Dec 8th

This is the feast of the Immaculate Conception.  In the Irish School calendar it was a holy day which deserved a day off school.  As a result it became the traditional day for mothers to bring the kids to town to buy them their Christmas clothes.

In rural Ireland it is often known as the day you went up to Dublin (or nearest large town or city) to do the Christmas shopping.

In these days of online shopping it has lost some of its relevance.  The date retains its position in the Irish calendar as marking the start of Christmas activity.  For many people it is the day on which you buy your tree or put up your Christmas decorations.  Certainly most of the trees and all of the good ones will be gone by next Saturday.

What always confused me was the reason for the day off school.  If the “immaculate conception” only happened on Dec 8th then how in holy Halloween was Jesus born on Dec 25th.  Of course it is not Jesus who was immaculately conceived on Dec 8th, but rather his mother.

It is a really interesting facet of the Catholic Church that the Messiah could not be born into any old womb.  The Christian and subsequently the Catholic church is pretty much a men only club.  Anything that smacks of “women stuff” is tainted.  Wombs with their nasty habit of sloughing off their linings every month are especially filthy things.  Which presented a real difficulty given that Jesus had to be born of a woman.

They solved this problem by creating a magical mystical shield around the womb of Anne, mother of Mary.  Although she was conceived from regular dirty old physical sex Mary was nurtured in this sanctified magical mystery womb that was dreamed up by the dirty old gang of geezers who sat on whatever ecumenical council that cobbled together this particular fairy story.

This enabled Mary to become the pure vessel which could carry the birth of Jesus, who was magically implanted into her womb directly by God with no intervention by Joseph who happened to be married to Mary.

It took a lot of hard thought and debate by generations of dirty old geezers to effectively remove any trace of real woman stuff from involvement with the birth of Jesus.  You kind of have to ask……what were they so afraid of?

mary

Typhoid Mary

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On this day 100 years ago the US health authorities placed Mary Mallon in quarantine where she remained for the rest of her life.  The case was a notable one in the quest to stop the spread of infectious diseases.

Mallon was the first ever identified asymptomatic carrier of a disease.  She was infected with typhoid, carried it, spread it, but did not suffer any symptoms herself.

An Irish woman, she emigrated to the USA at age 15 from County Tyrone.  She worked as a cook.  By her own admission her hygiene left a lot to be desired.  She could see no reason for washing hands.

Every time there was an outbreak of typhoid in a house where she worked she would move to another job, and leave no forwarding address.  When she found that the authorities were tracking her she began to use aliases.  It is known that she infected over 50 people, three of whom died.  But she may have been responsible for many more infections and deaths, because the authorities were unable to trace all her movements.

She refused to cooperate with authorities, and always maintained that she did not carry the disease.  The case established a rigorous methodology, developed by George Soper, for tracking disease spread vectors.  It also laid groundwork and legal precedent for dealing with a disease carrier who is hostile to public health initiatives.

Mary became a minor celebrity and lived out the final three decades of her life in quarantine.  The term “typhoid Mary” is now used to describe a carrier (knowing or unknowing) of a disease.

The Dog of Time; by Brenda Iijima

The dog of time pitchfork canter laced with mercury after-crave
any semblance to human is speculative, we’ve unburdened the
mass, the massive body signage, bondage, turf implant
unwiring programs and last resort paradigms
indicated by the spikes in goneness unknowable
flash how it feels to be a terminator
to be livestock replenished
caretaking around the pain
dogs of the animal in motion in deliberation
carrying on over cloud cover
as the twilight descends the animal is secreted
ocean compression and endless body spills
the edges are dissolved
animal highlight
animal awareness
animal forever
the light is diminished
water spills over and the heat is a harbinger
and who is subject to this authority
rescue and an epistemological critique
and cross a proscribed threshold where the forest once was
now an emergency living space

Slooterdijck

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Aemilia (1631) Galleon of Dutch East India Company

This rude looking word is the name of a Dutch town.  It gets its name from a dike (dijck) built on the river Sloter or Slooter, to prevent flooding from the Zuider Zee.

In the 17th Century the name was adopted for one of the 9 Dutch Galleons which fought the Ming navy for control of the Taiwan strait back in 1633.  The Dutch lost.  Three galleons were sunk and Slooterdijck was boarded and captured by the Chinese.

Slooterdijck was notable because she was a “Kit Ship”, essentially a Flat Pack vessel that was shipped out from Holland and assembled in the Indies.

The Galleon was a development from two earlier ships of exploration.  The Caravel was a small, lateen rigged, shallow draught ship (think of the Niña & Pinta of Columbus).  The Carrack or Nao (Santa Maria for instance) was a larger, square sailed, less stable and unwieldy ship more suited for cargo.  The Galleon combined the best of both.  By lengthening the keel and lowering the forecastle the Portuguese developed a faster and more stable ocean going ship.  Smaller and more maneuverable than the Carrack, the Galleon rapidly developed a reputation as an effective all-rounder for exploration, trade and battle.  Big enough to carry significant armament and stable enough to fight, it became the battleship of its day.

From the mid 16th century Galleons were adopted by Portuguese, Spanish, French, Dutch and English fleets.  They remained in service until they were replaced by more specialised vessels in the 18th Century. Hence, the Galleon ruled the waves for 150 years more or less.  Though the early voyages of discovery were made in Naos or Carracks the great sea empires were built by the Galleon.

As time went by galleons developed for more specialised roles.  Some became larger and more suited to cargo carrying, and evolved into the East Indiamen.  Others were strengthened and became specialised military ships of the line.  Razed galleons were cut lower and lower to the waterline for increased speed and stability and evolved into frigates.

The reasons for these evolutions have more to do with the guns than with the Galleons themselves.  The primary ship to ship battle tactic of the Galleon was boarding.  The guns on board were slow to load and fire.  During the battles of the Spanish Armada it is calculated that each Spanish Gun fired on average only once per day.  By contrast the smaller English ships and their lighter guns could fire once per hour.

As gun technology advanced the gunners designed specialised trucks to carry shipboard guns, which the gun team could haul inboard for reloading, and push outboard for firing.  As the rate of fire increased ship to ship actions developed more into shooting matches than boarding actions.  This culminated in the invention of the broadside, firing of all guns simultaneously to disable an enemy both physically and mentally.

By the Napoleonic wars the Royal Navy had given up on the idea of firing accuracy in favour of reloading speed.  While the French and Spanish ships wasted their effort targeting the masts of British ships to disable them for capture, the British concentrated on closing up to bring the full impact of the broadside to bear.  Once beside their foe the British ship had the advantage of a higher rate of fire.  Even with smaller guns that was often enough to carry the day.

In a gun to gun action the high fore and stern castles of the Galleons, so useful for boarding,  became a liability.  They presented larger targets and made the ship more susceptible to cross winds than a lower vessel.

The only surviving original galleon is the Vasa in Stockholm which sank in 1628 all of 1,400 yards into her maiden voyage, in full view of her audience.  In an incident similar to the sinking of that other famous preserved wreck, the Carrack Mary Rose, it seems she had her lower gun ports open to fire a salute.  A gust of wind caught her by surprise and the gun-ports dipped below the waterline, flooding the ship.

If you have read this far, well done you salty old sea dog.  You are clearly a lover of all things nautical.  So here is another treat for you.

Psalm 107:23 (KJ V)

 They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;

 These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.

For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.

They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.

 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end.

Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.

He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.

Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.