A hateful son

apocalypse

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

Aristotle.jpg

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.

 

 

The fantasy and the truth.

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Winter solstice, in your dream fantasy, is a rowdy pagan affair.  Naked young flesh pulsating in the flickering light of heathen torches.  Bare breasts heaving with excitement, gooseflesh skin tingling with anticipation as the winter sun crests the ancient stones.

So you drive for hours and fuss over the parking arrangements.  Dress warmly, for the wind over Salisbury plain is a scour in winter.  You tramp your way to the stones and arrive well after sunrise.  Is that Mrs Neville, the butchers wife?  Must remember to say Happy Christmas.

Pagans2

Toward the Winter Solstice; by Timothy Steele

Although the roof is just a story high,
it dizzies me a little to look down.
I lariat-twirl the cord of Christmas lights
and cast it to the weeping birch’s crown;
a dowel into which I’ve screwed a hook
enables me to reach, lift, drape, and twine
the cord among the boughs so that the bulbs
will accent the tree’s elegant design.

Friends, passing home from work or shopping, pause
and call up commendations or critiques.
I make adjustments. Though a potpourri
of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and Sikhs,
we all are conscious of the time of year;
we all enjoy its colorful displays
and keep some festival that mitigates
the dwindling warmth and compass of the days.

Some say that L.A. doesn’t suit the Yule,
but UPS vans now like magi make
their present-laden rounds, while fallen leaves
are gaily resurrected in their wake;
the desert lifts a full moon from the east
and issues a dry Santa Ana breeze,
and valets at chic restaurants will soon
be tending flocks of cars and SUVs.

And as the neighborhoods sink into dusk
the fan palms scattered all across town stand
more calmly prominent, and this place seems
a vast oasis in the Holy Land.
This house might be a caravansary,
the tree a kind of cordial fountainhead
of welcome, looped and decked with necklaces
and ceintures of green, yellow, blue, and red.

Some wonder if the star of Bethlehem
occurred when Jupiter and Saturn crossed;
it’s comforting to look up from this roof
and feel that, while all changes, nothing’s lost,
to recollect that in antiquity
the winter solstice fell in Capricorn
and that, in the Orion Nebula,
from swirling gas, new stars are being born.

A Christmas Wish

Family Stone

The Family Stone: A tale of Christmas Dysfunctionality

Everybody thinks they are right.  If you asked Hitler, Stalin, Ivan the Terrible or Robert Mugabe about their records they would explain to you why they were right and what they did was right and there is a good chance that after an hour with any of them you would begin to accept that they had a valid position.

Everybody thinks they are right.

Christmas is time for families.  If anyone knows how to push all your emotional trigger buttons it is your close family.  This makes Christmas a time of stress and tension for many.  Old arguments bubble to the surface.  Kind words and gestures are over-analysed and misinterpreted and rejected.

If you have stress in your relationships here is some sage advice from John Greenleaf Whittier.  Just forgive. Whittier is one of the “Fireside Poets” and born this day in 1807.  I like to think of the Fireside poets in terms of life before TV, when you might spend a cold winters evening by the fire sharing poetry and stories.  Time spent with family and friends, like Christmas.

Forgiveness is hard, because if you mean it then it must be unconditional.  You are not offering an olive branch to begin peace talks.  You are giving it away, opening your own heart with no expectation of any reciprocal action on the other side.  That is real forgiveness.

 

Forgiveness; by John Greenleaf Whittier

My heart was heavy, for its trust had been
abused, its kindness answered with foul wrong;
so, turning gloomily from my fellow-men,
one summer Sabbath day I strolled among
the green mounds of the village burial-place;
where, pondering how all human love and hate
find one sad level; and how, soon or late,
wronged and wrongdoer, each with meekened face,
and cold hands folded over a still heart,
pass the green threshold of our common grave,
whither all footsteps tend, whence none depart,
awed for myself, and pitying my race,
our common sorrow, like a mighty wave,
swept all my pride away, and trembling I forgave!

Depression is rage spread thin.

George Santayana Quotes - iPerceptive

George Santayana is a classic case of a man born before his time.  This is a man who was made for Twitter.  His philosophy is spelled out in aphorisms, short and very quotable statements.  They have been quoted but more often misattributed to other people.

Born in Madrid, Dec 16th, 1863 and raised in Ávila to the age of 8 when he emigrated to Boston, the home of the father of his older half siblings.  Yes even in the 19th Century American marriages appear to have been very complicated.

Educated in Harvard, Berlin and Cambridge, UK.  He resigned from a position in Harvard and returned to Spain.  After some travelling he settled into Rome for the last 40 years of his life.

If you are ever stuck for something witty to quote on Twitter just Google his name.  You will find all sorts of gems such as:

History is a pack of lies about events that never happened told by people who weren’t there.

Never build your emotional life on the weaknesses of others.

Habit is stronger than reason.

 

 

 

Depression art.

ethel-hays-jay-walkers

Art-Deco cartoon of Ethel Hays

Born this day in 1869 Ellis Parker Butler was a full time banker and a part time author.  Between 1931 and 1936 Ethel Hays illustrated his short stories.  She was a well known cartoonist of the 20’s and 30’s and later became a childrens book illustrator.

I pose a question here, and feel free to comment if you have an insight.  If we look at art in the great depression 1930 – 1936 and compare it with art in the recent depression 2008 – 2014 ; can we draw any commonalities?  What are the major themes that emerge?

A Minute; by Ellis Parker Butler

She plucked a blossom fair to see;
upon my coat I let her pin it;
and thus we stood beneath the tree
a minute.

She turned her smiling face to me;
I saw a roguish sweetness in it;
I kissed her once;—it took, maybe,
a minute.

The time was paltry, you’ll agree;
it took but little to begin it;
but since my heart has not been free
a minute.

Cyber Monday Pawns

Howeswho: Doctor Who - The Rise of the Cybermen

Happy Cyber Monday.  There, if ever there was one, is an oxymoron.  Happy nothing!  Cyber Monday is an out and out marketing scam designed to wrest any remaining contents from the wallets of Black Friday shoppers.

Marketing people fight for what they call “Share of Wallet”.  Not their wallet of course, they are dipping into yours.  They know that because of the twinkly lights and the happy songs that you are feeling all warm and fuzzy and Christmassy right now.  You are full of the joys of the consumerist season, ready to enrich the lives of all about you with the wonderful presents you will give.

Come January all that warm fuzzyness will have descended into a cold, hard, grey reality when you see what you have done to your wallet.  January is a long month, and because the December paycheque usually arrives early the gap between the December and January paycheques is a chasm.

Blue Monday, the saddest day of the year, is the Monday of the final week in January before that new year paycheque arrives in your torn and battered bank account.

The Cybermen were a race of cybernetically augmented humanoids from the Dr. Who series.  They are the equivalent of the Borg Collective from the Star Trek series.  They want everyone to become like them.  They are devoid of emotion, like the Borg they are a collective and see themselves as an upgrade to normal humanity.

The Marketing Industry want to to become an upgraded human.  Enhanced by your PC, Laptop, Tablet or Smartphone and granted instant access to the Global Marketplace you are their pawn.  They lure you into making poor decisions with incomplete information in the very opposite of what the Internet was supposed to provide.

They harvest your search information and use that knowledge to gouge you on the prices for the items of most interest to you.

Instead of becoming a Cyber Monday Pawn today why not defy marketing manipulation.  Be Human, be a Mensch.  Save the planet from consumerism.  Refuse to purchase.  If you need to give gifts why not give gifts that save the planet?  Plant a tree!  Plant a dozen.  One dollar plants one tree.

Spending your money well now will make you feel so much better come the January Blues.

Telling Lies #13: Gaslighting

The term is popularly thrown around as an accusation in arguments on social media and I have seen it misused in many circumstances where people were just accusing others of lying but dressed it up in the fancy term of gaslighting.

Gaslighting is derived from a plot point in the Patrick Hamilton play “Gas Light”.  Jack Manningham is searching for jewels in an upstairs flat.  During his disappearences his wife Bella notices the gas lighting in her own flat dimming.  Jack tries to convince her that she is imagining this, knowing that it is he who is causing the dimming by lighing the lamps in the upstairs flat.  This is part of a larger pattern of Jack causing Bella to doubt her own experiences, as he attempts to convince her she is going insane.

Effective gaslighting involves a relationship of some kind.  It involves one party in the relationship intentionally leveraging their influence to convince the other party they are mistaken in what they have seen, or heard, or experienced.

Sexual abusers will gaslight victims into believing that the abuse never took place, or that it was consensual, or that the victim actually instigated the events.

A business owner engaged in fraud will manipulate staff members who notice irregularities and will attempt to convince them that they have seen 1+1 and arrived at an answer of 3.

The person doing the gaslighting is generally in a position of power in the relationship.  The victorian patriarchal husband, the paterfamilias, the wealthy Dowager Aunt, the boss, a teacher, a mentor, a politician, leader or a tribal elder.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation.  It is not a one off event.  You can’t be gaslighted in a single interaction.  It requires a long term pattern of behaviour.

It is a behaviour prevalent in religious cults where the “glorious leader” through a structured programme of interactions leads acolytes to doubt their entire belief system and replace it with a blind faith in the paradigm of the leader.  Gaslighting is preparatory to brainwashing.  By gaslighting you have the acolyte doubt their reality, opening them to manipulation.  Then you are free to replace their reality with your own – which is the brainwashing piece.

A form of gaslighting is highlighted in the George Orwell novel 1984.  History is edited to reflect current reality.  A back issue of a newspaper showing the award of a medal to a war hero is replaced to reflect the current reality where the hero has become an enemy of the state.  If you seem to remember the individual was some kind of hero, and you go back to check, you will find your memory of the past is flawed.

These days with Deep-Fake technology you will see evidence of people saying and doing things that never happened.  But how will you know the truth?  What is reality in a post-truth society?

Catherine the Great Vaccinator

Image result for catherine the great

Catherine the Great, born 1729, staged a coup d’état to overthrow her husband Peter III, and ruled as empress from 1762 dying on this day, Nov 17th 1796.

In 1762 Catherine controversially brough the English Doctor Thomas Dimsdale to Russia to innoculate herself, her son and her court against smallpox.  Vaccination was in its infancy and this was a high risk endeavour on her part.  To her credit she recognised the danger the Doctor faced if the experiement failed.  The Empress arranged for a relay of fast horses to speed the Dimsdales out of the country were she to die.

The procedure succeeded and the Doctor, and his son Nathaniel, were fabulously well rewarded, gaining a Russian Barony in the process.  Dimsdle was able to return to England and leverage his funds to become a banker and an MP.

Catherine used the success of the endeavour to promote vaccination to her subjects and succeeded in rolling out 2 million vaccinations in her lifetime, 6% of the Russian Population.

Catherine brought enlighenment to Russia and her rule is considered a golden age.  The Golden Age of Russian poetry followed her rule.  Pushkin was born in 1799 just 3 years after her passing.  Zhukovsky, who introduced Romanticism to Russia,  was born in 1783 and was 13 when Catherine passed away.  I find the Russians a bit sentimental, a bit flowery and very religious, but they were of their time and of course I know them only through translations, and how good are the translations?

 

The Boatman; by Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky

Driven by misfortune’s whirlwind,
having neither oar nor rudder,
by a storm my bark was driven
out upon the boundless sea.
‘midst black clouds a small star sparkled;
‘Don’t conceal yourself!’ I cried;
but it disappeared, unheeding;
and my anchor was lost, too.

All was clothed in gloomy darkness;
great swells heaved all round;
in the darkness yawned the depths
I was hemmed in by cliffs.
‘There’s no hope for my salvation!’
I bemoaned, with heavy spirit…
Madman! Providence
was your secret helmsman.

With a hand invisible,
‘midst the roaring waves,
through the gloomy, veiled depths
past the terrifying cliffs,
my all-powerful savior guided me.
Then-all’s quiet ! gloom has vanished;
I behold a paradisical realm…
Three celestial angels.

Providence – O, my protector!
My dejected groaning ceases;
on my knees, in exaltation,
on their image I did gaze.
Who could sing their charm?
or their power o’er the soul?
All around them holy innocence
and an aura divine.

A delight as yet untasted –
live and breathe for them;
take into my soul and heart
all their words and glances sweet.
O fate! I’ve but one desire:
let them sample every blessing;
vouchsafe them delight – me suffering;
Only let me die before they do.

Telling Lies #12: Firehosing

Image result for firehosing

You go online and enter a debate about Vaccination.  To support their Anti-Vaxx position somebody references the autism article by discredited and disbarred former Dr. Andrew Wakefield and you find yourself screaming at the computer “how can you reference something that has been so often and so clearly disproven?”.  You’ve been firehosed!

Rand researchers Christopher Paul and Miriam Matthews coined the term “Firehosing”  in 2016 to describe the propaganda tactics Russian authorities use to quell dissent and control the political landscape.

Firehosing relies on pushing out as many lies as possible as frequently as possible. That’s typical for propaganda, but the aspect that makes firehosing a unique strategy is that it doesn’t require the propagandist to make the lies believable.  Its goal isn’t to persuade. It’s to rob facts of their power. Firehosing inundates us with so many wild opinions that it becomes exhausting to continually disprove them. In this scenario, reality is reduced to positioning and who can sell their position best.

How do you fight this phenomenon?  Factchecking alone is ineffective:  According to the team at Rand “Don’t expect to counter the firehose of falsehood with the squirt gun of truth.”

Turn off the tap at source:  Social Media companies such as Youtube, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc need to be named and shamed for permitting dissemination of lies.

In traditional media if you have Dr. 5 PhD’s in clinical pathology advocating for Vaccination it does not provide “balance” to have Reverend Bible Thumper from Podunk Idaho Church of Anti-vaccination to speak for “the other side of the debate”.

Denying the lies reinforces the lies.  To combat the lies you need to highlight the strategies being used by the firehosers.  Expose their tactics to the audience.  Educate the audience in what to look for.  Trust the audience to make good decisions by providing them with the tools to make the decisions.

Adopt the old accounting mantra “follow the money”.  Who is profiting from the lies?  Who is funding them?  Follow the breadcrums to the source.  Expose the paymasters.

Acknowledgements to Lucky Tran & Guardian News