Tenores di Bitti

This Tenores di Bitti cd is something best listened to alone, or you will wind up alone. I have albums by two different Sardinian vocal groups who kick out this ancient polyphonic overtone singing that probably dates back to the original bronze age civilization of Sardinia, maybe three millennia back. When the Phoenicians and Greeks and Romans landed they were probably met with this, and I wonder if it sounded as alien to their ears as it does to ours now. Amazing how it lasted all these centuries. Civilizations came and went in the Mediterranean, history sweeping one way or the other, but Sardinia has long been strangely isolated, cut off, resistant to change. I remember reading in Fernand Braudel’s History of the Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World In the Age of Philip II an anecdote about how 17th century businessmen from southern Spain visited the island and realized what an ideal place for oranges Sardinia was. The soil was perfect, the sun constant, frosts rare. They planted immense groves and the scent of the orange blossoms wafted across the land. That was too much for the clans, who stopped murdering one another long enough to aim their blunderbusses at the hapless Spaniards left to tend the groves. They killed them all, and then in an impressive bit of atavistic nihilism cut down every tree, leaving the alien fruit to rot on the ground. Afterward the killers returned to their fortified villages and drank rough wine and doubtless sang songs just like these, the crazy overtones vibrant with life unchanged for three thousand years. Sometimes stasis is worth killing over, and a sweet orange is the devil himself.

Acid, incense and data points

CSPAN is great on weekends, it’s all history, with lots of historians giving lectures on various topics and, being historians, they tend to be pretty good story tellers. That is until the sociologists show up. Nothing kills a good story like a sociologist. Instead of a rousing narrative you get heaps of arcane social science jargon. I stare blankly. It’s a panel on Haight Ashbury. Groovy, I had thought, feed my head. I turned off the Trump news to watch old hippies with Ph.D’s in history they earned to keep out of Viet Nam telling stories about the Dead and the Airplane and the Human Be In. And these panelists certainly look the part. Not a tie in the bunch. They apparently were even there, some of them. There’s some inside Deadhead references. But no stories. Instead, they are bumming my trip with sociology. Total buzzkill. Acid, incense and balloons reduced to data points. Valid data points, sure. Important perspectives, yes. But what a long, dull trip this hour has been. I like to read about this multi-disciplinary approach to history in books, sure. Hell, I am surrounded as I type here by a library of tomes like that. Sometimes at a party a stoner will crack one open and his glazed eyes will glaze over. You actually read this shit my guitar player asked incredulously after finding a some absurdly academic history of the Andrew Jackson administration tucked under the couch. I spluttered. I thought drummers couldn’t read at all he said and threw the book back on the floor. I pushed it back beneath the couch, embarrassed by my dull choice of reading matter. But that was a book. This is television. Entertainment. If I wanted that kind of dry intellectual thing I’d watch the science lectures on UCTV, which I also do, but not for a rousing good yarn. Hell, it’s Saturday night, I’m stuck at home, and TCM is having another Esther Williams marathon. So I was watching C-SPAN listening to these five professors go on about Haight Ashbury. I had no idea the Summer of Love could be so boring. I’d rather be hanging with the guy who was dishing the dirt on Alexander Hamilton a couple hours ago. He may have been wearing a suit, and probably couldn’t roll a joint, but he sure could tell a story.
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Every two thousand three hundred and seventy three years.

Oh wow. Mercury, Venus and Saturn above the pyramids of Giza. Gorgeous photo. Heavy Egyptian vibes fill the room.

Of course, it’s too good to be true. The photo is a fake. It wasn’t even originally said to be 2017. It was 2012. Or 2007. Whatever. It’s the internet. But the various planets do align themselves in various combinations with a ragged regularity. But let’s pretend it was shot just a few weeks ago, in 2017, and it really does occur every 2373 years. Which would mean, ironically, that this event could have never actually been witnessed by the Ancient Egyptians, as the pyramids were constructed two or three centuries after the occurrence in 2729 B.C. And then by the next occurrence, in 356 B.C., Egypt had long been part of the Persian Empire and the Persians, rigidly monotheist Zoroastrians, would not have made the cosmic connection. Only what remained of the local priesthood would have been moved, though whether they still saw the pyramids–by then as beat up as they are now, their copper covering and vivid colors long gone–as engines of pharaonic immortality seems doubtful. After all, they were as far removed from the civilization that constructed the pyramids as we are from Alexander the Great. Alexander the Great himself, though, who loved everything Egyptian, would have been fascinated and perhaps even terrified by the sight of Mercury, Venus and Saturn (each a Hellenic god) perfectly placed above the pyramids. Alas, Alexander wasn’t even born yet, not till later that summer in 356 B.C., and he didn’t conquer Egypt until 332 B.C. Another wasted Kodak moment.

Then if last January 20 it really had happened again, and the night was this clear, and a photographer had gotten this amazing photo. Let’s just pretend it was so and we’re filled with awe–even us cynics–and awash in the spooky sensations of Ancient Egypt. We do, at last, make the cosmic connection with the ancients, though the Egyptians themselves, in the days of Khufu, were probably unaware that specific celestial alignment would ever happen at all. Still, if they had seen it, in its weird perfection and logic, they would have been impressed. The eternal movement of the heavens and of earth would have come together in perfect symmetry. Doubtless when Ra rose again in the east with the dawn, the morning would have been something extra special.

2,373 years from now it will happen again. The planets will still be making their steady revolutions, and the solid granite blocks of the pyramids will ensure they still stand virtually unchanged in their massiveness. Who knows what people will see this again, maybe us, maybe somebody else. Maybe no one at all. We could annihilate all life in nuclear cataclysm and in A.D. 4390 the three planets will still hover above the three pyramids, the lone and level sands stretching far away.

pyramids

Babylon

Great article on Babylonian scientists and why they weren’t exactly scientists. They were astrologists. The results were impressive but not science. Science–as in figuring out how things work for the sake of figuring out how things work–was still a few centuries off there. But it’s amazing just how much of our perception on the world is guided by Babylonian thinking now. We’ve never escaped the influence of the Babylonians. In case you wonder why we buy a dozen eggs and not ten or twenty….it’s leftover Babylonian math. Echoes of the dawn of civilization. Just as the letters in these words are echoes of ancient Egypt.

Still life

Painted in 1912. If not for the Great War, Hitler might have spent his life painting houses and selling nice little watercolors like this in the park on Sundays. It would have been a comfortable living, and no one would ever have known who he was but his friends, family and the people who paid him a few kroner for his pretty paintings. He’d be as lost to history as the rest of us, and the world on its even arc would be absolutely unrecognizable to us now.

Still life by Adolf Hitler, 1912.

Still life by Adolf Hitler, 1912.

Visions of Ceaușescu

Watching RT, it’s obvious that today’s protests scared the hell out of Russia’s political elite. Hence the reporting that the US was torn apart by violence and rage today, and the vile mainstream media is conspiring to attack Trump and insult his voters. It’s been said that Putin is absolutely terrified of revolution, and the thought of vast street protests in Moscow is his personal nightmare. You can only imagine what he imagined watching the news from America (not to mention across Europe) today. Should the same virus emerge in Russia, who knows what could happen. Putin was stationed in Dresden when the Berlin Wall fell, and he saw that regime dissolve around him, and once powerful people jailed, and illicit wealth seized. And he remembers what happened that year in Romania, too, when they shot down Ceaușescu and Mrs. Ceaușescu like dogs. It was on Christmas day. The officer in charge roughly tied their hands behind their backs as Mrs. Ceaușescu screamed you motherfuckers in Romanian and Ceaușescu attempted the Internationale. The firing squad shot them to pieces, 120 bullets were found in the bodies. There’s video, Mr. and Mrs Ceaușescu in the dirt riddled with bullets, twitching lifelessly as the final volley hit home. The footage was played and replayed endlessly on the news in 1989. You have to wonder how many times Putin saw it. No one really knows just how solid Putin’s political position is right now, but when change does come in Russia it’s like an avalanche.

God Save the Queen

Here’s a fact about Australia that many Australians are loathe to admit–it is a monarchy. It really is, hip, modern, swinging Australia. It is officially The Monarchy of Australia and Queen Elizabeth is the head of state. The Queen of Australia, even. Indeed, when we deign to visit, she might say, one addresses us as The Queen of Australia, and does not address us the Queen of the United Kingdom. Then she’d wave her little queen wave and, if Australian, you’d feel honored. Honoured.

Officially she is “Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth”, but not as defender of the Faith which Australians, in a fit of ecumenical pique, lopped off. (If she pops over to Auckland afterward she is both Queen of New Zealand and Defender of the Faith, while in grammatically tortured Canada she is “of the United Kingdom, Canada and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen” and Defender of the Faith. That last line must go over big in Montreal.) Her royal presence permeates much of Australian officialdom. In court cases where in this country we say the People vs so and so, in Australia they say the Queen vs so and so (and the prosecutors are “the Crown”, though I don’t believe they wear those ridiculous wigs, if the court scene in The Last Wave was accurate.) Government controlled lands–governmental buildings, military bases, national parks, aboriginal reservations–are crown properties. Oaths of allegiance for, say, parliament, are typically to the queen. When you became an Australian citizen you used to swear allegiance to the queen, but they changed that some time ago, and now you swear allegiance to Australia…but the Australian High Court has since ruled that as Australia is a monarchy,  swearing allegiance to Australia means swearing allegiance to the queen. It’s complicated.

The queen is physically and constitutionally represented in Australia by her own appointed Governor-General, who officially is the head of state (seriously, he is), meets foreign heads of state as the head of state of Australia, and actually has some constitutional powers, most of which can prevent democratic measures–elections, appointments, bills, the parliament itself–when the monarchy finds them distasteful. There are also queen appointed governors in each of Australia’s six state governments, with even more constitutional powers under the separate state constitutions than the governor-general has under the federal constitution. The queen is represented in Australia’s territories by the Governor-General himself, which even includes the Australian Capital Territory (with the capital city Canberra) itself. Even territories as small as Norfolk Island (thirteen square miles, two thousand or so people) are governed in conjunction with the crown. One wonders just where Australian independence and sovereignty begins and that of England ends, or if such a distinction is even possible. Because is in theory each of Australia’s elected parliaments serves at the pleasure of the queen, and can, in theory, be dismissed by the queen. Democracy in Australia is, in theory at least, a quite limited concept. It’s not like the queen is some vague, titular figure far away. She is, in name and by the constitution, present in virtually everything governmental in Australia. You pay the queen’s taxes (though not for her upkeep in England). You vote for the queen’s representatives in parliament. You pet the queen’s baby kangaroos in the queen’s wildlife preserves. By definition, everything public is the domain of the queen. In day to day reality, no. No one thinks that is the queen’s baby kangaroo. And the taxes to straight to Canberra, not London. But in constitutional theory, though, as a monarchy, everything is the queen’s domain. Her website lists Australia as one of her realms.

The Australian voters share power with the monarchy, and while the monarchy can’t vote on anything, it does have veto power. It can (and does) also appoint officials and ambassadors, and create governmental departments. It can (but isn’t likely to) control Australia’s military and declare war. The monarchy uses its powers sparingly, but not always. Indeed, in 1975, the Governor-General removed the democratically elected Labour prime minister and his government and replaced him with the losing conservative candidate more to the Crown’s liking. Talk about a stink. The Australians, though, loyally consented. Irishmen they are not. Then in 1999, a referendum to dispose of the monarchy and declare Australia a parliamentary republic was decisively defeated. The Australians love their queen.

I’m only pointing this out because an Australian was up on his high horse and trashing me for being a stupid fucking American from a from a stupid, fucked up country. I didn’t disagree on the merits of his arguments–he certainly had some–all I did was point out that he, like all Her loyal Australian subjects, has to constitutionally kiss Queen Elizabeth’s ass. It was a cheap shot, sure, but I was in a corner. What does that have to do with anything, he demanded. Well, when you grow up and become a republic like the rest of us, I said, then we’ll talk. Fuck off, he said, and unfriended me.

This works with Canadians, too. With French Canadians, not so much.

queen-and-footie