Free like 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.

The seer and the seen


Yesterday was Richard Avedon’s birthday.   A couple of years ago Sharon Stone posted this photo of Richard and Herself at a photoshoot.  I just love everything about the photograph and what it says about both of them.

Richard Avedon was a photographer.  He made his living by looking at people.  He became a famous photographer because he could look at people insight-fully, see deeply into their psyche, and capture this in his work.

He is dressed for comfort, for work.  He is looking critically at Sharon.  She knows he is looking at her and she is reveling in his attention, but he is looking into her.

Sharon Stone is an Actress, and her career was built upon people looking at her.  Frankly her fame was built on men looking at her as an object of desire, a sex symbol.  To be successful she needed to command the male gaze.

Her most famous role was in the 1992 erotic noir thriller directed by Paul Verhoeven; Basic Instinct.  In her most famous scene the knickerless Stone crosses her legs during a police interrogation to present the audience with a momentary flash of her vagina.  To this day the arguments about that scene, filmed almost 20 years ago, continue to rage.  Did Stone give permission to Verhoeven?  Does the shot really show the Vagina or is it a shadow.  A generation of teenage boys wore out their parents VCR trying to prove or disprove that question.

For an actress who relies upon the male gaze for her fame it was the perfect path to international notoriety.  Avedon was asked his opinion of Stone and said:

Everything she said was in the hope of being quoted … The name-dropping was very smart. My portrait of John Ford. Chess with Art Buchwald. They’re professional charm-workers  .  .  . She has no interest in anyone else . . . She’s interested in the effect she has on you. When she thinks she sees her reflection in your eye, and I respond, she’s satisfied and changes the subject.”   From John Lars’ essay ‘Hide-and-Seek on p.46-47 of Richard Avedon’s ‘Performance’.

In the photograph above Stone is dressed in a sheer, revealing, transparent negligee.  She is on display to be looked at, and would be disgusted if any straight man was not looking.  Her fame is derived from the fact that they cannot resist.

Years ago I was flicking through a cartoon book and came across a page with a keyhole shape cut out.  In the gap of the keyhole you could see the outline of a beautiful woman.  The title above the keyhole was :  A Keyhole for Voyeurs.

Then you flicked over the page and now, instead of the woman you saw a drawing of an eye.  The title above the keyhole now read:  A Keyhole for Exhibitionists.

That cartoon, like all great cartoons, was a great commentary on the human condition.  For every sleazy voyeur who goes about peeking through keyholes there is an exhibitionist who wants to be seen.  This photograph removes the physical barrier of the door and the keyhole and captures this insight beautifully.


Fishing for what?


I was in Crete back in the early 1980’s and came down with a bit of a bug in Chania.  I didn’t feel up to much and ended up spending a day by myself.

I saw all these guys fishing the old Venetian harbour.  So I found a tackle shop and bought a cheap fishing pole.  I stopped at a bakery and bought a couple of bread rolls.  Then I set up at a lamppost on the harbour, baited my line and started to fish.

One of the many stray cats emerged from the shadows and sat beside me on the off-chance that I might catch something.  I dangled my hook in the water and attracted a shoal of gudgeons too small to catch, which nevertheless made free with my bait.

A tourist stopped and asked “Deutch?”.  “Nein” says I “Irlander”.  “Hollander?” he asks.  “Nein, Irland, EeeerLand”.   In halting English he asks how the fishing is.  I say it’s so-so. And he moves off.

My French was marginally better, my leaving cert honours French facilitated the skeleton of a conversation and that guy went off satisfied, with a dreamy gait, head in the clouds of fond memories.

His place is taken by an English tourist.  He tells me of the great fishing he did as a youth. And so the day progressed.  I realised that what I lacked in fish I more than made up for in tourists.  Mostly middle aged men with fond memories of fishing as lads, who saw in me the hyper-real simulacrum of their perfect youth.  I caught story after story on the wall of that ancient harbour.

I did eventually catch a couple of tiddlers, much to the relief of my cat.  And when I packed up and collapsed my pole I judged it a day well spent.


Fishing On The Susquehanna In July: by Billy Collins

I have never been fishing on the Susquehanna
or on any river for that matter
to be perfectly honest.

Not in July or any month
have I had the pleasure — if it is a pleasure —
of fishing on the Susquehanna.

I am more likely to be found
in a quiet room like this one —
a painting of a woman on the wall,

a bowl of tangerines on the table —
trying to manufacture the sensation
of fishing on the Susquehanna.

There is little doubt
that others have been fishing
on the Susquehanna,

rowing upstream in a wooden boat,
sliding the oars under the water
then raising them to drip in the light.

But the nearest I have ever come to
fishing on the Susquehanna
was one afternoon in a museum in Philadelphia,

when I balanced a little egg of time
in front of a painting
in which that river curled around a bend

under a blue cloud-ruffled sky,
dense trees along the banks,
and a fellow with a red bandana

sitting in a small, green
flat-bottom boat
holding the thin whip of a pole.

That is something I am unlikely
ever to do, I remember
saying to myself and the person next to me.

Then I blinked and moved on
to other American scenes
of haystacks, water whitening over rocks,

even one of a brown hare
who seemed so wired with alertness
I imagined him springing right out of the frame.

Telling Lies #15: Non-denial denial

Washington Post bids farewell to office where it broke Watergate ...

Immortalised by Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee the non-denial denial was the foundation of the media strategy of Nixon administration attorney general John N. Mitchell.  Bradlee was played by Jason Robards in the hit film “All the Presidents Men” based on the Watergate Scandal memoir by Woodward and Bernstein.

A non-denial denial is a very carefully worded phrase which appears on the surface to refute an accusation.  But when closely analysed it is not in fact a denial, but rather some form of accusation or qualification.

A story breaks that a politician has had a child with a mistress.  The politician is asked if the story is true.  In response he says “That accusation comes from a tabloid, a cheap trashy rag which prints nothing but lies“.  So it sounds as though he is saying the story is untrue….but he never actually did say that.

In reality a non-denial denial is a pre-meditated approach to spin control.  It is crafted to diffuse a current scandal without giving away hostages to fortune.

When Bill Clinton said “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky” he meant that he did not have full penetrative intercourse with her, at least according to what he said later when the case would just not go away.  Clinton maintained later that the above statement was not a lie.

Two athletes are asked “Did you ever take performance enhancing drugs”.

The first says “Never, any drug I took was prescribed by my Doctor for medicinal reasons”.

The second says “I have never taken anything in contravention of the rules of the sport”.

That second statement allows for someone who has taken a peformance enhancing substance which was not specifically banned by the sport at the time it was taken.  The first statement allows for blood doping.

Happy Birthday Michael D. Higgins

Happy 77th birthday, President Higgins - Top 10 Michael D moments

Michael D. Higgins was born on this day in 1941.

He is the 9th president of Ireland and is in every way the polar opposite of the chimp in chief who currently serves as President of the U.S.A.

Higgins, a son of Limerick,  is a successful Galway University academic with post-graduate degrees awarded in the USA.  He is a fluent speaker of English, Irish and Spanish.  He gave up his academic career to concentrate on politics in the 1970’s.  He served the Labour party in Ireland and is a lifelong socialist.

He served as a Senator, a TD (Irish Member of Parliament), Government Minister and  Mayor of Galway before being elected President of Ireland.

He uses his time in the presidency to address issues of justice, social equality, social inclusion, anti-sectarianism, anti-racism and reconciliation. He made the first state visit by an Irish president to the United Kingdom in April 2014.  He has welcomed the British Royal Family to his home in the Phoenix Park.  He is famous for his two beautiful dogs who seem to participate in every state occassion at the Park.

As president he demonstrates understanding, leadership, care for the common good, tolerance, inclusion and collaboration – as I say the exact opposite of POTUS on every measure.  He is modest, accessible and approachable.  He casts a very long shadow for a man of small stature.  He is the very best of Ireland.  And he is a poet.

Take Care; by Michael D. Higgins

In the journey to the light,
the dark moments
should not threaten.
that you hold steady.
Bend, if you will,
with the wind.
The tree is your teacher,
roots at once
more firm
from experience
in the soil
made fragile.
Your gentle dew will come
and a stirring
of power
to go on
towards the space
of sharing.
In the misery of the I,
in rage,
it is easy to cry out
against all others
but to weaken
is to die
in the misery of knowing
the journey abandoned
towards the sharing
of all human hope
and cries
is the loss
of all we know
of the divine
for our shared
Hold firm.
Take care.
Come home

Michael D Higgins Reveals His Dog Died And Was Secretly Replaced

Time Perception

Goodbye Storwize – Hello Real Time Compression - SiliconANGLE

Today is the birthday of my first cousin, Stephen O’Flaherty.  This always makes me think of time perception because of the time when he dived face first into the pebble dash wall of my sister’s house.  Before we talk about the dangers of balance games at barbeques I should explain what time perception is.

There is a theory that at the point of your death your entire life plays like a movie reel just before you die.  In one blink of an eye you experience a lifetime.  Time compression is when long periods of time can be experienced in an instant.

At other times a single moment of time seems to expand into an age.  This is a trope used in films to explain how someone can manipulate time to deflect or avoid speeding bullets.  In time expansion the person who can move quickly in the quicksand of time can change the world.

I experienced a moment of death.  I didn’t see the reel of my life pass before my eyes.  I did experience time expansion, but I was unable to do anything to save myself as I was also moving in slow motion.  The perception of time moving slowly may be the impact of a flood of adrenalin hitting your bloodstream kicking off your “fight or flight” response.

I was cycling home through the city at the end of a days work.  As I crossed the Liffey there was the usual traffic jam, but behind me I could hear multiple police sirens.  As I reached Lloyds pub on Amiens St. in Dublin the police were catching up with me and I saw a landrover parked on the footpath outside Lloyds.  That is not a place to park.

As I came level with the pub a guy ran out, jumped into the landrover and gunned it.  He floored the accelerator and aimed for the road.  He aimed at the road in exactly the place where I was on the road on my bike.  This is the point at which time slowed.  I saw the landrover coming at me.  It happened slowly but I could not turn my bike, I could not speed up to get out of the way.  I was dead meat.

But between me and the landrover was a road sign.  The jeep hit the sign and rose up at a 45 degree angle.  The sign bent over and came down on top of me, again in slow motion.  I managed to turn the handlebars just enough to avoid the sign.  Landrovers are great over uneven ground but rubbish over roadsigns!

At this stage half a dozen policemen reached the landrover.  Using batons they smashed the windows and dragged out the struggling driver.  Three of them sat on him as a fourth hit him on the head with a baton, while the fifth got handcuffs onto his wrists.

At that stage time began to move more rapidly again.  I didn’t die….but it was close.

So back to the barbeque in Síle’s house.  It was a lovely day, sunny weather, good crowd.  It was not the day I almost died.  We all had drinks.  Nobody drunk or messy, just all very pleasant.  Somebody came up with the bright idea to have a game.

A popular beach game of the day was to put your head down on a stick and rotate three times around.  When you stand up and run it’s hard to keep a straight line and it’s fun to watch people go in all sorts of directions.

So we put two stools in the garden and formed two relay teams.  The house was in Violet Hill in Glasnevin.  It may seem obvious in retrospect given the address but the rear garden was rather….steep.  Being on a hill!  You ran up the hill, head on stool, circle it three times with head on the stool, stand up, run back.  Next team member takes off.

When Stephen came up off that stool time slowed down for me.  I also had a premonition.  I could see the entire episode play out before it even happened.  He took one step and staggered to the left.  He tried to correct his direction with the next step.  I could see the concentration on his face as his momentum took him in a direction over which he had no control.

At the back of the house the kitchen table was laid out with all the salads, plates and cutlery for the BBQ.  The table abutted the back of the house which was plastered in pebble dash.

Pebble dash is a dressing used on the outside of walls to texture and waterproof them.  It is a mixture of plaster, paint and pebbles which sets into a rough, abrasive surface.  Pebble dashing and faces are not good friends.  You don’t want to rub your face against pebble dash.  You certainly don’t want to plant your face at high speed into pebble dash.

As Stephen careened down the steep hill towards the house he was trying anything to avoid meeting the rear wall.  He hit the kitchen table which took out his legs and he went sliding head first over the table like a cowboy down the bar in a 1950’s western.  Salads and plates sprayed left and right as he slid in slow motion down the length of the table and hit the pebble dash face first.

Stephens parents were also at the Barbeque and immediately began a damage assessment which led to them bundling him into the car and heading for an emergency room.  There was nothing, absolutely nothing funny about the situation.

Perhaps this is why the giggling began.  We were all trying to be serious and concerned.  But at the same time the slapstick nature of the accident was pure comedy.  When you looked around the garden you could see half a dozen people doing their level best to keep a straight face.  If you have ever tried to look worried and concerned when you want to explode laughing you will understand.

People were setting each other off.  Stephen’s mother, Angela was furious.  Her son was bleeding, possibly concussed, and people were giggling.  Not maliciously, but uncontrollably.  One person would corpse and three or four would scurry into corners trying not to follow.  The harder you tried the worse it got.

When they eventually got Stephen out to the car and the door closed there was a resounding explosion of relieved laughter until all the tension was burned off.  Happy birthday Stephen, I’m sure you remember it very differently!  It was NOT funny.


Clash of cultures.



Kerak castle in modern Jordan

It was on this day April 5th in 1081 that Alexios I Komnenos was crowned Byzantine Emperor.  He inherited an empire on the brink of collapse.  In the Balkans the Normans were carving out yet another kingdom in the Mediterranean to add to Sicily and Southern Italy.  In the East the Seljuk Turks occupied Anatolia and were moving into the ancient coastal Greek cities.  Other Turkic tribes such as the Danishmends were moving in behind the Seljuks.

With tax revenues severely curtailed and unable to recruit new legions Alexios made an appeal to the West.  He sent a message to the Pope in Rome, asking for some western soldiers to help him defend the Byzantine Empire from the Turks.

What happened in response was the Crusades.  A river of knights and peasants flowed out of the West, through the Byzantine Empire and into the Holy Land.  In the process they established a culture of intolerance and hatred that persists between fundamentalist Christians and Muslims today.

Byzantine politics was characterised by negotiation, diplomacy, political maneuvering, treaties, alliances, compromises and constantly shifting positions.  Your blood enemy today could be your ally tommorrow.  You never completely burned your bridges if you could help it.  It might be better to accept the presence of the Seljuks nearby if it kept the Caliphate far away.

The Franks had no understanding of the delicate interplay of Eastern Roman politics.  They were shoot first and ask questions later types of knights.  In fact most of the Frankish knights who arrived with the crusades were younger sons.  The eldest son, the one trained in administration, remained at home to inherit.  The younger sons, trained in war to serve their brothers, found new opportunity opening up in the East.  A landless adventurer could hope to carve himself out an estate in the lands of Outremer.

Franks could not distinguish between many of the Eastern sects.  They slaughtered Armenian Christians beliving them Muslims.  They hated Jews even more than the Arabs.  They didn’t even like the Byzantines very much, their Orthodox Christian allies, the people who invited them to the East.

The Western knights had a Manichaean view of religion.  If you are one of us you are good and on the side of God.  If you are against us you are evil.  Facing them were Muslims who saw the world in exactly the same way, only Allah is good and the Christians were evil.  The crusades brought these polar opposites together and established norms that persist to this day.

The First Crusade established the Crusader Kingdoms in modern day Syria, Lebanon and Palestine/Israel.  It gave Alexios back control of Anatolia, but gave him a new headache in the form of Norman and Frankish adventurers.  The Western knights had no interest in returning lands to the Byzantine Empire.  They wanted to keep what they conquered.

The Crusader Kingdoms barely lasted 300 years on the mainland.  In the process they did provide a buffer between the Arabs and Byzantium.  Constantinople limped on until 1453 when it fell to another Turkish Tribe, the Ottomans.



As we face into the first full week of Lockdown it’s a good time to ponder the words of Richard Lovelace, and other great prison poets who used the cofinement of their person to liberate their mind.

The prison is of your own making.  Use the #Coronavirus pandemic to escape the normal confines of your existence.  What adventure can you pursue today from the comfort of your own chair?

To Althea, from Prison: by Richard Lovelace

When Love with unconfinèd wings
hovers within my gates,
and my divine Althea brings
to whisper at the grates;
when I lie tangled in her hair,
and fettered to her eye,
the Gods that wanton in the air,
know no such liberty.

When flowing Cups run swiftly round
with no allaying Thames,
our careless heads with roses bound,
our hearts with loyal flames;
when thirsty grief in wine we steep,
when healths and draughts go free,
fishes that tipple in the deep
know no such liberty.

When (like committed linnets) I
with shriller throat shall sing
the sweetness, mercy, majesty,
and glories of my King;
when I shall voice aloud how good
he is, how great should be,
enlargèd winds, that curl the flood,
know no such liberty.

Stone walls do not a prison make,
nor iron bars a cage;
minds innocent and quiet take
that for an hermitage.
If I have freedom in my love,
and in my soul am free,
angels alone that soar above,
enjoy such liberty.

A hateful son


Now that the Covid-19 media apocalypse is upon us here in Ireland I am taking a moment to think about the boy who gave us the name for next month.

The painting above is the Benjamin West 1795 “Death on a pale horse” which depicts the Biblical four horsemen of the apocalypse, Pestilence, War, Famine and Death, riding successively horses coloured white, red, black and pale.

In the ancient world disease killed more armies than battle, and was a constant companion of any assembled army.  Famine followed in the wake of every army as they stripped the land bare of food, like a plague of locusts.  Death of course is the bride of war.

So it is interesting to look at the parallels between the apocalyptic horsemen and the earlier Greco-Roman depictions of the Roman Mars (for whom we name March) and his Greek origination as the God Ares.

Homer, in the Illiad, quotes Zeus as calling Ares the god most hateful to him.  Such a thing to say to your own son!

The Greeks, for all their warlike tendencies, had a suspicion of unbridled passion.  They saw Eros (uncontrolled love) as a form of madness.  In Ares they saw the passion needed to succeed in battle, but they also saw the brutality.  Untamed aggression was achieved by letting slip the reins of mental discipline.

Like the later four horsemen Ares travelled in a gang of four.  Himself, the God of war, accompanied in his chariot by his two sons Phobos (Fear) and Deimos (Terror) and his daughter/lover Enyo (Discord).  Indeed it was Enyo who started the Trojan war.  But that’s a different story.

Ares had four sure-footed, gold bridled, immortal horses who pulled his chariot; Aithon, Phlogios, Konabos and Phobos (same name as his son).

The Greeks saw Ares as a destabilising force, and saw war as a necessary evil, both to be avoided if possible.  Ares is often ridiculed or embarrased in Greek mythology.

Rome took a different line.  Rome placed Mars in the top 3 of their Gods.  The Romans viewed War as the means to Peace and they treated their god of war with reverence and dignity.  Instead of being incestuously linked to Discord like Ares the Roman Mars is married to Nerio, the Goddess of Valor.

So we can see that the four horsemen of the bible have more in common with the Greek god of war than they do with the Roman Mars.

And now back to the painting.  In a twist of fate it carries its own apocalyptic tale.  When the first American Academy of art burned down a volunteer fireman cut the painting from its frame and saved it from the conflagration.

Telling lies #14: False Attribution


So you want to say something, but you are not sure if anyone will take to it.  Make your point stronger by attributing it as a quote to a famous philosopher.  There is a version doing the rounds at the moment.  We are told that Aristotle said ” It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it”.

Sounds legit.  Paste it onto a photo of a statue of a dude with a beard and who is going to question the source?  Like, you would need some anally retentive scholar with a fluent knowledge of ancient Greek to question the attribution.  Somebody like this perhaps:  Sententiae Antiquae

What did Aristotle really say? for it is the mark of an educated person to search for the same kind of clarity in each topic to the extent that the nature of the matter accepts it

Not so catchy is it?  In fact that makes it look like you would have to actually read Nicomachean Ethics to understand what Aristotle is actually arguing.  Ain’t nobody got time for that!  So the mis-quote is retweeted, printed and hung up in the workplace as a motivational poster.

The lie part creeps in when the person promulgating the quote has an agenda.  They are trying to influence circumstances and they are greasing the path to their goal by intentionally creating or using false quotes, or by the lesser crime of reattributing a useful quote from someone obscure or unpopular to someone who carries gravitas.

“Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History” is a snappy book title from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich but it sounds much better if you put it in the mouth Marilyn Monroe.  Most of the good quotes are from literary people and only people who read books have heard of them.  Just re-attribute to someone who is popular with your audience.

Finally… if my photo above is annoying you I can confirm that is not Aristotle.  It is a bust ATTRIBUTED to Hadrian.  But maybe it’s just some random dude who liked the Hadrianic hairdo.