Well, the eclipse was a bit of a non-event in Nova Scotia, but I saw some amazing pictures people took in areas where the total eclipse was visible. And here, from a time before cameras, is a fanciful depiction of an eclipse which is found in the the Nuremberg Chronicle, a book from the Middle Ages which contains an illustrated paraphrase of the Bible and history of the world.
Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493
Also,here is an account of an eclipse from Herodotus' The Histories which he wrote in 440 BC. Herodotus claims in it that the advent of the eclipse put a stop to a battle between two warring factions: the Medes and the Lydians. According to people who study that sort of thing, the eclipse he was describing took place in 585 BC, and Herodotus claims that it was accurately predicted by a Greek philosopher of the time period, Thales of Miletus. He doesn't explain how Thales figured out that there was an eclipse coming, and some modern scholars have questioned whether he actually did. However, Diogenes Laertius, a 3rd century AD biographer of Greek philosophers, makes the same claim, saying that Xenophanes, a philosopher who was a contemporary of Thales, was impressed by the accurate prediction. Diogenes also includes accounts of the incident from two other Greek philosophers, Heraclitus and Democritus. If this is actually true, it would be the first time in history that we know of someone accurately calculating the arrival of an eclipse. Here is Herodotus' writings on the subject:
"Afterwards, on the refusal of Alyattes to give up his suppliants when Cyaxares sent to demand them of him, war broke out between the Lydians and the Medes, and continued for five years, with various success. In the course of it the Medes gained many victories over the Lydians, and the Lydians also gained many victories over the Medes. Among their other battles there was one night engagement. As, however, the balance had not inclined in favour of either nation, another combat took place in the sixth year, in the course of which, just as the battle was growing warm, day was on a sudden changed into night. This event had been foretold by Thales, the Milesian, who forewarned the Ionians of it, fixing for it the very year in which it actually took place. The Medes and Lydians, when they observed the change, ceased fighting, and were alike anxious to have terms of peace agreed on." - Herodotus, The Histories
"Fascism and Bolshevism are not two opposing principles, they are both the negation of the same principles of freedom and order.”
Francesco Saverio Nitti, Bolshevism, Fascism and Democracy by former Prime Minister of Italy (1927) pp. 126-127
"In spite of Bolshevism’s and fascism’s different attitudes, above all, private property and nationalism, both fascists and antifascists acknowledged common sources and resulting similarities between Bolshevism and fascism, including their revolutionary ideology, their elitism, their disdain for bourgeois values, and their totalitarian ambitions."
Cyprian P. Blamires, editor, World Fascism: A Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 1 (2006) p.p. 95-96.
"Fascism and communism are not two opposites, but two rival gangs fighting over the same territory—both are variants of statism, based on the collectivist principle that man is the rightless slave of the state.
-Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, New York: NY, Signet Book from the New American Library (1967) p. 180
"Fascism was the shadow or ugly child of communism . . . As Fascism sprang from Communism, so Nazism developed from Fascism. Thus were set on foot those kindred movements which were destined soon to plunge the world into more hideous strife, which none can say has ended with their destruction."
-Winston Churchill, The Second World War, Volume 1, The Gathering Storm, Mariner Books (1985) pp. 13-14. First published in 1944
In October 1936, the Battle of Cable Street occurred in London. Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists, was planning a march of his followers- some 2000-3000 people- through the East End of London, which at the time was a predominately Jewish district.
The Communist Party of Great Britain organized a force of about 20,000 to oppose them, comprised mostly of communists, socialists, anarchists, and some Jews and Irishmen. They attacked the BUF marchers, forcing the police to intervene to protect them. The march was called off and the fascists dispersed, but the antifascist rioters then attacked the police for protecting the BUF. Many people, both police officers and rioters, were injured and about 150 demonstrators were arrested following the battle. So the question is, who were the good guys here- the fascists or the antifascists? The answer isn't really all that hard: neither. Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time can be in no doubt of my utter contempt for the tenets of fascism and for those who embrace them. But in a free society citizens have the right to peacefully assemble and march even if they do so with the vilest of motivations. Those who oppose them have the exact same right to organize and protest- so long as that protest does not devolve into violence. When it does, it is the duty of the police- whose job it is to enforce the law- to step in and put a stop to it irrespective of which group or ideology is responsible for it. Anyone who is familiar with my writing can also have no doubt about my complete loathing of communism and socialism in all their forms. Fascism, with Nazi Germany as Exhibit A, is responsible for the deaths of millions and untold misery for millions more. Communism, however, has killed at a rate which the most virulent Nazi could only dream of; we may never know how many hundreds of millions have been murdered, "disappeared", starved to death, or enslaved by practitioners of this evil ideology.
One would have thought that, considering all the heartache and mayhem communism and fascism caused throughout the 20th century, they would be consigned to the ash heap of history by all civilized people. Unfortunately, we are instead seeing a resurgence of both in our time, and it's a worrying prospect. Incidentally, have you noticed that you never see the rise of one without the other? It's almost like they're symbiotic or something (see above quotes). As I watched the grim spectacle of the dregs of society battling each other this past week, I couldn't help thinking of the end of George Orwell's Animal Farm, when the animals could no longer discern any difference between the pigs and the humans. That's how I feel about the fascists and antifascists, so-called: they are two sides of the same dud coin. Case in point- both sides reflexively hate Jews. It doesn't matter if they do it for racial or economic reasons; the result is the same. In actuality, both groups are racist- they just disagree on which races should be vilified and celebrated (excepting Jews, of course). Both are not opposed to using violence to accomplish their aims, and both are just fine with using the power of the state to crush their opponents. None of this will lead anywhere good.
Now that we've established that I consider both of these ideologies to be blights on humanity the question must be, do I consider one to be more dangerous than the other. And the answer is yes: I think that in the long run, Communism is the greater threat to our rights and freedoms. The degree of threat is, in my opinion, related to the difference in reaction by those in positions of power and in media and education to these two evils. When I was a child, I was left in no doubt of the evils of fascism and the Nazis; my strict parents who wouldn't allow us to watch sitcoms would, around Remembrance Day, sit us in front of documentaries on World War II and the Holocaust. I can't remember not knowing of and being horrified by Nazism, the evil ideas that gave rise to it, and what it could lead to. It's still easy to educate children about the wickedness of fascism. The picture on the left is one I took at the Army Museum at the Citadel last Saturday: it's of one of my nephews looking at an exhibit of Nazi artifacts. But to what museum does one take children to show them the evils of communism? Incredibly, though a far more deadly ideology by any quantifiable measure, communism continues to be far more socially acceptable than fascism. A teacher or professor who opined that fascism was an ideal to be striven for and that in Nazi Germany it had just been done poorly, would be removed from his position so fast that your head would spin. Yet communism/ socialism is openly propagated with nary a raised eyebrow from school administrations as educators argue that Stalin, Castro, and their ilk just instituted their ideals badly. Media outlets which swiftly- and rightly- vilify fascistic hate groups have been remarkably coy about reporting on left wing violence and rhetoric. Politicians who have wholeheartedly embraced the tenets of communism- ie. Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders- are taken seriously and embraced by certain political parties. Instead of being called out for what they are, at the worst they are excused as being misguided idealists. And our children are being inundated with this messaging. I think that Winston Churchill, who fought fiercely and unwaveringly against Nazism, was not incorrect when he said that if he was forced to choose between living under fascism or communism, he wouldn't choose communism.
This illustration is from PG Wodehouse's short story, Comrade Bingo, which is found in the collection The Inimitable Jeeves. In this story, Bertie's friend Bingo, once again smitten, has become enamored with a girl who is part of a communist group in London called Red Dawn. Wanting to impress the girl's father, who leads the group, Bingo talks Bertie into hosting a tea for his inamorata (her name is Charlotte Corday Rowbotham, after the Charlotte Corday who stabbed Jean-Paul Marat to death in his bath during the French Revolution), her father, and another member of the gang, Comrade Butt. Comrade Rowbotham gets off on the wrong foot with Jeeves immediately, calling him "an obsolete relic of an exploded feudal system," but he seems to mellow a bit after he and the other Red Dawners gobble up all the food with alarming rapidity. Comrade Butt, however, takes umbrage at the generous tea: "I wonder the food didn't turn to ashes in our mouths! Eggs! Muffins! Sardines! All wrung from the bleeding lips of the starving poor!" As Bertie notes though, this sense of moral outrage didn't stop Butt or the others from helping themselves to all the eats in sight: "It was all very well for Comrade Butt to knock the food, but he had pretty well finished the ham; and if you had shoved the remainder of the jam into the bleeding lips of the starving poor it would hardly have made them sticky." Comrade Bingo is one of my favourite Jeeves and Wooster stories; it's laugh-out-loud funny in places, and Wodehouse shows the same skill at mocking the pretensions and hypocrisies of the communists as he did in The Code of the Woosters, when he gleefully skewered the fascists in the form of Roderick Spode and his brown shorts.
I spent the afternoon at Citadel Hill with some family last Saturday, and it was a good time though rather rainy.
There has been a fort on Citadel Hill in Halifax since 1749, the year Halifax was founded. The hill overlooks Halifax Harbour and is ideal for its defense. Officially, the location is named Fort George, after King George III (the one our American cousins had a little problem with), but it is just referred to as "the Citadel." I doubt a lot of residents could tell you the fort's actual name.
The current star-shaped fortress was completed in 1856, designed to repel an attack by land or sea. It was garrisoned by British soldiers until 1906, and then by Canadian soldiers through the First World War. After Citadel Hill was no longer a working military base, it was restored to its 1869 appearance and opened to the public a national historic site.
The fort houses the Halifax Army Museum, and features reenactments of various duties soldiers would have performed while stationed at the Citadel. Also, every day the noon gun- a cannon on the fort wall- is fired, and can be heard over a great deal of the city.
My sister and I finished watching- finally- The Crown a few nights ago, and I really enjoyed it. It is, of course, a work of speculative fiction which plays out against a backdrop of actual historical events, but even the fictional bits are realistic... you believe things could have happened that way. Whether they actually did or not is another question. The Crown also highlights the difficulties inherent in trying to balance the competing demands of the public and the personal, of the familial and the national, and of individual desires and duty. It leaves you wondering if it's possible to balance- or even separate- these things in a British monarchy which must of necessity uphold ancient customs and traditions in a modern and rapidly changing world. Also, as we get a glimpse of the fact-based wackiness of the lives of the royals, one can't help reflecting that it's not surprising the next generation of them ended up as disfunctional as they did.
This is a clip from the 1950 film Cyrano de Bergerac which is based on the 1897 play by Edmond Rostand. The play is written in French, and is completely in poetic form. This 1950 version was the first English language film of the work, and is based on Brian Hook's 1923 translation, which he wrote in blank verse. The large nosed title character is played by Jose Ferrer who is great in the role, for which he received an Academy Award. I first saw this film when I was a young teen, and was caught by the quick, witty dialogue and Ferrer's wonderful performance. Although I must say that I grew impatient with Cyrano in the last act, refusing to tell Roxane the truth about Christian's letters.
Well, we're over the hump now- not that the film gets any better, but we're over halfway through, so closer to being done with this cinematic travesty. It's now New Years' Eve, and our protagonists are celebrating. Mimi makes a resolution that she's going to quit the drugs and go back to school. Too bad all of them don't resolve to stop being dimwitted losers but that would require self awareness, so is a forlorn hope. They return to Roger and Mark's apartment after partying to find a padlock on the door. After being over a year in arrears with the rent, their landlord has finally locked them out. Are they chastened? Ashamed? Realizing that there are consequences for bad behaviour? Of course not- how dare we judge these victims of capitalism, expecting them to pay for things they are using. Instead, Angel- who is supposed to be the film's purveyor of sweetness and light- grabs a metal garbage can and smashes the lock with it repeatedly until it breaks and they can reenter the building. The movie depicts this vandalism and breaking & entering as the triumph of virtue over The Man. They are shocked to find, upon entering the apartment, that all their furniture has been repossessed. Good. Joanne who is, I remind you, purportedly a lawyer, stood by giggling as Angel illegally broke into the building. She now tells Mark and Roger that, since they've managed to get themselves back into the apartment, they're technically squatters and can't be forced out. Just when you thought these people couldn't sink any lower.
Then, however, Joanne says something which suggests that at least one cylinder in her brain is occasionally firing: she tells Mark that he should accept the job offer from the television studio. Mark is shocked and immediately rejects the idea saying it would be selling out and betraying his art, or some such nonsense. Personally, I think he's just allergic to work. She keeps at him though, and he eventually agrees because he's also a weakling with no backbone. As if we needed further proof of this, Joanne offers to go along to his job interview and do all the talking- andheagrees.
All the way to the interview, Mark keeps whining and trying to back out. Joanne and Maureen practically have to drag him there. Once at the studio, Joanne suggests that Maureen stay in reception because even she can see that having a deranged lunatic in the meeting would make an even worse impression than Mark will on his own. Besides, I'm not sure Maureen is paper trained. In the meeting, Mark sits morosely in his chair, pouting while Joanne and the supervisor holding the interview discuss his terms of employment. He is offered a generous remuneration- frankly, more than he's worth- and eventually lowers himself to accept the job when Joanne tells him to. Because this is fantasy land, the supervisor still wants to hire a grown man who brings his "mommy" to his job interview to hold his hand and talk to the scary adults. Meanwhile, Maureen has been making a spectacle of herself by flirting with the secretary in full view of the office windows. Oddly, the secretary seems to be enjoying this instead of calling security to have the creepy weirdo escorted out; we're apparently supposed to believe that Maureen is so irresistible that every woman she talks to turns into a lesbian. Sorry- we've seen and heard enough of her by this time to know that that's beyond impossible. In any case, Joanne is seething with jealousy and storms out. Maureen chases after her and seems confused that her girlfriend is upset about her carrying on with someone else right in front of her. To be fair, no one would ever mistake Maureen for a genius, and she's also never given Joanne any reason to suppose she'll be faithful. Maureen asks Joanne what she wants from her, and Joanne says that she wants commitment. Maureen blithely and casually agrees and theatrically gets down on her knees, giving Maureen one of her cheap, gaudy rings. A proper symbol for cheap, gaudy sentiment. Because she's an idiot, Joanne seems to take Maureen seriously and they embrace. As they do so, Mark looks on impotently; frankly, he should have realized that Maureen was a lesbian when she was attracted to a girly-man like him. Maybe they'll have him as a flower girl at their wedding. Speaking of which, we'll be forced to attend Joanne and Maureen's engagement party next and as you might expect, it's a revolting display of stupidity and inverse morality... in other words, business as usual for these jerks.