Monday, 14 December 2009

How the Ancient Egyptians located Heaven

The Great Pyramid of Giza was built as a tomb for a Pharaoh more than 5,000 years ago. It probably took thousands of men more than 20 years of non-stop labour to construct. It was the tallest building on planet Earth for more than 4,000 years. It is the only surviving wonder from the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The ancient Egyptian astronomers knew the exact location of that unknown place the religious like to call Heaven. Its location is in the northern sky, in the small group of stars known to the ancients as the Unconquerable, which are found in the vicinity what we call today the North Star or Polaris.
And the location of the final destination of the spirit or soul was surely there because this was the only fixed and unmoving point to be found anywhere in the sky. There, without a doubt, was Heaven. And there surely the Eye of God; the Masonic eye we see in many places today; on the paper currency of the USA for example.

What was earlier believed to be a ventilation shaft leading outwards and upwards from the so-called King's Chamber in the middle of the Great Pyramid is nowadays believed to be the shaft, or path, for the Pharaoh's soul to proceed through and then onward into the sky in the direction of its heavenward journey to the region of Polaris; there to be renewed.

A religion or cult with a precise location for its Heaven. Now that really is something out of the ordinary; but then that's really no surprise for those ancient Egyptians were an out of the ordinary people.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Red-haired Giants

A survey I read somewhere, some years ago, found that there are more red-haired people in Scotland than anywhere else. I believe it was 10% of the general population. Other countries in Northern Europe; countries like Norway, Holland, Ireland, also have a significant percentage of redheads.

So why is this? Like a lot of things on our planet it has do with the weather; a period of extremely hot weather in Africa and at the same time the end of a Northern Hemisphere Ice Age. It was a long time ago. Here's the basic story as told by:
Big Bang in the Laboratory - French/German TV arte.

Big Bang in the Laboratory is about the origin of the Universe and much of the programme's content was to do with the Large Hadron Collider and what the LHC may find or discover in the coming weeks and months. Another part of it was to do with astronomy and the latest discoveries in space. But the part of the programme I personally found most interesting was a report which boldly stated the following:

Approximately 30,000 to 40,000 years ago there were to be found two distinct species of humans living side by side in Europe.

That is, there were living in Europe the original first wave settlers out of Africa - the so-called Neanderthals. They moved northwards from Africa to seek a cooler climate. The men were large, for the period, and strong; 1m 75cm in height and built like weightlifters, weighing-in at a solid 90 kg. They buried their dead in narrow passageways deep inside caves and placed crystals alongside the dead. The crystal shown in the film may have been an amethyst. All well and good then; a spiritually inclined, prehistoric race.

But then came the cruncher; the genetic LHC equivalent: Only descendants of Neanderthals have genes for red hair.

Well, I'd heard about this before. But, until I saw Big Bang in the Laboratory I never dreamed that it was backed up with serious science.

After all, we're all from the same tribe who wandered out of Africa - the Homo Sapiens, we were always told. But not now. Now there's been a subtle shift. Almost unnoticed the DNA-door is being pushed open a little wider. It turns out that we're not all the same after all. Many of us are not 100% dyed in the wool Homo-Sapiens.

"Those fleet-of-foot Homo-Sapiens (Cro-Magnons) from Kenya," said the scientist pointing to the map of Africa to show me where Kenya was, "arrived in Europe a long time after the Neanderthals." They also come out of Africa. They were the second wave. They all had dark hair.

The two species, for what else shall we call them, lived side by side for 10,000 years but then the Neanderthals disappeared. It is not known how or why. But since I'm sitting here with my Neanderthal genes safe inside me, it must mean that the Neanderthals interbred with and, over a 10,000 year period, evolved into Cro-Magnon Homo-Sapiens.

"If you have red hair," said the scientist (confirming my thoughts) you must be in part Neanderthal."

And so, there you have it. There were giants in the Earth in those days. And they were my, and perhaps your, ancestors.

But, as a redheaded youngster I found that having a mop of red hair and the freckles to go with it caused me diverse problems: I was sometimes seen as being a bit different and singled out as a member of a strange and suspicious red-haired minority group; it was known that I must have a fiery temper, that I might be dangerous, that I might pose a threat to others - to the majority. Other normal boys, a few neighbours, and even a couple of teachers, appeared almost instinctively to know all these wierd things about me.

Perhaps Nestroy's Titus Feuerfuchs° is due for a rewrite.

°A play in which a red-haired man experiences discrimination simply because of his red hair. On the verge of despair he fortunately meets a red-haired woman ...
image: courtesy Wikipedia

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Bard on the Run's bad run

Pendle Hill, apart from being the home of the Pendle witches and the place where George Fox is reported to have had his vision that led to the founding of the Quakers, is also the home of a classic foot race.

I knew it was a mistake to enter the 'Full Tour of Pendle' fell-race having missed 6 weeks training due to a series of colds, coughs, sneezes, sore throats and not surprisingly a general feeling of lethargy. But I couldn't resist it.

Some 350 runners duly entered the fray, which involved running up the boggy mass of Pendle Hill 5 times in sweeping rain and swirling mist and visiting 11 checkpoints in various far-apart locations with only a compass-bearing for a guide. Route choice is your own problem.

And so it came to pass that as I ran off the Apronfull Hill* side of the Pendle hump down into Asshenden Clough I felt my first twinges of cramp in my thighs. And I was only halfway round the course. Halfway that is in terms of distance. But the serious climbing, the climb out of Asshenden Clough, the climb up the Big Dipper and the climb up the aptly named Big End were still ahead of me.

I would for safety-first reasons choose a longer route which I knew by heart rather than take any short-cuts in the poor visibility and the uncomfortable easterly wind; a nagging wind which reduced all but the hardiest fell-runners to little more than walking pace, and many to a shuffle, on the wide summit plateau where the terrain consists of millions of waterlogged ankle-spraining tussocks, some old stone walls and a maze of peat groughs.

Choose the wrong line in many places and you could soon find yourself up to your knees in watery peat, a soft black substance guaranteed to suck the very shoes from your feet even as your tired legs work laboriously to extricate themselves from the dark trap.

Having survived everything that Pendle Hill could throw at me, and having somehow negotiated the 20-odd miles of my route choice and ascended and descended the required 5,000' and visited all 11 checks in the right order I arrived back where I had started from; the village of Barley.

Yes, I was near the tail-end of the field and more than a little bit tired but I'd done it. Yes, I'd had a bad run. It was not up to my ridiculously unrealistic expectations. I had wanted to be a good hour faster than I finally was. But then I heard of the reported 15 runners who didn't manage to get round and what they must have felt like having to retire from the race. And then I thought to myself, yes I had quite a bad run but really, my foolish ambition aside, it was not really so bad.

*Apronfull Hill is so-called because it was here that the Devil armed himself with an apronfull of rocks and angrily hurled them at Clitheroe Castle 5 miles away in the west. A large hole in the castle wall testifies to a direct hit.

Monday, 30 November 2009

The return of Merlin

Stonehenge, an ancient circle [image: courtesy National Geographic]

Large Hadron Collider, a modern circle [image: courtesy Wiki-Commons]

Dr. Lyn Evans, known to the Welsh as Evans the Atom, may well be a new Merlin awakened. The original Merlin, the Welsh wizard known at King Arthur's Court, hailed from Carmarthen. Lyn Evans, sometimes referred to as the destroyer of the world, was born just 50 miles away in the small town of Aberdare.

The original Merlin was fooled by the seductive charms of the beautiful temptress Fay Morgan (later to become the Fata Morgana of illusion). As a result Merlin now sleeps in a mysterious crystal cave. The location of his undiscovered resting place might well lie in a mountain range known as the Preseli Hills situated on the West Coast of Wales. The reason I make this bold claim is because it is in these hills that the magical crystal stones, commonly known as the blue stones, which make up the important inner-circle of Stonehenge (Wiltshire) are found.

The blue stones, and I have one, are blue-grey in colour and have white crystals scattered through them like currants in a cake. It follows that Merlin would not hesitate choose the Preseli Hills for his eternal sleep. Hence the legend of a magical crystal cave. Merlin would have walked over these hills many times, for they are not far from Carmarthen, and he would have seen the quarries which even today have the appearance of work only temporarily stopped. Standing there I half-expected a band of Stonehenge quarrymen to appear out of the swirling mists at any moment.

And now 5,000 years after the Preseli quarries were mined a new magician has appeared on the scene. Lyn Evans recently restarted his brainchild the Large Hadron Collider and we now await its amazing discoveries. Quantum particles will be fired into each other at almost the speed of light and colliding they will briefly produce temperatures hotter than the centre of the sun. "There might even be 10 dimensions in there," said one quantum physicist.

Evans has spent the last 40 years of his life designing and building his giant magic wand and one more year getting it to work. And now he has switched it on.

Those early observers of the stars, the ancient Stonehenge and Preseli people, would be extremely proud of this modern day magician who carries on the fine tradition of opening our eyes and minds to the workings of the amazing universe in which we live and have our beings.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

A bottle of moon water, please!

[image courtesy of NASA]

The NASA image, released yesterday, shows a plume of dust raised by a projectile deliberately crashed into the Moon's surface. The dust cloud was analyzed and found to contain molecules of water.
When I was a young boy they told me that the Moon was made of green cheese and that there was no water on the Moon. They were were wrong on both counts. There's a message in there somewhere.

The amount of water discovered in the dust cloud was not very much; some 100 litres all told in that light grey plume that you may just about make out if you can squint at the screen at the right angle.
Obviously for water to exist on the Moon it must be frozen and the source of it must lie somewhere under the dust in the shadow of the crater where no sun ever shines. What I think is amazing about this discovery, which confirms a similar discovery by India, is that the Moon's water probably comes, like the Moon itself, from our own precious and wonderful blue planet, the Earth.
When we return to the Moon, for now there is some real point to returning there, and we bore into the frozen reservoir of Moon-ice will we find any evidence of life? An immense question. The answer may well change the way we see ourselves and define our new role in the Universe.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Chinese Junk

Hong Kong artist Pak Sheung Chuen makes no apologies for his collection of useless information and bric-a-brac at the Hong Kong Pavilion in the Venice Biennale. And nor does he need to. I was handed a folded sheet of yellow recycled - an artwork list with all the details ( titled Making (Perfect) World.

The artist is nothing if not supremely dedicated. He spends whole days and nights photographing, collating, travelling, standing, walking, observing and collecting the world's trivia. One time he went around blindfolded for a week. For the Biennale he produces 29 works. I only wonder when and where he gets his sleep.

The Hong Kong exhibition is spread over a courtyard and 6 rooms.

Exhibit 15 (b) in Room 3 is a charcoal drawing which is reminiscent of a poem by the Chinese poet Gu Cheng:

Darkness of the night gave me black eyes
I used it to search for light

Exhibit 11 in Room 2 is Waiting for Everyone to Fall Asleep. He reports:

I stood in front of a 13-storey building in Sham Shui Po and waited for all the residents to fall asleep. The 5 images were taken at 22:38/01:40/02:36/04:09/05:04. A person in the building remained awake throughout the night, we ended up wasting a night together while being on opposite sides of the street.

In the courtyard are 45 plastic bottles filled with seawater collected at 100 meter intervals from Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong. This is titled: The Horizon Placed at Home (N22°17'400" Version).

And last but not least back in Room 2 there is to be seen a curious Love Letter to LC. The artist visited the Hong Kong Commercial Press Book Store and bought 4 books. The first word/s from the title of each book spelled out the message: I am thinking of you

Other exhibits such as Two People Blowing into One Balloon, A Lake is a Huge Floating Cloud, Travelling Venice in the Dark, and Square Light were also great fun. I came away smiling. Great work. Art for art's sake! Stimulating and mind-bending rubbish. Full marks to Pak Sheung Chen and curator Tobias Berger.

Art works

is not in the Biennale

The average net worth for Abu Dhabi's 420,000 citizens is US$ 17 million

Abu Dhabi's sovereign wealth fund, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), currently estimated at US$ 875 billion, is the world's wealthiest sovereign fund, in terms of total asset value.

from UAE Fact Sheet being distributed to visitors attending la 53. Biennale di Venezia Esposizione Internazonale d'Arte 2009.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Happy 54th Birthday Austria

The picture shows Poet-in-Residence together with representatives of the allied powers (Russia, USA, Britain, France) returning control to Austria in 1955.

Today Austria is 54 years of age. The date 26th October is, as it has been every year since 1955, a national holiday.
In 1933 the fledgling 1st Austrian Republic disintegrated into a Fascist-Catholic State. The country ruled with an iron hand for hundreds of years by the Hapsburg's was unable to handle freedom and democracy. It fell apart. Fours years later Adolf Hitler, who had cleverly bankrupted Austria with severe economic sanctions, pounced. The Nazis marched in and the crowds cheered in the streets. There would be bread on the tables. Austria ceased to exist on the world maps. She was now part of the 3rd Reich. And she would be known simply as Ostmark.
The cheering stopped when the Austrians discovered their role in Hitler's master plan. The citizens of the beautiful land of Tirol would be shipped to the Ukraine where they would be given houses and land to farm. But first the Ukrainians would need to become slaves to the Germans, to the Herrenvolk (the supreme race). Austrians of all ages from 15 to 50 suddenly found themselves dressed in battlefield grey. The vast majority of them ended up on trains to starvation and death, or at best disablement, illness, disease and imprisonment with hard labour in Siberia, via the Battle of Stalingrad.
After the war Ostmark fell under the jurisdiction of the Allied Powers of Britain, USA, France and Russia. The ex-country and its ex-capital Vienna, were divided into 4 sectors. The system continued until 1955 when the allies withdrew and Austria became a fully fledged Republic once more.

Today I took myself along to the celebrations which took place in the centre of Vienna outside the Presidential Palace, the Hofburg. The first thing I saw was that the crowd was not of the usual sophisticated Vienna city-goer type. It was the man and woman from the Prater. The grass roots working class, you might say, of today's modern and outward looking Vienna. Working class it is and politically red to the bone. The socialist mayor Michael Haüpl need fear nothing from his extreme right wing rival Mr H C Strache in next year's mayoral elections, no matter how well Strache is doing in other provinces, if this lot are anything to go by. It's winning Vienna that counts. And count it will. For Haüpl a convincing win will help stem the tide of right wing fanaticism and xenophobia currently sweeping through many parts of Europe, starting here in the city where Adolf Hitler learnt his business at the heel of Dr Karl Lueger, a legendary anti-semitic mayor currently reposing in a tomb of Napoleonic proportions. Haüpl is another cut from schnitzel of pork altogether.

At the show field there was a plastic Eurofighter and a couple of Black Hawk helicopters which drew a modicum of public attention. The main business was eating. The Viennese are good at eating. The langos stands did a roaring trade. A langos is a kind of giant Hungarian crisp fried in batter. It is totally unhealthy eating and so it is extremely popular with the local citizenry.

Entertainment in the beer tent was provided by Team X-Dream, a folksy rock group dressed like Italian gangsters. It comprised of Don Patrone, Don Huan, Don Tango and Don Carlos. After letting us have "Born to be Wild!" at full volume - the wildest thing to be seen was a child with a helium filled teddy bear - Don Patrone yelled "Wien is Anders!" Yes, Vienna is different. It is different from what it was, and it is different from other cities. Vienna is unique. It is not a city living in a baroque past as the architecture would have you believe, nor is it a city living in a Mozart-like or Wagnerian fantasy world as the musical diet might lead you to believe. Vienna is like ... well, Vienna. Don Patrone wrapped up his singing spot with a rendition of "Knocking on Heaven's Door" and perhaps that's what Vienna is these days, a city almost in heaven, a city that consistently gains a top 3 spot when it comes to lists of major cities having the best quality of life for their citizens. Zurich and Vancouver being the other two constant companions.

Drifting away, at 6pm when it was all just about over, I negotiated a solitary peaceful drunk with a two-thirds empty wine bottle and made my way to the Donner Kebab stand. A young man, a Turkish student served me. He was reading Dostoevsky's novel Crime and Punishment between serving customers. He was studying chemistry at the Vienna University. "Austria is wonderful," he said. And he's right. It is. The blustering bombast of the likes of far right-wing mayoral candidate H C Strache will be extinguished next year if the City of Vienna has anything to do with it. Meantime the Viennese will grin and bear it.

Happy birthday Austria!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

A song from India.
Go to the above place if want to escape to India for 10 minutes.
Less than the price of an airline ticket! Worth the journey.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

fellephant's Ben Nevis footage

Well worth a visit today is Mud, Sweat & Tears (MS&T in LINKS>>>). There you'll find brilliant piece of black&white film by the Scottish Hill Runners' blogger fellephant showing the atrocious weather, poor vizibility and slippery underfoot conditions experienced by competitors in the recent 2009 Ben Nevis Hill Race.

"Can you see anybody?" fell champion Rob Jebb asks one spectator.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Light for the world

In Ethiopia there is ONE opthalmologist for every ONE MILLION people. In Ethiopia there are 600,000 blind people whose eyesight could be restored by means of a relatively simple operation costing $40 per person. So why hasn't this been done already?

Consider for a moment how much money the so-called civilized World, in its self-gratifying climate of political hysteria takes from the public purse and wastes on manufacturing and developing more weapons of war than could ever possibly be needed. There is already in existence enough weaponry to wipe all human life off the face of the Earth almost overnight. And forever.

Clearly there can be no reasonable excuse that can be put forward for the impossible situation in which blind people find themselves in a country like Ethiopia. And the situation in several other African countries is even worse believe it or not. It's high time the West's politicians and bankers, to put it bluntly, got their finger out. Surely they can see that it's better to give than to destroy.

Tonight 15,000 runners, including blind runners, will run in Vienna's Night Run to raise awareness and much needed cash for the charity Licht für die Welt (Light for the World).

People like eye doctor Prof. Dr. Gerhard Schuhmann (University Clinic Graz) work in Africa helping many thousands of children regain their lost eyesight. He has been actively involved with the charity for more than 20 years.

Every second blind child in the so-called Third World suffers from grey star (cataracts) and can be helped to see again with a relatively simple operation, says Prof. Schuhmann who has recently returned from Ethiopia. The charity is now building a clinic in Somalia where tens of thousands of blind people will for the first time be able to benefit from appropriate medical treatment.

The terrible facts (WHO statistics) are that two-thirds of the blind children in the Third World will die within 2 years of becoming blind. An operation costs €30, €10 provides a course of Vitamin A.

The WHO is working with VISION 2020 to prevent the number of blind people from doubling in the next 12 years.

When blind children can see again they look eagerly at their world with new eyes. And every time it is just like a small sunrise, says Prof. Schuhmann.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

A lot of stars

In the Milky Way Galaxy there are 100,000,000,000 stars. The Earth's sun is one.

The nearest star to the Earth's sun, on a scale where the Earth's sun is about the size of a small coloured sweet known as a Smartie (we may use a yellow one), is 150 kms away.

Now imagine the whole Milky Way Galaxy with its 100,000,000,000 stars shrunk to the size of a Smartie. Where would next galaxy, it's called M31, be? The answer may surprise you. It will be just 13cms away. Galaxies tend to clump together. They appear to enjoy each others company.

The Milky Way Galaxy Smartie and the M31 Galaxy Smartie, sitting a mere 13cms apart from each other are part of the Local Group. The group of galaxies nearest to the Local Group is the Sculptor Group. The Sculptor Group and the Local Group are 60cms apart.

Only 3mtrs away from the Sculptor Group there is a very large group. It is spread over an area the size of a basket ball. The next big cluster of galaxies is 20mtrs away. And so it goes on. Some of the galaxy cluster are 20mtrs across. The entire known Universe would fit into a sphere 1km across.

This begs the question: What is beyond 1km or is there a beyond?

Friday, 4 September 2009

Ben Nevis Hill Race

The Ben Nevis Hill Race will take place tomorrow 5th September. A local band complete with bagpipes will give a musical salute to the 500 or so runners dashing away from the starting field in Fort William and out along the lane to the fell gate and to the rough track leading to the summit of Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis.
Having arrived at the top the runners will visit the checkpoint, have their numbers recorded, then turn around and dash all the way back down the mountainside and back along the lane to the field from whence they started.

Some 35 runners from Clayton Harriers will be amongst the particpants and, like all the other runners, they will be seen and warmly applauded by the spectators lining the track on the lower slopes.
"It matters no who wins!" or indeed is last, for it is as the old saying goes the taking part that counts.
The only opponent is the big bulky mountain and her blustery weather. Treat her with due respect. Keep a weather eye on the skies. Carry the map, the whistle, the compass, the wind/waterproof gear and some emergency rations.

Good luck to all who compete in this wonderful traditional race run in the spirit of fair and friendly competition. I'm only sorry I can't be there.

Thursday, 27 August 2009


WADA is the World Anti-Doping Agency, the only organization currently dedicated to worldwide eradication of doping in sport. The WADA link in the sidebar will take you to a 2-minute video about the important and essential work of WADA. Why should the cheats have it all their own way; a token 2-year ban and they bounce back with broad guiltless smiles all over their faces. Behold the conquering hero returns! And even in the world's doping laboratories there are shady characters at work who will mix-up or tamper with the samples for a financial or other consideration. WADA's motto is:
"Respect, Dedication, Character, Solidarity, Excellence, Courage and Play True!"

What better way is there? If you must cheat go and play cards!

Saturday, 22 August 2009

So what are your library books, then?

A few days away from running for it doubtless pays (aged 60+) to give one's weary legs a short respite after a couple of hard mountain races.

I used the first rest day to nip down to the library and get a new stock of books. The following day I met a friend and over a coffee I happened to mention my library visit. "So what are your library books, then?" was the natural response. It was oh so sad. I struggled to remember the titles and authors of just 3 of the books...the rest were well beyond my recall.

Obviously almost all my energy is going into my legs and insufficient is being left for the brain. So what books did I borrow? Having now emptied the rucksack and examined the contents I can now refresh my memory and at the same time make a list.-

In no particular order, they are:

The Beggar - Naguib Mahfouz°
Paul Celan Selections - Pierre Joris°
What am I Doing Here - Bruce Chatwin
Poems & Prose - Georg Trakl
House of Splendid Isolation - Edna O'Brien°
A Person Made of Porcelain and Other Stories - Heimito von Doderer

°these are the titles I remembered -
apologies to Chatwin, Trakl and Doderer!

Monday, 17 August 2009

Bard on the Run's run on p3tv

To tell the truth I don't know if I actually feature in the 2-minute TV clip of the Hinteralm 'Brutal' Race but in any case it should be interesting viewing for we climbed up a ladder at the side of a waterfall in the course of of our 7.5km run with 980mtrs+ ascent. The reward: exhilerating exercise, wonderful scenery, a bowl of soup and a beer, a small cup to take home (3rd M60 in 62:16). The winner's time 44:05. Other performances of day - the two 75 year olds who finished the course!!!

The TV 'sport' item (with approx 2 minutes of mountain running) may be viewed for a few days at (go there and click on 'sport' and then the icon showing a mountain runner) from Wednesday 19th Aug 2009.

When the race is no longer on the front sport page entering the following link may bring it up:

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Inspired by a younger man

I am following the sky-running career of the young running sensation (young to me at my white haired age of 60+) Kilian Jornet on the Salomon and Mud, Sweat and Tears websites with great interest and fascination and I have to confess that I am truly inspired. It's not often that one's heroes are two generations younger than one's self but in this case it is so. Follow him too, and see why! He, like anothet running hero of mine New Zealand's world champion Jonathan Wyatt, is unassuming, courageous, talented, communicative, and best of all is a brilliant mountain runner.
Kilian's own blog (see LINKS) links to Salomon. There you can watch his amazing record breaking run across Corsica.
Good luck Kilian Jornet! You are an inspiration to us all; and especially to this enthusiastic, not very talented, lover of mountain scenery and forest trails.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Inspiration from the top of Andorra

The MS&T sidebar link for 15th July 2009 features a mountain race in superb scenery in Andorra. Sky Runner Kilian Jornet (7) will show you how it's done! The best often make it look oh so easy.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Bard on the Feuerkogel

The following LINK shows Bard on the Feuerkogel (Runner 160).

Startnummer 152 - 219

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Great art rescue gets hand from God

In almost every town and village in Austria there is to be found a plague column. The plague column is a curiosity from the baroque era and shows the tormented victims of one of the great plagues that beset Europe periodically. These plagues are known by such names as the Black Death, the Purple Death and so on. The most recent great European plague was the Spanish Flu of 1919 which began in Normandy, France and went on to kill 50,000,000 people worldwide. The plague column's purpose is to thank God for saving the remnants of a town's populous following its fervent prayers, doubtless by all and sundry for divine intervention and forgivness, and to send the cruel plague away. It is a most powerful religious symbol.

One of the great novels written against the background of a plague is Hermann Hesse's Narcissus and Goldmund. I have no hesitation in highly recommending the Bantam edition translated by Ursule Molinaro. It is a novel, as described on the back cover, of: two medieval men, one quietly content with his religion and monastic life, the other in search of more wordly salvation. This conflict between flesh and spirit, between emotional and contemplative man [...] is a theme that transcends all time.

What is being described as 'the greatest art disaster in the world narrowly averted' is unfolding here in Vienna. The manager of the Albertina Museum just round the corner from the Vienna State Opera is widely reported to have said: That the flood didn't destroy the works in the storage room is evidence of the existence of God.

I don't know if I'd go so far as to agree with Dr Schröder but it was certainly a small miracle judging from press reports of the narrowly averted disaster. It seems that water poured in to the storage room containing a thousand artworks by such iconic painters as Rembrandt, Klimt, Warhol and Durer. The combined value of the works stored in the Albertina basement is said to be €950,000,000. The works of art are now in the process of being transported to a secret, and we are assured a 'safe and secure' location. Unfortunately God is not assisting here. It seems that the robotic arm that pulls the works from the racks and shelves is malfunctioning due to electrical problems caused by the flood. Work, with or without God's assistance, is progressing at a snail's pace.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Bard on the Run on the Big Long Run...


...57 kms and 2,290 mtrs +/- to be exact!

Q: What number is the Bard?

A: click on image 1096 , runner no. 7

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Erich Fried's Diagnosis

Erich Fried (1921-1988), as regular Poet in Residence readers will know, was an Austrian-born poet who fled from the looming Nazi terror in 1938 and took up permanent residence in England.
In 1954 Fried translated Dylan Thomas's play for voices Under Milk Wood. The play was broadcast on German radio to much acclaim a few months after its BBC premier. But Fried was also a major poet in his own right.

We may now recall the dreadful events that began in the so-called Holy Land during the 2008 Season of Goodwill to all Men and which were highlighted on this blog at the time. And we may recall the shrill outcry of news media over the so-called criminal use of phosphor-bombs in civilian built-up areas which was said to be 'justified' on the grounds of 'tactics'. Various war-regulations were quoted. Reporters told us that the barbaric unfolding scenario was highly illegal.

During the Siege of Gaza the hospitals, when not being bombed, were at full stretch dealing with the many casualties. A Scandinavian doctor spoke of having had no sleep for 72 hours.

So what are these phosphor-bombs? What do they do? Have they been used before? Will they be used again? Should the ban have been enforced by the international community? Will there be any repercussions?

To help us answer these questions we may now turn to a Poet-in-Residence translation of an Erich Fried poem first published in 1983. It refers to the results of an earlier military campaign. The poem is Diagnose.


They call it
the symptom
in Beirut's hospitals

That is when
with exhaled breath
from the mouths
of women and children
the smoke comes
for the phosphorous
of the phosphor-bombs
eats through
skin and flesh
and lungs
and within them
and smokes
(even after death)

This symptom
should not be overlooked
when diagnosing
a Begin
or a Sharon

translated from Es ist was es ist* by Erich Fried (pub 1983):
Wagenbach, Berlin

*It is what it is

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

NASA Image of the Day

The NASA Image of the Day for today shows the Space Shuttle now landed at Edwards Air Force Base following the mission to upgrade the far-seeing Hubble telescope. The telescope has already provided us with amazing pictures from the depths of the universe. Regular visitors to this blog will have seen many. There are two new pictures to be seen almost every day. These pictures are Bard on the Run's book of holies. They are beyond biblical. Beyond anything that has gone before. One recent picture showed an 8.2 red-shift explosion taking place only 600 million years after the so-called Big Bang. This is almost the very beginning that we are looking at. We are on the doorstep of the Creator. She is doubtless pleased with our progress - or at least with the progress of some of us. Where I write these words the newspapers are full of stories of the latest religious blood-letting, the story of the latest murdered guru shot in the head as he preached. On the one hand the human race races boldly forwards - on the other hand it is stuck in the primitive prejudiced behaviour patterns of the past. A mystery, if ever there was one.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Make the best of it!

Last weekend I was unable to get to the Yorkshire 3-Peaks Mountain Race and so I devised a challenge of my own. With the aid of a useful 1:50,000 map I plotted a footpath and trail route from the Danubian town of Melk (as in Umberto Eco's 'Name of the Rose') to the amusingly named town of Spitz.

The run went over the highest mountain in the area, the Jauerling, at about 3,100'. Total ascent/descent was in the region of 4,000 - 4,500'. Distance? 20 miles as near as makes no difference. I set off at 1.30 pm.

The chosen way led through small villages, deep gorges, along narrow zigzags up and down the sides of valleys, across wide plains and along a variety of surfaces ranging from tarmac country lanes to woodland trails to gravel footpaths and green tracks across fields where there duly appeared a local farmer on a tractor at the very moment (twice it was) when I needed a little assistance with route finding.

The weather was fine, about 20°C and sunny, and so I took care to wear some suitable headgear as protection against the sun's rays. For food I took along a packet of nuts & raisins. The whole business took just over 4 hours. I carried a bottle of water which I replenished with orangeade at the summit of the Jauerling where there is a small cafe´ which was open. It was 5 pm and I was the only customer.

With care I descended a leaf-strewn rocky path marked with red arrows that is used for the annual Jauerling Berglauf (Jauerling Mountain Race). And after half an hour or so I jogged down the road, a broad grin of satisfaction on my face, into the sunny town of Spitz.

After this most enjoyable run I called at The White Horse Inn, back near the starting point, and sitting outside in the golden lamplight of the terrace enjoyed an enormous bowl of meat and veg soup, an ice cream and a beer. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.

The 3-Peaks? I wasn't bothered by the fact that I wasn't there. I did what I could in the situation I was in. And, for me, that's always good enough. As the old saying goes: Make the best of it!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Considering the universe in which we have our being

The photograph below shows my small collection of cacti. They have now emerged from their over-wintering place and are enjoying the sunshine. They will flower grandly during one night, and then only 2 or 3 times in the year. They will quickly go to sleep again. With their simultaneous night-time burst of heavily scented perfume they will attempt to attract a rare moth from thousands of miles away in the desert. It is unlikely that the creature will arrive. But this doesn't stop the cacti from trying.

That the universe is a big place may appear to be stating the obvious. But, beware, for in the universe the obvious is not always what it appears to be. What we see in the physical realm is merely a manifestation of something whose qualities are unknown to us. Many sages, poets and holy men have spent their lives delving into the matter and have often come away at the end as confused as they were when they started. One has only to look at the high suicide and mental illness rates to get some idea of the difficulties encountered in going down a path that leads into a labyrinth through which it is impossible to navigate one's way to the tower in the centre. The poet and holy man R S Thomas, summed up an important aspect of life in the labyrinth when he said: God waves the white flag of surrender and at the same time retreats from you at the speed of light.

The images featured on the Astronomy Picture of the Day give us ample food for thought. They serve to nourish our curiosity and our ambition. The images are often composite images made with x-rays and radio-waves and other 'tricks of the trade' to give us the wonderful images that a God would see if his huge magnifying 'eyes' could visit many different frequencies and wavelengths at the same time. On the other hand, closer to home, we can imagine the colours of the flowers as seen by insects, small white and yellow daisies may appear as a large yellow and red flowers to passing insects.

We say flowers are beautiful, and so they are, but when we look at them we are not seeing the real flower. The real flower is what the bee sees. To feed the bee and by this means to multiply is the flower's raison d'etre. The fact that flowers carrying out their vital and important tasks, appear as beautiful creations in our eyes is one of the miracles of creation.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Thoughts at Easter

Concerning Jesus, there's one thing we can be pretty certain of; he didn't die on the cross!

The following Words of Christ appear on igoogle today and are from Luke 24:38/39.-

"Why are you troubled and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself. Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have."

Jesus goes on to ask for something to eat.-
They gave him a piece of broiled fish and he ate it in their presence (Luke 24:41,42,43).

A similar scene is enacted in John 20:19,20.-

the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.

and then in John 20:26,27.-
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side..."

We have reports of Jesus showing the holes in his hands and side and his own words uttered at these times. We even have him eating a fish. It is clear, if anything is clear in the life of Jesus, that he could not possibly have died on the cross. As he himself says, "It is I myself ... a ghost does not have flesh and bones"

Thursday, 2 April 2009

The fresh wind of change for sport

Sport doping began as a means to an end during the communist era in Eastern Europe. We remember those great East German and Russian women built like battleships and tanks throwing their spears and hammers half way across the world's Olympic stadia. We gazed in wonderment from the innocent English shores where sport had always been more or less a hobby.

Chariots of Fire meant cutting down on cigarettes and jogging on a beach or up and down some sand dunes coupled with a few press-ups and so on. Gold medal marathon runner Ron Hill's idea of a supplement was a mixture of orange juice, water and a pinch of salt.

We could run like the comic hero Tough of the Track on a diet of fish and chips and steak puddings; and through all weathers and in unsuitable footwear. It was all sport. We spoke innocently of someone being a good sport, meaning that he or she was a fair minded person. The idea of doping was almost unheard of.

But then we saw Arnold Schwarzenegger become Mr Universe, and those battle cruiser East European women scooping all the gold medals and the glory. Not only we, but all of Europe and then all of the world. We decided to become stronger and faster whatever it took to do it.

The Tour de France rider with his baguette and bottle of water, or in one famous case a bottle of wine which caused him to fall asleep at the roadside, became almost overnight a drug experiment on wheels. And in other sports like athletics we saw men built like weightlifters pumped up with steroids winning races that once went to the slim and lithe. It was crazy. It was nonsense. It was big money. And, here in Austria, it is now crashing down.

In the last few days there have been raids and arrests. For the first time those behind the scenes are being rounded up; or at least two or three of them are. More, we can only hope, will quickly follow. Austria, once known as a doping oasis, is getting at long last to grips with the problem. I applaud the Austrian authorities for this overdue action.

Let no stone be unturned in the fight, for it is a fight and it will be a long struggle, against those corrupt and evil drug and blood-doping dealers who would not hesitate to injure the health of young men and women, boys and girls, who strive to make the grade in their chosen sport.

Managers and trainers of young talent have a responsibility to make sure that all their athletes; swimmers, skiers, cyclists, weight lifters, wrestlers, boxers, marathon runners and so on are clean and doping free. When they abuse their position of responsibility and the confidence that parents, friends, relatives and supporters of the young up-and-coming talent have entrusted them with they deserve no mercy. Throw the book at them!

Monday, 30 March 2009

Art and National Socialism in Linz and Upper Austria

Linz is the European Capital of Culture for 2009. The exhibition The Fuhrer's Capital of Culture 17th September 2008 - 22 March 2009 was extended by one week and so, by chance, I caught it two days before it finished at its venue in Schloss Museum Linz overlooking the Danube and Adolf Hitler's contribution to bridge building, the infamous Nibelungen Bridge.

The Nibelungen Bridge was built from stones quarried at the nearby Mauthausen Concentration Camp, the camp famous for its cruelty and featured in the famous war film The Hill. In fact, it's this bridge that is used as the logo for the exhibition. It is featured on the cover of the exhibition's publicity, I'm almost tempted to say propaganda, leaflet.
The cover shows a bright sunny day, a white fluffy cloud in the sky, people walking briskly over the bridge on their way home from work or about their business, a woman with a little girl, a man carrying a heavy black bucket, a cyclist, a man in an open-necked shirt and suit. It could a scene in almost any European city; London, Paris, Prague. But it's not. At the corner of the bridge in the 1943 photo (c- Walter Frenz Collection, Berlin) the stone figure of a mythological steel helmeted warrior in arrogant pose astride his solid and trusty steed proves that it is a scene in the 1,000 Year Reich. It's late evening and sunset's long shadows from the west give the scene a sense of forbiddingness. The face of the child being hurried over the bridge clutching the hand of the smiling woman in the foreground is almost hidden in the sunset shadow. The child clutches something in her free hand, it could well be a handkerchief. One might be forgiven for believing that she is weeping.

Hitler was 15 when he first dreamed that his home city of Linz might become a great metropolis. Even at this age he was making sketches as to how he saw the city developing. Nazi architect Albert Speer defends Hitler's plan. We recall here the final photo of the Fuhrer in his Berlin Bunker poring over a model of how Linz would look as one of the 5 model cities of the Reich. Speer's quote heads the pamphlet blurb thus: "...what was actually illicit about a project that was designed to turn the city of his youth into a cultural metropolis?" Nothing, we might answer Speer, except for the fact that the enterprise was being built by the inmates of Mauthausen, many thousands of whom perished undertaking their role in what we might call Phase 1, quarrying the stone for the Nibelungen Bridge, which strangely and curiously even to this day is still called the Nibelungen Bridge. The visitor might be forgiven for thinking that the Mauthausen Bridge or the Memorial Bridge to the Victims might be more suitable and more appropriate names.

Austria's Anschluss, the visitor is informed, made National Socialist power fantasies briefly focus on Linz [...] the capital of Reichsgau Oberdonau was declared one of the five "Fuhrer cities" that were to serve as models for future [...] town planning. The visitor is asked to consider a number of questions. An important one is: What manoeuvering space was there for artists? There were too many writers and artists who switched to the Nazi way without losing any sleep over it, there were a lesser number of others who pretended to do so and who then tried to write between the lines, and there were an even smaller number of those, like Zweig, who were able to flee and a greater number - those many who simply disappeared never to be heard of again and those few like Primo Levi who actually survived the concentration camps and wrote about it all afterwards.

Another vital question is: How do today's artists cope with the cultural political legacy of that period? This question is open to debate but I would say that they must continue, as the late Thomas Bernhard did, to struggle valiantly. For instance, next year the Austrian public libraries will receive no funding from the Government. This story has recently passed through the news media almost unnoticed. There has been no discussion, no public outcry, and there will not be. Libraries in small towns will obviously have to close their doors. As with the new fingerprints in passports law (a law which states, amongst other things, that 12-year old children wanting to be included on their parents' passports must give their fingerprints to the authorities) also passed into law without much discussion of the issues involved, there's an impression created that it's but the thin end of the wedge. Freedom is sleep-walking to her doom.*

And so back to the exhibition in Linz. What did I make of it? There was much that is well known to the casual student; the usual Adolf Hitler schoolboy photographs, some sketches, and so on. It was all pretty standard fare. Two items were of some interest. The first was the desk with its Visitors Book open and a page signed, without comment, by the pen of a manic depressive if the scribbled falling away signature is any evidence of character. Before the desk is a larger than life sculptured head lying on its side on the floor.

In the final room is the so-called Poison Cabinet containing not dangerous drugs or medicines but banned books. Erich Kästner wrote: "It's a strange feeling to be a forbidden writer and not to see one's books on the shelves anymore, not even in one's home town, not even when the Germans are shopping for Christmas presents in the snow. Twelve Christmases long it has been! One is a living corpse."
A catalogue of banned books ran to 180 pp and contained such dangerous publications as Liam O'Flaherty's The Beasts Awake and The Dark Soul, Billy Jenkins' The Black Rats and, of course, everything by Jewish writers - the complete works of Franz Kafka and Thomas Mann for instance.

An example of the Burning of the Books which took place in 50 German cities and towns were the events in Salzburg where the Hitler Youth collected together a pile of 12,000 banned books and set the match to them. One soldier is reported to have shouted: I throw into the flames the Habsburg book by Otto the Last!

The last impression of the exhibition that I took away were the words of the radio commentator in Berlin: "We regret to announce that the Furher was killed in action. He fought until his last breath!"
It was of course a lie. But then it was all a lie based on a lie. The lie that there is in this world a Herren Volk, a superior race, a chosen people. It is a lie that is promulgated even today in many places within and outside of Europe.
It's a remarkable thing, in the context of this piece, how one word can start another: NAZION

*I confidently predict that travelling this road, we have now set off along, will take us, perhaps within 10 years, to an Orwellian world of voice prints, eye-prints, DNA ID-cards, and finally, for why bother with cards at all, to scannable computer chips implanted in our bodies. Regardless of age nobody will be exempt.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Fritzl Schnitzels and the man with the blue head

The schnitzel is the favourite food of the Austrians. It is a battered and deep-fried pork or veal cutlet and can be almost as large as a dinner plate. It is often accompanied by what is euphemistically known as a salad. The so-called salad normally consists of a small lettuce leaf topped with a quartered tomato and a few slices of cold potato. A presenter on my favourite radio station, FM4, summed up the schnitzel: It can lie in your stomach for a week waiting to be digested.
A week is the amount of time set aside for the Fritzl trial in the Austrian city of Sankt Pölten.
For those who have been living on another planet the basic facts are that Joseph Fritzl, now 73, of Amstetten in Lower Austria imprisoned his daughter in the cellar of the family residence when she was 18 years and fathered at least 7 babies by her. She was kept underground for 24 years. Three of the children were brought upstairs to join the main family in the house above. Fritzl told the authorities that he had found these children on his doorstep.
The authorities readily accepted this version of events despite the fact that Herr Fritzl was building an underground bunker and had planning permission to do so. Mrs Fritzl's suspicions were not aroused when her husband stocked-up with foodstuffs and regularly disappeared below ground, especially on his daughter's birthday and at Christmas. What went on in the Fritzl house when the breadwinner was away on sex holidays in Thailand is unclear. We can only surmise.

Herr Fritzl has become the man with the blue folder for a head. He is almost like a Renee´ Margrite painting or a Wallace Stevens poem as he enters and leaves the courtroom with his blue folder-shaped head. The whole thing is bizarre in the extreme. A half-page photo in Austria's popular daily paper the Kronen Zeitung shows blue headed Fritzl flanked by three police officers. It is a worm's eye view. The strange long-legged powerful image can only be compared to a child's view of a Banana Republic statue group.
And so back to the Fritzl Schnitzels. The internet paper Austrian Times reports that the Mayor of Sankt Pölten has instructed an innkeeper in the town to take Fritzl Schnitzels off the menu. The €9 meals are not to go on sale. It would be in bad taste.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

On the run in the Vienna Woods

Here is some evidence that I, as the blog title implies, actually do run. The area where I do most of my running is in the Vienna Woods. It's a wonderful area with 9,000 kms of paths and trails. It should be better protected from the grasp of unscrupulous property developers and other dodgy characters. But it won't be. It's one of these things that is often talked about, but little or nothing ever happens. Money talks. Reason doesn't.

For me springtime is the time that I finally get out and into the great outdoors on a regular basis to enjoy myself physically. I think of it as a reward for 3 or 4 months pent up in fog, ice, snow and in Austria I'm sad to say far too many smoke-filled, tobacco-reeking, unhealthy cafe´houses which stink my clothes and hair and make my eyes water.
Now outdoors under sun and scudding cloud, amid birdsong and the gentle rustle of branches, I get my much needed fresh air and exercise. I can feel my body coming back to life; the energy coursing through my veins as the blood does its work and feeds my muscles so that I can run for miles, and shake off the winter blues along with the few surplus kilos.
The only problem, and there is always a snag, is the dreaded Rottweiler. Some owners take two of these slobbering beasts along the forest trails. It's quite unnerving to suddenly meet one of these unfriendly creatures barring the way along the path. I have found, from grim experience, that the best thing to do is to stand still, avoid eye contact and await the arrival of the owner who will invariably come huffing along uttering some inane words and meaningless phrases before disappearing with his hound of hell bounding away ahead through the undergrowth.
But even standing still and keeping quiet may not save you. The canine warrior may not try and devour your leg but in my experience he may try and bowl you over with repeated body checks, running at you from a distance of 10 mtrs or so. It will take some nerve to stand your ground. It is highly unlikely that the owner, if owner is the right word for the keeper of the savage beast, an animal that should be in a zoo along with the lions and tigers, will apologise for the inconvenience caused or the damage to your running tracksters. He's only playing, is the best you'll get, the best you can hope for. In Austria keeping fit is like passive smoking; quite a risky business.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Marcus Aurelius on the primal Cause

Upwards and downwards, from age to age, the cycles of the universe follow their unchanging round. It may be that the World-Mind wills each separate happening in succession; and if so, then accept the consequences. Or it may be, there was but one primal act of will, of which all else is the sequel; every event being thus the germ of another. To put it another way, things are either isolated units, or they form one inseperable whole. If that whole be God, then all is well; but if aimless chance, at least you need not be aimless also.

Soon earth will cover us all. Then in time earth, too, will change; later, what issues from this change will itself in turn incessantly change, and so again will all that then takes its place, even unto the world's end. To let the mind dwell on these swiftly rolling billows of change and transformations is to know contempt for all things mortal.

The primal Cause is like a river in flood; it bears everything along. How incorigible are the little men who play at politics and persuade themselves that they are acting in the true spirit of philosophy. Babes, incapable even of wiping their noses!

What then, you who are a man? Why, do what nature is asking of you at this moment. Set about it as the opportunity offers, and no glancing around to see if you are observed. But do not expect Plato's ideal commonwealth; be satisfied if even a trifling endeavour comes off well, and count the result as no mean success. For who can hope to alter men's convictions; and without change of conviction what can there be but grudging subjection and feigned assent?

Oh yes; now go on and talk to me of Alexander, and Philip, and Demetrius of Phaleron. If those men did in truth understand the will of Nature and school themselves to follow it, that is their own affair. But if it was nothing more than a stage-role they were playing, no court has condemned me to imitate their example.
Philosophy is a modest profession, all simplicity and plain dealing. Never try to seduce me into solemn pretentiousness [...]

Many of the anxieties that harass you are superfluous: being but creatures of your own fancy, you can rid yourself of them and expand into an ampler region, letting your thought sweep over the entire universe, contemplating the illimitable tracts of eternity, marking the swiftness of change in each created thing, and contrasting the brief span between birth and dissolution with the endless aeons that precede the one and the infinity that follows the other.
Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180)

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

UBS* on my radio plastico

UBS* on my radio plastico

on my radio plastico
the invisible voice said that
an invisible zimbabwean politician
wanted to send a wee bit of invisible gold
to zurich / the invisible zimbabwe - zurich axis
but this cuckoo-clock time
it wasn't to be
- for the invisible official papers were out of order
and the shady gnomes
got the chills
and the jittery-jitters
got the wind up
and barred the doors
to their vaulted gardens

that's invisible economics

three and a half tonnes
is a lot of invisible gold

it's a big lot
of invisible congolese gold

FM4 News Bulletin 24 Feb 09
*UBS: here, Underground Banking System

Thursday, 12 February 2009

The birth of two prophets, or whatever you like to call them

The world is full people who like to mark the birthdays of prophets. Today in 1809 two modern prophets entered the world. Their names were Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln. It's curious that these two far-sighted prophets should arrive on this planet on the same day. If we are to believe that prophets are sent to earth to guide us then the date 12th February 1809 must make us stop and consider our situation vis-a-vis prophets.
I am not speaking of prophets here in the biblical sense. That is another matter altogether. There are those in high places who are paid a lot of money to delve into religious matters. What I am speaking about here is a prophet in the general meaning of the word. As Webster's has it there are 5 definitions of the word prophet. I am speaking about definition number 2: One who fortells the future; especially an inspired predictor.
What message can we take from the curious fact that these two men, who changed the world for the better, who brought us all a few giant steps forward in our ways of thinking, arrived on the planet on the exact same day 200 years ago? That is the question.
Today, on the 200th anniversary of the births of these modern prophets, we might do ourselves a bit of good if we took a few minutes to ponder on this strange and mysterious event. We may in the end write the whole thing off as mere coincidence. And that it may be. On the other hand it may not be. Throughout history prophets have arrived when the time is ripe; Copernicus, Galileo and others. But for two to arrive on the exact same day, that is unique. That is special. Consider the facts and decide for yourself.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Last man standing, the real thing.

Austrian Times – Home > Around the World > Shack attack builders

If ever there was a Jin Chang and Goliath situation this is it. Notice the flag flying on the roof of the humble abode; and is that a satellite dish perchance (enlarges photo)? Indeed it is. Surely the owner of this house is a poet. I'd love to meet him.

~ ~ ~THE YEAR OF THE OX~ ~ ~

diverter of the myriad machines
by peaceful and patriotic means
-Mister Jin Chang of Chongqing-

No Worst, there is None

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
Woe, world-sorrow; on an age-old anvil wince and sing -
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked 'No ling-
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief'.

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne'er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Prohibitorum ad nauseum

The other day I entered one of Vienna's historical city centre coffee houses, the Adolf Loos' designed Cafe´ Museum on Operngasse. The sparse functional cafe´is known to regulars as Cafe´ Nihilism. It was a frequent watering hole for Leo Trotsky and the group of philosophers and intellectuals known as the Vienna Circle. I found an unoccupied table in a corner, ordered a beer, and pulled from my jacket pocket a well-worn public library copy of Jean Paul Sartre's novel Nausea.
I was only two pages into the novel when a young man selling Augustin, a newspaper sold on behalf of the city's homeless and jobless, entered the premises. Naturally I bought a copy and commenced to flick through it. A cartoon on page 36 caught my eye. An explanatory text on the drawing stated that the Roman Catholic Church had in its index liborum prohibitorum listed the name Jean-Paul Sartre, author of my Nausea, but not the name of Adolf Hitler the author of Mein Kampf.
So there I was, sitting where Leo Trotsky may well have sat, reading a banned book. A book by Jean-Paul Sartre whose complete works are banned. The same Jean-Paul Sartre who refused the Nobel Prize. What was I to make of it all? I was soon to find out.

Arriving home I switched on the radio and was informed that the Pope had authorised the appointment of the Windischgarsten priest, Gerhard Maria Wagner as the Bishop of the City of Linz. Yes, the famous City of Linz; the European Capital of Culture 2009. And the man? Ah yes, wasn't this the man who came to notice for describing J K Rowling's Harry Potter books as satanic and then proceeded to warn parents and children not to read them? I had not long to wait; within a few seconds the newsreader informed me that this was indeed the same Gerhard Maria Wagner. The new bishop clearly had his own ideas about who should be on the index liborum prohibitorum along with Jean-Paul Sartre.

And so I looked. And there at I found what I was looking for. The names of the forbidden. Descartes, Pascal, Voltaire, Stendhal, Balzac, Hugo, Flaubert, Zola, Machiavelli, Spinoza, Hume, Defoe, Swift, Kant, D'Annunzio, Bergson etc., etc., etc. Like J K Rowling's Harry Potter they are dangerous men all.
In 1966 the index liborum prohibitorum was downgraded to the status of a moral guide which "reminds the conscience [...] that a book might be dangerous."
If you are not deterred and are determined to risk your soul here are some of the dangerous books. It's but a small random selection. My Top 10 as it were:

A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy - Laurence Stern
Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
Woman of Rome - Alberto Morovia
History of the Devil - Daniel Defoe
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire - Edward Gibbon
Memoirs - Giovanni Casanova
Creative Evolution - Henri Bergson
Life of Jesus - Ernest Renan
and last but not least,-
Jean-Paul Sartre - All works

And now, if you'll excuse me, I must read more Nausea.

post scriptum -
The morning after I wrote the above piece there came tragic news relating to a family from Gerhard Maria Wagner's parish of Windischgarsten. It appears that there was a road traffic accident in which three children (aged, 5, 8 and 10) were killed. Several other persons are badly injured.
The reason I mention this unfortunate event is because small-town Bishop-in-waiting Wagner is the same man who famously claimed that the city of New Orleans had been visited by Hurricane Katrina as a divine punishment from God. This, he said, was due to it being a sinful city.
We may wonder what Wagner will make of God's latest punishment, if that's what he believes it to be. And we may also wonder how and why such a narrow-minded and dogmatic man, this prohibitorum ad nauseum priest of Windischgarsten, is to be become the Roman Catholic Bishop for Linz, the European City of Culture 2009.

Update: the good bishop wagner now claims that god may well have had a hand in the recent Haiti earthquake (where over human beings 200,000 perished and many more were injured and/or made homeless) and says this is because Haitians engage in voodoo! It's really high time for someone in authority at god's hq to remind the herr doktor wagner that 85% of Haitians are of the same religious persuasion as his good self.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

The Mayerling Affair (part 2)

Prince Rudolf's last known photograph is quite depressing. It shows him, expressionless, somewhere in the Vienna Woods, gazing without emotion directly into the camera; an unlit Turkish cigarette hangs from his mouth. He is wrapped-up against the January cold in his fur-lined coat and cossack hat. The road to Mayerling is covered with ice. The days are short.
What's going through his mind? Perhaps he thinking about the blazing argument with his father, Kaiser Franz Joseph, and the Kaiser's last words, the dressing-down may still be ringing in his ears: You are not fit to be the heir to my throne! Or maybe, he's thinking about his favourite painting, an Albert Smith (1848) Three Sailing Ships Approaching the Rocks. Or perhaps of the first stag he shot in Ischl's Jainzer woodland at the age of eight. Or maybe of the evening to come, of his suicide plan; and if he could indeed go through with it when the moment came?

One man who might know the answers is the faithful servant Johann Loschek. He will sleep alone in the next room to the Crown Prince, only an inner wall and a door between them. He will hear every sound. He will be aware that Rudolf's mistress will be spending the night with him, in the room which has only one bed. He will hear their voices through the wall. But, the secretive Loschek will never divulge the nature and content of their conversation; never reveal the overheard phrases and words. In fact what he finally says will be so confusing and unreliable that it will throw many off the scent.

The official version will be in the special editions of the following day's newspapers. Crown Prince Rudolf suffered a heart attack at his Mayerling Hunting Lodge in the Vienna Woods. End.

But the authorities were soon forced to retract. Kaiser Franz Joseph was informed of the 'truth'. At 6am on 30th January Rudolf had killed Baroness Mary Vetsera by shooting her through the head with his own revolver. The revolver which he kept on his desk next to his human skull, his dead sparrow paperweight and his box of Turkish cigarettes. He had then turned gun on himself. Two shots. Two deaths. At first the Kaiser refused to believe it. But finally he broke down and wept. Of course Rudolf's body was quickly brought to Vienna and the appropriate funeral arrangements were made. It was obviously a hunting accident that had taken place at Mayerling.

But what of the young Baroness? It would be shortly before midnight on the 31st January before her body arrived in Vienna. It was taken to an outlying district of the city and the following day at 10am was quickly buried. The circumstances of its transport to Vienna are bizarre to say the least. The body was washed and dressed in outdoor winter clothes; coat, shoes, hat and so on. It was then seated in a carriage in an upright position to give the appearance of a living person and then driven under cover of darkness to Vienna.

The Neue Frei Presse, Austria's most reputable newspaper at the time, ran the scoop. But all copies were seized by the authorities before they could go on general sale. To find out what was going on many Austrians requested contacts in Germany to send newspapers to Austria under plain cover. The cat was out of the bag. Or was it?
There was the little matter of the two hours delay in breaking down the door if we are to believe Johann Loshek's version of events. Loschek claims that the fatal shots were fired at 5.50am. He tried to open the doors to the room. They were both locked from the inside. It was after 8.00am before he finally broke down the door and entered. So what was he doing all this time. It seems he was sleeping in a chair outside the door, guarding the scene as it were.

Is it possible that the couple were murdered as claimed by Lord Salisbury, the British Prime Minister? Salisbury is certain that Rudolf and the young lady were murdered: the Prince of Wales to Queen Victoria.
Certainly it's feasible. One could lie on one's back and slide under the heavy wooden bed and wait for the bed's occupants to fall asleep. It would then be a simple matter to shoot the couple, and if prince's own revolver was to hand so much the better. Next, place the revolver near Rudolf's hand and return to the hiding place. Anyone coming into the room to investigate the shots would immediately deduce that it was a suicide pact. It would be unlikely that the first person on the scene would get down on his hands and knees and peer candle in hand into the dark space beneath the bed. It is, admittedly, an unlikely scenario but it is one that can't be completely ruled out.

On 22nd December 1992 the newspapers led with a sensational story: Mary Vetsera Stolen from her Grave was one headline. It seems that not everyone is convinced of the third official version of events.

Archduke Karl Ludwig: The truth is so terrible that no-one can speak of it!

Friday, 30 January 2009

The Mayerling Affair (part 1)

On this date 100 years ago the bodies of Prince Rudolf, heir to the Austrian throne, and his mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera were found at Mayerling, a royal hunting lodge in the Vienna Woods. The circumstances of their deaths are shrouded in mystery. Only one thing appears to be certain. They had been shot.

Rudolf Franz Karl Joseph, the heir to the Austrian throne, was born on 21st August 1858 in Laxenburg Castle. Two days later he received The Order of the Golden Fleece and was appointed Colonel in the 19th Infantry Regiment.
In 1865 Rudolf's mother Princess Elizabeth of Bavaria demanded the dismissal of the boy's tutor General Count Leopold Gondrecourt whose harsh, sadistic methods, approved of by the disciplinarian Kaiser Franz Joseph who wanted to make a man out of the boy, were proving detrimental to the young prince's physical and mental well-being.

In 1867 Rudolf was taken by a group of seven men into the Jainzer woodland behind the Kaiser Villa at Ischl in the Austrian Lake District. There kneeling behind a tree he took aim with a rifle and shot his first stag at close range. A large stone marks the spot.

The boy developed an interest in ornithology. In 1870 he wrote a 100-page essay on the hunting of eagles. He enjoyed hunting and birdwatching holidays in Spain, Portugal, Egypt, and Palestine. On his writing desk he would one day have a bronze paperweight of a sparrow; the bird lying on its back with its wings at its sides, looking almost like a sleeping angel.

In 1880 a suitable bride was chosen for Prince Rudolf. He travelled to Belgium and became engaged to Princess Stephanie the daughter of the Belgium's King Leopold II. The following year the couple were married in Vienna. In 1883 he began publishing anonymously a series of political pamphlets.

In 1885 he suggested that the Austria-Hungarian Empire might revise and improve her foreign relations policy, especially with regard to Russia. This proposal was rejected out of hand. The following year he told Georges Clemencau: Germany will never understand the wisdom of grouping Germans, Slavs, Hungarians and Poles under the Crown. The Habsburger's have, albeit in a small way, brought about Victor Hugo's dream of a United States of Europe. Austria is a block of different nations and different races joined together. It is the basic idea of Austria, and it is an idea of enormous importance for civilistaion.

In the same year that Prince Rudolf was discussing his European Union ideas with Clemencau there was a problem that was to cause Emperor Franz Joseph more than a few sleepless nights. It was discovered that Rudolf had contracted an incurable form of gonorrhoea. His wife Princess Stephanie of Belgium was also infected. She could have no more children. There was then no possibility of a male heir. The couple's only child was a girl. This child, Elisabeth Marie, would eventually leave the royal family, marry a commoner and join the Socialist Party. But that's another story.

Rudolf continued to publish his political essays. Things came to a head on 26th January 1889 when there was a furious row between Kaiser Franz Joseph and Prince Rudolf. This was in connection with an official visit to the German Embassy on 27th January 1889, a visit that Rudolf did not want to make, until he was persuaded to change his mind.

On the 28th January, together with his mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera, he travelled to Mayerling. He planned to return to Vienna on 31st January. There he would meet Count Karoly of Budapest. There were serious political matters, including the future of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy to discuss. Consider here the flurry of urgent telegrams, three in one day from Karoly and the reply from Rudolf fixing the appointment.

Count Josef Hoyos and Prince Philip von Coburg joined Rudolf at Mayerling intending to enjoy a couple of days hunting in the Vienna Woods.

The scenario about to unfold would be quite different to all these best laid plans.

Friday, 23 January 2009

"Yes We Can!" can't we?

As President Obama gets down to work many here in Vienna are wondering what kind of stuff the new Austrian Bundeskanzler is made of, for after only two or maybe it's three months in that high office the Bundeskanzler, Herr Werner Faymann, is appearing courtesy of the Austrian Mint on a limited edition gold coin. It is his first real achievement.

The great message that the United States of America sends out to the world today is this: Here in the United States, 45 years after Martin Luther King marched on Washington and 44 years after Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Law, Barack Hussein Obama a man of colour, a man with roots in Africa, has attained the nation's highest political office. We are now truly a land where all can make it to the top; race, creed, colour of skin, and even your parents' choice of your name will not hold you back.

In Austria the situation is, quite frankly, grim. The following letter, is typical of an attitude that is all too prevalent. It appeared in the Kronen Zeitung, the country's best-selling newspaper, only three weeks ago.
Dear Editor,
The Vienna New Year's baby came 47 seconds after midnight and his name is Hasan. With this name the child sits between a rock and a hard place. In the homeland of his parents and grandparents he is a foreigner. Is it for our integrating citizens really so impossible that they cannot give their children typical Austrian names? Their children feel Austrian and speak the Austrian language and most will spend their lives here. Do our integrated fellow citizens really think that Hasan, with this name, in 15 to 20 years has a better chance of a job than if he were called Franz or Karl?
from Richard Reichart (Vienna).

We can only hope that the writer of the above is wrong. That the name of a person is a deciding factor in suitability for a job and will still be so in 20 years time is a diabolical indictment.

Perhaps one day the Vienna New Year baby will overcome the Austro-Germanic obstacle that is his Turkish name and rise to a high position; maybe one day he will also have his name and profile on an official gold coin. Who can tell?

ps - My forename is distinctly un-Austrian. It is Welsh. And I am proud that it is. But here in Vienna with such an un-Austrian name to handicap me would there be any point in my applying for a job? That is the question. According to citizen Reichart and his ilk unless I am prepared to change my name to something with a solid German ring; Franz, Karl, Werner etc. my place is, and will remain for the next 20 years, with baby Hasan in the unemployment queue.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Out with the old and in with the new

Today is the last day on the job. He will spend it packing his bags. Tomorrow he hopes he will be chopping firewood back home on the ranch in Crawford, Texas.
I speak of course of the man who lost his way, the crusading bankrupter of America and American values, the man who will be remembered for the War in Iraq and the pretence that there were WMD's to be found there.
I speak too of the man whose Middle East peace plan was the destabilization of the region, of the man who flew 'detainees' around the world in secret aeroplanes or incarcerated them without trial in Cuba, and of the bemused 9/11 man sitting in a junior school classroom in Florida.
George W Bush will also be remembered as the man who got into office through a dubious vote count in the state of Florida; the state where brother Jeb is Governor. And, in another state, as the man who failed the citizens of New Orleans.
He may well be remembered as one of the worst Presidents in American history. He knows this and so he says we must take the long view of his presidency. But he knows when he says this that it is his last attempt, in office, to pull the wool over the world's eyes.

In October 2001 George W Bush said publicly that he supported a Palestinian state. Before 9/11 his policy had been that America had nothing to say about Arab-Israeli relationships and conflicts, they were matters for the parties concerned. After 9/11, and it's worth repeating this, he supported the idea of a Palestinian state. And he did so publicly. He went further. He called on Iran and Syria to join a US-led coalition.
Israeli President Ariel Sharon was furious. Sharon accused George W Bush of "appeasement" and drew attention to Chamberlain's appeasement policy and Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia.
To demonstrate the power of the world's fourth largest army Sharon, almost instantly, ordered his troops into the Palestinian areas in Hebron. Later in the same month, following the assassination of the Israeli Minister of Tourism, he moved troops into the Palestinian controlled West Bank.
In mid-November, with a military victory in Afghanistan behind him, Bush told Arafat to stop the terrorist attacks on Israel; Sharon had advised Bush that Yasser Arafat was the problem. The Israeli capture of the Karine A, a ship loaded with weapons appeared to confirm this.
In late March 2002 a suicide bomber killed 30 Israelis. Sharon responded with Operation Defensive Shield in which Israel reasserted control of the West Bank. Bush was now floundering. His so-called policy was in tatters. His Secretary of State had spent the most miserable ten days of his life in the region to no purpose.
Bush changed tack. Sharon now became "a man of peace". In May, following a visit from Netanyahu, the American Congress and Senate passed resolutions supporting Israel. A new situation now existed. America now stood "in solidarity" with Israel. As if to demonstrate this "solidarity" Bush gave Israel an extra $200 million to fight terrorism.
One month later Bush delivered a speech in which he said that Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories should stop and that the Palestinians should have their own state. There was talk of a "Road Map to Peace". Much talk. But unfortunately no action. Bush had other things on his mind. The forthcoming Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq was one of them.
By May 2003 Bush was almost euphoric. Saddam had fled from his citadel. "Mission accomplished" was the slogan of the time. In the US Bush's popularity was sky-rocketing, which was wonderful news with the 2004 re-election campaign just over the horizon. Unfortunately the "Road Map to Peace" was fast becoming "The Road Map to Nowhere". Israel had no interest in road maps.
A month later, following a White House dinner attended by 100 Jewish leaders, press secretary Ari Fleischer announced that the issue was not Israel but was terrorism.
Another resolution was passed expressing "solidarity with the Israeli people".

And so it goes on. Went on. For now it is over, or almost.

Tomorrow there will be a new man in the White House. President Obama may not be so easy to manipulate. It may be that the current Israeli war is one last throw of the bones on the Middle East variant of the Monopoly board, one last deal of the marked cards, one last slaughter of the hundreds of innocent children. And it may be that is why we are being treated to this display of military prowess and brute force in this unholiest of Holy Lands.
A new day is dawning, a new sun is rising, the long shadows of the Bush-Arafat-Sharon era are dwindling away. A man is coming who will change the world and make it a place fit for human beings to live, communicate, discuss, mediate, meditate, and to think things through. We may all learn that with power there comes responsibility. Responsiblitiy to the values that make us humans and not some kind of insecure wild animals who feel the need to be armed to the teeth with dangerous weapons or the need to terrorise people of different faiths or even of no faith.
At the present time in history the key to the whole business is American Foreign Policy. When this becomes even handed and fair the world will be able to move forward. It will take the efforts of each and every one of us. We must not allow injustices to fester. When we find them we must expose them and deal with them. We must stamp out greed, corruption, and unacceptable behaviour towards our brothers, for that is what we are when all is said and done. And if we do, the dream of a better world for our children and grandchildren will become the new reality.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Doctor Fischer and the Bomb Party*

On his recent state visit to Israel, shortly before the outbreak of the latest Israeli war, now into its 20th day, the Austrian President Dr. Heinz Fischer was accompanied by Ariel Muzicant the President of the Austrian Jewish Community (IKG).
The whole state visit business was a very civilized affair. The Austrian President was grandly feted and was awarded an honorary degree or some honour of that ilk. Many photographs were taken to show a series of happy diplomatic handshakes. A short excursion into the West Bank resulted in more smiley photos. Relations between Israel and Austria have never been so good we were told.
And so we all settled back with our popular anti-EU ski-report tabloid with its 8,9 or 10 pages of daily ski-reports and colourful photos. But then came the war. And everything changed. Or did it?
President Dr. Heinz Fischer has been, except for one brief conspectus early on, conspicuously silent about it all, or if he has spoken the skiers on Austria's snowy slopes, concerned about the possibilty of new ski-helmet requlations and speed limits for downhill skiers, are not aware of it. You would think that a man, a President, recently returned from an area now plunged into barbarity would have something to say about it.
As I type this I'm listening to reports of two hospitals in Gaza bombed; a Red Crescent hospital and a Red Cross hospital. I'm listening to reports of a United Nations compound now ablaze following an Israeli attack. I'm listening to reports of countries breaking off diplomatic ties with Israel. I'm listening to reports of 1,050 dead on one side and 13 dead on the other side. What I'm not listening to is President Heinz Fischer. His silence is, as they say, quite deafening. Almost as deafening as the bombs falling around the Aljazeera press office in Gaza.
I am, however, listening to President Ariel Muzicant of the Austrian Jewish Community. Ariel Muzicant, unlike Fischer, is not completely silent. On the contrary he is noted for being outspoken. In today's Daily Ski tabloid for example Muzicant blames the European Union for the current ongoing war situation. He bemoans the fact that the EU has not put enough 'Cease-fire' pressure on Israel. And that may well be true.
In the broadsheet Die Presse he says that critics of the Israeli invasion of Gaza lack empathy for a Jewish State. Now that is not true Mr Muzicant. The critics of Israel's conduct are critical both with and without empathy. They are to be found all over the empathy spectrum. What the critics are mostly critical of is the unbridled brutality and savagery of the Israeli response. Muzicant cannot expect the critics to support Goliath when he is raining down clouds of white phosphorous on a densly populated city. Muzicant might change his tune if he was a Palestinian child and not allowed to flee the war zone.
"When one sees Arab television crews running around trying to find injured residents of Gaza..." begins another line of Muzicant propoganda. But here again he is being blinkered by empathy. After 20 days there are 5,000 wounded Palestinians in Gaza. One Norwegian surgeon, working around the clock, going 72 hours without sleep, described the scene in his hospital as "a conveyor belt of wounded".
Muzicant goes on to ask the big question, the question that's really troubling him, "After 3,000 years of persecution, we must constantly ask ourselves the question; where can we flee in the worst case?" And to that there's no answer.
A eurocent for your thoughts Dr. Fischer. The bomb party goes on.

*title of a novel by Graham Greene

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

A miserere for the children

Up to now on Sunset Strip as the tragicomedy unfolds the first 1,000 have been killed. 35% of the killed are chidren. Children yet to die have been traumatized. The world's 4th largest army is wreaking its vengance. 80,000 people have been forced out of their homes. In the UN's 38 schools 35,000 people shelter from the blitzkrieg, the blitzkrieg which has no end in sight.
The world's politicians continue to pontificate. Yesterday, Tony Blair, the Middle East Special Envoy (or whatever he calls himself) received his Medal of Honour from his friend George W Bush. We saw it on television.
What we didn't see on television, if we didn't have Aljazeera, was what was going on yesterday in Sunset Strip. Aljazeera is the only international television station with reporters in locus. Israel has not had a reporter in the enemy's camp for 2 years. BBC and CNN reporters, and all international reporters, are banned from entering the war zone.
Why is the world's news media banned from Sunset Strip? That is an important question. Reporters are supposed to report from war zones. That is their job. There was even a time, go back as far as you like, when artists armed with canvas and brushes found themselves in war zones and on battlefields. So why this new rule? Why this no reporters, no cameras, no artists rule? Doubtless some of the world's courageous and dedicated newshounds will sniff out the 'Why' of this in due course.
As we wait for the truth to emerge from the fog of war I offer a miserere for the children of Sunset Strip and say to the world's dithering and overpaid politicians: You do nothing but insult those 350 dead children and their mothers with your windbag pontifications and your tragicomedy gongs and ribbon parties.

from Psalm 52
(for politicians and diplomats
who didn't try too hard)

Why do you boast of evil, you
mighty man?
Why do you boast all day
you who are a disgrace in the
eyes of God?
Your tongue plots destruction;
it is like a sharpened razor

from Psalm 86
(for all the dead children
and those about to die)

The arrogant are attacking me,
O God;
a band of rutheless men seeks
my life -
men without regard for you.
But you, O Lord, are a
compassionate and
gracious God,
slow to anger, abounding in

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Why? Part 2

Both my future grandfathers-to-be ran with the throng and were all too soon, unbeknown to each other, fighting for their lives in France. They were typical cannon fodder of the day, poorly educated patriots who knew little or nothing of the world outside their local communities, knew only that when Your Country Needs You! you must do your bit. One was a slate quarrier from Snowdonia in Wales and the other a coal miner from Tyneside in England.
The two young men's destinies were decided in the trenches at the Battle of the Somme. Somehow they both survived. One was sent home with an arthritic condition known as trench knee and the other with an advanced case of wet gangrene.
The Somme action was opened on 1st July 1916 by the noble Douglas 1st Earl Haig. It was battle in which 600,000 Allies and 650,000 Germans were killed, and so I ask 'Why?'. Why, for instance did Haig do it? What possessed the man to send millions of soldiers over the top and 600,000 to certain death. At Passchendaele the noble Lord took more unbelievable losses; there he sent another 245,000 Allies to their certain deaths. Mankind has all too often a short and blinkered memory. These days Douglas 1st Earl Haig is remembered fondly as the founder of the British Legion.
Fortunately for me, and for them, the names of my future grandfathers-to-be did not appear on those endless lists, those lists of the names and numbers of the 1,250,000 young men who were forced to slaughter each other at the Somme or the 10,000,000 young men whose lives were cut short because of this war to end all wars.
Another who survived the war was a young man named Adolf Hitler. He was a messenger who ran backwards and forwards with coded messages sent from those at the back giving the orders to those at the front carrying them out. He was excited by what he had seen. He won a medal. The Iron Cross was pinned to his proud pseudo-Teutonic chest.
Adolf Hitler, did not know it yet, but he would do better. In his war it wouldn't be a question of a mere 10,000,000 perished. It would be six times this number. The figures would become quite sensless; beyond anyone's imagining. And in the 60,000,000 there would be a hidden figure. A figure of 6,000,000. In Hitler's war there would be two wars. One would be against the Allies and another would be against the Jews.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Why? Part 1

The summer of 1914 is noted in Europe for being particularly summery. The Austrian monarch, Emperor Franz Joseph was going on his summer holidays. So what if Franz Ferdinand, that irritating heir to the throne had been killed by some Serbian lunatic, or even if the infamous Black Hand Brigade was involved, it was of no consequence. In fact, mused Franz Joseph, whoever was responsible has probably done us all a favour, saved me a lot of trouble anyway. Yes, the summer was pleasant. The deer were running in the woods at Bad Ischl. He would travel there on the royal train and spend another pleasant summer with his guns, his horses, his dogs and his mistress. Life could hardly be better at the grand old age of 83.
Behind the scenes, back in Vienna, Generalstabchef Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf had other ideas on how the summer might unfold. In secret, with a small group of politicians and diplomats von Hötzendorf considered the military options. "If the worst comes to the worst Germany has 4,500,000 soldiers and we, Austria-Hungary, have 3,500,000. Between us I, ahem, I mean we, have 8,000,000 soldiers. Now if I add in Italy's 3,400,000 soldiers, that's 11,400,000 soldiers on my side. Even Great Britain only has 1,067,000. Ah, but France has 4,300,000 and Russia, dangerous expanding Russia they have say 4,000,000..." he went on. "The plan is to hold on to Serbia following its annexation in 1908," he explained, "A small war in the Balkans will drive the message home. We are not a nation, I mean an empire, to be fooled around with. Who would dare oppose an army of 11,400,000? Add in the Turks if required and the army will stand at 12,800,000 men...let's say 13,000,000." He doubtless smiled at the assembled and lit a corona cigar. And there we must leave him enjoying his smoke.
The plain fact is that in Europe of 1914 there were well over 20,000,000 soldiers. Perhaps nearer 25,000,000. Even little Belgium had an army of 182,000. War was almost inevitable. It only needed the match on the blue touch paper. A newspaper cartoon of the time shows the bright New York skyline behind a braying donkey it's wide open mouth spewing forth an endless river of war materials. Somebody was making a fortune. And 10,000,000 lives would end because of it.