw the crushing of the rebels in Paris during the June Rebellion, or the Paris Uprising.  The events were part of a confused series of Republican actions opposing the re-establishment of the Monarchy.  Many such actions have decayed in our memories as the participants died off.  But this one was immortalised when Victor Hugo framed his novel Les Misérables around the events.

This great novel of France was something I was aware of on the periphery in my youth, but there was never reason to read it or pay any particular attention to it.  It served simply as a literary reference.

Then in 1980 a French Musical version appeared in Paris written by Claude-Michel Schönberg (music), Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel (French Lyrics).  By 1985 an English language version with lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer reached London and has been on stage there ever since.  It is the longest running West End musical and the second longest running musical in the world.

In 2012 it went on release as a big budget movie version becoming a multi-million dollar success story.

Two years later a schools adapted version was staged in the Ursuline College Thurles in 2014.  My daughter was cast variously as a washerwoman, prostitute, and a rebel on the barricade with minor lines throughout the show.  That was the first time I saw it.

I would suggest that people today know more about the Paris Uprising of 1832 than they know about the Normandy Landings in 1944.  There is a challenge for a quizmaster!

Here is a parody from Key & Peele, in which everything is wrong!

Key & Peele – Les Mis

 

 

 

Translating Federico

Cordoba

Patio of the Oranges at the Mosque in Cordoba

 

If you follow this blog you know I have a special place in my heart for Federico Garcia Lorca.  Today is his birthday, born June 5th 1898 as Federico del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús García Lorca.  This translates as Frederick Sacred Heart of Jesus García Lorca.  Which gives some clue to the conservative Catholic religious nature of the Spain into which he was born.

An Andalusian he was born, an Andalusian he died. His birthplace, Fuentes Vaqueros (Cowboy Springs) is near to Granada, one of the three great Moorish cities of Andalusia in Southern Spain.  He was murdered in Fuente Grande (Big Spring) during the Spanish Civil War because as a homosexual artist with a mighty pen he represented everything the Conservative Nationalists were fighting to defend Spain against.  Liberalism, futurism, surrealism, atheism, anarchism, communism, education, anti-capitalism.

Many think the poem below was foreshadowing his death.  The hooks are certainly appealing, the boy born in Cowboy Springs – Vaquero/Jinete.  Born in one spring, died at another.  I didn’t like any of the translations I found, so this is my own from the original.

 

 

Rider’s Song (Canción del jinete); by Federico Garcia Lorca (Trans. D. Clancy)

Cordoba, far and distant.

Black pony, full moon,
and olives in my pack.
Although I know the ways
I’ll never reach Cordoba.

Across the plain, against the wind,
black pony, red moon.
Death seeks me out
from the towers of Cordoba.

How long the road!
How brave my pony!
But death awaits me
before I reach Cordoba!

Cordoba, far and distant.

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.

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

 

 

 

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?