2011, a sad sketch

What a year! What a world!
In March there was the incredible Japanese tsunami of Fukushima coped with so admirably, and with such dignity by the Japanese people.

Most people in France were mesmerised by the vertiginous chute of
the man who was previously supposed to be the surest hope as socialist candidate for the French presidential elections in the spring.
Or could we interpret his shameful conduct of last May, as a firm indication, that if he qualifies for certain positions, the post of left-wing candidate for the French presidential elections can't possibly be one of them?

In spite of 'legal probabilities', and forensic proof, he was acquitted, whereas there was never any proof that Troy Davis, imprisoned for twenty years before he was put to death last September, had ever committed the crime he was sentence for.
(In view of this, Cyrus Vance Jr. must have got the noble principle of American justice wrong. If this is the case, maybe it could read: 'US justice prides itself on the principle of punishing the accused when there's a considerable measure of doubt regarding their guilt, and their means are limited; and freeing the accused when there's a considerable measure of proof regarding their guilt, their means are not limited, and there's lobby pressure').

Arabian aspirations to greater freedom have been thwarted by systematic bloodbaths, and even atrocious torture and murder of children in Syria. The bloody repression still continues, even now. This despite the presence of the Arab League observers that seem to consist of the three monkeys, or could they be constantly observing in the opposite direction? The activists are even saying that the presence of the 'observers' is spurring even more violence.
In Egypt we have witnessed the brutal beating of women, and have recently heard of unwarranted, Gestapo like house searches, as if the Egyptian military authorities (SCAF) now constitute the worst possible fascist regime.
Those most prone in giving unasked for moral lessons to real democracies, often finally reveal themselves to be the world's worst tyrants.

The strategic and geopolitical position of Turkey is too important for this nation to continue to practice what seems to be ambiguous acrobats in avoiding to clarify its political, social, cultural and historical position. But Erdogan is no Atatürk.

And after having completely failed to foresee the economic tidal wave, our eminent, European, economical experts followed this up by not anticipating the enormity of the Greek problem, and thus Europe's consequent debt crisis that has yet to be properly contended with.
The three credit rating kings however, seem to have succeeded in taking the pressure and focal attention off Obama, the dodgy dollar, as well as the US deficit.
Through economic necessity, Italy has at last managed to turn the page on il Cavaliere. The burlesque, sempiternal chapter strangely seems to have already become a faded Milanese memory of another era.

In France it appears that certain media have been overly supportive of the Socialists' choice of candidate for the French presidential elections. This would have been perfectly acceptable if at the same time they hadn't been fully aware of his not having enough clout, conviction and integrity for the post. It seems that Sarkozy hardly needs to campaign for the spring elections. He already has too much to contend with, and in any case, even then he's accused of campaigning.
As the world is mad, and the French are often tempted to give unjustified priority to change, to the detriment of reason, it remains to be seen who will finally be elected. 

So we enter into 2012 a shade apprehensively. Maybe it's just as well. Nice surprises are more appreciated when totally unexpected, and being already apprehensive, one might be a bit more prepared for any unpleasant ones that crop up.

The former polarity of western democracy and eastern totalitarianism seems to have merged into a vague, noxious concoction of lobby supported democracy, pseudo democracy and corruption. This might also explain why Arabian uncertainty seems to reign regarding the choice of  'freedom' between that as advocated in the USA, as opposed to a more measured, disciplined form of 'Islamic democracy'; assuming such a system is really conceivable, and not just a subtle, surreptitious, preliminary compromise, programmed to eventually develop into Islamic totalitarianism.

Much should be revealed during a New Year that promises to be determining in many respects. 

But surely the world can no longer tolerate tyranny. No democratic nation that claims to defend freedom and can feign blindness to what it's made almost immediately and repeatedly aware of.

Whatever the future brings, naturally we shall do our utmost to make 2012 as positive as possible, in all respects, come what may.
Happy New Year to us all!

Text © Mirino. Image by kind permission of David McKee, with many thanks. 
December, 2011


John Skelton, (ca.1460-1529) was the tutor of young Prince Henry. Skelton was later to became poet-laureate to him after he was crowned king Henry VIII.
The poet couldn't abide religious pomp and falseness. Whilst living in Westminster, he openly attacked the ecclesiastical establishment, especially targeting Cardinal Wolsey with what could be regarded as doggerel satire, of which Colyn Cloute is an example. It's said that in retaliation Wolsey arranged that Skelton be incarcerated, but the Cardinal was indulgent (or prudent) enough to have him released later. There appears to be no historic proof of the Cardinal being responsible for the poet's term of imprisonment, however.

Skelton (the mad wag) was ordained as sub-deacon and priest, before be became rector of Diss. One of The Merie Tales of Skelton recounts how during one of his sermons he suddenly asked why certain members of his congregation reproached him of keeping a fair wench in his rectory.
'To be sure, he did keep a fair wench; she was fairer than his parishioners' wives, and had given him a son.' He then held up his naked baby before the congregation and declared, "How say you, neighbours all? Is not this child as fair as is the best of all yours? It hath nose, eyes, hands and feet, as well as any of yours. It is not like a pig, nor a calf, nor like no foul nor no monstrous beast. If I had brought forth this child without arms and legs, or that it were deformed being a monstrous thing, I would never have blamed you to have complained to the Bishop of me, but to complain without a cause! I say as I said before, in my antetheme, vos estis, you be, and have been, and will and shall be knaves to complain of me without a cause reasonable."

At least five hundred years later, since the end of 2008, we've been saying that the New Year can't possibly be worse than the last, and it seems that we've been proved wrong for three consecutive years. So it might be best to refrain from making any prognostics for 2012.

The hope generated by the Arabian Spring, triggered off by the Egyptians in January, the rebellion of the Libyans, the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, and the possibility of wide spread 'Arabian democracy', has gradually given way to an uneasy feeling of uncertainty. Yet never before have all the nations of the world had such access to modern communication. In this respect the other side of the world could almost be regarded as the other side of the street.

But it also seems to be another paradox of our times. Or is it the same bleak reminder that we advance only according to our technological achievements? As already maintained, human nature remains immutable. In some cases, it even appears to regress, to such an extent that one is persuaded that the world must be mad.

History reveals that this conclusion is nothing new either. But there is comfort in the conviction that although human nature often shows its capacity for shameful hypocrisy, hate, cruelty, weakness, cowardliness, and pitiful limitations, etc., it just as often shows its capacity for admirable integrity, love, kindness, strength, courage, limitless aspirations and achievements.

Man then seems to be the sanctuary of God, as well as the devil. He is destined to seek the truth whilst he constantly creates obstacles that prevent him from finding it. Or is this also an embedded aspect of humanity? Man's unconscious appreciation of the 'forbidden fruit', or how far he is ultimately permitted to advance in his tireless quest. Does man's future and greatness finally depend on his humility? One might like to think so, for surely nothing of any real value is ever created without love, and a good measure of humility.

But now let's go further back, to 14th century England, to rediscover Chaucer's Truth. The timeless wisdom of the finest writer of his era. Followed by his Complaint to His Purse, to emphasise once more that financial woes are nothing new to mope about either. And finally some verses from Colin Clout by John Skelton, who mocked the ecclesiastical establishment's use of religion for personal gain.
Certainly such exploitation is still practised today, and this regarding all three monotheist religions, if not including other religions as well.

Truth (truth will free you, of that there's no doubt)

Flee fro the prees° and dwelle with soothfastnesses;     °crowd
Suffise unto° thy thing, though it be smal;                        °be content with
For hoord hath° hate, and climbing tikelnesse°    °hoarding causes/insecurity
Prees hath envye, and wele° blent° overal.                   °properity/blinds
Savoure° no more than thee bihoove shal;                   °relish
Rule wel thyself that other folk canst rede°                  °advise
And Trouthe shal delivere, it is no drede.°              °truth will free you/doubt

Tempest thee nought al crooked to redresse°     °don't try to correct everything
In trust of hire° that turneth as a bal;                   °don't trust fortune
Muche wele stant in litel bisinesse;°                     °peace of mine needs little
Be war therefore to spurne ayains an al°             °don't cause yourself pain
Strive nat as dooth the crokke° with the wal.      °like the pot against the wall
Daunte° thyself that dauntest others deede;        °master
And Trouthe shal delivere, it is no drede.

That° thee is sent, receive in buxomnesse;°              °what/obedience, grace
The wrastling for the world axeth° a fal;                   °asks for
Here is noon hoom, here nis° but wildernesse:        °is not
Forth, pilgrim, forth! Forth, beest, out of thy stal!
Know thy countree, looke up, thank God of al.
Hold the heigh way and lat thy gost° thee lede:        °spirit
And Trouthe shal delivere, it is no drede.

Envoy (Perhaps Sir Philip de Vache, hence the pun)

Therfore, thou Vache leve thyn olde wrecchednesse      
Unto the world; leve° now to be thral.                          °cease
Crye him merci° that of his heigh goodnesse               °thank him
Made thee of nought, and in especial
Draw unto him, and pray in general,
For thee and eek for othere, hevenelich meede:°        °reward (pun- meadow)
And Trouthe shal delivere, it is no drede.

Complaint to His Purse  (envoy- the recently crowned Henry IV)

To you, my purs, and to noon other wight,°                °person
Complaine I, for ye be my lady dere.
I am so sory, now that ye be light,°                      °pun- light in weight, and fickle
For certes, but if° ye make me hevy cheere,              °unless
Me were as lief° be laid upon my beere;°                   °I'd just as soon/bier
For which unto youre mercy thus I crye:
Beeth hevy again, or elles moot° I die.                       °must

Now vouchesth sauf° this day er° it be night              °grant/before
That I of you the blisful soun may heere,
Or see youre colour, lik the sonne bright,
That of yelownesse hadde nevere peere.°                   °equal
Ye be my life, ye be myn hertes steere,°                     °helm, guide
Queene of confort and of good compaignye:
Beeth hevy again, or elles moot I die.

Ye purs, that been to me my lives light
And saviour, as in this world down here,
Out of this towne° helpe me thurgh your might,      °most likely Westminster
Sith that ye wol nat be my tresorere°                          °treasurer
For I am shave as neigh as any frere.°                        °shaved as a frier (broke)
But yit I praye unto youre curteisye:
Beeth hevy again, or elles moot I die.

Envoy to Henry IV

O conquerour of Brutus Albioun°,            °Britain (allegedly founded by Brutus)
Which that by line° and free eleccioun                       °lineage
Been verray° king, this song to you I sende:              °true
And ye, that mowen° alle oure harmes amende,       °may
Have mind upon my supplicacioun.

The Prelates, or The Spirituality vs. the Temporality 
Colin Clout (John Skelton)

And if ye stand in doubt
Who brought this rhyme about,
My name is Colin Clout.
I purpose to shake out
All my conning° bag,                                 °cunning
Like a clerkly hag°                                     °old scholar
For though my rhyme be ragged,
Tattered and jagged,
Rudely rain-beaten,
Rusty and moth-eaten,
If ye take well therewith,
It hath in it some pith.
For, as far as I can see,
It is wrong with each degree.
For the temporality°                                     °layman
Accuseth the spirituality;
The spirituality again
Doth grudge and complain
Upon the temporal men;
Thus, each of other blother°                       °babble
The one against the other.
Alas, they make me shudder!
For in hugger-mugger°                                         °haste
The Church is put in fault;
The prelates been so haut,°                         °haughty
They say, and look so high
As though they wouldè fly
Above the starry sky.
Laymen say indeed
How they take no heed
Their silly sheep to feed,
But pluck away and pull
The fleeces of their wool;
Scarcely they leave a lock
Of wool among their flock.
And as for their cunning,
A-humming and mumming,
They make of it a jape.
They gasp and they gape
All to have promotion-
That is their whole devotion!
Text © Mirino. Top engraving, John Skelton ca. 1500 (tinted by M). Sources include- The Norton Anthology English Literature, Volume 1, with thanks. December, 2011

The Christmas Truce

The Western Front. December, 1914.
It seems that the weather has been awful for ever. The trenches are waterlogged. The temperatures are below zero. The soldiers' movements, wading sometimes up to their knees, prevent the slime from freezing solid. They are totally ill equipped for such conditions.

One gets so used to the rats that they're hardly noticed. Then there's always the stench of decomposing bodies not far off in no man's land, especially when the temperature rises above freezing level again.

Today however, sometimes a friendly voice is heard from the enemy trenches no more than 50 yards away. In some places only 30 yards separate the lines. The British army is manning a stretch south of the Ypres salient.

The Germans and the British have received State gifts. Christmas puddings and 'Princess Mary Boxes' for Tommy. A tin case with her silhouette engraved on it. It contains butterscotch, chocolates, tobacco and some cigarettes. There's also a postcard of Princess Mary with a message from her father, King George V, 'May God protect you and bring you safe home.'

From Kaiser Wilhelm II, Fritz received meerschaum pipes. The officers have been given boxes of cigars. Many supportive associations have sent gifts to both sides. 

The French and the Belgians have also received gifts for Christmas, but apparently on a less official basis. Of course both countries are already suffering from the occupation, which naturally weighs  heavily on their Christmas spirits.

Miniature Christmas trees (tannenbaum) were delivered to the German trenches. Lit with candles they are displayed along the parapets.
The Germans start to sing carols. Stille Nacht (Silent Night). They ask the Brits to join in. One thoughtlessly replies, 'we'd rather die than sing German'. A German wittily responds- 'It would kill us if you did!'
Even the weather was clear by the 24th. The Christmas truce had begun.

The truce was first used to decently bury fallen comrades. When this grim, sad and difficult task was done, both sides began to exchange gifts and souvenirs. Soon they are strolling about mingling together, sharing rations, jokes and small talk in no man's land. There's even a performance from a German juggler. It seems like a crazy, Christmas circus. In some areas both sides are playing football.

Strangely, although the Commanding officers of both armies were strongly opposed to fraternising with the enemy, and firm orders were given against it, there was no great insistence about this, and the truce lasted for all of Christmas. In some areas it even seemed to last until New Year's day. And despite the fact that the orders were ignored, no disciplinary action was taken.

Sir Edward Hulse, Captain of the Scots Guards recounts how he received four unarmed German soldiers at 8.30 am on Christmas day. Hulse wrote an account of this- 'Their spokesman started off by saying that he thought it only right to come over and wish us a happy Christmas, and trusted us implicitly to keep the truce. He came from Suffolk where he had left his best girl friend and a 3.5 hp motor-bike!'
(At such a time of the first year of the war, it would never have occurred to the German soldiers to say- 'before we resume mowing you down with withering machine gun fire, blinding and poisoning you with our mustard gas, and blowing you into small pieces with our heavy artillery, we thought it only right to...').

On the German side, Kurt Zehmisch of the 134th Saxons wrote- 'The English brought a soccer ball from the trenches, and pretty soon a lively game ensued. How marvellously wonderful, yet how strange it was. The English officers felt the same way about it. Thus Christmas, the celebration of Love, managed to bring mortal enemies together as friends for a time.'

On some sections of the front, the war was resumed sooner. A medical officer, Captain J.C. Dunn wrote- 'At 8.30 I fired three shots in the air and put up a flag with "Merry Christmas" on it, and I climbed on the parapet. He (the Germans) put up a sheet with "Thank you" on it, and the German Captain appeared on the parapet. We both bowed and saluted and got down into our respective trenches, and he fired two shots in the air, and the War was on again.'

This precious truce came at a time when both sides were probably equally confident that the war couldn't possibly drag on until 1918, and it hadn't yet created the desolate ruin, nor apparently the bitter hatred that was bound to come. In 1914 the horror and mass slaughter perpetuated by the blind ignorance of Commanding Officers issuing stupid orders from plush rooms far from the front, must then have seemed almost inconceivable. The same High Command superiors who were to establish the Treaty of Versailles, 'the twenty year amnesty' that was to prove to be exactly that.

This reciprocal chivalry and gentlemanly behaviour strongly underlines the absurd tragedy of the Great War. On the 11th November, 2008, one of the last Poilus (French infantry, so called because of their understandably muddy, unshaven and unkempt appearance) declared- 'This war never warranted the death of a single soldier.' More than nine million fell, approximately 6000 a day.
But the results, thanks to the famous treaty, largely contributed to foster the creation of even greater monsters, capable of causing even greater horror.

Yet The Christmas Truce still reminds us of what's possible when there's good will, even among ordinary men formed to slaughter each other, and this despite the most horrific circumstances.
Both sides would have suffered the loss of friends and comrades, sometimes in the most gruesome way, yet they, unlike their well fed, well compensated and well protected superior Commanders, were then far more inclined to lower their rifles, and even sing together to celebrate their first Christmas in the trenches.
But it's also a reminder of the folly of war, certainly in this particular case, when there was little difference between the front line soldiers, whatever side they happen to be on.

Thanks to the continual, pompous management of High Command, the impossible treaty based on blind politics of vendetta was established. The twenty year fuse destined to explode in an even more atrocious, devastating and determining way, was thus lit, before the world seemed to wake up at last, having finally learnt its lesson in the hardest possible way. Assuming that human nature is ever really capable of this..
Text © Mirino. Sources include- The Christmas Truce, with many thanks. Top image (probably a frame from a film reconstructing the event). 2nd image front page of the Daily Mirror (Friday, January 6th, 1915) news item of the truce. December, 2011

Christmas times

Christmas is coming
And the goose is on a diet,
Santa's been down-graded
So it's bound to be quiet.

If you've got a penny,
You could put it in his hat.
(It's the thought that matters
   As he can't do much with that). 
Noël arrive
Et l'oie est sur régime
Le Père Noël est dégradé
Donc nous sommes tous victimes.

Si vous avez un penny
Mettez le dans son chapeau,
Il ne peut rien en faire,
Mais le geste est assez beau.


As we approach another Christmas, having tightened our belts by one or two notches, (in keeping with whatever allocated 'brandmark' has been- or will be- bestowed upon us by the three credit rating kings who may have travelled far in order to lovingly watch over our interests) we are nevertheless determined, therefore bound to enjoy our celebrations.

Yet another Christmas, when good-will should reign, and perhaps all the more so to compensate for it not always being the case during the rest of the year.
The precious moments of family reunion, to share the joy of the fare and of getting together once again.

Then there are the times of change when Christmas isn't as it was, and not only because the children are growing up to take off elsewhere.
Those of us fortunate enough, never forget the Christmases of when we were young. How precious those warm memories are, and how clear they still remain in the mind's eye.

However one wishes to celebrate Christmas, it's always very special, and important to continue, so that when the young ones are 'fully fledged,' they will also be able to look back, remember and smile.

Mistletoe memories, souvenirs like snow white pearls, cosily treasured in the velvet corner of our hearts.
Merry Christmas to us all, and let's make it- 'at any rate'- a far better New Year than even the 'three Kings' could ever have credited and anticipated!

There are times for singing,
Making friends
And homely nest
From odds and ends

Times to help
The young ones grow
Then times when they
Take off and go.

Yet nothing flies
As well as time,
Such is the reason
For this rhyme

For if of hard times
One is spared,
The very best
Are those most shared.


Il y a un temps pour chanter,
Pour faire des ami(e)s,
Et de petits riens-
Faire de petits nids

Un Temps pour aider
Les jeunes à pousser,
Puis un temps où ils
Vont s'envoler.

Mais rien ne vole
Comme le temps,
D'où cette rime
Et sa raison

Car si de temps durs
L'on est épargné,
Les meilleurs temps
Sont ceux partagés. 


Ci sono tempi per cantare,
 Incontrare amici,
 E di poche cose
 Fare nidi soffici

Tempi per i piccoli
Da aiutare,
 E tempi in cui essi
Possono volare

Ma meglio del tempo
Nulla può volare via,
Tale è la ragione
Di questa poesia

E se dei tempi duri
Si sono risparmiati,
I tempi migliori son
  Quelli insieme passati.


Text, parody, doggerel (with thanks to Rob for checking out the Italian) and images © Mirino. December, 2011

Scottish myths 10

  Edinburgh Castle

I came across some interesting information about Edinburgh Castle whilst looking, unsuccessully, for Scottish legends linked to Christmas.

The Castle was occupied by an English garrison during the wars of Independence. But in 1313, the Scots, commanded by Thomas Randolph, surprised the English by climbing the rock, and they were thus able to recapture the Castle.

'The Black Dinner' took place in Edinburgh Castle in 1440. Lured there by Sir William Crichton who considered the Douglas family too powerful, William, the 16 year old sixth Earl of Douglas, and his brother David, were murdered in the Castle-yard before the young King. This after being served the final course of a great feast. It was a black bull's head, considered an ill omen.

Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James the VI in Edinburgh Castle (1566). The Castle was exposed to strifes of the Covenant, of Cromwell's invasion and of the Jacobite rebellions.

The 'Stone of Scone', also known as the 'Stone of Destiny' (as well as Jacob's pillow Stone, and the Tanish Stone) was, and perhaps still is, considered sacred.
A historian of the the 14th century, Walter Hemingford, affirmed that it was the Scottish coronation stone of the monastery of Scone not far from Perth. 'In the monastery of Scone, in the Church of God, near to the high altar, is kept a large stone, hollowed out as a round chair, on which their kings were placed for their ordination, according to custom'.
There are other legends regarding the origin of the Stone, even linking it to Biblical times (taken by Jacob when he was in Haran, hence 'Jacob's Stone').
Another story is that the first King of Scotland, Fergus, son of Ferchard, is recorded to have brought the Stone from Ireland to Argyll.

The Stone itself is of old red sandstone. It measures 66 cm x 42.5 cm, weighs about 152 kg and has traces of chisel work where the stone has been shaped. Iron rings are attached to each side of the stone obviously to facilitate its lifting and transporting.
King Edward 1, apparently informed of the sacred reputation of the Stone, ordered that it be taken to Westminster abbey in 1296, and from then onwards it was used for the coronation of the English monarchy in what was known as 'King Edward's Chair'.
The famous Stone however, was returned in 1996 by Queen Elizabeth II, and is now installed in Edinburgh Castle.

Under the Castle, there is supposed to be a tunnel a mile long that leads to Holyrood-house. It's said that the skirl of bagpipes can be heard coming from the tunnel, the eery sounds of a piper who was once sent down to play as he followed the long gallery, but he was never seen again.

There is also a drummer often said to be headless. It was he who warned the court of imminent attacks against the Castle. And there is even supposed to be the ghost of a dog that wanders along the battlements, for Edinburgh Castle even has an old cemetery for pets.

But as it's almost Christmas, perhaps we should concentrate on merrier thoughts and activities. For example, let's refer to this fine menu of what was served for a reasonable price three years ago as the Christmas dinner in Edinburgh Castle.
Potted hough of Scottish beef with spiced plum marmalade, horseradish coleslaw and bannock bread served with Loredona Pinot Grigio.
Followed by roasted sea bass with chorizo, red onion and cherry vine tomatoes served with Brouill, Domaine de Moulin Faire.
Followed by roast goose, crispy streaky bacon and caramelised brussel sprouts with roast potatoes and chestnut stuffing served with d'Arenberg Hermit Crab Marsanne Viognier (Crisp, fruity, summer, southern Australian white wine).
Followed by Castle Christmas pudding parfait with cranberry relish served with Graham Beck Rhona Muscadel.
Followed by tea or coffee and chocolate truffles.

Followed by the thought that it would be best to treat words such as crisis, and credit ratings, etc.,' also as myths and legends, and enjoy the Christmas period comme il faut.

  Scottish myths 11
 Scottish myths 9

Text © Mirino. Sources include about Aberdeen, with thanks. Photo by Kim Traynor, 2009 (retouched by M). With thanks, also to Wikimedia Commons. December, 2011

Poor standards

It seems absurd that so much power is assumed by- and accorded to- credit rating agencies these days, and all more so because the two main ones are non-European.
How easy it could be to exploit European markets and influence political scenes by casually suggesting the possibility of downgrading the credit rate of a targeted country and its banking system. Or perhaps by suggesting the opposite, whimsically praising the financial situation of a nation to stimulate the stock market before subtly placing an important investment, or in order to bolster up a political favourite in the popularity poles.

One wonders why Europe hasn't established its own credit rating agencies that are now eminently established in Manhattan, dictating financial law and order to Wall Street. Had there been, maybe the crisis would never have been triggered off in the first place. But perhaps such an idea would never have interested European economists.

Is Europe so lacking in character and financial savvy to fear whatever is whispered or joked about by monoglot cynics within the walls of Standard & Poors, Moody's or Fiches? Not only it seems that these agencies assume the right to make casual, costly errors, to the huge detriment of millions, but they don't even have to bother to apologise for it afterwards.

Long before the USA was born, Europe established the Hanseatic League, from the 13th to the 17th century. Stretching from the Baltic (Novgorod) to the British Isles (London), this alliance of trade and economy had its own legal system, treasury, army, trade protection system and even a social service system of sorts. The League had no common currency problems, and certainly no need for any unasked for, lofty judgements from credit rating agencies. But then there were still no European colonists in the USA capable of thinking up such an idea, and the North American Red Indians had more far important things to do in any case, than to want to meddle in the affairs of others in far off continents, affairs born of a system that worked perfectly well for over four hundred years, right across northern Europe, well before trains and aeroplanes were ever invented.

If one had a Machiavellian mind, one might suspect that the made in America agencies are secretly trying to undermine the euro. Maybe American high finance had the impression that the ECB was in the throes of taking advantage of the 'made in America crisis' and the weakness of the dollar, in order to substitute it surreptitiously with the impressively strong, new euro proudly propped up with firm wonderbrass interest rates, as an international money. At one time, at least to some extent, (with the Iranian regime, only too eager to support such an idea) it looked as though it might even come off. But thankfully the fools of the world are still a minority, even though they are still nevertheless capable of doing a great deal of harm.

One of human nature's many faults, is to pretend to specialise in fields that since the beginning of civilisation have always been impossible to specialise in, simply because they are all too often unpredictable. The economic field is an example (as the enigmatic symbolism and optical impossibilities incorporated by Holbein also suggest- see below regarding the top portrait).

Obviously what has always been essential however, is what one has to offer. The quality of a product naturally determines its value, in gold, silver, drachma, aurei, thalers, (note that thaler, ironically, was the origin of dollar) florins, gulden, ecus, etc., and yes, even euros. There is not one country in Europe that doesn't have something special of its own of real quality to offer. So where's the problem?

Not too long ago I posted Web loggers' and site evaluators' lunacy. Would it be totally and naively out of the question to make a parallel between the so called expertise, the 'credit rating' of site assessors who judge the merits of the efforts of those generous enough to freely allocate their time in trying to amuse others, and the 'Godly' powers of those self-proclaimed economical experts who, in US computer jargon, pass judgement either with holy benediction or infernal damnation on a European nation's capacity to survive economically? Why not?
The latter have already made several, unpardonable boobs, and obviously their mistakes are vastly more irresponsible and serious, compared to incoherent results made by so-called web-site assessors.

Isn't this already more than enough to take credit rating agencies' assessments as pretentious, damaging and meaningless meddling? Yet for some strange reason, those who represent us, as well as the media, (which these days could virtually amount to the same thing) seem to tremble with fear at the idea of losing their triple A. As if Europe consists of nations of various cattle herds, some of which risk the shame and horror of being re-branded by a bunch of cowboys to thus lay bare what has been decreed by the lords of livestock rating agencies, to suffer the disgrace of being beefed down to second, third or even fourth rate consumer quality.

But the consideration is only money. And again, it's the quality of what one produces that determines its worth, not necessarily the level of interest rates yo-yo'ed about by bored ECB bankers, and certainly not the over casual, credit rating assessments.

Ironically the focus is on the European debt which some like to think has created a monumental euro confidence crisis, as if the European money is something sacred and fragile that has to be 'saved'. Have the CRA boys been debarked to brave the front-line to 'save the euro', or might they be a shade orientated by distracting world attention from the dire economic situation of the USA which might be even worse?
S&P downgraded the credit rating of the USA by only one notch in August this year. Even so, they managed to make a considerably important blunder in their assessment. In November S&P announced their decision to downgrade the triple A of France. Again, they admitted to having made yet another important and inexcusable mistake.

S&P have given the highest credit rating assessments to risky loan companies such as the Credit Suisse Group, causing losses of millions to investors. As credit rating agencies are paid for their rating service, would it be unreasonable to believe that the credit rating assessment level they grant is determined by the generosity of those who wish to appear as solvent as possible?

Moody's have even been accused of contributing to the international financial crisis by downgrading Freddie Mac. And according to Time, Both Moody's and S&P had given the triple A rating to Collateralized Debt Obligations when it was brim full of lousy mortgage deals. Apparently Fitch was also accused in this case. This also contributed largely to the 2008 financial apocalypse.
The list of criticisms doesn't stop there. Europe also has accused S&P of abusing its position.
And to quote David Wyss, once head economist at S&P up until July of this year, "The credit agencies don't know any more about government budgets than the guy in the street who is reading the newspaper."
Despite massive assessment errors that for the USA amounted to the odd 2 or 3 trillion, those responsible are still employed by the agencies, which, should anyone be inclined to accord with any necessary reason of being at all, inspires even less confidence.

This isn't to say that Europe doesn't have real problems. History, recent history especially, has taught us the severe lesson about whatever takes place negatively elsewhere, is going to negatively effect everyone sooner or later.
However, in the case of Afghanistan, instead of working closely with the first directly concerned, the Afghanis themselves, The West's way of fighting the Taliban has been with the 'co-operation' of the very nation that fostered them in the first place. The negative consequences suffered by the West now seem to include the absurdity of having to make generous annual payments to Pakistan to secure the right to wage war indirectly against Pakistan..

In our small world we should by now also understand that what is bad for one nation or continent, is bad for all nations and continents. It's therefore counter-productive and futile to try to take advantage of what first seems to be an isolated problem. Isolated problems no longer exist. No one anticipated the economic tidal wave, the domino effect triggered off in the USA. No one anticipated the negative effect the Grecian handling of financial affairs would cause Europe, therefore the whole world. Could it be said that Greece was granted a triple A to be accepted in the euro zone? Where then were the august, credit rating assessors in this case? And why should a nation that has been allowed admission on the strength of fraudulent figures, be allowed to remain a euro-zone member, without first having to undergo a strictly observed probation period, at the very least?

Maybe Hermes or Tyche has something to do with the Greek problem, but finally the responsibility would then be Zeus'. The Greeks had no God of financial credit rating assessment. All powerful Zeus who holds the aegis, would never have tolerating one. He wouldn't have lost time in making his own divine assessment which would have resulted in his thunderbolting such a tartuffian, self-proclaimed divinity straight from Mount Olympus all the way to Hades, who would have banished him to a murky corner in Tartarus for ever.

The above portrait is of the merchant George Gisze. Der Kaufmann George Gisze of the Hansiatic League (1532) by Hans Holbein the Younger (1498-1543). Painted in oils on oak, 86.2 cm x 97.5 cm, this painting carried out in England is interesting because it's full of symbolic paradoxes and optical impossibilities. Holbein was fond of incorporating such subtle optical illusions and/or allusions. In this case they seem to have even more significance. The motto of Georg Gisze was Nulla sine merore voluptas (no pleasure without regret) which has a symbolic connection with the unbalanced scales. It thus suggests that the stable, balanced and secure financial world of George Gisze is not as sound as the impression it first gives. But no doubt Hans Holbein's allusion was already based on the understanding that the financial world is never as sound as it might appear.

Text © Mirino. Sources include Wikipedia. Intro portrait by Holbein, with thanks to Wikimedia Commons. December, 2011

To Fly

I still remember with great pleasure the film To Fly, that I had the opportunity of seeing at the Smithsonian Air and Space museum in Washington, quite a few years ago now. The film itself, the first of the museum's, was made in 1976. Thirty five years ago, and I'm sure it hasn't pris une ride since it was made. Apparently it's still the most popular of all the films now shown there.
It's moving in every sense. But America is renowned for being able to present and extol man's technical achievements and prowess in the best possible way, whereas Europe still seems to have complexes about praising the accomplishments of humanity. Something to do with history, no doubt.
After seeing the film one leaves with a warm feeling of elation, as if one has just landed, after a fabulous and unforgettable flight.

I was reminded of this film quite recently, on awaking, because I dreamt once more that I could fly. Or rather I could levitate myself at random. There was pleasant music (that miraculously I was actually able to hear) and this helped to trigger off an ability to rise in the air lying flat out but face upwards, and glide by leisurely shunting myself along with light, flipper motions of the hands, wherever I wished to go. In this dream I was also perfectly aware that I was defying gravity, and that in order to maintain this, I must continue to apply mind over matter with calm, serene control.

I had a similar dream several years ago. I may have referred to it already. It was so convincing that when I first awoke I was quite sure that I could fly, and was eager to try without delay. In that dream I glided face down, with arms outstretched, in 'superman' style. But I was limited to following the undulating soft grass and moss of vast meadows, thus near to ground level. Yet I knew that with applied concentration I could gain height quite easily. In the dream I was so enjoying gliding along quite fast, just brushing ground level, that I purposely postponed the idea of gaining height, deciding that I would save what I was sure would be an additional, delightful challenge for later on- so confident was I of the flying progress that I was bound to
be able to make.

Such dreams are supposed to come under the category of 'Lucid Dreams', meaning that one is dreaming and aware of dreaming at the same time. One feels free, exhilarated and sublimely content. These dreams can also signify that one is in command of a situation and thus able to rise above it, which seems logical enough.

Providing that there are no obstacles, and one has no sense of fear or vertigo, it would be reasonable to interpret such flying dreams in the most positive way, of generally being free, at peace with oneself, aspiringly elated, and having the impression of being in complete control of one's destiny. It all comes down to a perfect, blissful illusion, that lasts until the rude awakening. The crash-landing of harsh reality.
Text and images © Mirino (PW). Images from Herbert Binns and the Flying Tricycle, December, 2011

The Miller's Tale

The Miller's Tale is one of the best known and popular of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
Known as a fabiau involving bourgeois and rural characters in plots that are often lewd, (osé) the fabiau was largely a French speciality, but Geoffrey Chaucer excelled in such tales, of which there are about four examples in the Canterbury series. In fact The Miller's Tale is considered one of the best fabiau in any language.

To condense the prologue and the main part of the story-
The Miller (Robyn) is considered a churl and a drunkard by most of his travelling companions, and the Reeve tries to dissuade him from telling his tale. The Miller admits to his state-

'That I am dronke: I know it by my soun.°         °sound of my voice
And therefore if that I mis° speke or saye,        °misspeak
Wite it° the ale of Southwerk, I you praye;       °blame it on
For I wol telle a legende and a lif
Bothe of a carpenter and of his wif, (...)'

His tale is of a simple, jealous carpenter of a certain age who marries a beautiful, 18 year old, frisky young bride.
The carpenter rents out rooms in his house, and a young clerk, Nicholas, is one of his lodgers. His room is tidy and full of books, for Nicholas is, or at least seems to be, a learned young man whose interests include astrology.

Nicholas falls in love with Alisoun, John, the carpenter's wife, and soon manages to seduce her. They promise each other to have lovers' meetings whenever opportunities permit.

At the same time, Absolom, an assistant to the local parish priest, has also fallen in love with Alisoun, and hopes to win her love by serenading to her sweetly with his guitar below her window.

Nicholas however, eager to spend a whole night with the carpenter's young wife, devises a plan.
He stocks his room with sufficient food and drink, locks his door and stays out of sight until the carpenter begins to worry about his absence. Believing him to be ill or even dead, the carpenter arranges that Nicholas' door be lifted off its hinges so that he can enter his room to see what's wrong. He is thus able to discover Nicholas sitting on his bed staring at the moon, completely motionless.

The carpenter shakes him and shouts loudly to try to bring the young man to his senses. Nicholas, feigning to 'wake up', then recounts his 'vision' and the secret information gleaned from his studies of astrology.
He tells the carpenter that a great deluge will flood the whole world beginning at dawn the following Monday. Similar to Noah, it is the Lord's will that the carpenter must procure three large brewing tubs or kneeding troughs. He must put sufficient food and drink into each vessel to last a day, and must drag the tubs onto the roof securing them with ropes. But on no account must he tell anyone else other than his wife (who is already aware of the plot). Such is the 'Lord's command.'

The gullible carpenter goes to all this trouble, and on Sunday night the three of them climb up the ladders the carpenter also made in preparation, and lie in their tubs. The carpenter, completely exhausted from his work and worry, is already snoring fast asleep when Nicholas and Alisoun quietly descend from the roof to pass their night together.

Before dawn however, Absolom comes to try his luck once more. Below Alisoun's window he beseeches her, his lemman (sweetheart) to kiss him. She replies that she loves another, but will kiss him only if he promises to go away afterwards. This he accepts.
As the open window is fairly low and because it's still very dark, Alisoun neatly presents her backside from it. Absolom taking this to be her face, kisses her ardently. Puzzled by the impression that she seems to have a modest beard, he slowly realises that he has been made a fool of, and immediately seeks vengeance.

He visits the local smithy to make a request. The smithy, surprised by such an early visit, nevertheless is perfectly willing to lend him what he requires- a plough shear, newly forged and still very hot- even though he has no idea why Absolom would want to borrow it.

So armed, Absolum returns to the carpenter's house and again sweetly asks for another kiss.
Nicholas, having risen for to pisse, decides that they should improve on the joke, and he sticks his backside out of the window. At this most critical stage we now return to the final part of Chaucer's verse :

"Speek, sweete brid, I noot nought wher thou art."
This Nicholas anoon leet flee° a fart                            °let fly
As greet as it hadde been a thonder-dent°                  °thunderbolt
That with the strook he was almost yblent,°               °blinded
And he was redy with his iren hoot°                             °hot
And Nicholas amidde the ers he smoot:°                     °smote
Of° gooth the skin an hand-brede° aboute;                  °off/handsbreadth
The hote cultour brende so his toute°                           °buttocks
That for the smert° he wende for° to die;                     °pain/thought he would
As he were wood° for wo he gan to crye,                       °mad
"Help! Water! Water! Help, for Goddes herte!
This carpenter out of his slomber sterte,
And herde oon cryen "Water!" as he were wood,
And thoughte, "Alas, now cometh Noweles° flood!"   °confusing Noah & Noel
He sette him up° withoute words mo,                             °got up
And with his ax he smoot the corde atwo,
And gooth al: he foond neither to selle
Ne breed ne ale til he cam to the celle*
Upon the floor, and ther aswoune° he lay.                    °in a swoon
Up sterte° hire Alison and Nicholay                                °started
And criden "Out" and "Harrow" in the streete.
The neighebores, bothe smale and grete,
In ronnen for to gauren° on this man                            °gape
That aswoune lay bothe pale and wan,
For with the fal he brosten° had his arm;                      °broken
But stonde he moste° unto his owene harm,                °must
For whan he spak he was anoon bore down°               °refuted
With° hende Nicholas and Alisoun:                               °by
They tolden every man that he was wood-
He was agast so of Noweles flood,
Thurgh fantasye, that of his vanitee°                             °folly
He hadde ybought him kneeding tubs three,
And hadde hem hanged in the roof above,
And that he prayed them, for Goddes love,
To sitten in the roof, par compaignye.°                        °for company's sake
The folk gan laughen at his fantasye.
Into the roof they kiken° and they cape°                      °peer/gape
And turned all his harm unto a jape°                            °joke
For what so that this carpenter answerde,
It was for nought: no man his reson° herde;               °argument
With othes grete he was sworn adown,
That he was holden° wood in al the town,                   °considered
For every clerk anoonright heeld with other:
They saide, "The man was wood, my leve brother,"
And every wight gan laughen at this strif.°                  °fuss/affair
Thus swived° was the carpenteres wif                          °had (baissée)
For al his keeping° and his jalousye,
And Absolom hath kist hir nether° yë,                         °backside
And Nicholas is scalded in the toute:
This tale is doon, and God save al the route!°             °company

*He found time to sell neither bread nor ale until he landed. (He lost no time).   
Introduction and synopsis © Mirino. Source- The Norton Anthology English Literature Volume 1, with thanks. Top illustration from the Ellesmere Manuscript. Below- page from the Miller's Tale (Oxford, Corpus Christi College). December, 2011

Jack and Jill

Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown
And Jill burst out with laughter.

Up Jack got, his face red hot
 And banged Jill with the bucket.
 T'was such a clout, he blurted out
                What sounded like, 'oh phucket'.               


 Had Jack and Jill gone down the hill
They would have found more water,
With no cure job for old Dame Dob
Who'd still have Jill, her daughter.

The origin of the true Jack and Jill nursery rhyme is unknown although there are a few theories. One of them is connected to King Charles and his attempt (blocked by Parliament) to reform liquid measures in the 17th century, hence the reference to 'his crown'. For this theory 'Jill' would then be 'gill', or a quart pint, etc.  
Like Humpty Dumpty, the earliest publication was as part of the Mother Goose nursery rhyme series (John Newbery, 1760).
Parody © Mirino. Illustration by William Wallace Denslow c. 1902 (with thanks and apologies for altering Jill's expression). With thanks also to Wikimedia Commons. December, 2011

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

'The most happy marriage I can picture or imagine to myself 
would be the union of a deaf man to a blind woman'.

Born in Ottery St.Mary, a little town in Devonshire, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) had already benefited from his education at Christ's Hospital, London, before he went to Jesus College, Cambridge (1791). But he didn't find his studies stimulating there, and became idle as well as indebted.

This  pushed him to even join the Light Dragoons under the pseudonym of Silas Tomkyn Comberbache. As a cavalryman he hardly excelled. Fortunately his brothers were able to save him from further embarrassment, enabling him to return to Cambridge. But in 1794, he quit the university without any degree.

In that same year he met Robert Southey, an admirer of the French republican experience. They decided on trying to establish what Coleridge termed as 'Pantisocracy,' which was a sort of Utopian democracy based on equal rule by all.
They were persuaded to go to America to try to launch it, but hardly surprisingly the idea never got off the ground. The result of this enterprise included Coleridge's marriage to a Sara Fricker with whom he was quite happy, at least to begin with.

When he met Wordsworth in 1795, he considered him to be "the best poet of the age". The period of close collaboration with Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy who both lived at Alfoxten quite near to where Coleridge then lived (Nether Stowey) was very happy and creative.
Fortunately Coleridge then benefited from an annuity of £150 from the sons of the founder of the famous pottery firm, 'Wedgwood'. This saved him from having to assume the post of a Unitarian minister.

Wordsworth and Coleridge jointly published Lyrical Ballads in 1798 before going to Germany for the winter which triggered off Coleridge's studies of Kant.
Two years later he was to follow Wordsworth to Cumberland, and lodged at Greta Hall, Keswick. Coleridge's marriage had by then broken down and in 1799 he had fallen in love with another Sara (Sara Hutchinson). Wordsworth was to marry her sister Mary, three years later.

Coleridge suffered from rheumatism and other less known ailments for most of his life. The standard prescription to ease pain in those days was Laudanum (opium with alcohol). At the turn of the century until 1801, Coleridge began to realise that the repeated doses were doing him more harm than good. In despair he wrote Dejection: An Ode, published in 1802.
Even a period in Malta did nothing to restore his health. He returned to England in a very sorry state, and more addicted than ever.

A serious quarrel with Wordsworth (1810) and the degraded relationship with his wife, made Coleridge's lamentable situation even worse.
Considering all this, his efforts to continue writing were admirable feats, even though they were intermittent. He even had the courage to write, have printed and distribute a periodical 'The Friend,' for a little more than a year.
The Drury Lane Theatre showed his tragedy Remorse and it was successful enough to last twenty performances.

The remainder of his life he spent in the care of Dr. and Mrs. Gillman in Highgate, London. They helped him control to some extent his opium dependence. He continued to lecture and write for newspapers. He published Biographia Literaria, Zapolya (a drama), and a book of his essays that he revised from 'The Friend'. He also published two selections of poems, and philosophical and religious treatises.
Coleridge was more at peace with himself then, and had made amends with his wife Sara, as well as with Wordsworth.

After Coleridge's death, Wordsworth referred to him as 'the most wonderful man that I have ever known'. For Charles Lamb- 'His great and dear spirit haunts me... Never saw I his likeness, nor probably the world can see again'.

Others were less praising, and it's said that in order to respect deadlines, he often resorted to plagiarism. However, his most famous ballad- The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and particularly his haunting poem Kubla Khan, reveal his prodigious uniqueness.

Kubla Khan
A fragment of a vision in a dream

Lord Byron is said to have requested the publication of Kubla Khan as a fragment of a dream, 'more as a psychological curiosity, than on the ground of any supposed poetic merits.'

Coleridge had a dream whilst under the effects of opium. This was after having read some lines from Purchas's Pilgrimage :
'Here the Khan Kubla commanded a palace to be built, and a stately garden thereunto. And thus ten miles of fertile ground were inclosed with a wall.'

Coleridge then fell asleep and had this most vivid and fabulous dream from which he said he could not compose less than from two to three hundred lines- 'without any sensation or consciousness of effort.'
"On awakening he (Coleridge) appeared to himself to have a distinct recollection of the whole, and taking his pen, ink, and paper, instantly and eagerly wrote down the lines that are here preserved. (...)"

Whilst he was writing someone called on business from Porlock and detained Coleridge for an hour. When he finally returned to his desk, although some of the vision was still vaguely present, a blurred souvenir in his mind's eye, or like the reflected image on a disturbed water's surface, fragmented then irredeemably lost to thick, shrouding mist.

But no doubt this was meant to be, and the poem as such is all the more magic, evocative, moving; and as complete as it was destined to be.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!

The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me
That with music loud and long
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed
And drunk the milk of Paradise.


Text © Mirino. Source- The Norton Anthology of English Literature 2. Coleridge's Kubla Khan. Top Image- a coloured 18th century etching of Coleridge, artist unknown. Below- draft of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Kubla Khan (1797-1818) Wikimedia Commons, with thanks. December, 2011