Dispatches from Wolf Country — Merry Christmas Wondering about another one

Caesar wandered the battlefield looking at dead victims of his genius, his legion's ferocity and the enemies leaders vainglory and stupidity and was heard muttering, "Hoc Voluerunt" or "This is what they wanted..." although Beard seems to prefer her more idiomatic translation, "They started it."

Makes iron-arsed old Irish guys from upstate  like me tear up

Frenetic activity and absurd levels of impossible expectation

The Bits of Sadness, Madness and Joy Remain

As an Irish-American Non-believing and Non-believing Catholic, I have had a changing relationship with Christmas. I suppose it was baby-boomer child prosperity that caused us all to have so much sugar and chocolate and caffeine in our kid diets, but Christmas as I remember it was always just frenetic activity and absurd levels of impossible expectation.

Berchtesgaden at Christmas. Stadt Berchtesgaden Photo, 2013

As my life shifted, it seems now that I found myself drifting into a more Christmas frame of existence. It became and remains now the province of memories, good and bad but worth having. Volunteering for CQ as new buck sergeant so that the people with kids could have the day off; 20 years later putting on blues and going to the dining hall early to take a shift serving stuffing to my soldiers and their families and then coming back later — still in the blues but with a fresh white shirt — to have dinner with my wife and friends. Spending my last Christmas in Germany coordinating with the Air Force to get our soldiers out of Frankfurt after two weeks of false starts and confusion and bumping into my old CG and his wife over coffee and donuts as they waited their flight back to the states and succeeding in getting the gates open and the material and soldiers en route!Only to get back to Hanau and discover we were too late for the Dining Facility and thus our final Christmas dinner was at McDonald’s over in back of the Community Headquarters.

It was all about the people I spent it with, our lives and our times and our experiences. Since then it’s been a lot of the same; just different people and different experiences. This year is probably going to be even more restrained and yet probably more worthwhile in some ways. Instead of a rolling barrage of experiences, it is slowing down now to an occasional burst of something. But the bit of magic and the bit of sadness and the bit of joy will remain.

So, it was in that spirit that I opened up this week’s edition of the Times Literary Supplement, and saw immediately that there were actually multiple pieces I wanted to read. I got the subscription when my philosophy professor buddy had a review published in it about a book on political ethics, and their paywall blocked access. There are issues like this that excite me a bit, and occasionally more. In fairness, if I take the time to read it thoroughly there’s always something.

Interesting piece about one of my Irish diaspora cousins, Shane MacGowan. He’s still around

Brendan Behan dressed for Mass, which he probably was late form 1956

and will probably wander on to the stage at a couple of Gaelic-Punk Celidhs- Concerts this next couple of weeks — probably in Dublin, and London and the Bronx and maybe Boston.

That Shane is still around is fairly amazing at 60 if all you remember of him is him hanging off a stage, drunk, stoned and with a Meth mouth singing The Irish Rover in Prague or Ipswich or someplace.  Well,  he’s had dental work and now is relatively sober and on his meds. But, there was a time that Shane MacGowan and the Pogues and the Popes defined something that meant a lot. The music of the Irish diaspora is really the music of the dispossessed, whether from Syria or Sligo, Darfur or Donegal.  I doubt that Donald Trump ever gets homesick for the Allgau where his Drumpf roots lie in Germany; since he desecrates Scotland and Ireland with environmentally unfriendly golf courses and constant fights with the locals, he’s good at the absentee landlord Gombeen man approach that subject peoples all experience — rude, ignorant, and uncaring.

Shane MacGowan at Mass 1981. Irish Times Photo

But, many of us do have ethnic memories that perhaps we’ve stoked by a visit or two to the old place. MacGowan’s parents had him life with his mother’s family until he was six in Ireland, and only then brought him over because they thought that Ireland was a more healthy place than England. He absorbed the Irish rebel mystique, and like a lot of Irish-Something young men of that era, Brendan Behan was the model. Lifestyle, dress, attitude, take no crap and laugh at the bastards. He intentionally based his style on Behan’s which I can recall doing a bit, although I threw in some JP Donleavy. I’m suspecting that Steve Bannon has done a lot of the same, but his Belfast pimp-werewolf approach to the Irish rebel

Bannon dressed for Media in lieu of Mass — Sirius XM Photo 4-2016

doesn’t do Brendan or Shane justice; and the look just doesn’t work for a rich, racist follower of the Gombeen way.

The most popular Pogues song and one that gets a huge amount of radio play, video watching and half based attempts to play by guys like me is “Christmas in New York.” It may not be the best of his work, but it can make an iron-arsed old Irish guy from upstate New York like me tear up a bit as unwanted but worth recalling memories of a past and present that haven’t turned out quite the way we intended surface for contemplation, another shot of Jack Daniels or Black Bushmills, pint of Guinness or can of Utica Club, or cup of black coffee to go on with. I have a song fragment in my papers that I go back to occasionally — “I had my dreams, and I dreamed them well…” and like an unfinished Guy Clark song, still waiting to find someplace that it, and I fit. Perhaps Shane has found his; perhaps it’s my curse alone, but I guess I never will. But, there is the music.

In another piece from the Times Literary Supplement, Professor Mary Beard of Cambridge muses on the parade of idiots leading us to the inevitable triumph of Cthulhu, Putin and the dark shapes terrifying the night. Hoc voluerunt? … In this case, she’s thinking of the fools in the

Mary Beard, Scholar, Author, Columnist and Role Model for Public Intellectuals London Literary Book Shop Photo

Parliament of Great Britain who followed a Bannionesque Pied Piper marching band of ideologues and wastrels down the merry road to Brexit. If Boris Johnson was editing a humor magazine or a internet magazine about specious economics and general conservative “get off my lawn” rants a la P.J.O’Rourke, he’d serve his country and the world far better than in any capacity he has achieved so far. Well, if Ryan and McConnell and Trump were klutzing around in a Parliamentary system, they’d have long since been turfed out and new elections called.

Beard is an exemplary academic and popular classicist as well as a canny and perceptive

Boris Johnson, HMG Secretary of State and Hyper-Ambitious Buffoon — BBC Channel 4 Photo, 2017

observer of the world. In this brief piece she discusses an incident in the Roman Civil War, when Caesar beat Pompey’s army like a tin drum. She points out that the results were predictably Caesarian, in that the body count was absurdly high and imbalanced. A lot of Caesar’s battles were relatively close run things as Wellington called Waterloo, but when he got to pick time and place and prepare the battlefield, they generally were pretty well decided before the first volley of spears arced over the enemy ranks.


Nigel Farage, lead Brexit Charlatan and Trump Surrogate to West Surrey Riding, with Satan at Mir a Lago. Irish Times, 2017

Since Caesar lost about 25 men while Pompey and friends lost 1000s, the slaughter probably irritated and chafed him.  Caesar had no problems killing thousands of barbarians except that killing too many cut down on the available slaves to sell. But, he had a sentimental streak toward killing other Romans either individually or en masse’. Cassius, Brutus, Cicero and the rest of the conspirators who ultimately assassinated him were captured there or later; he spared their lives and neither exiled them or in any way did anything to make their lives more difficult until he bled all over their daggers.That was a mistake that his nephew Octavian and all of Octavian’s successors never made. There were plenty others to make.

Beard describes the tragedy here as one based on the inability of Caesar’s opponents to act intelligently in the face of reality. Blinded by their own visions and unable to see that reality had long since shifted, they led their soldiers and themselves to death and disaster.

The idea was that it was the intransigence of Pompey and the senatorial ‘party’ that caused the conflict. If they had only negotiated with Caesar, and not simply followed their narrow sectional interests and ideology, then none of this mess need have happened.

From this perspective, she then turns to the UK debacle of Brexit. It isn’t going to do what the people who voted for it were told it was going to do but will make a lot of bad situations worse and result in horrible social, economic and basically existential upheavals through the UK and probably also through Europe. But, the hard core Brexiters not unlike the band of thieves, sycophants and fools surrounding the triumvirate of Trump, Ryan and McConnell, are unrestrained and unthinking. In organizational development, this is often called the law of unintended consequences, where the easy way out of the mess leads back in and yesterday’s solutions produce tomorrows crisises.

Beard admits some reluctant schadenfreude, saying that she doesn’t in any way wish Boris Johnson and his ilk death in the destruction and horror of a Caesarian battlefield but…well, it would be fitting. As she puts it

Now I don’t for a minute want Jacob Rees Mogg or Boris Johnson to end up dead on a battlefield. But when I hear them talking about the UK becoming a vassal state in Europe, or an EU colony, the phrase hoc voluerunt does come to mind.

Well, I had to comment on the article, and I was of course myself in doing so; it’s what the Creator pays me for with continued breathes and thoughts and such. “Oh, Mary, I think it would be only God’s justice in a just universe if all fools were made to suffer the fates of those condemned by their ignorance…As Barry Fitzgerald says in The Quiet Man to all such blithering idiots for all those condemned to suffer for the idiocy, greed and hubris of their leaders in The Quiet Man, “A consummation devoutly to be wished.” At least in Caesar’s world, the most egregious fools ended up like Pompey and Cato, paying in blood for the disaster they brought on others. It’s also interesting how well this one translates to the United States. I mean, just switch the names from Mogg or Johnson to Trump or Ryan, and it still works wonderfully.”

FYI, Beard has written a highly praised new book, a manifesto on the issues of Women and Power. What I’ve read strikes me as very pointed, telling and sensible. My copy sets in the never ending stack surrounding my desk, chair, couch and everywhere else I read. However, I’ve moved it to the front of the pile, as we now should add the filters of misogyny and abuse to most other societal affairs we confront. 

Which is a good way to lead into the obvious Christmas topic of…taxes. This mess is everything that you don’t want to see in legislation. No swamp draining here, folks!

I think that the best summation of that debacle, the massive self-inflicted sucking chest wound that the Republicans administered to themselves while giving themselves a standing ovation is something Ivanka Trump said, to the effect that she was going to travel around the country in March to watch people fill out those neat little postcard returns. There is no post card 1040 nor will there be. The law won’t be signed in all likelihood by Christmas, because it was so poorly written, it goes into effect immediately which would make the tax processing picture grimmer than it already is for the IRS and the states. Oh, and since it does away with individual exemptions, there’s no really good way to figure out how much people can withhold, there are no rules or regulations for the process and it’s going to make the Affordable Care Act roll out look like the middle of the Yankees lineup against the Little League World Series Second Runner up. Outside of that, it’s horrible — and McConnell and Ryan know it. Trump, daughter and children are either oblivious. or lying, or both.

Jennifer Rubin, the conservative Republican opponent to all things Trump said in her WAPO column the Right Turn that once again Ivanka Trump is her father’s daughter because she is absolutely clueless on this and on the new child care legislation and everything else, while claiming some kind of expertise in most things.

If Trump cared to do her homework, she wouldn’t say objectively false things. She wouldn’t treat the pittance that Republicans gave to poor families as a grand accomplishment. Then again, perhaps she has learned at her father’s knee to be a flim-flam artist, a con woman and an entitled child of wealth who looks out for herself and only herself. Those who thought that she’d bring smarts, empathy and reason to the White House sure missed the mark.

So, I plan on reading the awful thing, and then reading what Bloomberg says about it from a practical point of view and then trying to explain it not in legislative but reasonably intelligent text. If there’s something you’d like me to discuss, just drop me a line. Spoiler alert — if you and your wife have annual mortgage payments of $12000 and other qualifying deductions of $12000 and four kids, you can’t itemize your deductions because it’s less or equal to the standard deduction. Your old pre-itemization taxable income was calculated based on six individual exemptions and the standard deduction of $12K. Now that every married, filing couple gets a standard deduction of $24000 and there are no exemptions, you are going to have to look very hard to find enough additional itemized deductions to help. But, as I see it, you’re going to have your taxable income increase by $24000. Enjoy.

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