Stuff and nonsense!

Lear

Born May 12th in 1812 Edward Lear he was.  Born in a war between Britain and France, born in a War with the USA when the guns roared out for all the day, and the great flag flew despite rockets and bombs, still flew in the morning inspiring a song that the Nation still sings today.

Famous for writing “nonsense poetry”.  But when I read his poems I see in them a pretty good description of democratic parliamentary business the world over.

“How wise we are! though the sky be dark, and the voyage be long, yet we never can think we were rash or wrong, while round in our Sieve we spin!”

Of course, one of the greatest features of democracy is that we can openly criticize our governments.  It is only in repressive regimes that the populace fear to criticize the glorious leader.

The Jumblies; by Edward Lear

They went to sea in a Sieve, they did,

in a Sieve they went to sea:

in spite of all their friends could say,

on a winter’s morn, on a stormy day,

in a Sieve they went to sea!

And when the Sieve turned round and round,

and every one cried, `You’ll all be drowned!’

they called aloud, `Our Sieve ain’t big,

but we don’t care a button! we don’t care a fig!

in a Sieve we’ll go to sea!’

Far and few, far and few,

are the lands where the Jumblies live;

their heads are green, and their hands are blue,

and they went to sea in a Sieve.

They sailed away in a Sieve, they did,

in a Sieve they sailed so fast,

with only a beautiful pea-green veil

tied with a riband by way of a sail,

to a small tobacco-pipe mast;

and every one said, who saw them go,

`O won’t they be soon upset, you know!

For the sky is dark, and the voyage is long,

and happen what may, it’s extremely wrong

in a Sieve to sail so fast!’

Far and few, far and few,

are the lands where the Jumblies live;

their heads are green, and their hands are blue,

and they went to sea in a Sieve.

The water it soon came in, it did,

the water it soon came in;

so to keep them dry, they wrapped their feet

in a pinky paper all folded neat,

and they fastened it down with a pin.

and they passed the night in a crockery-jar,

and each of them said, `How wise we are!

though the sky be dark, and the voyage be long,

yet we never can think we were rash or wrong,

while round in our Sieve we spin!’

Far and few, far and few,

are the lands where the Jumblies live;

their heads are green, and their hands are blue,

and they went to sea in a Sieve.

And all night long they sailed away;

and when the sun went down,

they whistled and warbled a moony song

to the echoing sound of a coppery gong,

in the shade of the mountains brown.

`O Timballo! How happy we are,

when we live in a Sieve and a crockery-jar,

and all night long in the moonlight pale,

we sail away with a pea-green sail,

in the shade of the mountains brown!’

Far and few, far and few,

are the lands where the Jumblies live;

their heads are green, and their hands are blue,

and they went to sea in a Sieve.

They sailed to the Western Sea, they did,

to a land all covered with trees,

and they bought an Owl, and a useful Cart,

and a pound of Rice, and a Cranberry Tart,

and a hive of silvery Bees.

And they bought a Pig, and some green Jack-daws,

and a lovely Monkey with lollipop paws,

and forty bottles of Ring-Bo-Ree,

and no end of Stilton Cheese.

Far and few, far and few,

are the lands where the Jumblies live;

their heads are green, and their hands are blue,

and they went to sea in a Sieve.

And in twenty years they all came back,

In twenty years or more,

And every one said, `How tall they’ve grown!

for they’ve been to the Lakes, and the Torrible Zone,

and the hills of the Chankly Bore!’

And they drank their health, and gave them a feast

of dumplings made of beautiful yeast;

and every one said, `If we only live,

we too will go to sea in a Sieve,—

to the hills of the Chankly Bore!’

Far and few, far and few,

are the lands where the Jumblies live;

their heads are green, and their hands are blue,

and they went to sea in a Sieve.

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High water mark

Severus210AD

Septimus Severus died on this day, in Eboracum, Britannia, (modern York, England), in 211 AD.  Under his reign the Roman Empire attained its high water mark as he extended borders in Asia, Africa and in Britain.

Had he survived for just one more year the History of Britain could have been quite different.  In 210 AD Severus laid the foundations for the complete conquest of Caledonia. He repaired Hadrian’s Wall.  Then he moved north and carried out extensive repair work on the Antonine Wall and secured the Scottish Lowlands between Hadrian’s Wall and the central belt from the Firth of Clyde to the Firth of Forth.

He then advanced up the east coast of Scotland, constructing forts along the way.  He advanced through modern Dundee, Aberdeen and around the Firth of Moray near Inverness.  The local clans refused to meet the legions and engaged in guerrilla tactics.  Even so it became clear by the winter of 210 that the Clans would have to make peace with these invaders, who seemed relentless.

How different would the history of Britain have been had Caledonia been romanised?  Clan structures, which endured to the rebellion of Bonny Prince Charles would have been replaced with a Roman administrative structure.

But Severus fell ill and withdrew south to Eboracum where he died.  The momentum of the campaign was lost.  His son, Caracalla, re-initiated the campaign, but within a short time sued for peace with the Caledonian tribes.  The Romans withdrew south of Hadrian’s wall and never again ranged north in conquest.

It would be nice, from a Celtic perspective, to depict this as a victory of Celtic passion over Roman organisation.  The truth though is that the Celts had the sense to steer clear of the legions.  They saw what happened in Britain.  So they withdrew to the mountains, woods and bogs.  They left the Romans to fight the cold, the wet, the relentless damp, the plagues of midges that rise on any sunny day.  Against these enemies the Romans had no defence.

 

This is England – Theresa May

 

Scarborough

Armed police on the beach, guarding the donkeys from Islamic terrorists.  Or are they there to protect old blighty from the immigrants?  Will you “fight them on the beaches”?  Those nice Polish men who erected your garden shed, or changed your car tyres, or unblocked your toilet?

This is the England being created by David Cameron and Theresa May today.  It is a land of fear and suspicion.  It is a world of hate.  It is a place where wealthy people become more wealthy, making armaments to sell to despots and dictators, rebels and freedom fighters on both sides of the conflict in the Middle East, in Africa, in Asia, in South America.  And when those distant people have had enough of killing each other sometimes they take a notion to visit violence on the brokers of death.

This is an England where the wealthy resent the very fundamentals that make Britain Great.   The social contract between the people and the state that was forged from the blood sacrifice of two world wars.  Basic housing provision, social welfare, a national health service, public transport and a civil service built on principles of fairness, honesty, trust, service, you know, old fashioned English public schoolboy stuff.

The puppet masters of the Tory party want to dismantle the public contract.  They want a descent into what they have in the USA.  Richer rich and poorer poor.  They have already dismantled British Rail, British Gas, Water and Electricity and sold off the family jewels.  Now they are going after things like the minimum wage, healthcare and housing.

The European Union was in their way.  The EU demands a social contract as the price of membership.  This does not suit the oligarchs.  To get the world they want they needed Britain to be outside the EU.  They sold Brexit to the working class British by dealing in fear, hate, xenophobia, racism and greed.  Basically they sold the seven sins.  And Britain bought them.

Lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas.  If you buy the seven sins then you get to live them.  What that means, in a real sense, is armed police on the beach on a sunny day.  This is England!

For those of you out there who blame all this on muslims, I give you a poem to think about.  Sassoon wrote this after witnessing the carnage of the Battle of the Somme.  It is violently anti-Christian, and he never published it in his life.  Islam is an excuse given to you by the Oligarchs to engender you with fear and suspicion of “others”.  If you wipe out all the muslims they will find another target for your hate.  They have a manual for this plan, it is called “1984”, written by George Orwell.

 
Christ and the Soldier; by Siegfried Sassoon

The straggled soldier halted — stared at Him — Then clumsily dumped down upon his knees, Gasping

‘O blessed crucifix, I’m beat !’

And Christ, still sentried by the seraphim, Near the front-line, between two splintered trees, Spoke him:

‘My son, behold these hands and feet.’

The soldier eyed him upward, limb by limb, Paused at the Face, then muttered,

‘Wounds like these Would shift a bloke to Blighty just a treat !’

Christ, gazing downward, grieving and ungrim, Whispered,

‘I made for you the mysteries, Beyond all battles moves the Paraclete.’

II

The soldier chucked his rifle in the dust, And slipped his pack, and wiped his neck, and said —

‘O Christ Almighty, stop this bleeding fight !’

Above that hill the sky was stained like rust With smoke. In sullen daybreak flaring red The guns were thundering bombardment’s blight. The soldier cried,

‘I was born full of lust, With hunger, thirst, and wishfulness to wed. Who cares today if I done wrong or right?’

Christ asked all pitying,

‘Can you put no trust In my known word that shrives each faithful head ? Am I not resurrection, life and light ?’

III

Machine-guns rattled from below the hill; High bullets flicked and whistled through the leaves; And smoke came drifting from exploding shells.

Christ said

‘Believe; and I can cleanse your ill. I have not died in vain between two thieves; Nor made a fruitless gift of miracles.’

The soldier answered,

‘Heal me if you will, Maybe there’s comfort when a soul believes In mercy, and we need it in these hells. But be you for both sides ? I’m paid to kill And if I shoot a man his mother grieves. Does that come into what your teaching tells ?’

A bird lit on the Christ and twittered gay; Then a breeze passed and shook the ripening corn. A Red Cross waggon bumped along the track. Forsaken Jesus dreamed in the desolate day — Uplifted Jesus, Prince of Peace forsworn — An observation post for the attack.

‘Lord Jesus, ain’t you got no more to say ?’

Bowed hung that head below the crown of thorns. The soldier shifted, and picked up his pack, And slung his gun, and stumbled on his way.

‘O God,’ he groaned,’why ever was I born ?’

… The battle boomed, and no reply came back.

Consequence

GDYATH

God damn you all to Hell

Consequence : a result or effect, typically one that is unpleasant.

Britain is suffering the consequences of cynical politicking.  David Cameron came up with the idea of a Brexit referendum as a means of remaining in power. He used the idea to appease the Eurosceptic wing of his own party, and secured a majority government for the Conservatives in Britain.  Then he had to pay the price by giving what he promised.

The Brexit referendum in the UK has rolled the country back 100 years.  On the one hand you have British people who still think they have an empire.  They want Britain to be “Great” again.  They miss the “good old days” long before they were born when Britain stood in splendid isolation from European politics.  These are people who simply have no grasp of the complexities of international trade in the modern world.  They believe the lies about the EU costing Britain money.  They don’t understand that their jobs are reliant on exports to the EU and on the flows of trade, capital and currency through Britain because they are in the EU.

On the other hand you have Brexit voters who are simple xenophobes.  They have no passport, have never really encountered other cultures and frankly are afraid to do so.  They rail about “poles taking our jobs” while refusing those same jobs.  They are happy to accept the lies about the “Schrodinger Immigrant”, you know;  the one who steals your job while living on state benefits.

The Brexit outcome has divided the United Kingdom.  London, Scotland and Northern Ireland all want to remain in the EU.  Those who voted to leave are the old, the uneducated and the working class;  the very people who are best protected because of EU membership.  They are people who do not understand economics.

The politicians who lied to the voters about the benefits of leaving the EU seem to be shocked that anyone actually listened to them.  Now that they have succeeded they are facing the awful consequences of the outcome.  What is their reaction?  They are all running for the hills.  Cameron, Johnson and Farage are all gone.  Gove will soon follow.  The idiots who launched this ship of fools have refused to step on board and take the tiller.  They can see that there are no happy outcomes to this path.

Sterling is taking a beating on currency markets and the purchasing power of the British has already collapsed.  International companies who sited in the UK to gain access to the EU are reviewing their location options.  This will have enormous consequences in terms of employment levels.  The EU is playing hardball with the UK in trade terms.  The politicians who believed they would have Norwegian style access to EU markets are now feeling like Maxwell Smart with the end credits rolling, as the doors close in front of them.

The Scots voted only 2 years ago to remain in the UK on the Conservative Party campaign slogan of “Better Together”.  For the Scots the idea of better together encompasses Europe, not just England.  If England successfully negotiates its way out of the EU we may see Scotland negotiate its way out of the UK and back into Europe.

That outcome could see an interesting dynamic emerge.  There is a potential for a United Kingdom of Scotland and Northern Ireland standing separately from the Britain of England and Wales.

All across Europe it was understood that the ordinary voter finds it difficult to understand the benefits of EU membership.  The layman sees the bureaucracy and the raft of laws and regulations.  It is easy for cynical politicians to make personal capital by attacking the EU.  The truth is that the EU is the greatest force for peace in the history of the planet.  It converted a plethora of quarreling nation states into a peaceful and cooperative economic bloc.  It turned a mixed bag of nations into a formidable economic bloc.  The long lists of seemingly tiresome rules and regulations that underpin this cooperation are designed to protect the citizens of Europe and to enhance their lives.

No experiment is perfect. The EU is a work in progress, but it is a great thing.  It takes a particularly small minded, short-term focused, self-serving politician to attack such a wonderful institution.  But then modern western democracy is based on small mindedness, local issues, the time-frame of the next election and selfish politicians.  When I go to the polls I want to vote for leaders, people who will do their best for the welfare of all the people.  Instead I am faced with candidates who promise to deliver medical cards, hospital beds and planning permissions to people who do not deserve them.  I despair.

 

 

 

Seizing the advantage

Vespasian

Dec 20th 69 AD Vespasian entered Rome as Emperor.  When I look at his face I see a jocular and human person, not an emperor on an ivory tower.  A plain man, with a face engraved with the worries and cares of normal life.  The blunt face of a plain man, a soldier, a man of the people.

In truth he was a brilliant military commander.  He had a track record of military success in Britain under Claudius, followed by the subjugation of Judea.

After Emperor Nero committed suicide followed the “Year of the Four Emperors” as one candidate after the other vied for control of Rome.  Galba was defeated by Otho who was ousted by Vitellius.  Vitellius held Rome with the cream of the Roman legions from the Gallic and German frontiers.

This is when Vespasian demonstrated his keen mind for politics and economics.  Instead of marching on Rome he moved on Egypt.  This was the breadbasket of the Roman world, providing the grain supply that kept ordinary Romans fed and happy.

With the food supply in his control he was able to broker alliances with the former supporters of Otho.  He added the Syrian legions to those he controlled in Judea.  He then assembled favourable religious omens, prophesies and portents to support his claim before moving on Vitellius.

Vespasian was also a marketing genius.  He understood the power of branding, placing the name on the world famous “Flavian Amphitheater” which is today better known as the Colosseum.

The name “Colosseum” actually referred to a giant bronze statue which stood in front of the Amphitheater.  Originally a statue of Emperor Nero, and modeled on the “Colossus of Rhodes” one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.  The Colossus of Rome was almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty.  Over time it was re-purposed to represent other emperors, and to represent the Greek Sun God Helios.

 

 

 

Where are my legions?

SPQR

One of my favourite anecdotes from my study of ancient Rome is how Emperor Augustus, in times of stress, would stalk the corridors of his palace crying out  “Publius Quinctilius Varus where are my legions?”

In the year 4 CE Tiberius led a massive army of 13 legions into Germany to subjugate the country.  A revolt in Illyricum (modern day Balkans) caused a huge drain on Roman troops.  Half of all standing legions had to be deployed to the Balkans.  In 6 CE this left Varus leading only three legions in Germany to consolidate it as a province.  Up to this point what Rome wanted Rome got.

Arminius, a Roman trained soldier and Roman citizen brought together a coalition of six German tribes.  Arminius (Herman) was acting as a local advisor to Varus while putting together an alliance of warring tribes to defeat him.  Arminius then informed Varus of a local rebellion and guided the Romans straight into his ambush in the Teutoburg forest.

Arminius knew that the Legions were unbeatable once they deployed in battle array.  His ambush and tactics during the fight were designed to constrict the Romans to narrow forest tracks, and to string them out over a long line of march.  Clearings were further constricted by trenches and ditches.

The Romans were subjected to a series of well organised flank attacks from the forest.  Light German troops moved quickly through the bogs and muddy tracks and rained javelins down upon the heavily armoured Romans.  Despite the desperate situation the Romans managed to establish a defensive camp at the end of the day.  But when they tried to escape they became disoriented in the woods.  Attack after attack eventually wiped out the three legions and their standards were lost.

The Romans retrenched to the line of the River Rhine.  In subsequent years they mounted large scale punitive expeditions against the German tribes.  In 16 CE Germanicus (father of emperor Caligula) recovered two of the three lost eagles and was held to have avenged the defeat.

In truth however the Germans halted the advance of Rome.  From this point on the primary driver of the Roman Empire was maintenance of existing territory rather than expansion.  Exceptions to this were the conquest of Britain under Claudius and the short lived expansion across the Danube immortalised by Trajan on his commemorative column in Rome.

The event became central to celebration of German nationalism in the 19th Century and National Socialism in the 20th Century.  Since WW2 the modern German state has downplayed militaristic national symbols and celebrations to mark the 2000 year anniversary were low key.

Political despair

Today David Cameron announced that the UK will be allowed to vote in a referendum on membership of the European Union, if, and here is the clincher, if the Conservatives win the next election.

It is 2 years to the next election.  The Conservatives are in power only because they are in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.  The Lib Dems are pro Europe, and the Conservatives are afraid that this makes them look weak.

On the far right the lunatic fringe is gaining ground.  The UK Independence Party, who are basically a domesticated strain of the National Front, are making gains at the expense of the Conservatives.  Cameron is running scared from the UKIP.  He has to look strong.  He has to look British.  He is trying to personify the spirit of “St George and England” by adopting what LOOKS like an anti-Euro stance.

I have to say, as political gambits go, this looks like a good one.  It looks strong.  It looks determined.  It looks downright British.  In fact it is just about as British as St George, who was an Anatolian who joined the Eastern Roman Empire as a Soldier.  You could call him a Roman, you could call him a Greek.  He had more in common with Palestinians than with British.  Just like David Cameron, the British anti-European neo-splendid isolationist, St George is a phantasm.

Cameron is gambling.  He is gambling with stability, with business confidence, with the ability to plan long term.  If he wins the Tories gain power alone for a term.  Cameron could be the next Margaret Thatcher.  Now, if only he could kick off another war in the Falklands, and a decade of violence in Northern Ireland he could become the new Iron Lady.  God Forbid!

Politics; by William Butler Yeats

HOW can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics?
Yet here’s a travelled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there’s a politician
That has read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war’s alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms!