This rather pretty looking mandala is my birthday present this year. A lovely work of art, the Rhinovirus. AKA the common cold.
Common Cold; by Ogden Nash
Go hang yourself, you old M.D.!
You shall not sneer at me.
Pick up your hat and stethoscope,
go wash your mouth with laundry soap;
I contemplate a joy exquisite
I’m not paying you for your visit.
I did not call you to be told
my malady is a common cold.
By pounding brow and swollen lip;
By fever’s hot and scaly grip;
By those two red redundant eyes
that weep like woeful April skies;
By racking snuffle, snort, and sniff;
By handkerchief after handkerchief;
This cold you wave away as naught
is the damnedest cold man ever caught!
Give ear, you scientific fossil!
Here is the genuine Cold Colossal;
The Cold of which researchers dream,
the Perfect Cold, the Cold Supreme.
This honored system humbly holds
the Super-cold to end all colds;
The Cold Crusading for Democracy;
The Führer of the Streptococcracy.
Bacilli swarm within my portals
such as were ne’er conceived by mortals,
but bred by scientists wise and hoary
in some Olympic laboratory;
Bacteria as large as mice,
With feet of fire and heads of ice
who never interrupt for slumber
their stamping elephantine rumba.
A common cold, gadzooks, forsooth!
Ah, yes. And Lincoln was jostled by Booth;
Don Juan was a budding gallant,
and Shakespeare’s plays show signs of talent;
the Arctic winter is fairly coolish,
and your diagnosis is fairly foolish.
Oh what a derision history holds
for the man who belittled the Cold of Colds!
Sylvia Plath described herself as a “desperate Smith addict” and wrote a letter expressing an interest in meeting Stevie, but first committed suicide. Smith herself struggled with depression all her life and was a fatalist from a young age. Abandoned by her father as a small child she grew up in a house of independent feminists, particularly her Aunt Madge who she called “The Lion Aunt”.
At age five she was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was sent to a sanatorium. She resolved herself to death at age seven. At age eight she was discharged. Her mother, never in the best of health, passed away when Smith was 16.
Smith was born on this day in 1902 and passed away aged 68 in 1971.
I do not speak; by Stevie Smith
I do not ask for mercy for understanding for peace
And in these heavy days I do not ask for release
I do not ask that suffering shall cease.
I do not pray to God to let me die
To give an ear attentive to my cry
To pause in his marching and not hurry by.
I do not ask for anything I do not speak
I do not question and I do not seek
I used to in the day when I was weak.
Now I am strong and lapped in sorrow
As in a coat of magic mail and borrow
From Time today and care not for tomorrow.
Back in 1977 Mark Knopfler and his brother David founded one of the iconic bands of my experience. Their eponymous first album, Dire Straits, is one of my favourites. Mark was born on this day in 1949.
Mark went on to work in the film industry. A lot of people I know have great nostalgia for “The Princess Bride”. I wonder how many of them know that Knopfler was behind the score?
One of the top 100 guitarists in Rolling Stone Magazines list he is probably most famous for his use of the National Guitar in the “Making Movies” and “Love over Gold” albums. I saw them in Punchestown during the Love Over Gold tour in July 1983.
A fingerpicking guitarist; Knopfler developed his playing style because when staying with some friends the only guitar he could get his hands on was a wreck with a warped neck. He had to tune it slack and could only play by fingerpicking.
I will never forget the impact when they came on stage in Punchestown and opened with this one:
Today a poem from Breaker Morant, the Australian Bush poet who was hanged by the British Army in South Africa during the Boer War. Today is the birthday of Edward Woodward who played the part of Breaker in the eponymous film.
I also include a clip from the film. It is the scene from the trial where Woodward, playing Morant, explains the legal clause under which he executed Boers; Rule 303. This refers to the Lee Enfield 303 British Army standard issue rifle.
The 303 caliber was the British Standard rifle cartridge introduced into service as a black power round in 1888 in time for the first Boer War of 1899. Originally ammunition for the short lived Lee-Metford Rifle and retained for the Lee Enfield. It was converted for smokeless powder and remained in service through the Second Boer War, the First and Second World Wars and up to the Korean War in the 1950’s when it was replaced by the standard NATO round.
Westward Ho! ; by Harry Harbord Morant
There’s a damper in the ashes, tea and sugar in the bags,
There’s whips of feed and shelter on the sandridge for the nags,
There’s gidya wood about us and water close at hand,
And just one bottle left yet of the good Glenlivet brand.
There are chops upon the embers, which same are close-up done,
From as fine a four-tooth wether as there is on Crossbred’s run;
‘Twas a proverb on the Darling, the truth of which I hold:
“That mutton’s aye the sweetest which was never bought nor sold.”
Out of fifty thousand wethers surely Crossbred shouldn’t miss
A sheep or so to travellers-faith, ’tis dainty mutton, this –
Let’s drink a nip to Crossbred; ah, you drain it with a grin,
Then shove along the billy, mate, and, squatted, let’s wade in.
The night’s a trifle chilly, and the stars are very bright,
A heavy dew is falling, but the fly is rigged aright;
You may rest your bones till morning, then if you chance to wake,
Give me a call about the time that daylight starts to break.
We may not camp to-morrow, for we’ve many a mile to go,
Ere we turn our horses’ heads round to make tracks for down below.
There’s many a water-course to cross, and many a black-soil plain,
And many a mile of mulga ridge ere we get back again.
That time five moons shall wax and wane we’ll finish up the work,
Have the bullocks o’er the border and truck ’em down from Bourke,
And when they’re sold at Homebush, and the agents settle up,
Sing hey! a spell in Sydney town and Melbourne for the “Cup”.
In the traditional model of rule, dating back to feudalism, there were three powers in the realm. These were called the “Estates General” in pre-revolutionary France.
The first, and foremost was the Lords Temporal, made up of the hereditary royalty of the realm. In effect these were the main landowners.
The second estate was the Lords Spiritual, the Cardinals and Bishops who ruled the church and wielded the power of “God” on earth.
The third, most numerous, and also the weakest estate was traditionally made up of commoners. This is not to say they were poor peasants. In fact the “Commons” were merchant princes, bankers, lawyers and aldermen selected to represent the interests of the middle classes.
Three great events in the 17th and 18th Centuries changed the dynamics of the Estates General forever.
- In 1649 the British Parliament ordered the execution of King Charles, shattering the concept of “Divine Right” to rule.
- In 1776 13 colonies of the United States of America declared their right of self-determination, a right of the 3rd estate to be free of the rule of the 1st estate. No taxation without representation!
- In 1789 the French 3rd estate seized power from the 1st and 2nd estates and firmly issued in the age of enlightenment.
Never again were the 1st and 2nd estates to hold power in the Western world without the agreement of the 3rd estate.
In the midst of this redefinition of the balance of power Edmund Burke, an Irish peer, made an address to Westminster on the reporting of parliamentary business by the Press. He pointed out that the Press represented a 4th Estate which potentially wielded more power than the 3 estates general. It proved to be a prophetic prediction.
Today almost every coup d’état begins with the seizure of the organs of the media, the presses, the radio stations and the TV stations. Politicians and their military arms know that the media battle is as important as any conflict of arms. Tight autocratic rule is only possible where the rulers control the media, the 4th estate.
The concept of a 5th estate, non mainstream media, emerged in the counter cultural revolution of the 1960’s, originally as the eponymous Detroit Newspaper. It spread to a variety of media, but was restricted by traditional constraints on output. The odd piece of output made a splash, such as the “Anarchists Cookbook”, but most of the small publications and independent radio broadcasts were lost to tiny circulations.
Then the internet arrived. The 5th estate has blossomed on media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and in the darkest corners of the deep web.
Despite the best efforts of autocratic regimes it is very difficult to control the 5th Estate. China is the best example of a state that exerts tight control. Even the great firewall of China is porous. The regime cannot control all the information that filters in and out of the nation. People import smartphones from abroad, or use various tricks to bypass state control of the firewalls.
The “Arab Spring” revolutions in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and the Middle East were made possible by the 5th Estate. Rebels were able to use social media to tear apart the propaganda and lies of the ruling elite. They then used social media to coordinate and organize protests, uprisings and even battles.
Mainstream journalists use and abuse social media to bypass super injunctions by courts to control celebrity scandals. They breach the laws of sub judice reporting in a manner that is impossible in the 4th estate. Whistleblowers use social media to release data into the public domain including Julian Assange, Linda Tripp, Edward Snowdon, Bradley Manning etc.
The impact of the 5th Estate on Western Democratic politics is only now beginning to crystalize.
The rules are being formed but we get an emerging sense of the landscape.
Cover-ups don’t work.
Fraud is uncovered.
Nepotism is exposed.
Secret donations do not remain secret.
Past statements of politicians are dredged up and used as a stick to beat them.
The age of the media savvy politician and his spin-doctor sidekick is over.
We are entering a new era of politics, where consistency, honesty and openness are the sine qua non of political survival.
Large central parties are fracturing and falling apart as their corrupt members are isolated and exposed.
For the individual politician loyalty to the constituency is more important than loyalty to the party.
We see this in the rise of the independents, the mavericks, those outside mainstream politics. The Trump factor.
The new era will favour smaller groupings with tighter internal agreement on issues and higher levels of trust between members. “Family” style groupings who share values.
Governments will be by coalitions of these small groups.
The practice of governing will become more fluid as alliances are made, broken and reformed based on prevailing economic and political priorities.
The 4th estate has been increasingly controlled by the wealthy, who can afford to buy the media, and establish editorial standards. Would the Watergate Scandal see the light of day in the current media climate?
By contrast the 5th estate is uncontrollable. It can be influenced by those with the largest social media followings.
In the next 20 years you will see attempts by the wealthy to influence the 5th estate by buying influence. Anyone who is seen as “bought” will rapidly lose traction.
King Canute (or Cnut) is famous for trying to hold back the tide.
In fact he was criticizing sycophantic nobles who accorded him divine powers.
He demonstrated that for all his power he was unable to order the tides.
Canute would understand just how uncontrollable is the 5th Estate.
Charles VIII of France, who was known by his subjects as Charles the Affable. For me he is the Monarch of the morbus gallicus, the Sovereign of syphilis, the prince of pox.
In 1494 on the death of his relative he exercised his “right” to the throne of Naples. In a swift campaign he swept through Italy and seized Naples (on this day in 1495) without a siege. On the way through Italy his French and Swiss troops deported themselves in the usual manner of invading soldiers and raped their way down the peninsula.
The Italians rapidly formed the League of Venice, or the Holy League in 1495 with support mainly from the Neapolitans, Milan, Venice, the Papal States, the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdoms of Spain.
There is a “pre-Columbian” theory that syphilis was present in Europe in some form before this point, but it is also known that it was in the New World. The popular theory is that the Spanish contingent contained some soldiers and sailors who had been with Columbus in the new world. Or perhaps they shared the same brothels as the Sailors of Columbus before they departed for Italy.
Whatever the origination there is no doubt that the full blown and virulent explosion of syphilis into Europe can be traced to the war in Naples.
In 1495 the French and Swiss were driven out of Italy by the Holy League, but they brought the disease with them. They raped and pillaged their way back through Italy to France and then brought the disease home. It spread throughout the world and was initially a highly virulent disease that resulted in early death. This supports the theory that it came from the New World for the Europe of the 15th Century had no immunity to the illness.
England had the misfortune to join the League of Venice in 1496. By 1497 the disease had reached England and Scotland.
To this day it remains one of the most horrible and contagious diseases in existence. Modern antibiotics kept it in check for the last 60 years, but now it is having a resurgence in a world of relaxed sexual mores, anti-biotic resistant strains and low immune conditions such as Aids.
The disease recedes in times of peace, but resurges every time there is a major war. War is the friend of the Sexually Transmitted Disease.