We've all heard stories about so-called "cursed objects"- but do they really exist- after all how on earth can inaminate objects become evil??? I was just looking at the entry on ComicVien for Bloodaxe(full disclosure: I plan to paint him), a Marvel villain who possessed the enchanted axe of Skurge the Executioner which drives its owners over a period of time to commit acts of horrendous bloodshed based on the foul deeds of its previous owner. In reality though I have heard not just of cursed objects but cursed families- pace the Kennedy and Barrymore clans(full disclosure again: Drew Barrymore is my favourite film star) as well as the so-called 20 year jinx for US Presidents( since 1840 every US President elected in a year ending in a "0" has died in office either through natural causes( JohnTyler and FDR) or assassination( Garfield, McKinley, JFK).
Whilst I admit I would certainly not like to own something assocaited with a notorious evil doer( which makes the current craze for so-called serial killer art all the more disturbing) such as Saddam Hussein's toothbrush , Bin Laden's shaving kit or Stalin's pipe, I really have my doubts about such objects although demonologists like the late Ed and Lorraine Warren have amassed an entire warehouse full of them- much like Micki and Ryan in "Triday the 13th:The Series"- objects so charged with Satanic power that simply touching them will cause the demon within to manifest themselves.
The recent US Supreme Court ruling vis a vis furniture chain Hobby Lobby (which successfully argued that the contraception requirement in the Affordable Care Act- or "Obamacare" as it derisively termed in popular parlance mainly by its critics- violated its rights to religious freedom) got me thinking about freedom
(not just in the US but across the Western world) in the run up to the Fourth of July Independence Day celebrations in America.
"Freedom for the pike can mean death- or considerable discomfort- for the minnow!" runs an apocryphal statement of Aneurin (Nye) Bevan.
I should declare my bias on this issue- I have long not only been pretty cynical about the whole Fourth Of July hoopla( big deal- a bunch of white first-born Protestant males declared that man(presumably white ones- many of them such as my namesake George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry were admitted slaveowners)was born and entitled to be "free" but suspicious about the whole concept of corporate "personhood".
It is true that if we examine the whole sweep of American history, the trend has been towards expanding the blessings of liberty not just for the freed slaves and their descendants(albeit after the long dark night of "Jim Crow" segregation which lasted nearly half a century), Native Americans, Hispanics and Orientals but more recently for women(irrespective of their ethnicity or race) and indeed for LGBT people(pace same sex marriage), but the whole "three fifths of a human being" business for the slaves left a bad taste in the mouth(at least in mine!)
So what freedoms are YOU as an American most grateful for come the Fourth of July?
I have heard of some weird excuses and claims in my time, but as the Americans say, this claim by an Oklahoma Republican that his primary opponent is not only dead but has been replaced by a body double robot is a"doozy".
Rep Tim Murray claims that his opponent(fellow Republican) Frank Lucas was executed by "The World Court" in Southern Ukraine in January 2011 and was replaced by a "body double" robot afterwards.
First things first:(a) Lucas claims he has never visited Ukraine in his life(a simple examination of his passport will prove or disprive this claim- assuming he HAS a passport to begin with) (b), The "World Court"( whether he means the International Criminal Court or the World Court of Justice in reality is unclear- I presume he means the former, a bete noire amongst American conservatives although at the time of writing it has yet to indict a single US national) has no authority to execute anybody(never mind how heinous their alleged crimes) by hanging or any other forms of execution (c), the Ukraine in 2011 had not signed or ratified the ICC Convention(nor has it done so now at the time of writing (d) even if all of the above were true, is he saying that it in today's hyper-connected world, nobody noticed said executions???
Whatever his merits (of lack of same) Jean Claude Juncker is now President of the European Union- and David Cameron has only HIMSELF to blame for it!
Firstly it must have been obvious even without hindsight that Mr Cameron's hectoring shrillness would turn off even conservative allies in his attempt to block Juncker's candidacy. What is known in the trade as the "Violet Rose" school of diplomacy( Violet Rose is a character in Richmal Crompton's "Just William" series of books who whenever she didn't get her own way, just threatened to "scweam and scweam the whole house down" until everyone else submitted to her wishes) was never likely to bring home the diplomatic bacon.
Secondly it validates my long held view that those politicians who for narrow political expediency play with the fires of religious, racial and ideological extremism( as the US Republicans did with the Tea Party in the run up to the 2012 Presidential elections) usually end up getting deservedly burned by them!
Pace Barack Obama's comfortable reelection that year!)
Cameron COULD have taken the moral high road and said "Look, whatever problems we have with the EU, talk of withdrawal is just plain foolishness- to quote Conservative peer Chris Patten- a man or woman in the middle of the Sahara(or was it Gobi) Desert, naked, starving and alone, is sovereign- and doomed!" but instead he chose to toss as much red meat in the direction of UKIP and his own Eurosceptics , ignoring Churchill's diction that the best way to appease a tiger is to allow oneself to be devoured.
Even had Cameron "won" his battle to block Juncker, the Eurosceptics would have found some other issue to oppose the EU on. Rafael Lemkin once noted that when you dislike mustard on principle, you can always find some other issue to oppose it when the other one was debunked- for"mustard" read the "EU" for Eurosceptics(whether Tory or UKIP, Left as well as Right).
Ignoring Clement Attlee's aphorism that referendums are the favoured tools of both demagogues and dictators, Cameron is STILL pressing on with his hare-brained scheme for an "in/out" referendum on the EU in 2017- despite the fact that he may not be PM by then!
I am usually inclined to be cynical about patriotism, esp when it applies to Hollywodd film stars- "the last refuge of a scoundrel" asSamuel Johnson put it in the 18the century( just as comedian George M.Cohan observed "many a bum show has been saved by the flag") but reports that Hollywood A-Lister Amy Adams gave up her first class airplane seat to a US Army soldier seated in Economy class made me smile at her unpretentious-and deeply moving gesture, esp in the run up to the Fourth of July celebrations next Friday in the US.
OK, Ms Adams's father served in the US military when she was a child but it was STILL deeply moving!
By now most readers in the UK will have heard of the story in today's newspapers about a 90 year old (white) woman being allegedly raped( be grateful for small mercies- her purported assailant was reported to be white-had he been black we would NEVER have heard the end of black men's alleged fascination for"white meat", a racist trope dating back to slavery and which inspired more than a few lynchings in America well into the 20th century-and not just in the segregated Deep South).
Another time I might have snickered that (a) who wants to rape a 90 year old woman(the same age as my mother will be next January) when they're plenty of young ones around? (b) she was unlikely to become pregnant as a result of her ordeal but ever since I read "Everyday Sexism" by Laura Bates I have been rethinking my attitude to gender based prejudice- and I think society should do the same for sexism as it does for racist( including anti-Semitism- pace Mel Gibson and more recently Gary Oldman's rants),homophobic( see "Duck Dynasty"_ and Islamophobic prejudices( see "Reflections on the murder of a Saudi student")-namely have a "zero tolerance" for it.
Why did the media not only stress her physical frailty but what she was wearing in addition to her age? Had she been a strapping young woman would it have been more acceptable?
In conclusion it shall probably take my entire lifetime to overcome my inherited sexism but as the Chinese say: "the journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step!"
To quote John McEnroe, "you CANNOT be serious!" It seems that North Korea is threatening "dire consequences" if a comedy drama film "The Interview"( due to be released in October) is shown- namely because it deals with a plot by the CIA to persuade a journalist and producer (played by actors James Franco and Seth Rogen respectively) to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the course of an interview. Leaving aside the inherent absurdity of the "Company" targeting a head of state( even a Communist one) for assassination
(which has been forbidden since the 1970s if only out of enlightened self-interest- American and Western leaders-or their citizens- are too vulnerable for retaliation), just what "dire consequences" are on the table- a Second Korean War? A breach of diplomatic relations?(NK has NO diplomatic relations with the US)
One is reminded of Soviet protests during the "Cold War" about the publication of "anti-Soviet" books and films or complaints by majority Muslim countries about "The innocence Of Muslims" due to its allegedly "blasphemous" and "Islamophobic" character.
I don't usually agree with conservative commentators such as Michael Novak but when Soviet delegates complained about "Rocky IV" (which they claimed portrayed the Soviet boxer Ivan Drago as a "stupid idiot") during the Helsinki review conference, he dryly replied that the film was not produced by the US government but by a private film company and that the Soviets should direct their representations to the company in question. And anyway the First Amendment of the US Constitution precluded government interference with the media including film or TV productions!
An old saying runs that one society's terrorist is another's freedom fighter. Are there any Marvel or DC characters who are regarded as villains by one group and lauded as heroes by others. I can think of at least two- the Hulk and Magneto. Can anybody think of any more?
On his recent visit to Calabria, Pope Francis was quoted as "excommunicating" the Italian N'drangheta( the Calabrian counterpart of the more well known La Cosa Nostra in Sicily).
What he meant to say was as long as they continued on their lives of crime and murder, the Mob was efectively excommunicating" themselves. Although excommunications( being deprived of the right to receive the sacraments, be married or buried under Church auspices) are fairly rare nowadays(much like another e-word- "exorcisms")- they still go on(an Australian priest was excommunicated recently for supporting women's ordination).
Excommunication in the 20th century Catholic Church has had an interesting history. In 1949 the then Pope Pius XII( or Venerable Pius as he is now) excommunicated not just members of the PCI, (Partido Italian Comunista- the Italian Communist Party) but all members of Communist Parties worldwide- but just a few years ago during WWII refused to do so for Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and other of his henchmen( Heinrich Himmler, Martin Bormann, Reinhard Heydrich) who were also "cradle Catholics"- leading to charges that the holy see was tougher on the Left than on the Right. During the NI "Troubles", there were calls for excommunication of IRA members but the Irish bishops(wisely to my mind with the benefit of hindsight) rejected this call.
Sharp eyed readers of both British and Irish newspapers(in both the Republic and Northern Ireland) may have noted the news of the death of "Guildford Four" member Gerry Conlon( for those such as Americans unacquainted with the NI "Troubles", the "Guildford Four", "Maguire Seven" and most notoriously the "Birmingham Six" were all a group of various Irish people convicted of IRA terrorist bombings on the "mainland" UK and sentenced to VERY long prison sentences by British courts(had the death penalty been in force they would almost certainly have been sent to the gallows)- later due to campaigning journalists ,British and Irish politicians and Catholic clergymen such as the late Father Denis(later Monsignor) Faul, Bishop (later Cardinal) Cathal Daly and the the late Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, HE Basil Hume, they were all cleared and had their convictions reversed-but not BEFORE Gerry Conlon's father Giuseppe died in prison ironically the very day before his release on compassionate grounds due to ill health(not that the authorities or for that matter the public could be blamed for feeling less than compassionate towards the alleged perpetrator of such horrifying acts- airport workers refused to carry his coffin on British Airways flights to his hometown of Belfast- Aer Lingus had to do it)
Despite his release, Conlon was never a whole man afterwards( his story formed the basis of a film "In The Name Of The Father"), he was plagued by drink and drugs problems which most likely probably contributed to his death at the age of 60.
Although I admit that the British legal and law enforcement establishment does NOT emerge from this whole sorry business with any degree of credit, NEITHER did the Provos- whose insistence on "taking the war to the enemy's camp"( as if NI was not enough for them) led not just to the deaths of uninvolved civilians(not least in Birmingham which has a large Irish immigrant community of at least 100,000) but to the brutal socio-political backlash that landed the "Birmingham Six" "Guildford Four" and "Maguire Seven" behind bars and contributed to a general bloody mindedness( pardon the pun)on the part of both British officialdom and the proverbial"man or woman on the Clapham omnibus" that quite possibly could have been avoided and which helped not only to lengthen the conflict, but immeasurably embitter it!
Are there any heroes arising from this sorry chapter in Anglo-Irish history? Apart from the unjustly convicted(who continued to insist on their innocence), there are solicitors like Gareth Pierce(played by Emma Thompson in "In The Name of The Father"), journalists, TV programmes such as "World In Action" (UK) and "Today Tonight" (RTE, Radio Telefis Eireann- the Republic's TV service) ,clergymen such as Fathers Faul and Raymond Murray, the late Bishop Cathal Daly, Cardinal Basil Hume, and of course Gerry and Sarah Conlon, both of whose refusal to give into bitterness and despair( esp Sarah Conlon who ironically died of the same ailment as her son- lung cancer) stands out as a shining light of Christian charity( personally I nominate her for canonization-that is sainthood)
I keep thinking of an old Irish saying-"too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart!"- perhaps all our hearts have been as stone for far too long, on both sides of the Irish Sea and in both communities!