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.

Marching out to war

mars

When the Greco-Roman God of War rides to battle he carries with him in his chariot his two sons and his lover/sister.  His sons (the moons of the planet Mars) are Phobos and Deimos (Fear and Terror) and his sister/lover is Enyo (Discord).

The Greeks did not love Ares.  They, who valued mental discipline, saw him as an embodiment of the madness aroused by the passions of battle.  Something to be avoided in favour of good planning and strategy.

 

Life on Mars; by David Bowie

It’s a God-awful small affair
to the girl with the mousy hair
but her mummy is yelling no
and her daddy has told her to go

But her friend is nowhere to be seen
now she walks through her sunken dream
to the seat with the clearest view
and she’s hooked to the silver screen

But the film is a saddening bore
for she’s lived it ten times or more
she could spit in the eyes of fools
as they ask her to focus on

Sailors fighting in the dance hall
oh man look at those cavemen go
it’s the freakiest show

Take a look at the lawman
beating up the wrong guy
oh man wonder if he’ll ever know
he’s in the best selling show

Is there life on Mars?

It’s on America’s tortured brow
that Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow
now the workers have struck for fame
‘Cause Lennon’s on sale again

See the mice in their million hordes
from Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads
rule Britannia is out of bounds
to my mother, my dog, and clowns

But the film is a saddening bore
‘Cause I wrote it ten times or more
it’s about to be writ again
as I ask you to focus on

Sailors fighting in the dance hall
oh man look at those cavemen go
it’s the freakiest show

Take a look at the lawman
beating up the wrong guy
oh man wonder if he’ll ever know
he’s in the best selling show

Is there life on Mars?

Poxy King

charlesviii

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.

Janus’ Gate

Janus Gate.jpg

Janus was the Roman God of boundaries.  Many homes had a shrine to Janus at the entrance.  The two faced god looked inwards and outwards at the same time.  He was the God of doormen.

In the Roman Forum stood the Temple of Janus, an arched portico which could be closed by two gates.  The gates were shut in time of peace and opened in time of War.  For most of the history of Rome the gates remained open.

Janus also marks the boundary of the year, giving us the name for the Month of January.

 

Amoretti IV: by Edmund Spenser

New year forth looking out of Janus gate,
doth seem to promise hope of new delight:
And bidding the old Adieu, his passed date
bids all old thoughts to die in dumpish spright
and calling forth out of sad Winters night,
fresh love, that long hath slept in cheerless bower:
Wills him awake, and soon about him dight
his wanton wings and darts of deadly power.
For lusty spring now in his timely hour,
is ready to come forth him to receive:
And warns the Earth with diverse coloured flower,
to deck herself, and her fair mantle weave.
Then you fair flower, in whom fresh youth doth reign,
prepare yourself new love to entertain.

War and Peas

Catgun

I’ve declared war.  I am arming up and gathering reinforcements.  As soon as the logistics are in place we march to battle.

In general I am against war and violence.  But all attempts at diplomatic solutions have failed.  I am not about to become some modern day Neville Chamberlain, kowtowing to a rodent Hitler in his quest for increasing Lebensraum.  I do not want peace at any price.  I do want peas.

Yes, this is a war of peas.  I plant them, the rabbits eat the shoots.  Seemingly pea shoots are delicious.  Especially to rabbits.  Now, on top of the pea issue there is the burrow issue.  They seem to think my courgette patch would make a nice new home.  They want to move in on a semi-permanent basis.

Initially I thought we could shoo them away.  Just chase them off.  But they kept coming.

Then I thought the foxes would see to them.  No such luck.

Lately I have taken to carrying a bow and arrow around the garden.  When I encounter them unarmed they stand their ground and try to stare me down.  The moment they spot the bow in my hand they melt into the long grass.  They seem to know somehow that the bow spells danger.  Maybe it’s my body language.  Not that I have a hope in hell of hitting them with an arrow if I do get a shot off.  Rabbits are small and they move fast.  Still, it feels as though I am doing something to stem the tide of invasion.

The long term solution is cats.  A couple of young rescue cats from the local rescue centre.  That will sort them out.  Anyone who knows me well knows my attitude to cats.  I feel like I am signing a pact with Stalin to defeat Hitler.  Cats have taken over the internet.  Now they are taking over the world.

MACAVITY, THE MYSTERY CAT; by T.S. Eliot

Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw –
For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime – Macavity’s not there!

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
He’s broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
And when you reach the scene of crime – Macavity’s not there!
You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air –
But I tell you once and once again, Macavity’s not there!

Macavity’s a ginger cat, he’s very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly domed;
His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he’s half asleep, he’s always wide awake.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
For he’s a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.
You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in the square –
But when a crime’s discovered, then Macavity’s not there!

He’s outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard’s.
And when the larder’s looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke’s been stifled,
Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair –
Ay, there’s the wonder of the thing! Macavity’s not there!

And when the Foreign Office find a Treaty’s gone astray,
Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
There may be a scrap of paper in the hall or on the stair –
But it’s useless to investigate – Macavity’s not there!
And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
‘It must have been Macavity!’ – but he’s a mile away.
You’ll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumbs,
Or engaged in doing complicated long division sums.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, and one or two to spare:
At whatever time the deed took place – MACAVITY WASN’T THERE!
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known,
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime.

Pontiac’s War

Pontiac

On this day in 1763 Pontiac’s War began in Detroit.

The British were trying to replace native american transport vehicles with imported European compacts.

A coalition of Native American tribal transport manufacturers rose against the British and engaged in some fairly nasty gang warfare in the streets of Detroit.

In response the British launched a biological warfare campaign and wiped out many of the Native Americans with blanket bombing.

Ever since the Native Americans have been suspicious of British made blankets.

This short account, like all history, contains some facts and some errors.

Meeting the British:  by Paul Muldoon

We met the British in the dead of winter.
The sky was lavender

and the snow lavender-blue.
I could hear, far below,

the sound of two streams coming together
(both were frozen over)

and, no less strange,
myself calling out in French

across that forest-
clearing. Neither General Jeffrey Amherst

nor Colonel Henry Bouquet
could stomach our willow-tobacco.

As for the unusual
scent when the Colonel shook out his hand-

kerchief: C’est la lavande,
une fleur mauve comme le ciel.

They gave us six fishhooks
and two blankets embroidered with smallpox.

Can Superheroes save the USA from Jihad?

lady-liberty-burka

I have a theory that the explosion in popularity in superhero movies has less to do with exploitation of the Marvel and DC franchises and more to do with the American Zeitgeist. I think that ordinary Americans are trying to deal with a raft of stressful and complex issues such as “The war on terrorism”, “The war on drugs”, actual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, immigration, gun crime, school shootings and a weak economy which has depleted property values and consequent self-worth.

Politicians are supposed to be leaders, who steer the people through problems and dark days. In the USA of today the politicians use fear to motivate support for their cause. Tea Party politicians in particular offer blunt and seemingly simple, compelling solutions.  Intelligent voters can see that these populist, far right wing groups have the potential to bring the world to ruination. Concernedly the Tea Party stance is increasingly mirrored by far right wing parties across Europe such as the UKIP in Britain and National Front movements gaining traction in France, Austria etc.  Hitler and Mussolini used exactly the same tactics to secure power in the 1930’s in the great depression.

Let’s come back to the USA, where adult Americans are barraged by fear about issues over which they have no control from the mainstream politicians, and are offered simple, but frankly lunatic proposals from a right wing that offers Tea instead of good American Coffee.

Why are adult Americans so open to Batman, Superman, Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, the X-Men, the Flash, the Green Hornet, Captain America etc etc etc? My hypothesis is that superheroes represent a “Deus-ex-machina” type solution to the problems of the world. For a time you can sit in a dark cinema, suspend your disbelief, push away the fear and let the big guy in the garish bodyform suit sort out the bad guys.

Just to establish the rules here, I am looking at the kind of movies that appeal to adults, as opposed to kids and teenagers. What reflects the adult zeitgeist of a period?

During the 1930’s when everyone lived in misery during the depression, movies provided an escape into a world of luxury, excess and class. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dressed in fine outfits and danced their way across art-deco sets, took cruises, flew in aircraft, wore furs and drank champagne. For the cost of a few cents the public could escape the misery of their daily grind and imagine the good life.

During the 1940’s the film industry was employed as a propaganda mouthpiece. The government wanted stories that glorified the brave soldier or the resilient stiff, working unpaid overtime in the factory. Films celebrated Mom, Apple Pie and the defence of the American way of life. Foreign enemies were mocked, vilified and lampooned.

Look back to the 1950’s and the early 1960’s and the public got to choose what they watched again. What they watched was the western. Soldiers returned from battlefields in Europe and the Pacific, got married and went back to work in civvy street. America had a sense of re-birth of the pioneering spirit, the manifest destiny of the American dream. The world was free because of America and America was embodied by the spirit of the Cowboy. The bad guy wore a black hat, the good guy showed restraint, but when pushed he came out shooting from the hip and rode into the sunset with the best girl beside him. Good, simple days when you knew what was what. The enemies were clear, it was the Commies. Senator McCarthy’s Committee on un-American activities could ride roughshod over any objections.

The 1960’s began with 50’s style films such as “The Great Escape” and “The Magnificent 7”. It ended with “Midnight Cowboy”. The dream of Camelot collapsed with the assassinations of the Kennedys. The USA was dragged deeper and deeper into Vietnam. The Civil Rights Movement exposed the hypocrisy of the “American Dream” which was reserved for white folks. The kids born in the 1950’s let their hair grow long, listened to the Devil’s music, Rock and Roll, smoked drugs and wore flowers in their hair. This was reflected in how film taste changed over the decade. In the western movies you could no longer tell who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. Outlaws became heroes, such as “The Wild Bunch” “Cool Hand Luke” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. Order was subverted in films such as “2001 A Space Odyssey” and “Planet of the Apes”.

The 1970’s were characterised by the impeachment of Nixon. The authorities could no longer be trusted. Society failed the ordinary person. We got films such as “The Deer Hunter”, “Taxi Driver” and “Apocalypse Now” where US soldiers are destroyed by the impact of Vietnam. “One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “A Clockwork Orange” ask who is mad, the patient or the system? The Godfather films, Serpico and Chinatown point to widespread corruption in policing, planning and judiciary systems.

The 1980’s were a funny decade for film. The invention and widespread availability of Video led to a fundamental restructure of the industry and the films. Old fleabag downtown movie theaters were replaced with modern multiplexes in suburban shopping malls. The target market shifted from adults to teens. The doors opened for John Hughes and his Brat Pack actors with The Breakfast Club, 16 Candles, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Buellers Day Off, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and the renaissance of the chapter play in films such as the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series, ET, The Princess Bride, Stand by Me, Back to the Future, Dead Poets Society, The Goonies etc. As such the 1980’s resembles the 1940’s in that the industry, not the consumer, drove film choice.

The “Caring, Sharing 1990’s” were soundly reflected in our choices of films of hope and redemption. Saving species and the planet (Jurassic Park), compassion for people and challenging preconceptions (Shawshank, Good Will Hunting, Forest Gump, The Silence of the Lambs, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, The Green Mile, American History X), challenging consumer culture (Fight Club, American Beauty, The Matrix, Trainspotting). It was a great decade for considered, intelligent and thoughtful films.

Then arrived 9/11 and the rise and rise and rise of the Superhero movie! For me the Superhero appears to have replaced the good Cowboy of the 1950’s. He is on the side of right, and always wins against evil in the end, saving the promise of the American Dream.

Remembrance

Image

À la recherche du temps perdu is a novel by Marcel Proust, often translated as ‘Remembrance of Things Past’, or more literally ‘Searching for lost time’.  It is famous for the exploration of the theme of involuntary memory.  When the author dips a Madeleine in tea and eats it, he is transported psychologically to the time of his childhood, when he shared the same food with his aunt.  In the process his mind unlocks memories that were long forgotten.

The memory of the taste of Madeleine dipped in tea is a trigger to the memories stored when he was familiar with the taste.
Proust was contemporaneous with Freud, but there is no evidence that one read the other.  Each, in his own way, was exploring the power of the unconscious and pre-conscious mind.  Each was examining triggers to unlock suppressed or hidden memories.

My own work in Market Research has made frequent forays into the realms of pre-conscious thought.  I have worked with a clinical psychologist who is a proponent of the work of Jacques Lacan.  Lacan is a revisionist Freudian who explored language as a seat of meaning.  In the modern, consumerist, paradigm language as a seat of meaning has extended to brands, logos and products.  Product consumption constellations are a blueprint for understanding self-identity.

The point of this post, if any of my blog posts have a point, is to comment on self-identity and remembrance in the context of Remembrance Day, which is tomorrow.  The WW1 armistice  on the 11th hour, 11th day, 11th month gives us the anniversary upon which we remember those who fell in battle.

For us here in Ireland the wearing of the poppy is a foreign and rejected symbol.  It celebrated those who fell defending Great Britain.  After the Easter Rising in 1916 those Irish fighting in France found themselves on the wrong side.  They wore the Khaki of the British Imperialist oppressor rather than the Green of the Irish Volunteers.  Sadly, they were ‘unremembered’ by Ireland for 100 years.  Now, at last, we begin to recognise their right to remembrance.

An important step on this journey was the visit of Queen Elizabeth to Ireland.  She laid a poppy wreath in the war memorial garden in Islandbridge.  For many Irish people it was the first time that they were aware that we even had a monument dedicated to the Irish soldiers who fell in WW1.

However, I do not think the poppy will ever gain widespread acceptance in Ireland.  Already in England there is increasing rejection of the symbol.  For many it is increasingly seen as a celebration of military violence rather than a memoir of heroic sacrifice.

Conscientious objectors who choose not to wear the symbol are vilified by the bully boy tactics of proponents of the poppy.  This further reinforces the aggressive nature of the symbol.  Tune into British TV at this time of year and you quickly draw the conclusion that someone in the wings is pinning the things on everyone, regardless of their sympathies.

Two of my father’s grand-uncles wore Khaki in Gallipoli.  My grandfather wore the Green in the War of Independence.  If I choose to remember them it will be with the far older symbol of a sprig of Rosemary.  Like Proust’s tea-dipped Madeleine, the Greeks believed that the Rosemary herb improved memory.  So it became a symbol of remembrance.  Ophelia calls it such in Hamlet.  Poppies as symbols of remembrance are far more recent, and are accredited to the John McCrae poem.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

War is Hell

Flamenco
William Tecumseh Sherman wrote that “War is cruelty and you cannot refine it” and he is also credited with originating the title phrase of this post. A brilliant General, he foresaw the entire course of the war before a single shot was fired. Writing before the war he explained how wars are won and lost in this brilliant piece, which should be studied by anyone contemplating war. Wars are won by economics and logistics, not by derring-do:

“You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you’re talking about. War is a terrible thing! You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight, too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it… Besides, where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them? The North can make a steam engine, locomotive, or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on Earth — right at your doors. You are bound to fail. Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with. At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. If your people will but stop and think, they must see in the end that you will surely fail.”
Comments to Prof. David F. Boyd at the Louisiana State Seminary (24 December 1860); quoted in The Civil War: A Narrative (1986) by Shelby Foote, p. 58.

Wars are bad, but Civil Wars are worse. Brother against brother, neighbour against neighbour. All knowing the personality and the value of those they are slaying. Such as this example:

“On Sunday, 16 August, a few hours after the murder of his brother-in-law, Manuel Fernández Montesinos, the mayor of Granada, he was seized by a former deputy of the CEDA, Ramón Ruiz Alonso, who later asserted that Lorca ‘did more damage with his pen than others with their guns’. He was accompanied by Luis García Alix, secretary of Acción Popular, and the Falangist landowner Juan Luis Trescastro, the perpetrator of the crime, who would say later: ’We killed Federico García Lorca. I gave him two shots in the arse as a homosexual.’ H.G. Wells, the president of PEN, demanded details on the fate of Lorca as soon as the news reached the outside world, but the nationalist authorities denied any knowledge of his fate. Lorca’s death remained a forbidden subject in Spain until the death of Franco in 1975.”
Beevor, Anthony (2007), The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939, Chapter 9 Page 103. ISBN: 978-0-7538-2165-7

Adivinanza De La Guitarra; Federico García Lorca

En la redonda
encrucijada,
seis doncellas
bailan.
Tres de carne
y tres de plata.
Los sueños de ayer las buscan
pero las tiene abrazadas
un Polifemo de oro.
¡La guitarra!

My (rough) translation:

On the roundabout, six maidens dance,
three of flesh and three of silver.
Pursued by dreams of the past,
but locked in the embrace of a golden Cyclops.
The Guitar!